Revisiting Shabir Ally’s Distortion of Justin Martyr Pt. 1

Shabir Ally has written a short article in an obvious attempt of trying undo the damage resulting from his lackluster performance and defeat at the hands orthodox Christian philosopher Jay Dyer in their debate (Dr Shabir Ally / Jay Dyer Debate: Is Jesus God Incarnate? Answers in Scripture, History & Logic

Ally mentions the post-debate analysis of the debate, which I was fortunate to be part of (Dr. Shabir Ally / Jay Dyer Debate Review – Monarchia of the Father / Trinity He also references my subsequent response to his review of the debate and our discussion where I exposed his mishandling and gross misrepresentation of the second century church father apologist and Justin Martyr actually taught about Christ and the Trinity (Refuting Shabir Ally’s Distortion of Justin Martyr Conveniently, Ally didn’t bother to provide any links to my session or to our analysis of his abysmal debate performance and misinformation.

Here is what Ally wrote concerning all of this:

Following my debate with Dyer, a panel of Christians were quickly formed online to address some of the issues which I had raised. But they failed to deal with Justin Martyr’s confession to worshipping angels along with the Father, Son, and prophetic Spirit. Sam Shamoun, one of the panelists, went on to produce a separate video in which he cites many statements from Justin’s writings. But these statements fall short of expressing the Trinity. Moreover, Shamoun failed to deal with Justin’s confession to worshipping angels. Thus, it remains established that there was an evolution of the Trinity doctrine. (Did Justin Martyr Worship Angels?

After reading this, it is clear why Ally didn’t post the links to our discussion or to my refutation of his gross mishandling of Justin Martyr.

To begin with, in my session that Ally references, which I assume he viewed, I had clearly stated that I have already refuted Ally’s distortion of what Justin Martyr wrote in my article where I expose and refute his shameless and dishonest debate tactics: A Critique of Shabir Ally’s Debate Tactics Pt. 1a. Therefore, Ally is simply being dishonest with his readers when he claims “Shamoun failed to deal with Justin’s confession to worshipping angels.” It is Ally that has miserably failed to refute what I wrote in my rebuttal or the arguments I raised in my session.

Ally makes reference to what Cyril C. Richardson wrote in relation to Justin Martyr’s views being somewhat crude and confused. Here’s the context of that particular statements:

… It would be easy to make a long list of the points that Justin does not clearly define because he did not have to. An example is what kind of being the prophetic Spirit is, in view of the fact that the Logos is also a Spirit,41 and the Spirit speaks through the prophets the Word of God. Nor again does Justin bother to state precisely how the Spirit and the Logos are distinguished from the lesser angelic powers, who follow the Son (pre-eminently God’s Angel), and who in one passage are named between him and the prophetic Spirit.42 Certainly Justin knows that God is the only Fashioner of the universe, who made it out of formless matter. But he seems to have no interest in where that came from. Perhaps he could conceive of nothing more nonexistent.43 (Richardson, p. 202

And like Ally and Bart Ehrman before him, Richardson seems to think that Justin Martyr may have believed that angels were venerated alongside of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

6. So, then, we are called godless. We certainly confess that we are godless with reference to beings like these who are commonly thought of as gods, but not with reference to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is untouched by evil. Him, and the Son who came from him, and taught us these things, and the army of the other good angels who follow him and are made like him, and the prophetic Spirit we worship and adore,66 giving honor in reason and truth, and to everyone who wishes to learn transmitting [the truth] ungrudgingly as we have been taught. (Richardson, p. 211)

66 It is barely possible to construe the sentence so that the angels are listed as subjects or recipients of Christ’s teaching, along with men, rather than as objects of veneration listed in this surprising position; but this seems unnecessary, especially since Justin is here concerned to contrast the good angels who fallow the Son with the evil demons who oppose him. (Ibid.; italicized and underline emphasis mine)

