The First Apology of Justin Martyr and Second Apology Summarized

Justin Martyr’s First Apology was addressed to Emperor Adrianus, his sons, Verrisimus and Lucius, and the Roman Senate. It is written according to the common “petition” form of Roman literature of the mid-second century AD; however, the First Apology is about “fifteen times the length of a normal petition to the Emperor.” Justin used the standard petition as a means to present a more comprehensive apologetic of the Christian faith. When using the word apology in this context, one is referring to a defense or explanation of the Christian faith. Justin wrote his First Apology to ask for a fair treatment of Christians who had been persecuted in the Roman Empire for over a century. The First Apology was written either in the AD 140s or 150s.

Justin begins his First Apology by reminding his readers that ethical rulers will carefully examine and fairly judge all matters before them. If Christians are guilty of breaking any laws or committing any crimes, they should be justly punished; but if Christians are falsely accused, why are the false accusers not punished? The first section of the Apology, consisting of chapters 4-12, is a critique of how Christians were being falsely accused and mistreated in the Roman Empire. The most prominent injustice Justin addressed was Christians’ being punished merely because they claimed the name of Christ. True Christians would never deny the name of Jesus Christ, so there were many instances in which Christian trials consisted of nothing more than verifying the Christians were indeed claiming to be Christians. 

The second most prominent false accusation was that Christians were supposedly atheists. The word atheism simply means “no god,” so Justin defended Christians against the simplest form of this accusation by claiming that Christians cannot rightly be referred to as atheists if their entire faith is based on the one true God. It is the adherents of Greek, Roman, and Eastern religions who are atheists, in a sense, because they do not believe in the one true God. They believe in multiple spiritual beings who are just demons deceiving human minds to distract people from knowing the one true God. 

The third most prominent false accusation was that Christians were supposedly disloyal citizens to the Roman Empire. Justin argued that Christians, to the contrary, were excellent citizens of the Roman Empire. Christians prayed for and worked toward peace in the empire. Christians did recognize the Kingdom of God as not being of this world, so there is no direct competition between the two. Christians are focused on eternity, not merely the present time. 

The second and much longer section of Justin’s First Apology, consisting of chapters 13-68, is an explanation and justification of Christian faith and life. In a sense, Justin is turning his thoughts from a negative apologetic to a positive one, from defending Christians against false accusations to a description of what Christians do. He begins this second section with some basic teachings of Christ. Christians do not engage in sexually-inappropriate behavior because their goal is to love one another purely without lust. Even sex in marriage is only for the purpose of procreation. Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies and pray for them unlike the enemies of Christians who only seek to harm Christians. Christians follow Jesus’ teaching when they speak and live the truth clearly. Under these circumstances, no oaths need to be made—just simply speaking the truth. Jesus also taught His followers to pay taxes and pray for rulers to make sound judgments.

Jesus Christ is the main focus of Christianity. When Christians speak of Jesus’ rising from the dead, it should not seem strange to philosophers, for those philosophers have themselves written about an afterlife. Christians also bore witness to the miracles of Jesus Christ and believed what was written about Him ahead of time. Prophets and other biblical authors like Moses, David, Isaiah, Micah, and Ezekiel predicted Jesus’ conception and birth, miracles, manner of death, resurrection, ascension, future second coming, and final judgment. They also spoke of Jesus appearing as the voice of the “Angel of the Lord” speaking to Moses in the burning bush in the third chapter of Exodus.

Justin claims that any genuine insight the philosophers and poets had into spiritual realities was first proclaimed by the prophets of the Old Testament. These philosophers and poets, right or wrong, did address the notion of creation as well as the descent, birth, death, and ascent of Jesus Christ. Any false information they had about creation, God, or the world was due to the influence of demons. This includes misdirected worship, ideas about people becoming gods, and the gall to accuse Christians of the same immoral sexual behavior the accusers themselves were committing. Justin also criticizes the Stoic idea of fate. He argues that people and angels have free will, so they are worthy of praise and blame according to their actions.

We also learn about Christians’ regular forms of worship in the mid-second century church. For example, baptisms were preceded by prayer and fasting, involved a washing called “regeneration” in the triune name of God, and were considered to impart a greater degree of awareness of spiritual matters. The eucharist—that is, the ceremonial eating of bread and drinking of wine in memory of the sacrifice of Jesus’ body and blood on the cross—is to be celebrated only by people who have already been baptized. Christians, who are able, help those in need (such as orphans, widows, the sick, prisoners, and travelers). Beyond that, Christians meet together on Sundays to listen, learn, and pray.

