Forgery in Justin the Martyr
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
In the study of Church History, an interpolation is a type of forgery where a section of a work which was added by a later copyist. In other words, the added section was not part of the original work. There is a passage found in Justin the Martyr’s First Apology that is commonly used as evidence of weekly gatherings on Sunday in early Christianity.
In this article, we will examine if this section was found in the original writing or if it was added later. The text in question is listed below:
“And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday [Greek: heliou hamera], all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons…But Sunday [Greek: heliou hemiran] is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn [Greek: Kroniches]; and on the day after that of Saturn [Greek: Kronichen], which is the day of the Sun [Greek: Heliou Hamera], having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration…” (chapter 67)
At first glance, it appears that this passage describes gatherings on the first day of the week which involved a time of reading the Scriptures, prayer, and taking the Eucharist. There is then an apologetic, or defense, of why they met on Sunday. If genuine, then it would be the first reference to weekly Sunday gatherings in Church History (about 120 years after Jesus).
A deeper look at this passage reveals issues with its authenticity. The three main issues are the names used for the days of the week, inconsistencies with other writings of Justin, and the placement of section 67 in the text.
I. The Names for the Days of the Week
The first issue I noticed with this passage is the language used to describe the days of the week. The past few years, we have done research on the names for the days of the week used in Roman and Christian literature.
The earliest Christians referred to the days of the week by their Biblical names: first day, second day, third day, fourth day, fifth day, sixth day (or preparation day), and Sabbath (or seventh day). The Greco-Romans referred to the days of the week by their gods. Helios-day [Greek] or Sun-day [Latin] was dedicated to the sun and would correspond to the first day of the week. Kronos-day [Greek] or Saturn-day [Latin] was dedicated to Saturn and would correspond to the seventh day of the week.
In two previous works, Justin used the Biblical reckoning for the names of the week. In his work Dialogue with Trypho, Justin mentioned the Sabbath many times (sections 10, 12, 18, 19, 21, 26, 27, 29, 43, 47, 92). In chapter 41, he referred to the ‘first day of the week.’ He also called it the ‘eighth day’, which was a theological concept used by some Christian writers in reference to the first day of the week. In chapter 138, he mentioned the eighth day and the resurrection. In another work, Hortatory Address to the Greeks, Justin refers to the first day of the week (chapter 33).
Among his other works, Justin never referred to the seventh day using the term Kronos; he never addressed the first day by the term Helios (Justin wrote in Greek). The first Christian writer to indisputably use the planetary names for the days of the week was Clement of Alexandria in about 180 AD. Writings before Clement, such as the Didache, Barnabas, and Theophilus of Antioch, use the Biblical names for days of the week.
Thus, the exclusive use of planetary names for the days of the week is inconsistent with the language used in Justin’s other writings; this makes section 67 questionable.
II. Inconsistencies and Contradictions with other writings
Section 67 has more inconsistencies with Justin’s other writings.
The first issue is his defense of weekly services on Sunday. In sections 21, 42, and 46 of the First Apology, he discussed the resurrection without regard to the day of the week. In section 67, the resurrection and the first day of the week are suddenly interjected with an apologetic. In Dialogue with Trypho, Justin’s reference to the resurrection and the day of the week involves the theology of the ‘eighth day.’ Section 67 omits this theological reference and thus makes it inconsistent with Dialogue.
Secondly, in section 67 Justin purportedly claimed that “all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place…” on Sunday. He goes on to describe these gatherings with much detail.
In Dialogue with Trypho, Trypho observed that Justin did not observe any festivals or Sabbaths. “…in that you observe no festivals or sabbaths, and do not have the rite of circumcision; and further…” (section 10). Justin also claimed that Christians took the Eucharist “in every place” (section 41).
Dialogue with Trypho was written later than the First Apology. If a weekly festival were supposed to have been kept at the time of the First Apology, then why would someone later argue that Christians in Rome did not observe any festivals? (side note: we know for a fact that Christians in other places did observe the Biblical Sabbath and festivals). Also, it seems strange that no detailed description of first day gatherings would be found in any other work credited to him.
Another work titled The Martyrdom of the Holy Martyrs describes the trial and martyrdom of Justin and some other Christians. We have a section of this work below:
“Rusticus the prefect said, ‘Where do you assemble?’ Justin said, ‘Where each one chooses and can: for do you fancy that we all meet in the very same place? Not so; because the God of the Christians is not circumscribed by place; but being invisible, fills heaven and earth, and everywhere is worshipped and glorified by the faithful.’ Rusticus the prefect said, “Tell me where you assemble, or into what place do you collect your followers?” Justin said, “I live above one Martinus, at the Timiotinian Bath; and during the whole time (and I am now living in Rome for the second time) I am unaware of any other meeting than his…” (idem, 2; emphasis mine).
This text also contradicts section 67 of First Apology. In this testimony, Justin said that Christians gathered where they chose and not in the same place. This account seems more consistent with the size and scope of Rome.
It would be hard to gather people from such a large area into one place. Where would that many people gather and be unnoticed by Roman officials? Section 67 is thus inconsistent with pattern of Christian gatherings for that time.
III. Placement in the Text
When one views sections 65 and 66, it seems that Justin has already explained the Eucharist and described the order of service, but it was in reference to a newly baptized convert. Section 65 is quoted below:
“There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion…”
In section 66, Justin gives a further explanation and defense of the Eucharist – in reference to a newly baptized convert. No day of the week is mentioned in sections 65 or 66. Rehashing the subject in section 67 is then an unnecessary repetition that contributes to it being a later addition.
Based on the evidence presented, it appears that most of section 67 is a later interpolation. It was interjected by someone who did not mind the use of the planetary names for the days of the week. Justin avoided this practice, but the forger did not realize it. This individual also promoted the idea of all Christians in a large area gathering into a singular place, which is anachronistic for Justin’s time. The individual who added this content also sought to give an apologetic concerning Sunday gatherings and the resurrection.
The proper ending of Justin’s First Apology is likely the very first part section of 67, which reads more like a conclusion: “And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost.”
If you would like to read another perspective of the problems with section 67, see William H. Shea’s article (CLICK HERE to read).
Kelly McDonald, Jr.
Bible Sabbath Association (www.biblesabbath.org)
Justin the Martyr. First Apology, 21, 42, 46, 65-67. Dialogue with Trypho, 10, 41, 138, Hortatory Address to the Greeks, 33. English. Translated by Marcus Dods and George Reith. Roberts, Rev. Alexander and Donaldson, James, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Revised by A. Cleveland Coxe. Vol. 1. Buffalo: Christian Literature Publishing Co, 1887. pp 170, 176-177, 178, 185-186, 199, 215, 268, 287.
Justin the Martyr. First Apology, 67. Greek. Patrologiae Cursus Completus. Series Graecae. Migne, JP. Vol. 6. Paris, 1857. pp 429-432.
The Martyrdom of the Holy Martyrs, 2. English. Translated by Marcus Dods and George Reith. Roberts, Rev. Alexander and Donaldson, James, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Revised by A. Cleveland Coxe. Vol. 1. Buffalo: Christian Literature Publishing Co, 1887. p 305.