The Debt of Irenæus to Justin Martyr
If we are to proceed with safety in forming a judgment as to the relation between Justin and Irenæus in respect of the matter which they have in common, it will be necessary not merely to consider a number of selected parallels, but also to examine the treatment of a particular theme in the two writers. Let us set side by side, for example, c.32 of Justin's First Apology with c.57 of the Demonstration. Justin has been explaining to his Roman readers who the Jewish prophets were, and then giving a list of the chief things which they expressly foretold concerning the coming of Christ. Then he proceeds thus:

Moses then, who was the first of the prophets, speaks expressly as follows: There shall not fail a prince from Judah, nor a leader from his loins, until he shall come for whom it is reserved: and he shall be the expectation of the Gentiles; binding his colt to the vine; washing his robe in the blood of the grape. It is your part then to make careful enquiry and to learn up to what point the Jews had a prince and king of their own. It was up to the appearing of Jesus Christ, our teacher and the expounder of the prophecies which were not understood, namely how it was foretold by the divine holy prophetic Spirit through Moses that there should not fail a prince from the Jews, until he should come for whom is reserved the kingdom. For Judah is the ancestor of the Jews, from whom also they obtained that they should be called Jews. And you, after His appearance took place, both ruled over the Jews and mastered their land.

Now the words He shall be the expectation of the Gentiles were meant to indicate that from among all the Gentiles men shall expect Him to come again -- which you yourselves can see with your eyes and believe as a fact: for men of all races are expecting Him who was crucified in Judah, immediately after whose time the land of the Jews was conquered and given over to you.

And the words Binding his colt to the vine and Washing his robe in the blood of the grape were a sign to show what was to happen to Christ, and what was to be done by Him. For the colt of an ass was standing at the entrance to a village, tied to a vine; and this He commanded His disciples at that time to bring to Him; and when it was brought He mounted and sat on it, and entered into Jerusalem, where was that very great temple of the Jews, which afterwards was destroyed by you: And after these things He was crucified, that the remainder of the prophecy might be accomplished. For Washing his robe in the blood of the grape was the announcement beforehand of the passion which He was to suffer, cleansing by blood those who believe on Him. For what is called by the divine Spirit through the prophet (His) robe means the men who believe in Him, those in whom dwells the seed from God, (that is) the Word. And that which is spoken of as blood of the grape signifies that He who is to appear has blood indeed, yet not from human seed, but from a divine power. Now the first power after God, the Father and Lord of all, is the Son, the Word of whom we shall presently tell after what manner He was made flesh and became man. For even as the blood of the vine not man hath made, but God; so also is it signified that this blood shall not be of human seed, but of the power of God, as we have said before.

Moreover Isaiah, another prophet, prophesying the same things in other words said thus: There shall rise a star out of Jacob, and a flower shall spring rip from the root of Jesse, and on his arm shall the Gentiles hope.

The points that strike us at once in this passage are these:

(1) The well-known Blessing of Jacob is cited as the prophecy of Moses, who is called the "first of the prophets."

(2) The quotation is abbreviated, and Justin comments on it in its abbreviated form.

(3) The statement that Judah was the ancestor of the Jews, and that from him they got their name, is on a par with many such explanations which Justin makes for the sake of his Roman readers.

(4) That the Jews had no prince or king of their own after the time of Christ, and that their land was conquered and ruled by the Romans, was a good point of apologetic and one which his readers would fully appreciate.

(5) We are somewhat surprised that "the expectation of the Gentiles" should be referred to the second coming of Christ.

(6) The statement that the ass's colt was tied to a vine is not found in our Gospels.

(7) Washing his robe in the blood of the grape easily suggested our Lord's passion; but that His robe should be those who believe on Him seems to us far-fetched.

(8) Equally far-fetched is the explanation of the blood of the grape as pointing to blood made not by man, but by God.

(9) The combination of Balaam's prophecy with words of Isaiah, and the attribution of the whole to Isaiah, strikes us as a strange piece of carelessness.

