OnScript Podcast, feat. Bates and Hughes

The good folks over at the OnScript podcast have posted an interview they recently recorded with yours truly on my 2018 book, The Trinitarian Testimony of the Spirit. It’s a wide-ranging and sometimes shocking interview with host Matthew W. Bates (I believe at one time I sing some lines from the children’s television program Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, so that’s worth the price of admission right there). Check it out here!

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The Works of Justin Martyr

Note: As a service to fellow researchers, I am going to post summaries of the works of the church fathers I examined in my book The Trinitarian Testimony of the Spirit. These sections were included in my original dissertation but were cut from the published version. Original footnotes are included as endnotes below; in conjunction with the essential bibliographies and critical biographies I have posted, this should help those looking to get into the literature on the early church fathers. I have been struck by how many published sources read the primary sources with a fairly uncritical lens; in these summaries, like any good historian, refuse to take primary sources at face value. 

The Works of Justin Martyr

Eusebius lists eight works he ascribes to Justin: two apologies, five additional (non-extant) treatises, and the Dialogue with Trypho.[1] The first apology listed by Eusebius is almost certainly what we know as 1 Apology, the earliest of Justin’s extant writings. This apologetic writing, as Eusebius notes, is directed to the emperor Antoninus Pius and the philosophers Verissimus and Lucius.[2] This defense of the Christian faith, most likely intended for a non-Christian Roman audience, appeals for justice, refutes spurious charges by Christianity’s opponents, and presents the basics of the Christian faith.[3]

The short document that scholars refer to as 2 Apology presents more of a problem, as the second apology listed by Eusebius was said to be addressed to Antoninus Verus (that is, Marcus Aurelius, 161–180 CE), which does not match what we know of 2 Apol., a document neither addressed to this emperor nor even a complete, independent work in its own right. As such, most scholars have argued that 2 Apol. is in fact an appendix to its lengthier predecessor.[4] More recently, however, Denis Minns and Paul Parvis have claimed that 2 Apol. is in fact a collection of unrelated fragments, thus envisioning Justin as a writer who “kept tinkering with his original apology, adapting it and perhaps expanding it” even while keeping notes for quick reference during his public debates.[5] In any event, the major concerns of this document are to respond to recent injustices that had occurred in Rome under the prefect Urbicus and to the claims of the aforementioned Crescens.[6] In light of the internal evidence of these texts, most scholars date both Apologies to the years 151–155 CE.[7]

Justin’s only other authentic, extant work is his Dialogue with Trypho. This lengthy writing purports to record a debate lasting two days between Justin and a Jew named Trypho in which Justin seeks to convince Trypho that Christianity is the true philosophy and that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.[8] While the text suggests that this debate happened shortly after the end of the Bar Kochba revolt (ca. 135 CE),[9] most scholars, on account of Dial.’s quotations from 1 Apol., date Dial. after 1 Apol. to ca. 160 CE, while Justin was in Rome.[10] The work is addressed to a Marcus Pompey,[11] though the most common modern scholarly position is that this work was written to a group of Gentiles considering becoming Jewish proselytes.[12] Another strand of scholarship has argued, however, that Dial. was also intended for a combined Jewish and Christian audience in light of purported missionary activity between the two communities during this time.[13] However, we must bear in mind that at this time Judaism and Christianity in many places existed side-by-side, with the boundaries between the two not always sharply defined. As Daniel Boyarin has plausibly insisted, the more sharply defined borders that emerged as early as the late first century were “constructed and imposed” in a complex process of mutual self-definition that transformed somewhat socially differentiated groups into what we now think of as distinct religious communities.[14] As such, it is likely that the best lens by which to read Dial. is one in which Justin is actively engaged in publicly constructing a Christian identity that is distinct from that of the Judaism that he believes to be a threat and competitor to his adopted faith.[15]

Complicating all scholarly study of Justin is the fact that his writings are preserved (alongside other writings falsely attributed to Justin at a later time) in a single manuscript, Paris 450, which dates to September 11, 1363.[16] Not only does this manuscript show evidence of a corrupt text,[17] but there are several major lacunae of uncertain length.[18] The standard critical edition of 1–2 Apol. is that of Charles Munier (2006), while the standard critical edition of Dial. is that of Miroslav Marcovich (1997).[19]

[1] Hist. eccl. 4.18 (SC 31:195–97).

[2] Cf. 1 Apol. 1.1 (SC 507:126); see Minns and Parvis, Justin, 34–41, on the formal addressees of this work.

[3] Barnard, Justin Martyr, 14–17. Minns and Parvis (Justin, 44) take Justin’s primary purpose for writing to be petitioning for relief from unjust Roman persecution of Christians, but note that 1 Apol. could also be useful for winning and instructing new converts (Justin, 46). See Minns and Parvis, Justin, 46–54, for an extensive plan of 1 Apol.

[4] So, e.g., Chadwick, “Justin’s Defence,” 277–78; Osborn (Justin Martyr, 11) sees 2 Apol. as an appendix to the first edition of 1 Apol.; Barnard (Justin Martyr, 18) also sees 2 Apol. as a supplement to 1 Apol. that was “called into existence by a specific injustice.” So also Rokéah, Justin Martyr and the Jews, 2; Allert, Revelation, 32 n. 143; Miroslav Marcovich, Iustini Martyris Apologiae pro Christianis, PTS 38 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1994), 8–11. On the history of scholarship concerning the problem of 2 Apol., see Minns and Parvis, Justin, 21–24.

[5] Minns and Parvis, Justin, 27­–28. They also suggest that, for codicological reasons, 2 Apol. 14–15 (SC 507:364–68) should in fact be placed at the end of 1 Apol. (Justin, 28–31). On the issue of how to classify 2 Apol., see further Paul Parvis, “Justin, Philosopher and Martyr: The Posthumous Creation of the Second Apology,” in Justin Martyr and His Worlds, ed. Sara Parvis and Paul Foster (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 22–37.

[6] Minns and Parvis, Justin, 54­–56.

[7] Barnard, Justin Martyr, 19; Allert, Revelation, 34; Osborn, Justin Martyr, 8; Marcovich, Apologiae pro Christianis, 8–11. Minns and Parvis (Justin, 44) more narrowly specify that they were written in 153 or 154 CE. Rokéah (Justin Martyr and the Jews, 2) dates them later, in 155 CE.

[8] The extent to which Dial. reflects an actual conversation between Justin and Trypho is an open question, though I agree with Barnard’s solution (Justin Martyr, 23–24), which finds some historical basis in an actual debate with Trypho ca. 132–135 CE that Justin subsequently expanded and reworked ca. 160. This in turn raises the question of the identity of the “historical Trypho,” of whom we can say little with confidence apart from that he is almost certainly not to be identified with Justin’s contemporary Rabbi Tarphon; cf. Barnard, Justin Martyr, 24; Osborn, Justin Martyr, 12–13; Demetrius C. Trakatellis, “Justin Martyr’s Trypho,” HTR 79 (1986): 289–97. On Trypho’s Judaism, see Allert, Revelation, 84–87. Going a step beyond what most scholars seem prepared to accept, Timothy J. Horner posits the existence of a so-called “Trypho Text,” from which we can deduce the character of Trypho and relate him to second-century Judaism in Asia Minor; see Timothy J. Horner, “Listening to Trypho”: Justin Martyr’s Dialogue Reconsidered, CBET 28 (Leuven: Peeters, 2001).

[9] Dial. 1.3 (PTS 47:70).

[10] So Barnard, Justin Martyr, 23; Rokéah, Justin Martyr, 2. Osborn (Justin Martyr 8) proposes 155–160 CE; Allert (Revelation, 34) thinks any date betweeen 155–167 CE is equally plausible.

[11] Dial. 141.5 (PTS 47:313); cf. Dial. 8.3 (PTS 47:85).

[12] See, e.g., Jon Nilson, “To Whom is Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho Addressed?” TS 38 (1977): 538–46; Miroslav Marcovich, Iustini Martyris Dialogus cum Tryphone, PTS 47; Berlin: De Gruyter, 1997), 64–65; Oskar Skarsaune, The Proof from Prophecy: A Study in Justin Martyr’s Proof-Text Tradition—Text-Type, Provenance, Theological Profile, NovTSup56 (Leiden: Brill, 1987), 258–59. Older scholarship tended to maintain that Dial. was written to Gentile Christians; cf. Chadwick, “Justin’s Defence,” 278; Barnard, Justin Martyr, 24 n. 1.

