Justin Martyr and the Watchtower

by Nick Peters

We read the following in the section on the Ante-Nicene fathers in the Watchtower brochure, “Should You Believe In The Trinity?":

Justin Martyr, who died about 165 C.E., called the prehuman Jesus a created angel who is "other than the God who made all things." He said that Jesus was inferior to God and "never did anything except what the Creator . . . willed him to do and say."1

It is important to note at the start that the Watchtower provides no documentation for these quotes. If you want to know from what work of Justin Martyr these come, you must search personally. In the pre-internet days, this would have been more difficult. Nowadays, the reader can simply open up a whole work of Justin Martyr and search the document for keywords.

In my search, the closest I have come to finding the first part of this quote is in the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. In Chapter 56 of that work we read the following from Justin:

Then I replied, "I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures, [of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things--above whom there is no other God--wishes to announce to them."2

This can sound as if Justin is holding an Arian view, but is that the case? To begin with, let us not fault Justin for a lack of Trinitarian language--seeing as it was not in use in his day. What we have to do is look and see if the concepts are there. What does it mean when Justin says that Jesus is called an Angel? Is this saying he is Michael the Archangel--as Witnesses believe Jesus to be?

To begin with, Justin later says in the same chapter that Jesus is only numerically distinct from God but not distinct in will; and I ask who could be of one will with God but God alone? The interested reader is encouraged to click the link and just read through the next few chapters. What we find are quotes like the following:

And I continued: "It is again written by Moses, my brethren, that He who is called God and appeared to the patriarchs is called both Angel and Lord, in order that from this you may understand Him to be minister to the Father of all things, as you have already admitted, and may remain firm, persuaded by additional arguments."

"Moreover, I consider it necessary to repeat to you the words which narrate how He who is both Angel and God and Lord, and who appeared as a man to Abraham, and who wrestled in human form with Jacob, was seen by him when he fled from his brother Esau."

"Have you perceived, sirs, that this very God whom Moses speaks of as an Angel that talked to him in the flame of fire, declares to Moses that He is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob?"3

The last quote is quite important as it refers to the event in Exodus 3 with the divine name being revealed to Moses. Do the Witnesses want to say that an angel took upon himself the divine name? Throughout the dialogue, Justin is arguing that when God appeared in the Old Testament, it was really Jesus--certainly not the position of an Arian!

As for the second Watchtower quote, it also comes from the same chapter in the Dialogue, but why is it a problem? Would a good Trinitarian hold that Jesus did other than what the Father willed Him to do? How could He have lived a perfect human life and done otherwise? It can sound indicting at first, but should we see it as such? The question to ask the Witnesses is, “What am I to infer from that fact? Can you logically get me to how that denies the Trinity?”

Seeing that the brochure is full of strawmen, such as constantly confusing the idea of Trinitarianism with modalism (modalism being the belief that God is one person who keeps switching roles between Father, Son, and Spirit), it is unlikely one will meet a Witness theologically adept enough to handle such an argument. Still, that is no reason why the Christian should not be seeking to read theology. Theology is important for the Christian not because it is used to refute the heretics but because it is knowledge of Him who is supreme above all.

  • 1. http://www.watchtower.org/e/ti/article_03.htm
  • 2. http://earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-dialoguetrypho.html
  • 3. Ibid.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.