Surprised by Hope: Justin Martyr and the Didascalia Apostolorum

Back in the summer, I wrote a series of posts around N. T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope, regarding the nature the end of time. Wright argues — quite convincingly — that the Bible teaches a bodily resurrection in a remade New Heaven and New Earth, with heaven coming down to earth to join the two into a Paradise in which we’ll live with the  Trinity forever.

Well, I’ve been reading In the Shadow of the Temple, by Oskar Skarsaune, regarding the Jewish roots of Christianity. It’s a good book, although not light reading by any means. I doubt I’ll post much about it, but it has this interesting quote from the Second Century Christian Justin Martyr:

Moreover, I pointed out to you that some who are called Christians, but are godless, impious heretics, teach doctrines that are in every way blasphemous, atheistical, and foolish. … For I choose to follow not men or men’s doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians, even as one, if he would rightly consider it, would not admit that the Sadducees, or similar sects of Genistæ, Meristæ, Galilæans, Hellenists, Pharisees, Baptists, are Jews (do not hear me impatiently when I tell you what I think), but are [only] called Jews and children of Abraham, worshipping God with the lips, as God Himself declared, but the heart was far from Him. But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.

(Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 80). Now, it’s critically important to realize that “resurrection” in First Century language refers exclusively to a bodily resurrection. Justin was condemning Platonists who argued that the soul is immortal but the body is not, so that the soul goes to heaven while the body is never resurrected.

The Third Century Didascalia Apostolorum says, 

And by other false prophets beside was the enemy working. [vi. 10] And they all had one law upon earth, that they should not employ the Torah and the Prophets, and that they should blaspheme God Almighty, and should not believe in the resurrection.

(23: vi. 10).

An interesting note is that the condemnation of those who deny the resurrection of the dead seems to have been taken straight from rabbinic teaching —

These are they that have no share in the world to come: he that says there is no resurrection of the dead prescribed in the Law … .

(Danby, Mishnah, p. 397 quoted by Skarsaune at 244).

As stated in the Wikipedia article on resurrection

The Apostles’ Creed explicitly ends with an affirmation of belief in “the resurrection of the body”.

The Christian writers Irenaeus and Justin Martyr, in the 2nd Century, wrote against the idea that only the soul survived. Justin insists that a man is both soul and body and Christ has promised to raise both, just as his own body was raised. He wrote: “Seeing as … the Saviour in the whole Gospel shows that there is salvation for the flesh, why do we any longer endure those unbelieving and dangerous arguments, and fail to see that we are retrograding when we listen to such an argument as this: that the soul is immortal, but the body mortal, and incapable of being revived? For this we used to hear from Pythagoras and Plato, even before we learned the truth. If then the Saviour said this, and proclaimed salvation to the soul alone, what new thing, beyond what we heard from Pythagoras and Plato and all their band, did He bring us? But now He has come proclaiming the glad tidings of a new and strange hope to men.”

Strange, isn’t it, that a doctrine considered essential early on has been nearly entirely forgotten. Indeed, if you argue for a bodily resurrection, you’re considered a little strange.

Now, I don’t say any of this to argue that those denying a bodily resurrection are damned. Rather, I just want to point out that the doctrine not only has the very strong Biblical support argued for in the previous posts, it was even considered essential by the early Church Fathers.

However, the Platonic (Greek) view of the afterlike came to dominate Christian thinking, despite vociferous objection by leading Christian thinkers in the Second and Third Centuries. This shouldn’t be surprising, as a great deal of Grecian thought crept into Christian thinking over the years.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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14 Responses to Surprised by Hope: Justin Martyr and the Didascalia Apostolorum

  1. Randall says:

    Jay Guin quoted Justin Martyr as saying "the Sadducees, or similar sects of Genistæ, Meristæ, Galilæans, Hellenists, Pharisees, Baptists," I am familiar with the Sadducees and Pharisees but not so much with the other groups. I wonder who they were, in particular the Baptists that he refers to?

  2. Alan says:

    For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], … do not imagine that they are Christians… But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points….

    Justin Martyr sounds like some conservative church of Christ leaders.

  3. Tim Archer says:

    I'm surprised to know that some deny a bodily resurrection. Christians, I mean. Obviously many believe in heaven, but that doesn't necessarily mean they reject the resurrection of the body.

    I'll confess to possibly having missed the post where you discussed this. Can you point me to writings of people in our brotherhood who deny a bodily resurrection? (or feel free to quote them)

    Grace and peace,

  4. Matthew says:

    I just purchased the book about the Jewish background of Christians, but will not get to read it for a while because of all the books I must read for class this semester. I am learning all about conflict at Harding Graduate for the D.Min program.