What makes this rather ironic is that Ally is aware of the rebuttal to this claim since, not only does he make mention of my session refuting this argument, but he also has read the response to Bart Ehrman’s book “How Jesus Became God,” titled “How God Became Jesus”: (Dr. Shabir Ally reviews “How God Became Jesus?” – Rebuttal to “How Jesus Became God”

In fact, he even mentions a chapter within the book written by Michael F. Bird in both his debate with Dyer and the review of the debate to show that not all evangelical Christians believe that Jesus is that very Angel of the Lord that is mentioned throughout the Hebrew Bible (Is Jesus God Incarnate? A review of the Jay Dyer/Shabir Ally debate

This means he is fully aware of the response by Charles E. Hills in that very same book where the author shows why Justin Martyr’s statements cannot be taken to mean that Christians worshiped angels alongside the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

One way of construing this rather confusing sentence is as a claim that Christians worship angels, along with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. This is how Ehrman takes it. But this reading is suspect. Not only would it go against all prior (and subsequent) prohibitions against worshiping angels, such as Col 2:18 or Rev 19:10; 22:8-9, but Justin himself clearly says God created the “race of angels” in the beginning along with the face of men (1 Apology 7.5). Unlike the Logos, angels were not begotten but created. Moreover, in chapter 13 Justin offers a sharper and more concise statement that Christians “reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third.” Then in chapter 16 he speaks of baptism “in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.” In neither of these passages are angels mentioned. Thus, many have thought that the angels in chapter 6 are meant to go alongside “us” as those whom the Son has taught: “the Son (who came forth from Him and taught us and the angels… these things).” The particular Greek construction in 1 Apology 6 would supports [sic] such as a reading, as it shows Justin linking together the Father, the Son, and the Spirit by the use of a conjunction (te), which is not used for the company of angels. (Hill, “Paradox Pushers and Persecutors?”, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature [Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 2014], pp. 187-188; bold emphasis mine)

Now did Ally bother to provide a meaningful refutation to what Hills wrote? Did he even begin to address the similar objection I made in the very session refuting his mishandling of Justin Martyr, which he refers to but failed to provide a link for his readers so that they could go and view it for themselves?

Therefore, the only one that has failed to refute anything is Shabir Ally, even though he tries to deceive his readers into thinking that the Christian side was unable to provide a meaningful rebuttal to his distortion of Justin Martyr, or to the other scholars that he habitually misrepresents and misquotes.

Seeing how Ally is fond of selectively quoting scholars and authorities, often out of context, I am going to oblige him by citing some scholars of my own. Pay careful attention to what the following church historians state in regards to the Trinitarian views of Justin Martyr and the other pre-Nicene church writers. All bold, capital, and/or underline emphasis will be mine.

1776 This is the literal and obvious translation of Justin’s words. But from c. 13, 16, and 61, it is evident that he did not desire to inculcate the worship of angels. We are therefore driven to adopt another translation of this passage, even though it be somewhat harsh. Two such translations have been proposed: the first connecting “us” and “the host of the other good angels” as the common object of the verb “taught;” the second connecting “these things” with “the host of,” etc., and making these two together the subject taught. In the first case the translation would stand, “taught these things to us and to the host,” etc.; in the second case the translation would be, “taught us about these things, and about the host of the others who follow Him, viz. the good angels.” [I have ventured to insert parenthetic marks in the text, an obvious and simple resource to suggest the manifest intent of the author. Grabe’s note in loc. gives another and very ingenious exegesis, but the simplest is best.](Philip Schaff, Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Volume 1