[13] See, e.g., Theodore Stylianopoulos, Justin Martyr and the Mosaic Law, SBLDS 20 (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1972), 10–20, 169–95; Allert, Revelation, 37–61; Rokéah, Justin Martyr, 6–11. For still another view of the audience of Dial., see Charles H. Cosgrove, “Justin Martyr and the Emerging New Testament Canon: Observations on the Purpose and Destination of the Dialogue with Trypho,” VC 36 (1982): 209–32, esp. 217–18, who argues for an exclusively Christian destination.

[14] Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, Divinations (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 1–2. This view is thus distinct from the traditional notion of the “parting of the ways,” which presupposes the preexistence of these two discrete religious entities.

[15] This is not to say that Justin did not have multiple audiences in mind as he composed Dial., which I believe to be almost certain. Still, Boyarin and other recent works on early Christianity have rightly stressed the need to take this process of self-definition seriously, as opposed to simply accepting that the way that Justin and other apologists presented the world was an accurate representation of reality.

[16] Goodenough (Theology of Justin Martyr, 80), notes the existence of some checks on Paris 450 in the form of later quotations and an independent fragment of 1 Apol. 65–67 contained in Codex Ottobonianus Graecus 274, which dates to the fifteenth century. Concerning the physical characteristics of this manuscript and an argument for its original provenance (Mistra or Constantinople), see Minns and Parvis, Justin, 3­–5. There is also one complete manuscript of the Apologies, Codex Phillipicus 3081, but this is widely recognized to be an apograph of Paris 450 (Minns and Parvis, Justin, 6).

[17] According to Minns and Parvis (Justin, 19–21), the scribe of Paris 450 was himself using a damaged manuscript and thus often had to resort to contextual guesswork to fill in the gaps. Cf. Osborn, Justin Martyr, 12.

[18] Perhaps the most notorious are the presumably very lengthy lacunae after Dial. 74.3 (PTS 47:198) and in 2 Apol. 2 (SC 507:326). Allert (Revelation, 34) suggests that the introductory dedication that would have preceded Dial. has been lost. On the ancestor of Paris 415 as a “leaf-shedding manuscript,” see again Minns and Parvis, Justin, 28–31. On the transmission of Justin’s writings, see further Marcovich, Dialogus cum Tryphone, 1–7; idem, Apologiae pro Christianis, 1–8.

[19] Charles Munier, Justin: Apologie pour les chrétiens, SC 507 (Paris: Cerf, 2006). The paucity of manuscripts of Justin’s writings means that critical editions are very consistent from one to another.

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Tertullian: A Critical Biography

Note: As a service to fellow researchers, I am going to post critical biographies of the church fathers I examined in my book The Trinitarian Testimony of the Spirit. These biographical overviews were included in my original dissertation but were cut from the published version. Original footnotes are included as endnotes below; in conjunction with the essential bibliographies I have posted, this should help those looking to get into the literature on the early church fathers. I have been struck by how many published sources read the primary sources with a fairly uncritical lens; in these summaries, like any good historian, refuse to take primary sources at face value. 

Tertullian: A Critical Biography

As with Irenaeus, much of Tertullian’s life is cloaked in mystery. While ancient sources give a fair amount of details concerning the life of Tertullian, modern scholars have judged these to be largely unreliable for reconstructing his biography.[1] Among the ancient sources, the most complete account of the life of Tertullian is provided by Jerome in his On Illustrious Men. In this work, written in Bethlehem ca. 392 or 393 CE, Jerome provides a brief biographical sketch of Tertullian, noting that he was born to a proconsular centurion (centurio proconsularis) and became a priest and a prolific writer in the African city of Carthage during the reigns of Severus (193–211 CE) and Caracalla (198–217 CE). It was at some time in this period, Jerome asserts, that Tertullian lapsed into Montanism, a heresy which brought him into conflict with the catholics until his death in old age.[2] Eusebius, for his part, portrays Tertullian as an expert in Roman law, and in fact one of the most distinguished jurists in all of Rome.[3] Beginning with the groundbreaking work of Timothy Barnes, however, most scholars have come to accept that most of these details are likely false, and as such we must begin by deconstructing these elements of the traditional portrayal of the life of Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus.[4]

While Jerome seems to have the date and location of Tertullian’s ministry correct, the other aspects of his account of Tertullian’s early life are at best speculation or at worst contradictory to Tertullian’s own statements.[5] In Jerome’s favor, the frequent, familiar references to Carthage in Tertullian’s extant writings demonstrate that he indeed spent the height of his literary career in that city,[6] and Barnes’s dating of Tertullian’s extant works to the period 196 to 212 CE confirms Jerome’s identification of the reigns of Severus and Caracalla as the peak of Tertullian’s literary production.[7] Beyond this, things become more problematic. For instance, Jerome’s claim that Tertullian was the son of a Roman centurion appears to have been an incorrect deduction based on a textual corruption.[8] Likewise, Jerome’s insistence that Tertullian was a priest is contradicted by Tertullian’s own claim that he was a member of the laity,[9] and his contention that Tertullian made a decisive break from the catholic church is increasingly met with scholarly skepticism (see below). Eusebius’s claim that Tertullian was a famous Roman jurist has also been disproven, with Eusebius likely having conflated our Tertullian with a famous Roman jurist by the same name.[10] As a result of this deconstruction, the most scholars can now say with confidence concerning Tertullian’s early life is that he was born to a non-Christian family ca. 160–170 CE,[11] was highly educated and thus a member of the Carthaginian elite, and was married.[12]

Much more, thankfully, is known about the city of Carthage and the early Christian movement there, allowing us to set Tertullian and his writings into historical context. After being razed by the Romans in 146 BCE following the conclusion of the Punic Wars, Carthage was rebuilt by Caesar Augustus, becoming by Tertullian’s day the largest and most prosperous city in the western half of the empire with the exception of Rome itself.[13] Whatever the origins of Christianity in North Africa, Christianity quickly spread, presumably from Carthage, across the cities of North Africa. [14] Over time, the Christians of North Africa came to develop distinctive beliefs and rituals,[15] and it is in this context that we can best understand Tertullian.[16]

Our first tangible glimpse into the Carthaginian church comes through surviving martyrdom accounts that illuminate the distinctive nature of African Christianity. In the Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs (180 CE), twelve commoners from the nearby village of Scilli are brought before the Roman governor in Carthage and interrogated concerning their Christian beliefs.[17] When they refuse to offer devotion to the emperor’s genius, the governor has them beheaded. Likewise, in The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity (203 CE), we have the record of several Carthaginians who were arrested on account of their profession of faith in Christ. This group cuts across social classes, encompassing both slaves and the nobly born Vibia Perpetua, whose prison diary makes up most of the text; all are martyred before a great crowd in the city’s amphitheater.[18] These accounts testify to the eagerness for martyrdom among Christians in North Africa as well as the existence of at least sporadic, local persecutions that gave rise to these martyrdoms.[19] The latter text is also of particular importance as scholars have found within it evidence of Montanism, the same theological movement with which Jerome had associated Tertullian and his purported break from the catholic church.[20]

Montanism, an anachronistic term for the religious movement better known in Tertullian’s day as the New Prophecy,[21] exploded out of Phrygia ca. 165 CE under the leadership of Montanus, whose ecstatic prophecies (along with those of his two female companions, Priscilla and Maximilla) gave birth to what William Tabbernee characterizes as “a prophetic renewal movement informed by the Holy Spirit.”[22] This movement was charismatic, insofar as its adherents claimed to be inspired by the Paraclete, rigorous, insofar as its members rejected the notion of penitence for post-baptismal sin and insisted on an ascetic lifestyle, and possibly also chiliastic, insofar as its followers may have awaited the arrival of the heavenly Jerusalem and the millennial reign of Christ on the earth.[23] Despite earning the condemnation of the Asian churches, the Montanist movement won adherents throughout Asia Minor and beyond;[24] eventually, the New Prophecy reached Carthage and began to spread across North Africa.[25]