Now let us read c.57 of the Demonstration. After a few prefatory sentences in which he notes certain points regarding Christ which are the subject of prophecy, Irenæus goes on:

Moses in Genesis says thus: There shall not fail a Prince from Judah, nor a leader from his loins, until he shall come for whom it remaineth: and he shall be the expectation of the Gentiles: washing his robe in wine, and his garment in the blood of the grape. Now Judah was the ancestor of the Jews, the son of Jacob; from whom also they obtained the name. And there failed not a prince among them and a leader, until the coming of Christ. But from the time of His coming the might of the quiver was captured, the land of the Jews was given over into subjection to the Romans, and they had no longer a prince or king of their own. For He was come, for whom remaineth in heaven the kingdom; who also washed his robe in wine, and his garment in the blood of the grape: His robe as also His garment are those who believe on Him, whom also He cleansed, redeeming us by His blood. And His blood is said to be blood of the grape: for even as the blood of the grape no man maketh, but God produceth, and maketh glad them that drink thereof, so also His flesh and blood no man wrought, but God made. The Lord Himself gave the sign of the virgin, even that Emmanuel which was from the virgin; who also maketh glad them that drink of Him, that is to say, who receive His Spirit, (even) everlasting gladness. Wherefore also He is the expectation of the Gentiles, of those who hope in him; for we expect of Him that He will establish again the kingdom.

We may now take our nine points one by one:

(1) Here again the Blessing of Jacob is cited as the prophecy of Moses; and a little earlier (§ 43) we find the words: "Moses, who was the first that prophesied."

(2) The text of the quotation is the same as in Justin: but the words about binding the colt to the vine are omitted, and the remainder of the passage is given without abbreviation, as in the LXX.

(3) That Judah is the ancestor of the Jews, who got their name from him, is found in Irenæus; and the actual words would seem to have been taken over from Justin. The statement is somewhat superfluous in a book written for a fairly well instructed Christian, whereas it comes quite naturally in Justin's Apology. Though several parallels between Justin and Irenæus might be explained by the hypothesis of their both having used a book of "Testimonies against the Jews," such a solution could hardly be advanced in this case; for the statement in question would not be likely to occur in such a book.

(4) Justin's words are: meth'hon euthus dorialotos humin he ge Ioudaion paredothe. The translation of the first part of the parallel in Irenæus is obscure but it is possible that the phrase "the might of the quiver was captured" is no more than the translator's attempt to make something of dorialotos. If so, it would appear certain that here also Irenæus was practically writing out a sentence of Justin, only changing humin into tois Rhomaiois.

(5) The expectation of the Gentiles is here also explained of the Second Advent; and the word "kingdom" is offered, as in Justin, as the unexpressed subject of o apokeitai.

(6) The passage about the ass's colt is omitted both from the quotation and from the interpretation. Irenæus has it in IV, xx.2, where he quotes, again as from Moses, the whole section (Gen. xlix.10-12), ending with: lætifici oculi ejus a vino, et candidi dentes ejus quam lac. He then goes on: "Let these persons who are said to investigate all things search out the time at which there failed prince and leader from Judah, and who is the expectation of the Gentiles, and what the vine, and what his colt, and what the robe, and what are eyes and teeth and wine; and search out every point; and they shall find that none other is foretold, than our Lord Jesus Christ." Here again Irenæus is very close to the passage in Justin, so far as the general method of putting the argument goes.

(7) and (8) reappear in Irenæus, and it is most natural to suppose that he took them over from Justin. He has a point of his own when he goes on to add to the interpretation of the blood of the grape the gladness produced by the wine. It seems to be introduced without any obvious reason, until we observe that the words which follow in the passage in Genesis tell of the gladness of the eyes produced by wine (lætifici oculi, etc. quoted above).

(9) In c.58 Irenæus proceeds at once to the quotation of Balaam's prophecy, as follows: "And again Moses says: There shall rise a star out of Jacob, and a leader shall be raised up out of Israel." He does not make the combination with Isaiah which we find in Justin; nor does he attribute Balaam's words to Isaiah. It is however to be noted that in III, ix.2, where he quotes the passage as here, he does attribute it to Isaiah: "Cujus et stellam Ysaias quidem sic prophetavit: Orietur stella ex Jacob, et surget dux in Israel." On this coincidence in error Dr Rendel Harris remarks (Testimonies, I. p. ii): "Justin shews us the passage of Isaiah following the one from Numbers, and the error lies in the covering of two passages with a single reference. It is clear, then, that Justin's mistake was made in a collection of Testimonies from the prophets, and that the same collection, or one that closely agreed with it, was in the hands of Irenæus." In view, however, of the intimate connection which appears to exist between Irenæus and Justin we must not exclude the alternative possibility that the mistake began with Justin, and was at first reproduced by Irenæus, but was afterwards corrected by him in his later work.

