JUSTIN MARTYR’S DIALOGUE WITH TRYPHO
Upon seeing my philosophers’ garb, a Jewish man named Trypho introduced himself to me. I was surprised that he was interested in philosophy since the Jews have their own lawgiver and prophets, but he insisted that he was interested in my opinion of matters of theism, providence, and life after death.
First, I told him that philosophy is a noble task and one that leads to God. Unfortunately, in practice, it has led to many different conclusions because some philosophers have been more interested in pursuing affirmation and prestige than the truth itself (such happens in religion too!).
Second, I told him my story… How I had moved from one school to another until I landed among the Platonists and began to think of myself as quite wise and spent my time pondering invisible things… How, one day, as I was off the beaten path (a place of contemplation), I came across an older man. We had a conversation about (my) philosophy, whether it had practical benefits, and how it related to the concept of God (I believed that the term ‘God’ referred to the unchanging source of all things). Slowly and carefully, the old man spoke with me… about how it is that I believe we perceive God and what happens after death. He pointed out some of the holes in my philosophical assumptions. He then shared with me about the revelation of truth that had come through the Jewish prophets of old and encouraged me to pursue Christ (to whom those revelations pointed). From that time on, though I never saw that man again, I did pursue these truths and had since become a Christian-philosopher.
But upon telling him that I was a Christian… I was laughed at (albeit politely). Trypho suggested that it’d be far better to be a ritually observant Jewish-philosopher than a Christian-philosopher. He denied that the Christ had come. Therefore, I told Trypho that he had been wrongly informed about Christ and that I would, presently, make the case for Jesus Christ (which provoked more—less polite—laughter). I was going to leave, but Trypho proved willing to dialogue more about the subject of Jesus.
I began by asking Trypho what it was, in particular, that he found objectionable about Christianity. He said it wasn’t the (false) rumors about Christians (cannibalism, promiscuity, etc.) that he found objectionable (he knew they were false). Nor was it even the moral content of our teaching (which he considered wonderful even if impossible to actually obey). What he truly found objectionable was twofold. First, that we didn’t ritually separate ourselves from the world (keep the Old Testament Law). And, second, that we put our hopes in a crucified man, believing that through Jesus we are accepted by God despite our dismissal of His laws contained in the Jewish Scriptures!
Trypho was very eager to hear my responses to these objections. My response was as follows:
The ancient Jewish law itself predicted the coming of a new covenant. That covenant was initiated by Christ (replacing the previous covenant) and made available to all without regard for ethnicity and/or ritual observance. Christians (both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ) are the new spiritual Israel… the people of God. Those who insist on living under the old covenant are, in essence, living in the shadows unnecessarily (for the light has come!). Forgiveness is available through Christ alone… not religious ritual observance. Those things were merely symbols of what was to come and, in and of themselves, had no power to change the heart or save the soul.
I reminded Trypho that there were plenty of God-pleasing people before the law came. The old laws were given specifically to the Jews because of the hardness of their hearts (this much was made clear in the very words of his own prophets). God never has needed such things that the Jewish religion offers Him. The purpose of those laws was not to save you, but to point to Christ (who can save us all). He alone is pure and offers to us a purity of heart (a much more excellent purity). It’s time to come to Christ, not live in the law of the past. The very fact that the Jews no longer had a King or Temple or Prophets (the prophetic gift had been transferred to the Church) demonstrated that the Jewish dispensation had ended and something new had begun with Jesus.
Trypho reiterated his objection that Jesus had suffered and inglorious death (unbecoming of a would-be Messiah), but I replied that this, too, was predicted in the Scriptures and that Jesus was going to come again in glory to fulfill other prophecies. Christ, I argued, was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Scriptures (I wasn’t just cherry-picking). For He is King, and Priest, and God, and Lord, and angel, and man, and captain, and stone, and a Son. I knew that much of what I was saying (especially about the suffering Messiah) was hard to hear and paradoxical to Trypho, but I also knew he needed to hear it to be saved. This is why I was so willing to share (thankfully, since he had been instructed by his teachers not to dialogue with Christians).
Trypho kept stumbling over the apparent foolishness of the incarnation/cross. How could anyone be born of a virgin? How could the Messiah suffer on a cross (and be cursed)? How could the Messiah also be God? But I showed from the Scriptures (otherwise, he would not have stayed) that even in the Old Testament there are hints of a plurality within God (‘Let us make’, the 3 men who visited Abraham, the burning bush experience, etc.). Trypho found my arguments for a plurality within the godhead persuasive, but needed more evidence in order to believe that one member of this plurality became flesh in Jesus Christ. I questioned him on this (having already provided such evidence… like the virgin birth passage in Isaiah)… was he genuinely open to being persuaded?
At this point Trypho stopped me and asked if I felt the Jews were going to miss out entirely on their assumed inheritance from God. I replied that not all Jews will miss out… only those who continue to persecute Christ and fail to repent of their ways. Only those who believe in Jesus and live for Him will inherit God’s promises (also, those who genuinely pursued God in former times are saved by Christ retroactively). Trypho also wondered if someone who did believe and follow Christ could be saved if they simultaneously kept the Jewish Law (where possible). I replied that they could indeed be saved, but that they must not insist that others do likewise.
After more lengthy conversations about the virgin birth passage and suffering servant passage in Isaiah, the Messianic prophecies in Psalm 22, and a host of other texts that foreshadowed the reality that is Christ (there was a lot of necessary repetition), we ended our dialogue (it had taken nearly 2 days)! Trypho was pleasantly surprised that I had been so prepared to discuss the nuances of ‘his’ Scriptures.
I had presented Trypho with an entirely new way to read the Old Testament (through the lens of Jesus Christ). We left on good terms (both thankful for the dialogue and saddened that it could not continue). Whether he ever learned to read Scripture in this way or, even more importantly, began himself to follow Christ… I do not know. But I pray that it is so.