  5. Todd says:

    Notice also that Justin points to a physical kingdom centered on Jerusalem. As an amillenialist I must remember that the debate between a-mil and pre-mil goes all of the way back to the second century and therefore be prepared to find myself mistaken.

  6. nick gill says:


    The "Baptists" in question were likely followers of John the Baptist, who had quite a following for centuries after his death and that of his more famous cousin. In fact, I believe isolated sects of his followers were still being discovered in the more rugged areas of Central Asia in the last century. Mark Moore at Ozark Christian College (among others, I'm certain) would be someone to ask. I've heard him mention them in lectures.

    in HIS love,
    nick gill

  7. Jay Guin says:

    I think Nick is likely right. When I first saw Randall's comment, I thought sure I'd misquoted Justin, but it's a cut and paste from a web site. It really says "Baptists."

    Now, a friend of mine told me in the 10th grade that the Baptist Church goes all the way back to John the Baptist, so I thought maybe he'd been right all along 🙂

    But as Josephus considers them non-Christians and heretical Jews, Nick's suggestion makes good sense.

  8. Jay Guin says:


    I taught a series this summer to a Sunday school class of about 40 or 50. The majority considered the final state of the saved to be a soul in heaven and not the body. As I went through the verses, several found the idea of a bodily resurrection of Christians objectionable.

    For most, "resurrection" refers to life after death, but not necessarily to life in a body. Hence,… speaks of a resurrection but also of souls being in heaven for eternity.

    Just so, Batsell Barrett Baxter speaks of the "salvation of man's soul" leaving one with the impression that it is only the soul that is saved.

    (In the Greek, of course, "soul" often refers to "self" or "life" and not our immortal nature as distinguished from our body. But that is not commonly taught or understood. It's certainly not how we generally speak.)

    No one, of course, denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus. But they'd never been taught a bodily resurrection of Christians.

    I received my degree from Lipscomb and the subject never even came up.

    If you dig out the old "Where Are the Dead?" tracts, you'll see many references to souls going to heaven and nothing about resurrected bodies at the end of time. E.g.,

    I've just poured over the "what we believe" statements in several Churches of Christ. Some affirm that Jesus experienced a bodily resurrection, but say nothing of Christians. And a few specify they believe in a bodily resurrection of Christians.

    I grew up in the Churches. I'd never heard a lesson or a sermon suggesting a bodily resurrection of Christians — until I taught one.

    My impression is that most Church of Christ members think of the soul going to heaven at death and give very, very little thought to what happens after Judgment. They assume the soul just stays in heaven.

    However, they've read 1 Cor 15 and they are aware that we'll have some kind of spiritual body. But many (once including myself) assume this is a description of the soul.

    The point of the Surprised by Hope series of lessons, however, is to add the doctrine of bodily resurrection to the doctrine of a new heaven and new earth — which makes everything fit.

  9. Donald Newton says:


    Thanks for the post. I understand you're a math guy, so if you see this, please continue to the bottom of this post for something I find intriguing at the least.

    I've always heard that the idea of a literal millennial reign of Christ was a fairly recent development. Interesting to see a second century Christian supporting it so vehemently.

    Unless we totally isolate ourselves from the world around us we essentially all interpret our Bibles based on what we see around us to varying degrees. Some of us have agendas and it blinds us somewhat to what is probably the whole truth. So it makes sense that after national Israel fell off the map, people would strive to make biblical prophecies and other passages align with the world around them. This may have contributed to the prominence of "replacement theology,"

    So what if the Bible predicted the rebirth of national Israel in 1948? The following is very intriguing to me.

    This prophecy from Ezekiel is very interesting. In Ezekiel 4:3-6 Ezekiel said this would be a sign to Israel: Lie on your left side 390 days (representing 390 years), and then lie on your right side 40 days (representing 40 years), or a total of 430 years. This would be a sign to Israel that their punishment would be for 430 years. Apparently the Jews were released from Babylon captivity in the spring of 536 BC. If you count the 70 years of captivity in Babylon, they still had 360 years left (430 – 70 = 360). What happened after 360 years? Apparently nothing–the Jews were still not following God, so this is where Leviticus 26 comes in. God expressed that punishments for Israel were based on obedience/disobedience to commands. If Israel did not repent their punishment was to be multiplied by 7.(360 X 7 = 2,520 Biblical years). A Biblical year was 360 days. Converting this to our calendar years would total 2,483.8 years (2,520 X 360 = 907,200 days) / 365.25 = 2,483.8 years) So 536 BC plus 2483.8= 1947.4. But wait, adjust for no zero year between 1 BC and AD 1 and you get essentially May 15, 1948 the day Israel became a nation again.