This brings us, finally, back to Jerome’s biography of Tertullian. Jerome seems to suggest that Tertullian made a decisive break from the catholic church, joining with a distinct Montanist sect and launching rhetorical assaults on his former co-religionists. While Tertullian’s writings do indeed show evidence of a deepening attraction to the teachings of the New Prophecy (see below), Jerome again has likely read too much into the life of Tertullian. Simply because Tertullian’s writings are heavily influenced by the New Prophecy, there is no concrete evidence that he actually left the catholic church or formally joined a schismatic group identical to that which was later termed “Montanism.” Instead, there could have been considerable diversity in the beliefs and practices of the Carthaginian Christians without there having been a formal rupture of communion.[26] Tertullian, therefore, very likely saw himself not as a member of a schismatic movement but as a loyal, “orthodox” member of the catholic church; he was, perhaps, a member of a group within the church that had some heated disagreements with others within the church who were less rigorous about their faith and practice, his so-called psychici.[27] As such, as Christine Trevett has aptly put it, “Tertullian the Montanist was Tertullian the Montanist catholic.”[28] Assuming Augustine’s claim that Tertullian later left the Montanists to form a still more rigorous sect to be apocryphal,[29] little is known about Tertullian’s later life or the date of his death, though Barnes’s suggestion that Tertullian died, potentially as a martyr, shortly after completing the last of his extant works (ca. 212 CE) seems plausible.[30]

A final important aspect of Tertullian’s life concerns the extent to which he had access to other early Christian writings. Scholars have little doubt that he had access to the writings of both Justin[31] and Irenaeus;[32] the extent to which either may have influenced Tertullian’s notions of the Trinitarian testimony of the Spirit will be explored and validated in more detail later in this chapter. As for the New Testament, Tertullian cites every book except James, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John.[33] It appears that he often made his own translations from the Greek, although on occasion he may have relied on some pre-existing Latin translations.[34]

[1] For older works that mostly follow Jerome for their reconstruction of Tertullian’s life, see, e.g., Otto Bardenhewer, Patrologie, 2nd ed. (Freiburg: Herdersche, 1901), 157; Johannes Quasten, Patrology, 3 vols. (Utrecht: Spectrum, 1950–1960), 2:246–48. Despite this shift among scholars studying Tertullian, many more general contemporary works continue to rely heavily on the patristic sources for their summary of the life of Tertullian; see, e.g., François Decret, Early Christianity in North Africa, trans. Edward L. Smither (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2009), 33–41; Philippe Henne, Tertullien l’Africain (Paris: Cerf, 2011), 29–41, 49–53. Though not inclusive of modern works, Gerald Bray, Holiness and the Will of God: Perspectives on the Theology of Tertullian (Atlanta: John Knox, 1979), 8–31, gives an excellent overview of the history of scholarship concerning Tertullian.

[2] Vir. ill. 53 (PL 23:698). For translation, see Timothy David Barnes, Tertullian: A Literary and Historical Study (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971), 3.

[3] Hist. eccl. 2.2 (SC 31:53). Eusebius also cites Tertullian at Hist. eccl. 2.25, 3.20, 3.33, 5.5 (SC 31:92, 124, 146; SC 41:30–31).

[4] For modern, critical reconstructions of the life of Tertullian, see Barnes, Tertullian, 1–29; Bray, Holiness, 32–65; Heinrike Maria Zilling, Tertullian: Untertan Gottes und der Kaisers (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2004), 21–82; David E. Wilhite, Tertullian the African: An Anthropological Reading of Tertullian’s Context and Identities, Millennium-Studien 14 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2007), 17–27. On Tertullian’s full name, see further Barnes, Tertullian, 242–43; Wilhite, Tertullian, 18.

[5] As Henne (Tertullien, 30) cautions, “Jérôme est plus que partial dans ses jugements: il y a les Pères qu’il aime et ceux qu’il n’aime pas, et cela influence très fort sa rédaction.” Despite this warning, Henne’s biography of Tertullian is largely uncritical with respect to the information provided by Jerome and Augustine.

[6] Barnes, Tertullian, 10; see further the list of specific references in Geoffrey D. Dunn, Tertullian, ECF (London: Routledge, 2004), 4.

[7] Barnes, Tertullian, 30–56.

[8] Barnes, Tertullian, 11–21; Wilhite, Tertullian, 19. The first problem with Jerome’s claim is that the rank centurio proconsularis did not, to our best knowledge, exist in the Roman army; the second is that child sacrifice had mostly vanished from North Africa by Tertullian’s day. Thus, the key text of Apol. 9.2 (CCSL 1:102) should be emended from patri nostri to patri nostrae. See, however, the dissenting opinions of James B. Rives, “Tertullian on Child Sacrifice,” MH 51 (1994): 54–63; Henne, Tertullien, 32; Zilling, Tertullian, 30.

[9] Barnes, Tertullian, 11; Wilhite, Tertullian, 24; cf. Exh. cast. 7.3 (SC 319:92); Mon. 12.2 (CCSL 2:1247).

[10] Barnes, Tertullian, 22–29; Wilhite, Tertullian, 20–23. The question of Tertullian’s training and profession is, however, more complicated. The current consensus is that Tertullian was not even a professional lawyer in the first place; cf. David I. Rankin, “Was Tertullian a Jurist?,” SP 31 (1997): 335–42. Instead, Tertullian is often portrayed as a professional sophist (cf. Barnes, Tertullian, 211–32), though some scholars maintain that Tertullian did indeed receive some training as an advocate (cf. Zilling, Tertullian, 33–36; albeit less certainly, Rankin, “Was Tertullian a Jurist?,” 342). Eric Osborn, Tertullian: First Theologian of the West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 27–47, claims that Tertullian was in fact a philosopher, but this view appears not to have caught on with other scholars. For an overview of the status quaestionis, see Wilhite, Tertullian, 20–23.

[11] While many scholars have followed Jerome in assuming that Tertullian’s work is that of a mature, older writer, thus suggesting a birth date ca. 155 CE, Barnes (Tertullian, 58) insists that “nothing forbids the hypothesis that Tertullian was born c. 170.” Indeed, Tertullian’s writings give us no clue as to his date of birth or his age when he wrote them.

[12] Dunn, Tertullian, 4–5. Thus the statement of Bray (Holiness, 9) that “in the end all we can really say about Tertullian’s life is that we know virtually nothing about it” is a slight exaggeration. Tertullian in Ux. 1.1.1 (CCSL 1:373) records that he was married to a Christian, though in Res. 59.3 (CCSL 2:1007) he appears to indicate that he had at some point committed adultery.

[13] Thus Herodian, Hist. 7.6.1 (LCL 455:190). On historical background related to the city of Carthage, see further Decret, Early Christianity in North Africa, 1–8; Henne, Tertullien, 13–18; Zilling, Tertullian, 61–82.

[14] The first reference to Christianity in Roman Africa is probably found in Apuleius’s Metamorphoses (mid-to-late second century CE). When exactly Christianity was brought to North Africa, and by whom, is the subject of much speculation. For overviews of the scholarly inquiry into the origins and spread of Christianity in North Africa, see Wilhite, Tertullian, 31–35; Decret, Early Christianity in North Africa, 10–16; Dunn, Tertullian, 13–15; J. Patout Burns Jr. and Robin M. Jensen, Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 1–6; David Rankin, Tertullian and the Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 10–16.

[15] Decret, Early Christianity in North Africa, 17–23, 28–32; Burns and Jensen, Christianity in Roman Africa, 165–621.

[16] As Decret (Early Christianity in North Africa, 34) elegantly puts it: “Through his genius and weaknesses, boldness in the midst of battles, revolt in the face of injustices, excesses, affinity for provocation, preference for paradox, quibbling spirit, and appetite for brilliant and subtle formulas, Tertullian represented an entire people.”

[17] Decret (Early Christianity in North Africa, 10) notes the “remarkable” fact that the names of some of these martyrs were African, whereas the Gallican martyrs were Greek-speaking immigrants from Asia and Phrygia.

[18] For more on the church at Carthage in the time of Tertullian, see Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, 17–20; Henne, Tertullien, 19–28.

