A distinct contribution of Gerald McDermott’s God’s Rivals is his exposition of how the earliest Christians approached the question of other religions. Chp 5 deals with Justin Martyr’s ideal of “seeds of the Word in other religions.”
Which of Justin’s three ideas do you think are right?
Justin Martyr was a 2d century convert and considered one of the most original thinkers in the history of Christianity. Certainly his thinking about world religions, even if re-fashioned today, has shaped much of what many think today.
“Justin became a Christian when he concluded that Plato could not lead him to God. But he is important for our study, ironically, because of what he later concluded Plato did know of God” (88).
Justin agrees with much of the ancient tradition: that pagan religions were distortions of the truth and led to moral chaos and they were inspired by demons or powers. National religions are distortions by national angels.
First, Justin believed in the prisca theologia, or a pristine theology. Ancient pagan religions somehow are dependent upon Moses and the Bible so that all truth stems from the ancient biblical themes. The demons led people astray. The Greek philosophers, of all the ancients, were the ones least deceived; they were closer to the true God than others. Esp Plato.
Second, pagans were actually learning from Christ, who is the Logos who has been dispersed among all. Christ was actually speaking truth through the philosophical religions. Christ is “the Logos who is in every man.” But, these ancients did not have the whole Logos. Furthermore, Justin thought that those who listened to the Logos and followed the Logos “were actually Christians”. The poets and philosophers and others “are actually followers of Christ” because the Logos that enlightens them is in all.
Third, Justin does not think the ancient poets and philosophers had full knowledge which can only come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Their participation was qualitatively different than the Christian’s participation in truth. Nor did he think pagan religions were just a different form of Christianity. Hellenistic religions were preparatory for responding to Christ.