So in JUSTIN, the pioneer of scientific discovery in Pneumatology as well as in Christology. He refutes the heathen charge of atheism with the explanation, that the Christians worship the Creator of the universe, in the second place the Son,1026 in the third rank1027 the prophetic Spirit; placing the three divine hypostases in a descending gradation as objects of worship. In another passage, quite similar, he interposes the host of good angels between the Son and the Spirit, and thus favors the inference that he regarded the Holy Ghost himself as akin to the angels and therefore a created being.1028  But aside from the obscurity and ambiguity of the words relating to the angelic host, the coordination of the Holy Ghost with the angels is utterly precluded by many other expressions of Justin, in which he exalts the Spirit FAR ABOVE THE SPHERE OF ALL CREATED BEING, and challenges for the members of the divine trinity a worship forbidden to angels. The leading function of the Holy Spirit, with him, as with other apologists, is the inspiration of the Old Testament prophets.1029  In general the Spirit conducted the Jewish theocracy, and qualified the theocratic officers. All his gifts concentrated themselves finally in Christ; and thence they pass to the faithful in the church. It is a striking fact, however, that Justin in only two passages refers the new moral life of the Christian to the Spirit, he commonly represents the Logos as its fountain. He lacks all insight into the distinction of the Old Testament Spirit and the New, and urges their identity in opposition to the Gnostics…

JUSTIN MARTYR repeatedly places Father, Son, and Spirit together as objects of divine worship among the Christians (though not as being altogether equal in dignity), and imputes to Plato a presentiment of the doctrine of the Trinity. Athenagoras confesses his faith in Father, Son, and Spirit, who are one as to power (kata dynamin), but whom he distinguishes as to order or dignity (taxi) in subordinatian style. Theophilus of Antioch (180) is the first to denote the relation of the three divine persons1045 by the term Triad. (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II, Chapter VII. The Development of Catholic Theology, pp. 447, 452

1028  Apol. I. 6: Ekei non te (i.e. theon) kai ton gar autou Hyion elthonta kai didaxanta hema tau’ta kai ton allon hepomenon kai exomoioumenon agathon angelon straton, Pneuma te to prophetikon seBometha kai proskynou’men. This passage has been variously explained. The questions arise, whether angelo here is not to be taken in the wider sense, in which Justin often uses it, and even applies it to Christ; whether straton depends on seBometha, and not rather on didaxanta, so as to be co-ordinate with hema, or with tau’ta, and not with Hyion and Pneu’ma. Still others suspect that straton is a false reading for strategon, which would characterize Christ as the leader of the angelic host. It is impossible to co-ordinate the host of angels with the Father, Son, and Spirit, as objects of worship, without involving Justin in gross self-contradiction (Apol I. 17: theon monon proskynou’men, etc.). We must either join straton with hemain the sense that Christ is the teacher, not of men only, but also of the host of angels; or with tau’ta in the sense that the Son of God taught us (didaxanta hema) about these things (tau’tai.e. evil spirits, compare the preceding chapter I. 5), but also concerning the good angels—ton angelon straton being in this case elliptically put for ta peri tou’… angelon stratou’. The former is more natural, although a more careful writer than Justin would in this case have said tau’ta hema instead of hema tau’ta. For a summary of the different interpretations see Otto’s notes in the third ed. of Justin’s Opera, I. 20-23. (Ibid., p. 797)

Their teaching appears most clearly in Justin, although his theology is far from being systematic. His starting-point was the current maxim that reason (the ‘germinal logos’ logos spermatikos) was what united men to God and gave them knowledge of Him. Before Christ’s coming men had possessed, as it were, seeds of the Logos and had thus been enabled to arrive at fragmentary facets of truth. Hence such pagans as ‘lived with reason’ were, in a sense, Christians before Christianity. The Logos, however, had now ‘assumed shape and become a man’ in Jesus Christ; He had become incarnate in His entirety in Him. The Logos is here conceived of as the Father’s intelligence or rational thought; but Justin argued that He was not only in name distinct from the Father, as the light is from the sun, but was ‘numerically distinct too’ (kai arithmou heteron). His proof, which he was particularly concerned to develop against Jewish monotheism, was threefold. The Word’s otherness, he thought, was implied (a) by the alleged appearances of God in the Old Testament (e.g. to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre), which suggest that, ‘below the Creator of all things, there is Another Who is, and is called, God and Lord’, since it is inconceivable that ‘the Master and Father of all things should have abandoned all supercelestial affairs and made Himself visible in a minute comer of the world’; (b) by the frequent Old Testament passages (e.g. Gen. I, 26: ‘Let us make man etc.’) which represent God as conversing with another, Who is presumably a rational being like Himself; and (c) by the great Wisdom texts, such as Prov. 8, 22 ff. (‘The Lord created me a beginning of His ways etc.’), since everyone must agree that the offspring is other than its begetter. So the Logos, ‘having been put forth as an offspring from the Father, was with Him before all creatures, and the Father had converse with Him. And He is divine: ‘being Word and first-begotten of God, He is also God‘. ‘Thus, then, He is adorable, He is God’; and ‘we adore and love, next to God, the Logos derived from the increate and ineffable God, seeing that for our sakes He became man’.

