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(Would He Be a Jehovah's Witness?)
By Gary F. Zeolla
Justin Martyr had been a Grecian philosopher until he "met a venerable old Christian. This humble Christian shook his confidence in human wisdom and pointed him to the Hebrew prophets." After his conversion to Christianity, Justin "devoted himself wholeheartedly to the vindication and spread of the Christian religion."
As his surname implies, Justin was martyred for being a Christian. In 165 AD, along with six other Christians, he was beheaded in Rome (Moyer, p.220).
If he was alive today, would he consider the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses to be the Christianity he so strongly preached, defended and even died for?
More pointedly, would Justin join the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WT)? This is the organization Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) belong to. Recent references to Justin Martyr in The Watchtower (a magazine published by the WT) have given the impression that he would. Is this an accurate representation of Justin?
The way to answer these questions is to compare Justin's teachings with those of the WT. Are they in basic agreement? The First Apology of Justin Martyr will be used to establish Justin's beliefs (Marcus Dod's translation). In his Apology, Justin is demonstrating Christianity's superiority over paganism (Moyer, p.220).
Two books published by the WT will be utilized to document its teachings. The first is You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (LF). This book is generally used by JWs when they are allowed to conduct "Bible studies" in people's homes.
The other WT book is Reasoning from the Scriptures (RS). This book is designed to help JWs answer questions encountered while knocking on doors.
The WT teaches, "When a person is in a deep sleep, he remembers nothing. It is similar with the dead. They have no feelings at all. They no longer exist. But, in God's due time, the dead who are ransomed by God will be raised to life" (LF, p.80).
And even further, "That the soul lives on after death is a lie started by the Devil. And it is also a lie, which the Devil has spread, that the souls of the wicked are tormented in a hell or purgatory" (LF, p.89).
Did Justin agree with these ideas? Near the beginning of his Apology, Justin wrote, "If death meant the end of all sensation, it would be a blessing to the wicked. However, SENSATION DOES NOT END WITH DEATH" (p.86; Luke 16:19-31; 2Pet 2:9).
Further, "GEHENNA IS A PLACE OF PUNISHMENT for those who live wickedly and for those who do not believe these things that God taught us through Christ. THE DEMONS CANNOT KEEP HIDDEN THE FACT that there will be a fire for the punishment of the wicked" (pp.86f; Mark 9:42-48).
Later, Justin states about the early Christians in general, "We say THE WICKED WILL BE PUNISHED in the same bodies they have now, after their bodies and spirits are re-united. Also, we say that THEIR PUNISHMENT WILL BE EVERLASTING, not merely for a thousand years, as Plato taught (p.108; Dan 12:2; Matt 25:41,46).
When discussing the return of Christ and the final resurrection, he declares, "He (Christ) will clothe the bodies of the worthy with immortality. He will send the bodies of the wicked, ENDOWED WITH ETERNAL SENSIBILITY, INTO EVERLASTING FIRE with the demons (p.125; Rev 14:9-11; 20:10-15; 21:8).
God's (Supposed) Name
JWs believe it is "... important to know and use God's personal name" (RS, p.196). RS states that Jehovah is "The personal name of the only true God" (p.191). The WT even goes so far as to claim that one way to identify "the True Religion" is to discover who uses the name Jehovah in their preaching (LF, pp.184f).
But did Justin believe God has a name by which He has to be referred to by? First, he states that Christians worship "A GOD WHO IS CALLED BY NO PROPER NAME."
Further, in a discussion on baptism, he writes:
"The man who leads the (baptismal) candidate to the place of washing refers to God only by that designation. For no one can utter the name of the inexpressible God. In fact, IF ANYONE DARES TO SAY THERE IS SUCH A NAME, HE RAVES WITH A HOPELESS MADNESS" (p.91; cp. Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6).
The Lord's Supper
At the Last Supper, as Jesus shared the bread and wine with His disciples, He told them, "do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19; NKJV). But how often should the Lord's Supper be celebrated? And who should partake of the elements?
JWs refer to this ceremony as "The Memorial Meal" (RS, p.265). They believe it should only be celebrated once a year, near the time of the Jewish Passover.
The WT explains, "Jehovah's Witnesses observe the Memorial after sundown on Nisan 14, according to the reckoning of the Jewish calendar that was common in the first century" (RS, p.268).
