Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
SBJT 8:3 (Fall 2004) p. 112
Dialogue with Trypho. By Justin Martyr, trans. Thomas B. Falls, rev. by Thomas P. Halton, ed. by Michael Slusser. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2003, 229 pp., $24.95 paper.
Given the controversies of recent years, it is tempting for some to believe that Jewish evangelism is an innovative concept, pioneered by Southern Baptists. Justin Martyr was no Southern Baptist. He was a first-generation Christian in the second-century Roman Empire who sought to engage paganism, Hellenic philosophy, and Judaism with the truth claims of Christian theology. This new revision of his Dialogues serves to remind Christians of the ancient Great Commission mandate of a robust, clear, and Christocentric defense of the gospel before all people —including the Jewish people.
In the Dialogue, Justin seeks to persuade a prominent Jewish thinker of the reality of Christian truth claims. Reading the Dialogue is much like listening to a one-sided telephone conversation. All that we have are Justin’s arguments. But he so thoroughly deconstructs Trypho’s objections that it is not difficult at all to see both sides of the debate shaping up throughout the work. What contemporary evangelicals may be surprised to see is how little the debates over Christian theology have changed in the past two thousand years.
Justin Martyr is well known for his attempts to integrate Christian theology with Greek philosophy, sometimes in unhelpful ways. This volume demonstrates, however, how anchored to the text of Scripture Justin could be. Justin appeals to Trypho on the basis of the Old Testament Scriptures, noting that the Christ event is the fulfillment of the new covenant promises of the fathers and the prophets. Noteworthy is Justin’s hermeneutic, which is typological and Christocentric. Thus, Justin does not simply point Trypho to a few isolated messianic prophecies. Instead, he shows him how Jesus of Nazareth makes sense of all of the Old Testament. In so doing, he treats the Bible as an organic unity, and takes seriously the implications of divine authorship and the historical unfolding of the mystery of the gospel. It is all too easy for contemporary evangelicals to dismiss fathers such as Justin for being “allegorical” and “fanciful.” A reading of Justin himself, however, will show that Justin’s hermeneutic may be quite different from that of Walter Kaiser, but it is remarkably similar to that of the apostles Peter and Paul.
Some of Trypho’s objections read like those of twentieth-century Protestant liberals. Justin responds, for instance, to Trypho’s assertion that the prophet Isaiah does not foresee a “virgin birth” but a “young woman” giving birth as a sign. Clearly, this discussion did not o...
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