Saturday, January 12, 2008

Works of the Law and Justin Martyr

As I've argued in The Saving Righteousness of God, "works of the law" refers to the whole Mosaic legislation and I am not fond of the term "boundary markers" to use Wright and Dunn's terminology. I'm even less convinced that "works of the law" in 4QMMT means the distinctive practices of the Qumran sect. Nonetheless, one has to admit that in the context of discussions about the relationship of Christian Gentiles to the Law (esp. the view that one must become a Jew in order to become a Christian), that "works of the law" means the Judean way of life as codified in the Torah. What has really higlighted this for me again is reading the opening chapters of Justin Martyr's Dialogues with Trypho. In Book 10, Trypho retorts to Justin:
"But this is what we are most at a loss about: that you, professing to be pious, and supposing yourselves better than others, are not in any particular separated from them, and do not alter your mode of living from the nations, in that you observe no festivals or sabbaths, and do not have the rite of circumcision; and further, resting your hopes on a man that was crucified, you yet expect to obtain some good thing from God, while you do not obey His commandments. Have you not read, that that soul shall be cut off from his people who shall not have been circumcised on the eighth day? And this has been ordained for strangers and for slaves equally. But you, despising this covenant rashly, reject the consequent duties, and attempt to persuade yourselves that you know God, when, however, you perform none of those things which they do who fear God. If, therefore, you can defend yourself on these points, and make it manifest in what way you hope for anything whatsoever, even though you do not observe the law, this we would very gladly hear from you, and we shall make other similar investigations."
Notice here that observing the Law has as one of its main purposes separation from the nations and what does Trypho give as his two favourite exampels: circumcision and sabbaths. Sound familiar? Notice also, that Trypho thinks that this is necessary for anyone who seeks favour from God, even for strangers (= aliens) and slaves, thus it is applicable to Gentiles. Justin's response, in good ol' Pauline fashion is to say:
"But we do not trust through Moses or through the law; for then we would do the same as yourselves. But now — (for I have read that there shall be a final law, and a covenant, the chiefest of all, which it is now incumbent on all men to observe, as many as are seeking after the inheritance of God. For the law promulgated on Horeb is now old, and belongs to yourselves alone; but this is for all universally. Now, law placed against law has abrogated that which is before it, and a covenant which comes after in like manner has put an end to the previous one; and an eternal and final law—namely, Christ —has been given to us, and the covenant is trustworthy, after which there shall be no law, no commandment, no ordinance."


J. B. Hood said...

to which add Ep Diognetus chapter 4, which may well be earlier (see esp Charles Hill's monograph on this, From the lost teaching of Polycarp (WUNT 186 Mohr Siebeck 2005) than Justin, but otherwise still more than relevant.

A. B. Caneday said...


Sounds like some stuff that I wrote recently.

Geoff Hudson said...

How can you be sure that Trypho wrote what Justin Martyr said he wrote? Thus Justin could have written the words for Trypho, possibly a fictitious character, to suit an argument that Justin knew existed in 'Pauline' documents. So of course 'Trypho' would give his two favourite examples wouldn't he: circumcision and sabbaths, which were indeed familiar to Justin. And then it was all post 70, but pre 70, 'separation from the nations' would also have meant cleansing by animal sacrifices. Presumably, if the temple had been left standing and the priests allowed to sacrifice, that ordinance would have continued up to the time Justin wrote. So we have an element of 'Pauline' triumphalism in Justin's words "no ordinance". A modern day 'Trypho' used as a stalking horse is a character given the name Earl Doherty, the supposed writer of The Jesus Puzzle. The true author seems to have fooled quite a few. The tradition of 'Trypho' continues.

David Brainerd said...

"Justin's response, in good ol' Pauline fashion is to say:"

Lol. There is nothing Pauline about Justin Martyr's position, or does Justin ever quote or even mention Paul, ever, in any of his writings.

Justin's position is more in line with Acts 15, which none of Paul's many contradictory positions can harmonize with (they can't even harmonize with themselves).

My article on this:
Historic Christianity on the Law.

Historically Christians, especially laymen, have rejected Paul's nonsensical wranglings on the Law for Justin's much more sensible approach, and yet major Paulinist writers and pastors keep trying to take us a step back and make us accept Paul's incoherent illogic.

David Brainerd said...

Also, when Justin says at the end of your quote "after which there shall be no law, no commandment, no ordinance" he does NOT mean there is no law, no commandment, no ordinance in Christianity! He means the Christian law, the new law, Christ's law, is the FINAL law to be given by God. He means that revelation is finished, and this is the final product.