[19] For an overview of these texts, see Dunn, Tertullian, 15–17; Decret, Early Christianity in North Africa, 9–10, 23–26. For a recent introduction to these martyrdom accounts from a conservative perspective, see Bryan M. Litfin, Early Christian Martyr Stories: An Evangelical Introduction with New Translations (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 87–109. Recently, Candida Moss, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom (New York: HarperOne, 2013) has argued that Tertullian and other early Christian apologists have widely overstated the extent of early Christian persecution and has criticized early Christian martyr stories as “exciting, interesting, and completely untrue” (85), but even accepting a large degree of literary license does not require rejecting the historicity of the event itself. For a mediating position that takes the Christian sources seriously and critically, see Burns and Jensen, Early Christianity in Roman Africa, 7–26.

[20] Barnes, Tertullian, 77–79; Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, 13–14.

[21] For this reason, I prefer to speak of Tertullian’s support of “the New Prophecy” rather than of “Montanism,” though following convention I will occasionally use “Montanism” as an imperfect shorthand for the same phenomenon.

[22] William Tabbernee, Montanist Inscriptions and Testimonia: Epigraphic Sources Illustrating the History of Montanism, NAPSPMS 16 (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997), 24. The standard reference work on Montanism is now Christine Trevett, Montanism: Gender, Authority and the New Prophecy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), emphasizing how the condemnation of Montanism likely stemmed from controversy over the nature of authority, with Montanism’s promotion of direct revelation threatening established church leadership. On Montanus and the emergence of the New Prophecy in Phrygia, see further ibid., 26–45, 77–86. Alistair Stewart-Sykes, “The Original Condemnation of Asian Montanism,” JEH 50 (1999): 1–22, is a further helpful introduction, instead tracing the eventual condemnation of Montanism to its rural roots.

[23] For more on the teachings of the Montanists, see Trevett, Montanism, 86–150. Whether a fervent millennialism was also a defining feature of the movement is a subject of some scholarly debate; see Trevett, Montanism, 95–105; Charles E. Hill, Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 143–59.

[24] On the spread of Montanism and the sources available to historians, see further Trevett, Montanism, 46–66. On epigraphic sources, see Tabbernee, Montanist Inscriptions and Testimonia. For other important ancient sources for the study of Montanism, see Ronald E. Heine, The Montanist Oracles and Testimonia, NAPSPMS 14 (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1989). See also the speculative narrative of William Tabbernee, Prophets and Gravestones: An Imaginative History of Montanists and Other Early Christians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009).

[25] On the arrival and spread of Montanism in North Africa, see Trevett, Montanism, 69–72; Decret, Early Christianity in North Africa, 37–41; Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, 43–51.

[26] See further the thorough defense of this position in Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, 27–40; cf. Dunn, Tertullian, 6–7; Trevett, Montanism, 68–69; Zilling, Tertullian, 51–53; Douglas Powell, “Tertullianists and Cataphrygians,” VC 29 (1975): 33–54, esp. 33–38. There seems, therefore, to be little warrant for Henne’s claim that in Carthage ca. 210 “les montanistes avaient peu à peu créé leur propre liturgie, leur propre clergé, bien distincts de ceux des autres communautés” (Tertullien, 53).

[27] A modern minority position holds that Tertullian was not even a member of a sub-group within the church at Carthage, as suggested by the majority view described here; cf. David E. Wilhite, “The Spirit of Prophecy: Tertullian’s Pauline Pneumatology,” in Todd D. Still and David E. Wilhite, Tertullian and Paul, vol. 1 of Pauline and Patristic Scholars in Debate (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), 48.

[28] Trevett, Montanism, 69.

[29] Haer. 86 (PL 42:46–47); cf. Barnes, Tertullian, 258–59; Rankin, Tertullian and the Church, 37; contra Henne, Tertullien, 53. The term “Tertullianists,” used by Augustine to describe the Montanists with whom he was familiar, was likely simply the name given to African Montanists (as distinguished from those in Phrygia), and thus Augustine is perhaps “producing the confused explanation of an authentic tradition” (so Powell, “Tertullianists and Cataphrygians,” 53; cf. Zilling, Tertullian, 54–56).

[30] Barnes, Tertullian, 59.

[31] Ernest Evans, ed. and trans., Tertullian’s Treatise against Praxeas: The Text Edited, with an Introduction, Translation, and Commentary (London: SPCK, 1948; repr., Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011), 31, claims that Tertullian “reproduces [Justin’s expositions] without the tentativeness and reserve which were natural to that gentler mind.” Tertullian’s debt to Justin is perhaps best evidenced in his Adv. Jud. and Apol. Tertullian references Justin explicitly as a source for his anti-Gnostic polemic in Val. 5.1 (CCSL 2:756).

[32] Barnes, Tertullian, 221. Tertullian also references Irenaeus as a source for his anti-Gnostic polemic in Val. 5.1 (CCSL 2:756). See further J. H. Waszink, “Tertullian’s Principles and Methods of Exegesis,” in Early Christian Literature and the Classical Intellectual Tradition: In Honorem Robert M. Grant, ed. William R. Schoedel and Robert L. Wilken, ThH 53 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1979), 17–31, here 21. Val. and Praesc. are generally cited as the two works of Tertullian which draw most extensively on Irenaeus.

[33] Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987), 160. Dunn (Tertullian, 19) lists only 2 and 3 John as excluded from Tertullian’s writings.

[34] Dunn, Tertullian, 20–21.

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Book Review: Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone

batesIn his new book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone, Matthew Bates argues that Christians “should entirely cease to speak of ‘salvation by faith’ or of ‘faith in Jesus’ or of ‘believing in Christ’ when summarizing Christian salvation” (3). In fact, he proposes nothing less than “to rethink the gospel, faith, and salvation” (8). And, to boot, Bates suggests that his book “will ultimately contribute to the healing of that long-festering wound between Catholics and Protestants” (6). Most books that make such ambitious, even grandiose, claims inevitably disappoint readers hoping for something truly insightful and meaningful. Bates, however, actually delivers on his promise, penning a work that is, at once, sharply erudite, richly theological, and deeply pastoral.

Bates notes up front that he is writing as a committed Christian committed to earnestly wrestling with what God has to say to us through Scripture. Bates makes clear in chapter 1 his concern that many Christians today have an incomplete notion of “faith”; for Bates, “like rot in an apple, much of the malaise in contemporary Christianity stems from a rotten core,” which he here identifies as an overly simplistic rendering of the Greek pistis as “faith” or “belief” (15). Pistis is not, Bates insists, naive fideism, a Kierkagaardian leap in the dark, the opposite of works, blind optimism, or (perhaps most significantly in today’s church context) intellectual assent to a set of beliefs. In particular, as Bates goes on to contend in chapter 2, viewing salvation as simply a matter of mentally agreeing with the statement “that Jesus died for my sins” is dangerously reductionistic (25).

Bates is particularly concerned to demonstrate that the gospel cannot be reduced to a me-centered “Jesus died for my sins,” but rather that the gospel is in fact a story about Jesus the King. In chapter 2, Bates surveys key texts in which Paul describes the gospel (Rom 1:1-5; Phil 2:6-11; 1 Cor 15; Rom 1:16-17) and concludes that the Pauline gospel is “the power-releasing story of Jesus’s life, death for sins, resurrection, and installation as king” (30). Drawing on Ben Witherington, Bates emphasizes the “V pattern” of the gospel in which the preexisting Son of God took on flesh, died, and was resurrected and now takes on “an even more exalted role” as “Son-of-God-in-Power” and “Lord” (37). This gospel, Bates demonstrates from Paul, is not merely an interesting story but one that “unleashes God’s saving power for humanity” (41); Jesus’s pistis to the Father facilitates our pistis to Jesus (43; cf. Rom 1:17).

Likewise, in chapter 3, Bates demonstrates that the Gospels depict a single gospel message including the following specific content (which can also be found in Paul): Jesus preexisted with the Father, took on human flesh, died for sins, was buried, was raised on the third day, appeared to many, is seated at the right hand of God as Lord, and will come again as judge (52). The gospel, again, is not about how we are saved, but rather about how Jesus has become Lord; thus, pistis and justification are not part of the content of the gospel, but rather the gospel’s intended response and result (54). For Bates, it is the ascension, when Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father as Lord, “that is the most critical yet most neglected component of the gospel today” (66) and is in fact “the most important part of the gospel for us today” (67). Why? Bates explains (67):

We need to recover Jesus’s kingship as a central, nonnegotiable constituent of the gospel. Jesus’s reign as Lord of heaven and earth fundamentally determines the meaning of “faith” (pistis) as “allegiance” in relation to salvation. Jesus as king is the primary object toward which our saving “faith”—that is, our saving allegiance—is directed.

