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Meeting with the Early Church – Justin Martyr

Posted by on Mar 18, 2008 in church history, gathering | Comments Off

As we continue to examine some early church writers to determine what they believed about the church meeting, we come to Justin Martyr. He lived from about 100 to about 165 AD, and wrote several apologies (defenses) and treatises. His most famous apology is called the First Apology, which was probably written in the 150’s AD. Chapter LXVII (the next to the last chapter) of the First Apology is presented below:

And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

First, notice that Justin uses a different word to specify the normal day of the church meeting. Literally, he says they meet “on the day of the Sun”. This probably refers to the same day as “the Lord’s Day” which we’ve seen previously, but it is interesting that Justin uses the Roman day names: day of the Sun, day of Saturn, etc.

Also, Justin spends more time describing what is done when the church meets than describing the purpose of the meeting itself. Some of those activities include public reading (probably OT and NT Scriptures), instruction and exhortation, prayer, partaking of the Lord’s Supper (bread and wine and water), and contributing to and sharing with those who are in need.

Justin places alot of emphasis on an individual that he refers to as “the president”. He uses a unique term here – one that we do not find in the NT and one that we have not seen in other early church writings. If there is a connection between “the president” and the elders or deacons, Justin does not specify the connection in this passage.

The “president” is given the responsibility of instructing and exhorting people to imitate what has been read in the Scriptures. Likewise, the “president” is given the responsibility of praying over the Lord’s Supper elements, and of distributing what had been collected to those who are in need (orphans, widows, the sick, prisoners, strangers).

Finally, instead of telling his readers why the church should gather together, he tells them why they should gather on Sunday. He says that the church gathers together on Sunday because that is the day of Christ’s resurrection.


Meeting with the Early Church Series
1. Introduction
2. Pliny’s Letter
3. The Didache
4. Ignatius’ Letters
5. Clement of Rome
6. Epistle of Barnabas
7. Justin Martyr
8. Conclusion