    So is this an example of interpreting prophecy based on current events? Maybe? Maybe not?

  10. Randall says:

    Thanks to a couple of you for suggesting the Baptists referred to were followers of John the Baptist. I suspect that is correct. Coincidentally I had just finished reading another short document that made reference to Baptists in the context of John the Baptist. It reminded me of Jay's post and it struck me like a light a little light going off in my head.

    As to the comments about a thousand year reign being an old idea rather than relatively recent – I think dispensationalism is newish (mid 1800s associated with Darby) but not the idea of a 1000 year reign. I believe it was called chiliasm (spelling?) rather than premillenialism in the first few centuries but I think it was a widespread perspective at that time. If memory serves me correctly conservatives such as Irenaeus put forth the point of view and also maybe Polycarp as well as others. In Shank's book "Until the coming of Messiah and His Kingdom" there is an appendix about the ancient idea (even Jewish and B.C.) of a millennial reign. He suggests the amil point of view didn't become popular until Rome came to be seen as the new or real Jerusalem (about the time of Augustine or a little later) and when it did happen it involved a good bit of Greek philosophy over scripture. Also the Premil CofCs published a little booklet decades ago quoting many of the early fathers who supported the chiliasm. I am sure it is out of print now. Please go easy on me if I am confused here – after all I am an old guy and doing this from memory – all my books are in storage.

    As to the idea of resurrection of the soul but not the body – I think it was widespread in the CofC of the 1950 and 60s and even since then. I was raised with that understanding though it was not explicitly taught in Sunday School or the pulpit – maybe I picked up from the culture at large. I am at least 3rd generation CofC so I suspect it had been around for a good while. When I was ACC (ACU to you young guys) in the 60s Tony Ash taught the resurrection of the body. Again if memory serves me correctly, he did it with a little trepidation thinking he might encounter resistance from some of his students – and he did from one or two of them. It was something I had not seriously considered previously and I found it interesting. I have also encountered a good bit of resistance to the idea when I have brought it up.

    If you are so inclined, try mentioning it to the next person that tells you they plan to be cremated rather than buried. Each time I have done this and explained that Christians and Jews historically have buried because of their belief in a bodily resurrection I have encountered surprise and at least mild disbelief. Eventually they concede that God can resurrect a body even if cremated and I agree. God can do anything God wants to do.

  11. Prodigal Knot says:

    I am relatively new to the faith, although I was raised in a legalistic church. Having been divorced from any religious concerns for about 30 years, when I started reading the Bible afresh two years ago, especially using the ESV and NASB, I discovered there are a lot of things that are traditionally taught that are nowhere in the scriptures. I have repeated this same thought with very little reaction, to people in the church. The Christian hope IS the Resurrection of our bodies. Paul says plainly that "we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8:23)

    I am glad to see I am not alone in going by what the Bible says vs. what men teach. Which makes me ask the seemingly obvious question:
    Since God's Word tells us the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, which was told to the Pharisees (the people), had to have been a parable (Matt 13:10,34, Mark 4:34, Luke 8:10), what is your take on this supposed after-life description? I am of the opinion it is like the parables of the Vineyard, the Great Supper feast, and others where Christ is obviously talking about the kingdom of God being taken away from Israel and given to the "poor", the "dogs", and "beggars" who are the Gentiles. Why the emphasis on the beggar going to "Abraham's bosom" unless the point is this?


  12. rey says:

    "…admit that the Sadducees, or similar sects of Genistae, Meristae,[315] Galilaeans, Hellenists,[316] Pharisees, Baptists, are Jews…"

    The footnotes from Philip Schaff's edition:

    [315] Maranus says, Hieron. thinks the Genistae were so called because they were sprung from Abraham (genoj) the Meristae so called because they separated the Scriptures. Josephus bears testimony to the fact that the sects of the Jews differed in regard to fate and providence; the Pharisees submitting all things indeed to God, with the exception of human will; the Essenes making no exceptions, and submitting all to God. I believe therefore that the Genistae were so called because they believed the world to in general governed by God; the Meristae, because they believed that a fate or providence belonged to each man.

    [316] Otto says, the author and chief of this sect of Galilaeans was Judas Galilaeus, who, after the exile of king Archelaus, when the Romans wished to raise a tax in Judaea, excited his countrymen to the retaining of their former liberty.-The Hellenists, or rather Hellenaeans. No one mentions this sect but Justin; perhaps Herodians or Hillelaeans (from R. Hillel).

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