After all, of all the components of the gospel, Jesus’s reign is the only one which corresponds with the present time in which we live; here Bates draws especially on the work of N.T. Wright in re-centering our understanding of the Gospels as the story by which Jesus became Lord or King.

Having surveyed this biblical data, Bates then reaches the heart of his argument in chapter 4, showing how pistis is best understood as allegiance when it is used in the context of ultimate salvation. Drawing on contemporaneous texts such as 3 Maccabees, Greek Esther, and Josephus, Bates demonstrates that “allegiance” is the best way to understand Paul’s use of pistis in texts such as Rom 3:21; Rom 5:1; Gal 2:16; Gal 2:20; Gal 5:4-6; Phil 3:8-11; 1 Cor 1:21; 1 Cor 15:1-2. Bates also appeals to leading Pauline scholars such as Wright, Michael Gorman, and John Barclay to indicate that this proposal is hardly idiosyncratic. Bates then uses this notion of understanding pistis as allegiance to illuminate otherwise difficult Pauline ideas such as the “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; Rom 16:26) or the “law of Christ” (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:21). The clear clincher for his argument, though, is the simple appeal to the indisputable imperial context of the early Christian confession “Jesus is Lord”; as Bates shows, in imperial rhetoric, pistis or fides “had sociopolitical overtones of loyalty to the emperor (or other patrons) as well as reciprocity in receiving benefits in exchange for demonstrated loyalty” (88). What, then, does allegiance to Christ look like? Bates identifies three “basic dimensions”: (1) mental affirmation of the gospel; (2) professed fealty to Jesus as Lord; and (3) enacted loyalty through obedience to Jesus as King (92). Bates unpacks each of these elements in detail and then, in chapter 5, addresses potential objections to his thesis, showing how his proposal is consistent with Christian emphases on grace and free will, ties in with several of the insights offered by the New Perspective on Paul, and allows for even imperfect allegiance to Christ in this life. These discussions are fairly detailed and will be useful for those interested in these topics, but some readers may feel these sections drag a bit beyond what is necessary to make Bates’s points.

At this point, the focus of the book shifts rather abruptly, with Bates turning away from his discussion of allegiance to instead probe the notion of salvation more generally. Thus, Bates presents a defense of understanding salvation in terms of the Christian hope of bodily resurrection into the new creation (chapter 6) and the restoration of the imago dei (chapter 7). Those familiar with N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope or the work of John Walton will find much that is familiar here. These chapters make some important correctives to contemporary misunderstandings of these aspects of salvation, but one wonders if the thread of “allegiance” could have been carried through more consistently in these chapters, perhaps yielding more genuinely new insights.

Finally, in chapter 8, Bates picks up the main thread of his argument, seeking to situate his understanding of “salvation by allegiance alone” with respect to different models of justification. For Bates, justification is not simply a matter of a cosmic transaction between Christ and sinner; rather, “an individual’s justification is entirely bound up with the union of the church to Jesus the king” (167). Bates thus (correctly, in my opinion) foregrounds our union with Christ as centrally determinative for salvation, developing his understandings of corporate election and the righteousness of God to reject traditional models of imputed or infused righteousness in favor of Michael Bird’s language of “incorporated righteousness,” which Bates defines as “the saving perfect righteousness of Jesus the Christ that is counted entirely ours when we join the Spirit-filled body that is already united to the righteous one, Christ the kingly head” (190). Bates ties this back to his notion of allegiance in this way (190):

That is, this alien righteousness, this righteous standing that properly belongs to Jesus alone, becomes ours derivatively when we give allegiance to Jesus as the sovereign king, at which moment the life-giving Spirit that already envelops the allegiance-yielding community also enters into us. At the moment of allegiance-generated, Spirit-enabled union, the individual is born again, is declared and truly is fully righteous in God’s sight, and can properly be described as having eternal life because and only because she or he is united to Jesus the king and so shares his totally righteous standing. Paul envisions all of this ordinarily happening as part of the baptismal process.

This leads Bates to challenge the Reformed position on eternal security, instead seeming to suggest that there may be some who will not persevere in allegiance and therefore not maintain their salvific union with Christ; “our ongoing and future justification depends on the maintenance of our righteousness-union with Jesus the saving king” (191).

Finally, in chapter 9, Bates considers some practical implications of his argument for salvation by allegiance alone. His metaphor of a “shield of allegiance” feels a bit cumbersome (it’s a lot to remember and the connections aren’t always immediately obvious), but he succeeds in making the case for providing a better gospel presentation that connects with the actual gospel. Simply put, “A true gospel invitation must summon the hearer toward a confession of allegiance to Jesus as the king or cosmic Lord”; after all, “the present-tense moment of choice in a gospel invitation should always be understood to be a response to the present-tense reality of Jesus’s kingly rule” (199). Bates also highlights some other important points: The focus must be on God and not the self. Tell the whole story of God’s work of creation, redemption, and re-creation, and give an invitation to live into that story. Heaven should be downplayed in favor of the new creation. False assurance of salvation should not be given in light of the need for perseverance. Public “ratification” of this newfound allegiance needs to take place publicly, through baptism.

From there, Bates describes how the “one path to final salvation” is the “path of discipleship” (205), which is of course precisely how Mark and the other writers of the New Testament portray the true Christian life. Bates offers up this insight (206):

A person is not first ‘saved’ by ‘faith’ in Jesus’s death for sins and then, once that is secured, plugged into a discipleship program as an optional extra in hope that he or she might ‘grow.’ On the contrary, a person is first saved when she or he becomes a disciple by declaring allegiance to Jesus the king — that is, when a person agrees to submit obediently to Jesus’s wise and sovereign rule so as to take up his way of life.

What is this way of life? It is, again as Mark clearly demonstrates, the imitation of Christ in his self-emptying and death to self. Finally, Bates turns to the Apostles’ Creed as not simply a summary of Christian belief but “a concise presentation of the allegiance-demanding gospel” (211). Drawing a parallel with the American Pledge of Allegiance (here James K.A. Smith came to mind), Bates offers this as a “trinitarian pledge of allegiance to Jesus the king” (211).

In many ways, Bates is simply restating key insights from the popular Anglican trio of N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, and Michael Bird. The success of this work, in my estimation, is his ability to synthesize these different developments and set out a model of salvation that is both deeply grounded in Scripture and the best modern biblical scholarship in a way that will be accessible to students and educated laypeople. Where Bates shines in this book is his exegesis of key New Testament texts, demonstrating a comprehensive awareness of relevant lexical, grammatical, cultural-historical, and scholarly issues impacting interpretation. While some reviewers (e.g., Will Timmins in JETS) have not found Bates’s exegesis as compelling as I have, I think it is important to remember that Bates only wants to foreground pistis as allegiance in the context of passages talking about eternal salvation, and in this sphere the notion of owing allegiance to the rightful and enthroned King makes perfect sense.

There are, however, a few places I wish Bates would expand his argument. For instance, he several times attacks the Reformed position that works flow from genuine faith, arguing that such a formula misunderstands the terms “faith” and “works.” This may be true, but I struggle to see how, practically speaking, this would impact a person’s approach to discipleship; either way, one is compelled to examine one’s life for evidence of good works and therefore true allegiance. I also wish Bates would have given more attention to early Christian literature outside of the New Testament; Bates contrasts his (and by extension his understanding of the New Testament’s) definition of faith with that of Augustine and then that of the Reformers, but his argument could have been strengthened by showing how his definition is evidenced in, say, pre-Nicene Christian literature or by explaining the historical or philosophical context for the change in definition between the New Testament and Augustine. In sum, though, I judge this to be a rich book precisely because I suspect that even readers who disagree with some of Bates’s conclusions or would prefer to see some issues clarified will find much to consider and will profit from his challenge to present (and live!) a more complete and nuanced version of pistis.

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Irenaeus: A Critical Biography

Note: As a service to fellow researchers, I am going to post critical biographies of the church fathers I examined in my book The Trinitarian Testimony of the Spirit. These biographical overviews were included in my original dissertation but were cut from the published version. Original footnotes are included as endnotes below; in conjunction with the essential bibliographies I have posted, this should help those looking to get into the literature on the early church fathers. I have been struck by how many published sources read the primary sources with a fairly uncritical lens; in these summaries, like any good historian, refuse to take primary sources at face value. 