Another example of a whole section drawn from Justin Martyr will be found in cc.44 f. Here it is the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew to which Irenæus is indebted. The whole of these two chapters should be read consecutively: but the chief parts must be given here. Irenæus cites Gen. xviii.1 ff., to show that it was the Son of God who spake with Abraham. This is Justin's view also, but the nearest parallels come after the quotation of Gen. xix.24.

At this point Irenæus says:

And then the Scripture says: And the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven: that is to say, the Son, who spake with Abraham, being Lord, received power to punish the men of Sodom from the Lord out of heaven, even from the Father who rules (or is Lord) over all. So Abraham was a prophet and saw things to come, which were to take place in human form: even the Son of God, that He should speak with men and eat with them, and then should bring in the judgment from the Father, having received from Him who rules over all the power to punish the men of Sodom.

Justin had said (Dial.56 ad fin.): "And He is the Lord, who from the Lord who is in heaven, that is, from the Maker of all things, received (power) to bring these things on Sodom and Gomorrah, which the narrative recounts, saying: The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven (kai kurios esti para kuriou tou en to ourano, toutesti tou poietou ton holon, labon to tauta apenenkein Sodomois k.t.l.)." And he then goes on to discuss the question of the eating and drinking with Abraham, but does not treat it as Irenæus does here.

The interpretation of the passage may already have been common Christian apologetic: it is the expression "received power (or authority)" to punish the Sodomites that suggests a direct literary connection; and this expression is found again in Irenæus III, vi.1, quoted below in the note on this passage.

After this Irenæus goes on at once as follows (Dem. c.45):

And Jacob, when he went into Mesopotamia, saw Him in a dream, standing upon the ladder, that is, the tree, which was set up from earth to heaven; for thereby they that believe on Him go up to the heavens. For His sufferings are our ascension on high. And all such visions point to the Son of God, speaking with men and being in their midst. For it was not the Father of all, etc. (See below.)

This idea that Jacob's Ladder was "the tree" (xulon), that is to say, the cross, is found in Justin (Dial.86), among a number of other types equally strange to us: "It says that a ladder was seen by him; and the Scripture has declared that God was supported upon it; and that this was not the Father we have proved from the Scriptures." Irenæus again expands the comment in his own way, but he recurs to the theme "It was not the Father."

For it was not the Father of all, who is not seen by the world, the Maker of all who said: Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me, or what is the place of my rest? and who comprehendeth the earth with his hand, and with his span the heaven -- it was not He that came and stood in a very small space and spake with Abraham; but the Word of God, etc.

Now the words "in a very small space" , are clearly reminiscent of Justin. For in Dial. i 27 he says: "Think not that the unbegotten God Himself came down or went up from anywhere. For the unutterable Father and Lord of all has never come any whither," etc. "How then should He either speak to any one, or be seen by any, or appear in some very small portion of earth (en elachisto merei ges)?" Cf. Dial.60: en oligo ges morio pephanthai.

These repeated coincidences, in large matters and in small, make us feel that Irenæus was very familiar with Justin's writings. Everywhere he goes beyond him: but again and again he starts from him.

The advantage to be gained by the recognition of the dependence of Irenæus upon Justin may be illustrated from c.53 of our Treatise. The Armenian text here presents several difficulties, probably from corrupt transcription. The original cannot have been very easy to understand; but when we read with it c.6 of Justin's Second Apology some points at any rate are cleared up. Irenæus has just quoted Isa. vii.14 ff., following the LXX with slight variations:

"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign: behold, the virgin shall conceive and shall bring forth a son, and ye shall call him Emmanuel: butter and honey shall he eat; before he knoweth or selecteth the evil, he chooseth the good; for, before the child knoweth good or evil, he rejecteth wickedness to choose the good. So he proclaimed His birth from a virgin; and that He was truly man he declared beforehand by His eating; and also because he called Him the child: and further by giving Him a name; for this is the custom also for one that is born.

