Justin Martyr
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20. Justin Martyr

Stained Glass

Marcus DodsIn the Justin Martyr interview (100-165 AD) by a magistrate (sometimes called a Judge), we catch sight of a house church and gain some intriguing insight into life in the Early Church. Justin Martyr was an early Christian apologist, born in Samaria, who moved to Rome. This interview is part of Marcus Dods' (1834-1909) translation, a Scottish divine and eminent Biblical scholar on the "Anti-Nicene Fathers." ✞

Worship Anywhere

Justin MartyrThe interview went like this. Judge: 'Where do you have your meetings?'
Justin: 'Wherever we can. Our God fills heaven and earth, and is worshipped everywhere.'
Judge: 'Tell me where.'
Justin: 'I live upstairs in the house of Martin, close to the Timiotinian Bath. And if anyone wished to come to me there, I passed on to him the true doctrine.'

Street Converse

Stained Glass Martyr NicholasThis court document reveals that Justin Martyr could talk to people in the street and tell those interested in coming to Martin's house to learn more. The home as a meeting place affords some privacy, a degree of intimacy, and stability.

Potential for Factions

Saint PaulIt also creates the possibility of the emergence of factions within the Christian body in the city. It may well be the case that the contending factions addressed by Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 1-4 based their different views on separate households. The household context sets the stage for some conflicts of power and the understanding of community roles. By reasonable expectations of the society, the head of the household would exercise authority over the group and have some legal responsibility. We see this also in Justin Martyr's description of worship.

John Mark

Eucharist WafersThe Acts of the Apostles mentions the John Mark House in Jerusalem, where several prominent Christians stay, and other notable events occur. Three significant events in the early history of Christianity occur in a Jerusalem home, possibly John Mark's house in Jerusalem. John Mark, who died at the end of the first century AD, is named in the Acts of the Apostles as an assistant accompanying Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas on their missionary journeys. He is regarded traditionally as identical to Mark the Evangelist. These special occasions are listed as the "Passover" or the "Lord's Supper" in Mark 14.12-26. "On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus' disciples asked him, 'Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?' So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, 'Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.' The disciples left, went into the city, and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover." The appearances of Jesus to the Apostles after his Resurrection also happen in a house in Jerusalem in John 20.19-20. "On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord."

The Holy Spirit Came

The Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples in this Jerusalem house in Acts 2. "When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." The phrase "speak in other tongues" also means "speak in other languages." In "The First Advance - Church History 1: AD 29-500," John Foster describes these events as taking place in John Mark's house in Jerusalem. He adds, "do we know that all three passages refer to the same house?" Mark describes the place in Mark 14.14, "say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?'" The Apostles in Acts 1.12-13, "returned ... and went up to the upper room where they were staying." One hundred and twenty people gathered with the Apostles there. Acts 2 begins with the Twelve "all together in one place," possibly referring to John Mark's house. John 20.19 specifies that "the doors were shut where the disciples were," which seems to mean "where they were staying." So the three passages probably refer to the same house in Jerusalem. Acts 12 mention a Jerusalem house where many Christians gather for prayer. Peter, when he escapes from Herod's prison, knows where he will find his friends. This place is "the house of Mary, the mother of John, whose other name was Mark." This person is the same John Mark, who later writes the earliest of the Gospels, and the house would be the same John Mark's house in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Temple Worship

Refectory WindowDuring these early days, Christians take part in the Jerusalem Temple worship. Acts 2.46 describes the first community in Jerusalem, "They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity." The phrase "generosity" may mean "sincere hearts." In Acts 5.42, we read, "And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: 'Jesus is the Messiah.'" They meet regularly in houses, in addition to their attendance at the Jerusalem Temple. Since the first Jewish Christian believers see themselves as a reform movement of Judaism, being the real, not a new Israel, it is not surprising that disciples such as Peter and John go to the Jerusalem Temple at the "hour of prayer." In Acts 3.1, "Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service." They teach and preach in its precincts and continue to live as Jews in every other way. The first severe and damaging critique of the Jerusalem temple comes in Stephen's speech before his death by stoning in Acts 6.13-7.53. "The lying witnesses said, 'This man is always speaking against the Holy Temple and the law of Moses. We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us." Stephen "was asserting that the promise to Abraham found its ultimate fulfillment not in the law as given to Moses nor in the Temple but Jesus Christ to whom everything in the Old Testament points." Nevertheless, some Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, under James' leadership, might not have abandoned their loyalty to the Jerusalem Temple worship until its destruction in 70 AD.

Mary's Jerusalem House

InsulaThe Acts of the Apostles mentions Mary's Jerusalem house, where Jesus meets with the disciples in the upper room. The incidental details may suggest that Mary's Jerusalem house, also called "the Cenacle" or "dining room," is a room located in the David's Tomb Compound in Jerusalem traditionally held to be the site of the Last Supper. According to Mark 14.14, it is not part of "an insulae," or "apartment" complex, but is a large house with a gateway that acts as a buffer between the street and the inner courtyard and rooms. Jesus says to his disciples according to Mark 14.14, "Say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks, "Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?"'" According to John Foster, the house of Mary, the mother of Mark in Jerusalem, is the place of meeting for the first congregation of Christ's Church, and therefore the "First Christian church."It is interesting to look up the other Bible references to Mary's Jerusalem house. Is this the same house used for so many other events in the life of Jesus?

Three Thousand Added

Saint Luke never portrays the entire post-Pentecost community gathered in any one place. In Acts 2.41, we read, "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day." If we understand the number three thousand as an accurate count of these believers, they obviously cannot have gathered under one roof. Peter's instruction to the group assembled in Mark's house suggests multiple places for meeting. In Acts 12.17, we read that, "Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. 'Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,' he said. Then he left for another place." The disciples are to report his release to James and "the brethren," who are presumably meeting elsewhere according to editors Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids in "Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Development."

Jewish Synagogue Worship

Jerusalem Synagogue TodayThe Acts of the Apostles describes the Jewish Synagogue worship and attendance by Christians at the synagogues. Jewish synagogue worship is a significant institution in Jewish public and religious life during the first century AD. A "synagogue" from the Greek word is simply an "assembly." The Hebrew equivalent words "Beit Knesset " represents a "house of assembly" or "a synagogue" and are often used in the names of congregations. "Knesset" means "the gathering" or "assembly" and is also used by the national legislature of Israel today. However, while Jewish Christian believers continue an association with the Temple, Saint Luke is silent about any Jewish synagogue worship in or around Jerusalem. One may surmise that the early believers' house gatherings replace Jewish synagogue worship by providing similar opportunities and structures for Christian worship and fellowship. In Acts 6.9, they find contact with the "Synagogue of the Freedmen." "Opposition arose, from Synagogue of the Freedmen members — who were Cyrene and Alexandria Jews as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia — who began to argue with Stephen." Synagogues are important in Saint Paul's missionary activity only as opportunities to initiate the Gospel's proclamation and as a model for Christian house churches in the Greco-Roman world. We also note that Ephesians 2.19-20 says, "Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." The Temple has a unique role, before its 70 AD destruction, in the patriarchs' and prophets' lives and even Jesus' experience. In the early years of the Christian community in Jerusalem, how did Jewish synagogue worship, and then the house churches take over?

"Justin Martyr"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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