Irenaeus of Lyons: A Critical Biography

As influential as Irenaeus’s writings have been, much of his life remains shrouded in mystery, with his writings providing little assistance in reconstructing his biography.[1] As with Justin, most of our knowledge concerning the life of Irenaeus comes from Eusebius. Our first clue for establishing a chronology of Irenaeus’s life concerns his relationship with Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna who was martyred ca. 156 CE.[2] In a letter to Florinus, preserved by Eusebius, Irenaeus describes how when he was a boy he listened eagerly to Polycarp’s teaching,[3] a point to which he also alludes in Against Heresies.[4] As a result, scholars place the date of Irenaeus’s birth between 130 and 140 CE,[5] with Asia Minor, perhaps more specifically the city of Smyrna, as the most plausible location for his birth.[6]

At some point, Irenaeus moved west. Irenaeus almost certainly passed through Rome, and likely spent a considerable amount of time there.[7] In any event, he eventually arrived in Lugdunum (modern-day Lyons in France),[8] and it is in this city that Irenaeus became first a presbyter and then a bishop.[9] In Irenaeus’s time, Lyons was the largest city north of the Alps as well as the center of both religious and economic activity in the province of Gaul.[10] Some time around 177 CE,[11] an intense persecution broke out in Lyons and nearby Vienne, and Eusebius preserves a letter from these Gallic churches to the churches in Asia Minor providing details of the martyrdoms that occurred at that time.[12] At some point during the persecution, Irenaeus was sent to Rome bearing a letter to Eleutherus, the bishop of Rome ca. 174–189 CE, identifying him as a presbyter of the Gallic church.[13] The aged bishop Pothinus was also martyred during the persecution, thus opening the door for Irenaeus’s presumed elevation to the episcopacy ca. 180 CE.[14]

Our best insight into Irenaeus’s ministry in Gaul comes from the aforementioned letter from the churches of Vienne and Lyons to the churches of Asia and Phrygia, from which we can glimpse “a remarkable Christian community, proud of those members who endured appalling torments, but prepared to acknowledge that some had weakened and, what was even more unusual in the early Church, prepared to forgive them.”[15] The fact that the letter was written in Greek and addressed to these Eastern churches suggests that the Christians in Lyons and Vienne were Greek-speakers with roots from Asia Minor, a hypothesis that fits well with known migration patterns from Asia to Gaul during this period.[16] The presence of Latin names among the list of martyrs suggests a significant Roman presence among the Greek-speaking majority in a church that likely drew members from across all of Lyons’s social classes.[17] Scholars are divided as to whether any form of Gnosticism was present in Gaul during the time of Irenaeus’s episcopate, but the evidence appears to be on the side of there being at least some Gnostic activity, which would explain both the extent of Irenaeus’s familiarity with their beliefs and the vehemence of his polemic.[18]

During his episcopate in Lyons, Irenaeus was actively engaged in the church’s missionary endeavors to the Celts in Gaul. Despite bemoaning the lack of what he considered to be high culture in Gaul,[19] Irenaeus was nevertheless motivated by his beliefs in the universality of the church and in the ability of the gospel to be truly accepted even among the so-called barbarians.[20] The successfulness of Irenaeus’s mission to the Gauls, Gregory of Tours’s sixth-century embellishments notwithstanding, is something of an open question, though as mentioned above, there appears to have been a small Celtic contingent within the church at Lyons.[21]

Irenaeus extensively involved himself in the theological disputes affecting Rome in the late second century, as evidenced by the numerous examples of his letters to Roman church leaders that are quoted or referenced by Eusebius.[22] Perhaps the most significant of these is a letter to Victor, who was bishop of Rome in approximately the last decade of the second century, concerning the Quartodeciman controversy.[23] In response to Victor’s attempt to excommunicate the Christians from the churches of Asia Minor on account of their difference in dating the celebration of Easter, Irenaeus pressed for peace between the churches out of respect for the ancient tradition followed by the Eastern churches.[24] Eusebius thus ends his account of Irenaeus’s life; although later accounts suggest that Irenaeus was himself martyred, this cannot be historically corroborated.[25] Regarding the date of Irenaeus’s death, Minns is correct to point out that “there is no evidence that Irenaeus lived beyond the reign of Victor,” whose tenure as bishop of Rome ended ca. 198 CE.[26]

Perhaps the most important issue concerning Irenaeus’s life for this study is the extent of Irenaeus’s knowledge of other early Christian writings. With respect to Justin Martyr, J. Armitage Robinson has convincingly demonstrated Irenaeus’s knowledge of and dependence on Justin, suggesting that Irenaeus had physical copies of Justin’s writings in his possession when composing his own works.[27] Not only this, but the evidence places Irenaeus in Rome at the same time that Justin was at the height of his career in that same city, making it highly unlikely that the two men did not have at least some degree of personal acquaintance.[28] Indeed, in his own writings Irenaeus speaks highly of Justin and names him as a source for his heresiological writings.[29] As such, in this chapter we will assume Irenaeus’s direct use of Justin’s writings, though the extent to which Irenaeus may have been influenced by Justin’s view of the Trinitarian testimony of the Spirit will be explored and validated later in this chapter. With respect to his use of the New Testament, as fitting his broader project of showing the continuity between Old and New Testaments Irenaeus quotes extensively from the vast majority of the New Testament writings.[30]

[1] For an overview of Irenaeus’s life, see F. R. M. Hitchcock, Irenaeus of Lugdunum: A Study of His Teaching (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914), 1–18; Morton S. Enslin, “Irenaeus: Mostly Prolegomena,” HTR 40 (1947): 137–65; Pierre Nautin, Lettres et écrivains chrétiens: Des IIe et IIIe siècles (Paris: Cerf, 1961), 92–104; Robert M. Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons, ECF (London: Routledge, 1997), 1–10; Eric Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 1–7; Denis Minns, Irenaeus: An Introduction (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 1–13; Paul Parvis, “Who Was Irenaeus? An Introduction to the Man and His Work,” in Irenaeus: Life, Scripture, Legacy, ed. Paul Foster and Sara Parvis (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012), 13–24; John Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity, Christian Theology in Context (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 66–71; Jackson Lashier, Irenaeus on the Trinity, VCSup 127 (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 18–41.

[2] On the dating of the martyrdom of Polycarp, see Sara Parvis, “The Martyrdom of Polycarp,” in The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers, ed. Paul Foster (London: T&T Clark, 2007), 127–32.

[3] Hist. eccl. 5.20 (SC 41:60–63).

[4] Haer. 3.3.4 (SC 211:38–44). The anonymous elder that Irenaeus introduces in Haer. 4.27.1 (SC 100:728) may in fact be Polycarp; so Charles E. Hill, From the Lost Teaching of Polycarp: Identifying Irenaeus’ Apostolic Presbyter and the Author of Ad Diognetum, WUNT 186 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006), 7–94; idem, “The Man Who Needed No Introduction: A Response to Sebastian Moll,” in Irenaeus: Life, Scripture, Legacy, ed. Sara Parvis and Paul Foster (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012), 95–104. For more on the relationship between Irenaeus and Polycarp, see Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons, 57–66; Hill, Lost Teaching, 72–80.

[5] Osborn (Irenaeus of Lyons, 2) and Lashier (Irenaeus on the Trinity, 18) broadly suggest the years 130–140; Behr (Irenaeus of Lyons, 67) locates Irenaeus’s birth closer to 130 CE, whereas Grant (Irenaeus of Lyons, 2) locates it closer to 140 CE. The other factor to consider in this is that because we know Irenaeus carried a letter from Gaul to Rome in 177 CE, when he served as a presbyter in the church of Lyons, it is unlikely that he could have been born after 140 CE and still have been old enough for the presbyterate; cf. Enslin, “Irenaeus,” 145.

[6] Parvis (“Who Was Irenaeus?,” 15) notes that whether or not Irenaeus was himself from Smyrna, “It is in any event clear that Irenaeus was from the East. He thought and wrote in Greek and has links both personal and theological with Asia Minor.” Cf. Lashier, Irenaeus on the Trinity, 20–21.