Further, the WT teaches only a small percentage of Christians should partake:
How many are there that partake? Jesus said that a "little flock" would receive the heavenly Kingdom as their reward. (Luke 12:32) The full number would be 144,000. (Rev 14:1-3) That group began to be selected in 33 C.E. (the Common Era, equivalent to AD). Reasonably, there would be only a small number partaking now (RS, p.268).
A discussion of the WT's theology of the 144,000 and its further implications can be found in the article Jehovah's Witnesses and the 144,000. Here, the important point is, only a limited number of JWs partake of the elements.
9,950,058 attended the 1990 WT "Memorial." Of these, only 8,869 partook of the elements (WT, 1/1/91, p.21). This is less than 1/10 of 1% of the total attending.
But what did Justin believe on these matters? His description of the WEEKLY meeting of the early Christians should answer this question.
ON THE DAY CALLED SUNDAY, all who live in cities or in the country gather together into one place. There the memoirs of the apostles, or the writings of the prophets, are read, for as long as time permits. When the reader is finished, the presiding brother verbally instructs us and urges us to imitate the good things that were read to us. Next we all rise together and pray.
And as I related before, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought [the wine being diluted with the water]. In this manner, the presiding brother offers prayers and thanksgiving according to his ability. And the people assent, saying, "Amen." Then THE BREAD AND WINE ARE DISTRIBUTED TO EACH PERSON AND EACH PARTAKES. The servants [deacons] take a portion to those who are absent (p.94; Matt 26:26f; Acts 20:7).
Moreover, by the mid-second century, Christianity had spread throughout the Roman Empire and even beyond (Dowley, p.65). So it reasonable to assume there were far more than just 144,000 Christians at the time Justin wrote his Apology.
Torture Stake vs. Cross
What was the shape of the instrument of Jesus' crucifixion? According to the WT, "Jesus died on an upright stake and not on the traditional cross" (RS, p.90).
In other words, it teaches there was only one piece of wood (an upright pole with no crossbeam). In WT literature, Jesus is usually pictured being crucified with both arms over His head and ONE nail going through BOTH wrists (but see John 20:25).
JWs further believe that cherishing Jesus' instrument of death is shear folly, "How would you feel if one of your dearest friends was executed on the basis of false charges? Would you make a replica of the instrument of execution? Would you cherish it, or would you rather shun it?" (RS, p.92).
Moreover, the WT teaches the cross is actually a pagan symbol, "The cross was the symbol of Tammuz" (RS, p.92). Tammuz was "the Babylonian god of nature" (Criswell, p.1112; see Ezek 8:14). What would Justin's opinion be of these ideas?
The following passage from his Apology should make his position very clear:
THE CROSS IS NOW THE GREATEST SYMBOL OF GOD'S POWER AND RULE. In fact, we can all observe that the form of the cross is essential to our way of life.
For example, you make use of the cross every time you sail across the sea, for THE MAST AND CROSSBEAM FORM A CROSS. The farmer's plow is of the same shape, as are most of the implements used by mechanics and laborers.
Moreover, look at the very shape of the human body and how it differs from that of irrational animals. We differ from animals in the fact that WE STAND ERECT. AND WHEN OUR ARMS ARE EXTENDED, WE FORM THE SHAPE OF THE CROSS.
Finally, look at your own banners and military standards. These are also in the shape of a cross (p.104; 1Cor 1:18; Col 2:13-15).
The New Heavens and the New Earth
The Bible declares there is coming "a new heaven and a new earth" (see Isa 65:17; 66:22; Rev 21:1). But does the WT take these words literally?
After quoting 2Peter 3:13, LF states:
What are these "new heavens?" They are not new physical heavens. God made our heavens perfect, and they bring him glory. (Psalm 8:3; 19:1f) The "new heavens" refer to a new rulership over the earth .... The "new earth" refers to a new group or society of people (p.160).
Did Justin agree with this interpretation? To answer this question requires a look at Justin's attitude towards Grecian philosophy. He admits that occasionally the statements of the philosophers are in agreement with Christian theology. But he claims that the philosophers received these ideas from Moses since, "Moses was the first prophet and of greater antiquity than the Greek writers."