We must pause here for a moment to quote some parallel words from Irenæus himself (III, xxv.2). He has quoted the same Scripture, and in commenting upon it he says: "Et manifestat quoniam homo, in eo quod dicit: Butyrum et mel manducabit; et in eo quod infantem nominat eum; et priusquam cognoscat bonum et malum: hæc enim omnia signa sunt hominis infantis."

In my translation I have written: "this is the custom also for one that is born." But the Armenian text has: "this is the error also of one that is born." I have accepted Mr F. C. Conybeare's simple and attractive emendation sovoruthiun, "custom," for moloruthiun, "error." [5]

We now return to our passage:

And His name is two-fold: in the Hebrew tongue Messiah Jesus, and in ours Christ Saviour. And the two names are names of works actually wrought. For He was named Christ, because through Him the Father anointed and adorned all things; and because on His coming as man He was anointed with the Spirit of God and His Father. As also by Isaiah He says of Himself: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: wherefore he hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor. And (He was named) Saviour for this, that He became the cause of salvation to those who at that time were delivered by Him from all sicknesses and from death, and to those who afterwards believed on Him the author of salvation in the future and for evermore.

The Armenian text reads: "in the Hebrew tongue Messiah Christ, and in the Armenian Jesus Saviour." I have adopted the emendation proposed by the Armenian scholars who made the first translation into German. No doubt Christos Soter was what Irenæus wrote as the rendering of "Messiah Jesus": compare Just. M. Ap. I, 33, "Now the name Jesus in the Hebrew speech signifies Saviour in the Greek language."

Having disposed of these preliminary difficulties, we note some curious matters that remain for consideration. What is the point of saying, "names of works actually wrought"? Is there any parallel to the explanation of "Christ" as "He through whom the Father anointed"? And why does our author lay stress on the cure of the sick as the explanation of the name "Jesus"?

Let us now look at the passage of Justin to which we referred at the outset (Ap. II, 6):

Now a name imposed on the Father of all, unbegotten as He is, is an impossibility. For he to whom a name is applied must have one older than himself who has imposed on him the name. Father and God and Creator and Lord and Master are not names: they are appellations derived from benefits and works (ek ton eupoiion kai ton ergon).

Here we see the force of what Irenæus had said about the naming spoken of by Isaiah, as indicating the manhood of the promised Child of the Virgin. The Unbegotten has no name, in the strict sense there was none before Him to impose a name on Him. The Begotten, when begotten as man, has a name, though before that He has what is at once an appellation and a name. Justin goes on:

But His Son, who alone is called Son in the full sense, the Word who before all created things both was with Him and was generated, when at the beginning He created and ordered (or adorned) all things through Him, is called on the one hand Christ, in respect of His being anointed and of God's ordering (or adorning) all things through Him a name which also in itself contains a signification beyond our knowledge, just as the title God is not a name, but a conception, innate in human nature, of a thing (or work) too hard to be declared (pragmatos dusexegetou).

Here Justin is explaining that "Christ" is a name indeed, but more than a name. It is a designation derived from a work, just as the designation God is derived from a work (cf. ergon above, and pragmatos). What then is this work? The anointing which made Him the Christ is something which to Justin's mind occurred before His coming as man. He was anointed that through Him God might order (or adorn) the universe. The sense of the words is fairly plain, if it be somewhat surprising.

But the construction of the Greek at the crucial point is at least awkward. The words are: Christos men kata to kechristhai kai kosmesai ta panta di' autou ton theon legetai. Long ago Scaliger proposed to read kai chrisai, instead of kechristhai. This would mean: "in respect of God's both anointing and ordering all things through Him." The emendation found little favour with the editors of Justin, until the discovery of the Demonstration. Now it seems likely to find a wider acceptance in view of these words of Irenæus: "For He was named Christ because through Him the Father anointed and adorned all things." At any rate it will not be doubted that Irenæus so understood the passage, whatever he may have actually read in his copy of Justin. I have not myself ventured to correct Justin's text: for it is intelligible as it stands; whereas to say "He was called Christ," not because He was anointed, but "because the Father anointed all things through Him," is not very intelligible, even though Irenæus has said it.