[7] Nautin (Lettres, 93) suggests that Irenaeus came to Rome in order to find work as a rhetorician. A lengthy stay in Rome would also explain Irenaeus’s close ties with that city, as revealed in his letters and later emissary trip. The Moscow Manuscript of the Martyrdom of Polycarp places Irenaeus in Rome at the time of Polycarp’s death; cf. Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons, 3.

[8] Hitchcock (Irenaeus of Lugdunum, 3) hypothesizes that Irenaeus fled to Gaul during the persecution of Marcus Aurelius, under which Justin was martyred.

[9] Hist. eccl. 5.4–5 (SC 41:27–31). Julius Caesar conquered Gaul in 52 BCE, and shortly thereafter in 43 BCE the Romans established Lugdunum on a hilltop overlooking where the Rhône and Saône rivers come together. On the founding of these towns, see further Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons, 17–18. On the close relationship between the churches of Gaul and Asia Minor (including Smyrna), see Hitchcock, Irenaeus of Lugdunum, 3–4.

[10] Parvis, “Who Was Irenaeus?,” 15; see further Enslin, “Irenaeus,” 155–57; Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons, 16–21.

[11] This dating is an important fixed point in a chronology of Irenaeus’s life, as Eusebius gives the year of the persecution as the seventeenth year of Antoninus Verus (that is, Aurelius Verus, who co-reigned with Marcus Aurelius).

[12] Hist. eccl. 5.1 (SC 41:6–23). Though this cannot be proven, it is at least possible that Irenaeus wrote this letter himself; so Nautin, Lettres, 54–61. On the significance of this letter, see Enslin, “Irenaeus,” 148–49.

[13] This letter is preserved in Hist. eccl. 5.4 (SC 41:27–28); cf. Hitchcock, Irenaeus of Lugdunum, 5–7. As Minns (Irenaeus, 2) observes, “it might seem odd that a high official in the Christian community should not only be at liberty while other members of that community were imprisoned, but even be able to travel to Rome on the business of the community.” Nautin (Lettres, 94) tries to solve the mystery of Irenaeus’s survival by suggesting that Irenaeus was at the time of the persecution bishop of Vienne and therefore largely unknown to local authorities. It was only upon the death of Pothinus, according to this reconstruction, that Irenaeus was consecrated bishop over Lyons as well.

[14] Hist. eccl. 5.5 (SC 41:31). Irenaeus, it should be noted, never identifies himself as a bishop, and to compound the problem there are difficulties in distinguishing between the offices of bishop and presbyter at this point in early Christian history; cf. Minns, Irenaeus, 2; Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons, 6. On the question of who consecrated Irenaeus, see Hitchcock, Irenaeus of Lugdunum, 8.

[15] Minns, Irenaeus, 3–4. Minns (Irenaeus, 4–5) goes on to find evidence of a critique of the Roman church’s developing hierarchy, which is intriguing in light of Irenaeus’s later emphasis on the importance of the episcopacy.

[16] Minns, Irenaeus, 3; Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons, 4; Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons, 19.

[17] Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons, 2.

[18] Donovan, One Right Reading?, 32–33; Lashier, Irenaeus on the Trinity, 31. Irenaeus also refers to the presence of the followers of Marcus, a disciple of Valentinus, in his own area; cf. Haer. 1.13.7 (SC 264:204).

[19] Haer. 1.pref.3 (SC 264:24).

[20] Haer. 3.4.2 (SC 211:46–48); cf. Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons, 4–5.

[21] As Grant (Irenaeus of Lyons, 5) points out, the letter from the churches of Lyons and Vienne in ca. 177 CE does not include any Celtic names, and so at least as of this time “the Celtic population remained resolutely non-Christian.” The early church at Lyons disappears from historical view after the city was sacked ca. 197 CE following Septimus Severus’s defeat of Clodius Albinus; cf. Minns, Irenaeus, 5.

[22] Hist. eccl. 5.20, 5.24 (SC 41:60–63, 69–71). On these letters and their historical context, see further Enslin, “Irenaeus,” 151–53.

[23] On the nature of the Christian communities in Rome during this period, see Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons, 21–47; Peter Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries, trans. Michael Steinhauser, ed. Marshall D. Johnson (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), noting especially 292–318 on the Roman Valentinians. For text and introduction to this letter, see Nautin, Lettres, 74–85.

[24] Hist. eccl. 5.24 (SC 41:69–71); Eusebius takes the opportunity to note that Irenaeus’s name comes from the Greek word for “peace.” Cf. Hitchcock, Irenaeus of Lugdunum, 11–12; Minns, Irenaeus, 2–3; Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons, 8–10.

[25] This tradition is, at the earliest, attested by Jerome (ca. 342–420 CE), with the first full account of Irenaeus’s martyrdom provided by Gregory of Tours (ca. 540–594 CE); cf. Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons, 14 n. 4; Hitchcock, Irenaeus of Lugdunum, 17–18.

[26] Minns, Irenaeus, 3. Jerome’s account suggests that Irenaeus died in 202 or 203 CE during the persecution of Septimus Severus, but there are good reasons for doubting this tradition; cf. Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons, 2.

[27] J. Armitage Robinson, intro. and trans., The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching (London: SPCK, 1920), 6–14. See further Lashier, Irenaeus on the Trinity, 22–26.

[28] It is quite plausible that Irenaeus was even one of Justin’s students; see further Michael Slusser, “How Much Did Irenaeus Learn from Justin?” StPatr 40 (2006): 515–20.

[29] Haer. 1.28.1, 4.6.2, 5.26.2 (SC 264:356; SC 100:440; SC 153:334).

[30] By one count, Irenaeus quotes 1,075 passages from the New Testament, including all its books except Philemon, 2 Peter, 3 John, and Jude; cf. Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987), 154.

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Justin Martyr: A Critical Biography

Note: As a service to fellow researchers, I am going to post critical biographies of the church fathers I examined in my book The Trinitarian Testimony of the Spirit. These biographical overviews were included in my original dissertation but were cut from the published version. Original footnotes are included as endnotes below; in conjunction with the essential bibliographies I have posted, this should help those looking to get into the literature on the early church fathers. I have been struck by how many published sources read the primary sources with a fairly uncritical lens; in these summaries, like any good historian, refuse to take primary sources at face value. 

Justin Martyr: A Critical Biography

In his writings, Justin reports some basic facts about his life.[1] At the outset of his 1 Apology, Justin writes that he was born in the Palestinian city of Flavia Neapolis (modern-day Nablus in the northern West Bank).[2] Established during the reign of Vespasian (69–79 CE), this colony town was located in Samaria, near the ancient site of Shechem.[3] Justin also notes in this passage that he is the son of Priscus and the grandson of Bacchius;[4] the latter name is Greek, while the former, like Justin’s own name, is Latin,[5] suggesting Roman descent.[6] In the absence of any more specific evidence, most scholars assign the date of Justin’s birth to the late first or early second century.[7] Elsewhere in his writings, Justin purports to be a Gentile convert to Christianity.[8] Interestingly, despite his birth in Samaritan Palestine, he claims to have been entirely ignorant of Mosiac religion and the Hebrew prophets until late in life.[9]

Justin’s writings also provide a basic sketch of his education and life as a philosopher. In the prologue of his Dialogue with Trypho (chs. 1–9), Justin recounts how he rejected one philosophical school after another until becoming a follower of Platonism.[10] His later decision to instead embrace Christianity as the one true philosophy seems to have come about on account of a chance meeting with an old man who directed him to the Hebrew prophets and thus to Christ.[11] While Justin’s conversion narrative has no doubt been shaped in light of the dramatic and literary conventions of his day, there is no reason to reject the historicity of its basic elements.[12] That Justin continued to see himself as a philosopher even after his conversion to Christianity is evident on account of his distinctive gown.[13]

For the rest of Justin’s biography, we are dependent on sources other than his own writings. In particular, we are forced to depend on Eusebius and his “moving but not wholly reliable” report of Justin’s life.[14] Much of Eusebius’s account simply confirms what Justin already told us about himself,[15] though Eusebius helpfully specifies that Justin was living in Rome and at the height of his activities during the reign of Antoninus Pius (138–161 CE), engaging in both public disputation as well as the informal teaching of pupils, including Tatian, in the model of a philosophical school.[16] Justin’s time in Rome thus overlapped with that of another figure of enormous importance for early Christianity, Marcion of Sinope, who was active in Rome during this same period.[17]

