In the 1st century the newness of the Christian faith led to various attacks. Pagans, Jews, and the Romans all sought to destroy the “new” religion. They didn’t realize the faith was not new, just rounding in form. (The Christians saw their heritage lifted out of the OT Judaism in the person of Jesus Christ.) They also did not realize that persecution and attacks were nothing new to Christians. However, with the turn of the century, new attacks came from intellectual philosophers. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries men like Celsus and Porphyro sought to demean and squelch the new Christian faith. These men and others have become known as “critics” since they were critical of the faith. These early critics were Pagan Greco-Roman philosophers and they fired literary attacks. They began to write their accusations verses verbally exploiting them. In one of his writings, Celsus claimed that Jesus was the illegitimate son of Mary and a Roman solider. He also penned that Christians were really polytheists, exposing his inaccurate understanding of the Trinity. He thought it absurd to believe that God would come down to man and to fix man’s problem, a direct attack on the incarnation. Porohyro, another early critic, sought to discredit the person of Jesus. He denied the miracles, resurrection, and the authority of the Scriptures. You see this was the Enlightenment before the Enlightenment existed. (There really is nothing new under the sun.) However rough, dreadful, and problematic these critics made life for the Christians, they actually were a blessing in disguise.
A new opportunity arose for Christians during the early centuries, the role of an apologist or defender of the faith. What would the Christians do? Fold under the pressure or step up to the plate? Since the WHOLE picture did not rest in the minds and abilities of men, God raised specific individuals with specific qualities to write in response to the early critics. It actually was His responsibility to defend the Church. He was the originator and sculpture, so He would now be the defender. After all, He had been defending her for a very long time.
As we study and read the literature of the apologists we can ascertain that they wrote with at least three goals in mind; point out the weaknesses of pagan religions, answer specific accusations of the critics, sway public opinion and win new disciples. As we study the lives of these early apologists we see an evangelistic thrust. While we may not see them doing or writing the way we do today, in an effort to see new converts, in their own way and time they did. So who are some of these men? In my next few blogs I hope to give some names and material of some of the influential apologists.
First we will begin with the earliest one…
Justin Martyr was born in the late 1st century and was afforded a good philosophical education. He studied with Stoics, Aristotelians, and Platonists. After nearly 50 years of life and study, he converted to what he called the “true philosophy.” You see, for Martyr, conversion was not about leaving pagan religions for a new one, but about leaving pagan philosophies for the true one. It was more of an intellectual transformation. He is known as the principal or most important apologist. He is likely the first one to write significant literature combating the accusations of the Pagans and Jews. Around 150 AD he began a school in Rome to train new men. It was during these formidable years that he wrote, First Apology and Second Apology. “First Apology” is the most well-known apologetics piece by Martyr. Through his writings he provides three proofs for Christianity; OT prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus, the miracles of Jesus are valid, the ethics of Christians points to authenticity of the faith. Martyr’s impact was seen in his philosophical approach to sharing the Gospel. He married philosophy and Christianity in a specific way in order to reach the Greek mind. He wanted to reach those with which he was most familiar. While he wrote, he pointed out similarities between Greek philosophies/philosophers and Christianity. He noted Plato’s need for wickedness to be punished. Sibyl thought all corruptible things would be destroyed by fire. The Stoics taught the world would be made over one day. Martyr did not assume these groups/men where right, but that they had glimmers of light in their thoughts. However, the true wisdom and true reason could only come through the personal revelation of Jesus Christ.
Here are some other names I will write about: Tatian of Assyria, Irenaeus of Lyons, Origen of Alexandria, and Tertullian of Carthage. Maybe you know or can think of others, if so, let me know and I’ll see what I can come up with!!!