Justin continues:

Jesus, on the other hand, offers both the name of a man and the significance of Saviour. For, as we have already said, He has become man, born in accordance with the counsel of God the Father on behalf of the men that believe on Him and for the overthrow of the demons: and this you can learn at the present tune from what takes place under your eyes. For many possessed of demons, in the world generally and in your own city, have been healed and are still being healed by many of our men, the Christians, who exorcise them by the name of Jesus Christ, crucified under Pontius Pilate, though they could not be healed by all the rest of the exorcists.

Jesus is a man's name, familiar enough to Greek readers of the Bible from having been given by Moses to his successor whom we call Joshua. It also has a significance: for it means Saviour. As Soter to the Greeks suggested specially the giving of health (soteria), Justin finds a connection between Iesous and iasis, "healing." You can see this today, he says: for the Christians who use the name of Jesus Christ, crucified under Pontius Pilate, can heal when no one else can (me iathentas iasanto kai eti nun iontai).

Turning back to the last words of the passage quoted above from Irenæus, we note that the same interpretation of "Jesus" is in his mind, even if he does not play on the word iasis. For soteoia itself includes "healing" among its meanings: and Irenæus refers to our Lord's own acts of healing, though he does not at this point follow Justin in instancing the healing of the possessed by Christians in the name of Jesus. [6]

We have now to consider a passage in which the help to be gained from Justin is not so clear. In c.43 we read: "This Jeremiah the prophet also testified, saying thus: Before the morning-star I begat thee; and before the sun (is) thy name; and that is, before the creation of the world; for together with the world the stars were made."

Here we have a composite quotation, made up from two different Psalms and attributed to the prophet Jeremiah. The words of Ps. cx.3, which are familiar to us in the form "The dew of thy youth is of the womb of the morning," were understood by the LXX to mean "From the womb before the morning-star I begat thee" (ek gastros pro heosphurou egennesa se). In our passage the phrase "from the womb" is dropped; and thus the text can be the more easily applied to the pre-existent Son of God. We feel the difficulty of combining the two phrases when we find Tertullian (Adv. Marcion. V.9), who applies the passage to our Lord's human birth, constrained to interpret "before the morning-star" as meaning while it was yet dark, and offering various proofs from the Gospels that Christ was born in the night.

The second half of our quotation is a modification of Ps. lxxii.17: "Before the sun his name remaineth" (pro tou heliou diamenei to onoma autou), or "shall remain" (diamenei).

It is obvious that the two texts have been drawn together by a recollection of the parallel phrases "before the morning-star" and "before the sun." But again, in the neighborhood of the latter, we find "before the moon," in the difficult verse (Ps. lxxii.5): kai sunparamenei to helio, kai pro tes selenes geneas geneon. We shall see that in other writers this phrase also is drawn in.

We may now consider the use made of these texts by Justin Martyr. In his Dialogue with the Jew Trypho (c.45) he speaks of Christ, as "the Son of God, who was before the morning-star and the moon," and was incarnate and born of the Virgin. This is not exactly a mixed quotation, but we see how readily phrases from the two Psalms are combined. Then in c.63 he quotes "that which was spoken by David: In the brightness of thy holy ones, from the womb before the morning-star I begat thee:" and he comments thus: "Does this not show you that from of old (anothen) and through a human womb the God and Father of all was to beget Him?" Here there is no combination of texts: but in c.76 we have the three texts brought together, though "the morning-star" is not mentioned: "And David proclaimed that before sun (Ps. lxxii.17) and moon (Ps. lxxii.5) He should be begotten from the womb (Ps. cx.3), according to the counsel of the Father."

If, as we may well believe, these passages of Justin were familiar to Irenæus, it is not difficult to understand that by a trick of memory he should produce the quotation: "Before the morning-star I begat thee and before the sun is thy name." It was a more serious lapse to assign the quotation to Jeremiah.