As a final appeal in his First Apology, Justin boldly warns the emperor, “do not decree death against those who have done no wrong, as you would against enemies. For we forewarn you, that you will not escape the coming judgment of God, if you continue in your injustice.” Appended to the end of the petition are a few official letters regarding withholding persecution from Christians based on the writing of Emperors Hadrian, Antoninus, and Marcus Aurelius.

The relationship of Justin’s Second Apology to his First Apology is somewhat unclear; however, the Second Apology is widely accepted as also being written by Justin and not long after the First Apology. Perhaps Justin added to his First Apology in a further appeal that required a few extra details. The Second Apology is not nearly as long as the First Apology and is a bit more academic or philosophical in its tone. 

The Second Apology includes a detailed account of a pagan couple in Rome who were in a bad and sinful marriage. The wife became a Christian, began behaving well, and wanted her husband to do the same. The husband refused and lived such a sinful life that his wife felt she had no choice but to apply for a divorce. The husband was upset at his ex-wife, but when the divorce was final, his only recourse was to accuse her teacher in the matters of Christianity of being a Christian. The teacher admitted being a Christian and was thrown into prison. A bystander named Lucius objected to the teacher’s being thrown into prison, so Lucius, also being a Christian, was thrown into prison. Likewise, a third person who came forward admitting to being a Christian was thrown into prison. Justin himself expected to be thrown into prison as well because a proud Stoic named Crescens was looking for an occasion to have Justin punished. Crescens did not bother to read about, or otherwise become familiar with, Christianity; but that did not stop Crescens from opposing Justin and other Christians. 

Justin claimed that accusations against Christians were the work of demons, who had been procreated by fallen male angels and human women long ago. For that matter, all hatred for people who lived reasonable and earnest lives and shunned evil was incited by these same demons. People who hated Christians extended their hate to any of the Christians’ children and employees too. The people responsible for the punishment of Christians themselves participated in wicked behavior and thus demonstrated the greatest of hypocrisies. The demons were influencing the world to hate people who were good. The demons and people who followed them in their wickedness would burn in Hell, but Christians do not fear death. Justin’s final appeal in his Second Apology was that it be published and distributed widely because the people of the world want to know what is good and what is evil.

  1.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 1.
  2.  Paul Parvis, “Justin Martyr,” in Early Christian Thinkers: The Lives and Legacies of Twelve Key Figures (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 7.
  3.  For an extended discussion of the early theory of the 140s and the later theory of the 150s, see Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Volume Two—Ante-Nicene Christianity, A.D. 100-325 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1910), footnote #2, 716-717.
  4.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 2-3. Justin and his fellow Christians were not necessarily asking the Roman rulers to punish false accusers but just to realize that the false accusers were the only people guilty of injustice in the equation.
  5.  Johannes Quasten, Patrology: Volume 1—The Beginning of Patristic Literature from the Apostles Creed to Irenaeus (Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1990), 199.
  6.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 4.
  7.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 5-6. For a discussion on the four different senses of atheism, see Paul Feinberg, “Atheism,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 217), 95-96.
  8.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 5, 9-10, 13-14, 56-58.
  9.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 11, 17.
  10.  Johannes Quasten, Patrology: Volume 1—The Beginning of Patristic Literature from the Apostles Creed to Irenaeus (Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1990), 200.
  11.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 15.
  12.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 29.
  13.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 15-16.
  14.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 16.
  15.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 17.
  16.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 18-19.
  17.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 30-31.
  18.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 32-35, 37-42, 44-45, 48-53.
  19.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 63.
  20.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 44.
  21.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 21-22, 55, 59, 60.
  22.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 24-27.
  23.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 43.
  24.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 61.
  25.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 66.
  26.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 67.
  27.  Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 68.
  28.  Justin Martyr, 2 Apology, 2.
  29.  Justin Martyr, 2 Apology, 5.
  30.  Justin Martyr, 2 Apology, 8.
  31.  Justin Martyr, 2 Apology, 9, 11-12.
  32.  Justin Martyr, 2 Apology, 14.