He declares one of the correct ideas the philosophers had is the belief that "THE MATERIAL UNIVERSE WILL BE DISSOLVED" (Matt 24:35; Heb 1:10-12; 2Pet 3:10-12).
But he asserts this concept was not original with the Greeks, "Notice how the Spirit of prophecy also revealed through Moses that THE WORLD WOULD BURN UP. He said, 'Everlasting fire shall descend and shall devour to the pit beneath'" (Deut 32:22; pp.109-111).
So the WT and Justin disagree on what happens after death, the eternal state of the wicked and on the use of God's supposed name. They differ on how often the Lord's Supper should be celebrated and on how many should partake of the elements.
They are at odds about the shape and importance of the cross. Justin and the WT can't even agree on what is meant by the promise of a new heaven and a new earth.
So Where is the Agreement?
So where is the supposed agreement? What is the WT pointing to when it tries to turn Justin Martyr into a JW? The most important issue brought up in the articles in The Watchtower is the subject of the Trinity. In particular, the WT tries to make it appear that, like JWs, Justin did not believe in the Deity of Jesus Christ.
But does the WT honestly present the views of Justin on this matter? Two issues of The Watchtower will be looked at in this regard.
First is The Watchtower of March 15, 1992. Page 29 quotes Justin as saying, "We are not atheists worshipping as we do the Maker of the universe ... Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ ... He is the Son of the true God."
This quotation is from Justin's Apology. This book is, of course, the one that has been referred to throughout this article. Checking this book, it is discovered that following the words "JESUS CHRIST" is Justin's declaration, "It is only reasonable that WE WORSHIP HIM" (P.98; Matt 28:9; Rev 5:8-14). Interesting that the WT should leave this sentence out in its quotation of the passage.
The other issue of The Watchtower is dated April 1, 1992. On page 26, the WT quotes Justin as saying, "The Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten word of God, is even God." But does Justin's calling Jesus "God" mean he believed Jesus was really God? Not according to the WT!
The article goes on to state that there are places in the Bible where the word "God" is used in reference to beings who are not truly God. Thus, the WT claims that Justin didn't really mean Jesus is fully God when he called Him God.
But why doesn't the WT let Justin explain for himself what he meant when he called Jesus God rather than doing it for him?
This quote is again from The Apology. In the next sentence of the original, Justin declares, "In ancient times, CHRIST APPEARED TO MOSES and to other prophets in the form of fire and the likeness of an Angel" (Exod 3:2-4; 13:21; 14:19).
He then attributes to this same Person, "The words spoken out of the burning bush to Moses, I AM THAT I AM, THE GOD of Abraham, and THE GOD of Isaac, and THE GOD of Jacob" (pp.106f; see Exod 3:6,14). Thus, Justin believed Jesus was the One who proclaimed, "I Am that I Am." There is no stronger ascription of Deity than this!
So it is clear why the WT doesn't let Justin speak for himself. If it did, its claim that Justin didn't believe in the Deity of Christ would fail miserably!
Given all of the above, if Justin Martyr were alive today, would he be a JW? VERY DOUBTFUL!!! In fact, if Justin were alive, he would probably be rather angry at the WT for the dishonest manner in which it misrepresents him and his teachings.
Even further, given this dishonesty and even outright deception on the WT's part, can it really be "God's visible organization" as it claims? (LF, p.255). This final question you, the reader, will have to answer for yourself.
For books containing the writings of Church Fathers like Justin Martyr, see the book listed at Church History Books: Books-A-Million Recommendations.
Criswell, W.A. The Believer's Study Bible: NKJV. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991.
Dods, Marcus. transl. The First Apology of Justin Martyr. Tyler, TX: Scroll Publishers, 1989.
Dowley, Tim. Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity. New York: Wm. Eerdman's Publ. Co., 1977.
Moyer, Elgin. ed. The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church. Chicago: Moody, 1982.
All WT publications are by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Brooklyn, NY: The Watchtower 1/1/91;
3/15/92; 4/1/92; Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985; You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, 1982.
Justin Martyr: Would He Be a Jehovah's Witness? Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
The above article originally appeared in Darkness to Light
newsletter in 1992.
It was posted on this Web site in July 1996.
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