Justin Martyr’s First Apology – Paganism an Imitation of Christianity

Paganism an Imitation of Christianity – Written between 151 & 155 A.D.

54. But those who hand on the myths invented by the poets offer no demonstration to the youngsters who learn them—indeed I [am prepared to] show that they were told at the instigation of the wicked demons to deceive and lead astray the human race. For when they heard it predicted through the prophets that Christ was to come, and that impious men would be punished by fire, they put forward a number of so-called sons of Zeus, thinking that they could thus make men suppose that what was said about Christ was a mere tale of wonders like the stories told by the poets. These stories were spread among the Greeks and all the Gentiles, where, as they heard the prophets proclaiming, Christ would especially be believed in. But, as I will make clear, though they heard the words of the prophets they did not understand them accurately, but made mistakes in imitating what was told about our Christ. The prophet Moses was, as I said before, older than all [Greek] writers, and this prophecy was made through him, as previously cited: “The ruler shall not depart from Judah, nor the governor from his thighs, until he come for whom it is reserved; and he shall be the expectation of the nations, binding his colt to the vine, washing his robe in the blood of the grape.” So when the demons heard these prophetic words they made out that Dionysus had been a son of Zeus, and handed down that he was the discoverer of the vine (hence they introduce wine in his mysteries), and taught that after being torn in pieces he ascended into heaven. Now the prophecy given through Moses did not precisely indicate whether he who was to come would be the Son of God, and whether, mounted on a colt, he would remain on earth or ascend into heaven; and the word “colt” can indicate the colt of an ass or a horse. So not knowing whether the predicted one would bring the colt of an ass or of a horse as the symbol of his coming, and, as said above, whether he was the Son of God or of a man, they said that Bellerophon, a man and born of men, had gone up to heaven on the horse Pegasus. Then when they heard it said through that other prophet Isaiah that he was to be born of a virgin and would ascend into heaven by his own [power], they put forward what is told about Perseus. When they learned that it was said, as has been quoted, in the ancient prophecies, “Strong as a giant to run his course,” they said that Heracles was strong and had traveled over the whole earth. Again when they learned that it was prophesied that he would heal every disease and raise the dead, they brought forward Asclepius.
55. But never was the crucifixion imitated in the case of any of the so-called sons of Zeus; for they did not understand it since, as has been explained, everything said about it was expressed symbolically. Yet, as the prophet predicted, it [the cross] is the greatest symbol of his power and authority, as [can be] shown from things you can see. Reflect on all things in the universe [and consider] whether they could be governed or held together in fellowship without this figure. For the sea cannot be traversed unless the sign of victory, which is called a sail, remain fast in the ship; the land is not plowed without it; similarly diggers and mechanics do not do their work except with tools of this form. The human figure differs from the irrational animals precisely in this, that man stands erect and can stretch out his hands, and has on his face, stretched down from the forehead, what is called the nose, through which goes breath for the living creature—and this exhibits precisely the figure of the cross. So it was said through the prophet, “The breath before our face is Christ the Lord.” Even your own symbols display the power of this figure—on the standards and trophies, with which you make all your solemn processions, using these [cross-shaped objects] as signs of authority, even though without understanding what you’re doing. Then you set up the images of your deceased emperors on this figure, and in the inscriptions call them gods. So now since I have done my best to persuade you, both by argument and by [appealing to] a visible figure, I am free from reproach even if you disbelieve; my part is done and finished.
56. The wicked demons were not satisfied with saying before the appearance of Christ that there had been the so-called sons of Zeus. After he had appeared and lived among men, when they learned how he had been predicted by the prophets, and saw how he was believed on and looked for in every race, they again, as we showed before, put forward others, Simon and Menander of Samaria, who by doing mighty works of magic deceived and are still deceiving many. For as I said before, Simon lived in your own imperial city of Rome under Claudius Caesar, and so impressed the Sacred Senate and the Roman people that he was thought to be a god and was honored with a statue like the other gods whom you honor. We ask you therefore to join the Sacred Senate and your people as joint judges of this petition of ours, so that if any are ensnared by his teachings they may be able to learn the truth and flee from this error. And, if you will, destroy the statue.