The incarnation apart, the special functions of the Logos, according to Justin, are two: to be the Father’s agent in creating and ordering the universe, and to reveal truth to men. As regards His nature, while other beings are ‘things made’ (poiemata) or ‘creatures’ (ktismata), the Logos is God’s ‘offspring’ (gennema), His ‘child’ (teknon) and ‘unique Son’ (ho monogenes): ‘before all creatures God begat, in the beginning, a rational power out of Himself ‘. By this generation Justin means, not the ultimate origin of the Father’s Logos or reason (this he does not discuss), but His putting forth or emission for the purposes of creation and revelation; and it is conditioned by, and is the result of, an act of the Father’s will. But this generation or emission does not entail any separation between the Father and His Son, as the analogy between human reason and its extrapolation in speech makes clear. ‘When we utter a word, we give birth to the word (or reason) within us, but without diminishing it, since the putting of it forth entails no abscission. We observe much the same when one fire is kindled from another. The fire from which it is kindled is not diminished but remains the same; while the fire which is kindled from it is seen to exist by itself without diminishing the original fire’. Elsewhere Justin uses the analogy of the impossibility of distinguishing the light from the sun which is its source in order to argue that ‘this Power is indivisible and inseparable from the Father’, and that His numerical distinction from the Father does not involve any partition of the latter’s essence.

Tatian was a disciple of Justin’s, and like his master spoke of the Logos as existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated. Like Justin, too, he emphasized the Word’s essential unity with the Father, using the same image of light kindled from light. ‘The birth of the Logos involves a distribution (merismon), but no severance (apokopen). Whatever is severed is cut off from its original, but that which is distributed undergoes division in the economy without impoverishing the source from which it is derived. For just as a single torch serves to light several fires and the light of the first torch is not lessened because others are kindled from it, so the Word issues forth from the Father’s power without depriving His begetter of His Word. For example, I talk and you listen to me; but I, who converse with you, am not, by the conveyance of my word to you, made empty of my word.’ At the same time Tatian threw into sharper relief than Justin the contrast between the two successive states of the Logos. Before creation God was alone, the Logos being immanent in Him as His potentiality for creating all things; but at the moment of creation He leaped forth from the Father as His ‘primordial work’ (ergon prototokon). Once born, being ‘spirit derived from spirit, rationality from rational power’, He served as the Father’s instrument in creating and governing the universe, in particular making men in the divine image. (J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines [Adam and Charles Black, London, Fourth Edition 1968], pp. 96-99)

What the Apologists had to say about the Holy Spirit was much more meagre, scarcely deserving the name of scientific theology. This is understandable, for the problem which principally exercised them was the relation of Christ to the Godhead. Nevertheless, being loyal churchmen, they made it their business to proclaim the Church’s faith, the pattern of which was of course triadic.

On several occasions Justin coordinates the three Persons, sometimes quoting formulae derived from baptism and the eucharist, and at other times echoing official catechetical teaching. Thus he counters the charge of atheism brought against Christians by pointing to the veneration they pay to the Father, the Son and ‘the prophetic Spirit’. Indeed, references to ‘the holy Spirit’ or ‘the prophetic Spirit’ abound in his writings; and although he was often hazy about the relation of His functions to those of the Logos, the attempts he made to extract testimony to His existence as a third divine being from Plato’s writings prove that he regarded the two as really distinct. According to Tatian, ‘the Spirit of God is not present in all, but He comes down upon some who live justly, unites Himself with their souls, and by His predictions announced the hidden future to other souls’. Athenagoras conceived of the Spirit as inspiring the prophets, and was familiar with the triadic formula; he even defined the Spirit as ‘an effluence (aporrian) of God, flowing from and returning to Him like a beam of the sun’. Theophilus, parting company at this point with Justin, identified the Spirit with Wisdom, equating the latter with the spirit which, according to Ps. 33, 6, God used along with His Word in creation. He was the first to apply the term ‘triad’ to the Godhead, stating that the three days which preceded the creation of sun and moon ‘were types of the Triad, that is, of God and of His Word and of His Wisdom’.