In a book of Testimonies against the Jews, attributed to Gregory of Nyssa, [7] we have the following quotation which combines all three texts: "From the womb before the morning-star I begat thee: and before the sun is his name, and before the moon." This is not assigned to any particular author; and as we have "his name," not "thy name," it may be intended for two separate quotations. [8] It is possible that by this date the words "and before the moon" had got into some MSS. of the LXX. The Old Latin Psalter has: "Ante solem permanebit nomen ejus in sæcula, et ante lunam sedes ejus;" and some cursive MSS. of the LXX have a Greek text which corresponds with this.

Dr Rendel Harris also quotes from the Syriac writer Bar Salibi: [9] "David said: Before the day-star I begat thee. And before the sun is his name, and before the moon." From these and other parallels he concludes that Irenæus made use of a common body of proof texts contained in a very ancient book of "Testimonies against the Jews." The existence of such a work has been suggested more than once. Dr Rendel Harris has propounded it in a fresh and attractive form in a book entitled "Testimonies," of which as yet only the introductory portion has appeared (Cambridge, 1916). The body of evidence on which it rests is promised us in a second volume; and judgment must necessarily be suspended until this is available. So far as the Demonstration of Irenæus is concerned, this is the only passage in which them might conceivably be a gain in calling in such a hypothesis. Direct dependence on Justin, on the other hand, can be demonstrated in various portions of our treatise; and this may be the true explanation here.

Irenæus goes on to attribute to Jeremiah a yet more strange quotation: "Blessed is he who was, before he became man." The German translations render the last words differently: one of them has "before the coming into being of man (vor dem Werden des Menschen):" the other has: "before through him man was made (bevor durch ihn der Mensch warde)." We have however an exact parallel to the construction in the Armenian rendering of the words "before he knoweth" in c.53.

The Greek there is
prin e gnonai auton (Isa. vii.15); and we may suppose that here it was prin e genethenai auton anthropon.

No such text is to be found in any book now known to us which is attributed to Jeremiah. Dr Rendel Harris has been the first to point to its occurrence in a slightly different form, and again as quoted from Jeremiah, in Lactantius (Divin. Inst. iv.8). The whole passage must be given: "First of all we affirm that He was twice born, first in spirit, afterwards in flesh. Wherefore in Jeremiah it is thus spoken: Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee. Also: Blessed is he who was, before he was born: which happened unto none save Christ; who, being from the beginning Son of God, was reborn anew according to the flesh." The Latin, "Beatus qui erat antequam nasceretur," may represent a Greek reading, prin e gennethenai.

The words which follow in Lactantius: "qui, cum esset a principio filius dei, regeneratus est denuo secundum carnem," appear to be taken from Cyprian's Testimonia (II, 8), where a section is headed: "Quod, cum a principio filius dei fuisset, generari denuo haberet secundum carnem;" but the only O.T. quotation that there follows is Ps. ii.7 f.

So far, then, we have no clue to the source from which either Irenæus or Lactantius derived this strange quotation. It is not likely that Lactantius got it, directly at any rate, from the Demonstration of Irenæus, which does not appear to have had a wide circulation. It is possible that this and certain other passages which are attributed to Jeremiah may be derived from some apocryphal work bearing that prophet's name.


[5] I had at first thought that a comparison of the passage quoted from III, xxv. 2 pointed to the loss of some words from our text, and that we might emend thus: "[and in that he said: Before he knoweth good or evil;] for this is the uncertainty also of one that is born." But I doubt whether moloruthiun could be toned down to mean "uncertainty." Moreover in what follows it is the name on which stress is laid.

[6] He does so in the notable passage II, xlix. 3, of which Eusebius has preserved the original Greek.

[7] Printed by Zacagni, Monumenta, p. 292 (Rome, 1698).

[8] We have, "thy name" in Clem. Alex. Exc. ex Theodoto 20: To gar pro heosphorou egennesa se houtos exakouomen epi tou protoktistou theou logou, kai pro heliou kai selenes kai pro pases ktiseos to onoma sou.

[9] Harris, Testimonies, p. 15.

See also on p. 45 a quotation from an anti-Mohammedan tract: "His name endures before the sun and moon throughout all ages."

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