57. Nor can the wicked demons persuade men that there will be no burning for the punishment of the impious, just as they were not able to keep Christ hidden when he came. All they can do is to make men who live contrary to reason, having been brought up in bad habits of passion and prejudice, kill and hate us. Yet we do not hate them, but, as is evident, pity them and try to persuade them to reform. For we are not afraid of death, admitting that we are certainly going to die, and [since] there is nothing new [for unbelievers], but things continue the same in this dispensation—if boredom seizes those who share in such things even for a year, then in order to be free from suffering and want they should pay attention to our teachings. If they do not believe that there is anything after death, but declare that those who die pass into unconsciousness, then they are our benefactors in delivering us from the sufferings and needs [of life] here. But they still show themselves to be wicked, misanthropic, and prejudiced. For they do not kill us in order to set us free, but rather murder us in order to deprive us of life and its pleasures.
58. As I said before, the wicked demons have also put forward Marcion of Pontus, who is even now teaching men to deny that God is the Maker of all things in heaven and earth and that the Christ predicted by the prophets is his Son. He preaches another God besides the Fashioner of the universe, and likewise another Son. Many are persuaded by him, as if he alone knew the truth, and make fun of us, though they have no proof of the things they say, but are irrationally snatched away, like lambs by a wolf, and become the prey of godless teachings and of demons. For those who are called demons strive for nothing else than to draw men away from God who made [them] and from Christ his First-begotten. Those who cannot rise above the earth they have nailed down by [the worship of] earthly things and the works of men’s hands. They even push back those who aim at the contemplation of things divine, unless their thinking is prudent and pure and their life free from passion, and drive them into ungodliness.
59. So that you may learn that Plato borrowed from our teachers, I mean from the Word [speaking] through the prophets, when he said that God made the universe by changing formless matter, hear the precise words of Moses, who as declared above was the first of the prophets and older than the Greek writers. The prophetic Spirit testified through him how in the beginning God fashioned the universe, and out of what, saying: “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. And the earth was invisible and unfurnished, and darkness [was] over the abyss; and the Spirit of God was borne over the waters. And God said, Let there be light. And it was so.” So by God’s word the whole universe was made out of this substratum, as expounded by Moses, and Plato and those who agree with him, as well as we, have learned it [from him], and you can be sure of it too. We also know that Moses had already spoken of what the poets call Erebus.
60. In the discussion of the nature of the Son of God in Plato’s Timaeus, when he says, “He placed him like an X in the universe,” this was similarly borrowed from Moses. For it is recorded in the writings of Moses that in his time, when the Israelites had gone out of Egypt and were in the wilderness, they encountered poisonous beasts, vipers and asps, and every kind of snake which were killing the people. By an inspiration and influence that came from God, Moses took brass and made the form of a cross, and placed it over the holy tent, saying to the people, “If you look on this form and believe on it, you will be saved.” And he records that when this was done, the snakes died, and so, he tells us, the people escaped death. Plato, reading this and not clearly understanding, nor realizing that it was the form of a cross, but thinking it was [the letter] Chi, said that the Power next to the first God was placed X-wise in the universe. And he spoke of a third, since he read what I have quoted from Moses, that the Spirit of God was borne over the waters. For he gives the second place to the Word who is with God, who, he says, was placed X-wise in the universe, and the third to the Spirit which was said to be borne over the water, saying, “The third [order of] beings around the third.” And hear how the prophetic Spirit has testified through Moses that there will be a destruction by fire. He said, “Everliving fire will descend and will devour even to the abyss below.” it is not that we hold the same opinions as others, but that what all others say is an imitation of ours. Among us you can hear and learn these things from those who do not even know the letters of the alphabet—uneducated and barbarous in speech, but wise and faithful in mind—even from cripples and the blind. So you can see that these things are not the product of human wisdom, but are spoken by the power of God.

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