Eusebius suggests that Justin was martyred at the instigation of Crescens, a Cynic philosopher with whom Justin frequently debated.[18] Tatian, Justin’s disciple, merely suggests that Crescens conspired against Justin and himself,[19] and as such Eusebius has likely made a plausible inference about what is otherwise unknown.[20] A longer account of Justin’s trial and martyrdom also survives from antiquity and places the time of Justin’s death during the prefecture of Rusticus (162–168 CE), when Justin was living in Rome for the second time[21] and informally teaching students from his living quarters above the bathhouse of Martinus.[22]

[1] For a basic overview of Justin’s life, from which this section is drawn, see Henry Chadwick, “Justin Martyr’s Defence of Christianity,” BJRL 4 (1965): 275–78; L. W. Barnard, Justin Martyr: His Life and Thought (London: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 4–13; Osborn, Justin Martyr, 6–10; Craig D. Allert, Revelation, Truth, Canon and Interpretation: Studies in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, VCSup 64 (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 28–31; David Rokéah, Justin Martyr and the Jews, JCP 5 (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 1–2; Denis Minns and Paul Parvis, eds., Justin, Philosopher and Martyr: Apologies, OECT (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 32–33.

[2] 1 Apol. 1.1 (SC 507:128).

[3] Osborn, Justin Martyr, 6.

[4] 1 Apol. 1.1 (SC 507:128).

[5] Allert, Revelation, 28.

[6] Osborn, Justin Martyr, 6. Barnard (Justin Martyr, 5) speculates that Justin’s ancestors were some of the earliest Roman settlers of Flavia Neapolis.

[7] Barnard (Justin Martyr, 5) further suggests that the only facts we can know definitively about Justin are that he taught in Rome during the reign of Antoninus Pius and that he was martyred during the reign of Marcus Aurelius; still, he infers that Justin was likely born in the late first or early second century. This conclusion is echoed by Allert, Revelation, 28. Osborn (Justin Martyr, 6) favors a date in the early second century.

[8] Dial. 41.3 (PTS 47:138). Justin was, therefore, uncircumcised; cf. Dial. 28.2 (PTS 47:115). Osborn (Justin Martyr, 6) notes that Justin does at Dial. 120.6 (PTS 47:278) describe the Samaritans as his people but that he nonetheless never ceased to self-identify as a Gentile. Cf. Minns and Parvis, Justin, 32.

[9] As seems to be implied in Dial. 7.1 (PTS 47:82); cf. Osborn, Justin Martyr, 6.

[10] Dial. 2 (PTS 47:71–73); cf. Barnard, Justin Martyr, 6–7.

[11] Dial. 3–8 (PTS 47:73–85). Allert (Revelation, 29) notes that Justin gives the witness of the martyrs as a second reason for his conversion to Christianity in 2 Apol. 12.1 (SC 507:356). Barnard (Justin Martyr, 13) suggests that Justin’s conversion from Platonism to Christianity likely took place shortly before the outbreak of the Bar Kochba revolt (ca. 132 CE).

[12] For instance, though Erwin R. Goodenough, The Theology of Justin Martyr (Jena: Frommannsche Buchhandlung, 1923; repr., Amsterdam: Philo Press, 1968), 58–59 sees Justin’s conversion account as merely following literary convention, Barnard (Justin Martyr, 11) and Osborn (Justin Martyr, 7–8) believe Justin’s story to be rooted in history.

[13] Cf. Dial. 1.2 (PTS 47:69), in which Trypho identifies Justin as a philosopher on account of his attire.

[14] Osborn, Justin Martyr, 8.

[15] Allert, Revelation, 29; cf. Hist. eccl. 4.8 (SC 31:170).

[16] Hist. eccl. 4.11 (SC 31:175–76). On Justin’s “school,” see further Barnard, Justin Martyr, 12–13; Osborn, Justin Martyr, 8–9; Harlow Gregory Snyder, “‘Above the Bath of Myrtinus’: Justin Martyr’s ‘School’ in the City of Rome,” HTR 100 (2007): 335–62; Jörg Ulrich, “What Do We Know about Justin’s ‘School’ in Rome?” ZAC 16 (2012): 62–74; Tobias Georges, “Justin’s School in Rome—Reflections on Early Christian ‘Schools,’” ZAC 16 (2012): 75–87. For more on the extent and nature of Christianity in Rome in and around Justin’s time, see Peter Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries, ed. Marshall D. Johnson, trans. Michael Steinhauser (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), and especially 257–84 on Justin.

[17] Justin mentions Marcion and his followers by name at 1 Apol. 26.5, 58.1 (SC 507:200, 281); Dial. 35.6 (PTS 47:129). Regarding Marcion’s chronology, the traditional view, following patristic sources, is that Marcion arrived in Rome ca. 140 CE, was expelled from the community of the orthodox Roman churches and founded his own in July of 144, and died around 160; see further Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus, 241–56, who follows the work of Adolf Harnack, Marcion: Das Evangelium vom Fremden Gott (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1921). R. Joseph Hoffmann, Marcion: On the Restitution of Christianity: An Essay on the Development of Radical Paulinist Theology in the Second Century, AARAS 46 (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1984), 74, presents an alternative chronology that is far more skeptical of the early sources, suggesting that Marcion was active in Asia Minor ca. 110–150 CE and that his purported trip to Rome was a patristic fiction. Hoffmann’s work has not been well-received; cf. the criticisms of Sebastian Moll, The Arch-Heretic Marcion, WUNT 250 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), 7–8. In the most recent work on Marcion, Judith M. Lieu, Marcion and the Making of a Heretic: God and Scripture in the Second Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 297, accepts “the most stable tradition that associates Marcion with Rome.” A vigorous defense of the traditional chronology and Marcion’s activity in Rome may be found in Moll, Arch-Heretic Marcion, 25–46.

[18] Hist. eccl. 4.16 (SC 31:190–92).

[19] Or. Graec. 19.2 (PTS 43:39).

[20] Osborn, Justin Martyr, 9; contra Barnard, Justin Martyr, 5–6.

[21] Adalbert G. Hamman, “Essai de chronologie de la vie et des oeuvres de Justin,” Aug 35 (1995): 231–39, places Justin in Rome from roughly 140–150 CE and 155–165 CE, with an intervening stay in Palestine. Allert (Revelation, 30) suggests that Justin was more of an itinerant teacher headquartered in Rome than he was the leader of a permanent school. Cf. Barnard, Justin Martyr, 12.

[22] The text and translation of the Acta Justini can be found in Herbert Musurillo, ed. and trans., The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), 42–61. Osborn (Justin Martyr, 8) notes that this account seems authentic, lacking later “credulous ornamentation.” This form of the tradition likely comes from the third century (Barnard, Justin Martyr, 6), though its roots no doubt go back into the second. For more details on Justin’s location in Rome, see Minns and Parvis, Justin, 57–59. On the date of Justin’s death, scholars find the year 165 CE to be the most plausible; cf. Minns and Parvis, Justin, 32; Barnard, Justin Martyr, 5.

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2018 Year in Review

IMG_1688With SBL Denver now behind me, it’s a good moment to pause and reflect on the year that has passed and look forward to the year ahead. Without a doubt, this was one of my most active years to date: a monograph (The Trinitarian Testimony of the Spirit, from Brill), a journal article (on Cyprian, in the Journal of Early Christian History), a book review (in Review of Biblical Literature) and three conference presentations (on the Epistle of Barnabas and on Irenaeus at SBL Helsinki; on second-century Christology at SBL Denver). Still, the highlight of the year, academically speaking, was the opportunity to attend these conferences where I could both reconnect with old friends and meet new people, especially current graduate students, who are excited about my work and seem eager to take it in new directions.

Where does that leave things for 2019? With significant family and professional developments on the horizon, conference appearances in the coming year would appear to be unlikely. There is a chance a book review or the perpetually-on-the-back-burner Barnabas journal article might see print in 2019, but I’m not expecting much more beyond that. Rather, I see next year as an opportunity to dive back into the primary sources and begin laying the groundwork for a second book. More details to come!

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