Yet, as compared with their thought about the Logos, the Apologists appear to have been extremely vague as to the exact status and role of the Spirit. His essential function in their eyes would seem to have been the inspiration of the prophets. Developing this, Justin interprets Is. II, 2 (‘The Spirit of God shall rest upon him’) as indicating that with the coming of Christ prophecy would cease among the Jews; henceforth the Spirit would be Christ’s Spirit, and would bestow His gifts and graces upon Christians. Hence it is He Who is the source of the illumination which makes Christianity the supreme philosophy. There are passages, however, where he attributes the inspiration of the prophets to the Logos; and Theophilus, too, suggests that it was the Logos Who, being divine spirit, illuminated their minds. There can be no doubt that the Apologists’ thought was highly confused; they were very far from having worked the threefold pattern of the Church’s faith into a coherent scheme. In this connexion it is noteworthy that Justin did not assign the Holy Spirit any role in the incarnation. Like other pre-Nicene fathers, he understood the divine Spirit and ‘power of the Most High’ mentioned in Luke 1, 35, not as the Holy Spirit, but as the Logos, Whom he envisaged as entering the womb of the Blessed Virgin and acting as the agent of His own incarnation.

In spite of incoherencies, however, the lineaments of a Trinitarian doctrine are clearly discernible in the Apologists. The Spirit was for them the Spirit of God; like the Word, HE SHARED THE DIVINE NATURE, being (in Athenagoras’s words) an ‘effluence’ from the Deity. Although much of Justin’s language about Him has a sub-personal ring, it becomes more personal when he speaks of ‘the prophetic Spirit’; and there is no escaping the personal implications contained in his pleas that Plato borrowed his conception of a third One from Moses, and that the pagan custom of erecting statues of Kore at springs was inspired by the Scriptural picture of the Spirit moving upon the waters. As regards the relation of the Three, there is little to be gleaned from Justin beyond his statement that Christians venerate Christ and the Spirit in the second and the third ranks respectively. Athenagoras echoes this idea when he inveighs against labelling as atheists ‘men who acknowledge God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit, and declare both Their power in union and Their distinction in order’ (ten en te taxei diaresin). This order, or taxis, however, was not intended to suggest degrees of subordination within the Godhead; it belonged to the Triad as manifested in creation and revelation. Theophilus, with his doctrine of God’s Word and His Wisdom (he probably preferred ‘Wisdom’ to ‘Spirit’ because of the persistent ambiguity of the latter term), provides a fairly mature example of their teaching. In spite of his tendency to blur the distinction between the Word and the Spirit, he really had the idea of the holy Triad fixed firmly in his mind. He envisaged God as having His Word and His Wisdom eternally in Himself, and generating Them for the purpose of creation; and he was also clear that when God put Them forth He did not empty Himself of Them, but ‘is forever conversing with His Word’. Thus the image with which the Apologists worked, viz. that of a man putting forth his thought and his spirit in external activity, enabled them to recognize, however dimly, the plurality in the Godhead, and also to show how the Word and the Spirit, while really manifested in the world of space and time, could also abide within the being of the Father, Their essential unity with Him unbroken. (Ibid. 101-104)

In the next part (, I will quote Justin Martyr directly to refute Ally’s shameless misrepresentation of this early apologist’s Trinitarian views.

6 thoughts on “Revisiting Shabir Ally’s Distortion of Justin Martyr Pt. 1

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