For one of my classes, I came across a quote by Justin Martyr. The quote was intriguing, so I did a bit of research to figure out who he was and what else he wrote. I learned that he was a Christian apologist from the 2nd century. In his Second Apology, he wrote an account of a woman who lived when the church was still very new. I am always curious to know what the culture was like during the early church, if for no other reason than to find encouragement for living in this culture. The account of this woman was not only eye-opening, it gave clues into interpersonal relationships, sexuality and divorce in those early years that the Christian church was forming.
I don’t know why this woman’s life is not shared more often in the Christian public square. Maybe we have demonized divorce so much that the church is fearful of promoting a true account that not only sheds light on the depravity of homosexuality and sexual deviancy, but also showcases that three men were willing to die to denounce sexual immorality of all kinds, while protecting a woman new to the faith. Since divorce is part of the narrative maybe there is a fear that it will somehow further promote divorce culture.
It does not.
What it does show is that:
1) Christians become Christians with the help of someone teaching them the Gospel.
2) God can save anyone, regardless of sexual baggage or history.
3) When God saves, He saves fully, meaning a person’s entire life, their inclinations, how they view themselves, which includes their sexuality, along with a desire to align their sexuality to God’s natural law.
4) Divorce should not be the scarlet letter that many hurting women often deal with when maneuvering Christian spaces.
We should not be afraid to share encouraging stories of redemption, even if that redemption consequently brings about a divorce. To look at all the facts of this early church account does not demean marriage, but rather it shows the value of the sanctity of the marriage bed.
This main thrust of this account highlights that there is no gray area when it comes to homosexuality, even if homosexual behavior is an accepted expression of sexuality in the culture.
Justin Martyr addressed his Second Apology to the Romans. The woman in question was married to a man who lived according to his passions, lust and exhibited a serious case of no self-control…in other words, he was a man of his times.
In Sexual Morality in a Christless World, authored by Mathew Reuger, he writes
“Ancient Roman culture represents a kind of sexual utopia many long for today. There were few sexual boundaries and monogamy was rarely practiced. Promiscuity in ancient Rome was more in the open and enjoyed general public acceptance. Married men were expected to have trysts”.
When women engaged in sexual relations with those not her husband, it was not shocking either.
Rome’s societal norms of objectifying humans sexually, even within the context of marriage, was expected, and anyone who went against the grain in practicing their cultural values and traditions of society were considered “atheists”, meaning they were unwilling to worship the “god of sex”, Aphrodite. This form of “atheism” made Christians subject to arrest or persecution. Christians could not come right out and admit they were Christians, but those who changed their behavior to model after God’s commandments were seen with suspicion.
The woman that Justin Martyr writes about converted to the Christian faith through the teaching and preaching of Ptolemaeus. Not only did he teach her the truth of the Gospel, he also encouraged her to reject the cultural norms of the day and leave her life of sexual immorality behind. With the power of the Holy Spirit, she did.
Justin writes: “But when she came to the knowledge of the teachings of Christ she became sober-minded, and endeavored to persuade her husband likewise, citing the teaching of Christ”.
Her faith motivated her to ascribe to Christian morals and she wanted her husband to do the same. She shared the fear of the wrath of God with him, but according to Justin,
“he (the husband) continuing in the same excesses, alienated his wife from him by his actions. For she, considering it wicked to live any longer as a wife with a husband who sought in every way means of indulging in pleasure contrary to the law of nature, and in violation of what is right” (emphasis mine).
Romans 1:26 reminds us that Paul addressed the Roman church regarding this issue of exchanging natural sexual relations with those contrary to nature, which was a consequence of God giving up those who claimed to be wise, but were fools for refusing to acknowledge the truth of the Living God (Romans 1). Due to their stubborn futile hearts, men and women gave up having natural sexual relations and were consumed with passion in a same sex orientation expression. They not only approved of such behavior (Romans 1:32), the sexual deviations of Roman culture were ingrained in their “religious” norms. Roman people did not see anything wrong with sexual promiscuity, especially since their gods and goddess were sexually immoral as well.
Reuger writes concerning the Roman gods:
“Roman myths were filled with stories of adultery, incest and homosexuality. In Greek/Roman mythology, the god Zeus (Jupiter) took Juno (Hera), his sister to be his wife, and father four children (coincidentally Zeus’s father Cronus was also married to his sister Rhea). Zeus cheated on Juno and loved the goddess Metis, fathering Athena, another goddess. Zeus also loved Leto, the daughter of two Titans, and fathered two sons, Apollo and Artemis. He fathered Hercules from Alcmena, a mortal woman, by assuming the form of her husband due to his lust for her. He then fathered a set of twins from the Spartan, queen Leda, by assuming the form of a swan. He took Ganymede as his homosexual lover by assuming the form of an eagle. He seduced a Phonetician princess by assuming the form of white bull. He impregnated another mortal woman named Io, who m he turned into a white heifer to hide her from his jealous wife. He impregnated Danae, a princess, by turning himself into a shower of gold.
Zeus as the king of the gods was thought to be the supreme example of divine will. He was the ultimate authority for upholding law and morality among the gods. If the keeper of law and morality is himself immoral, the ethic taught by such stories cannot help but promote immorality and disrespect for marriage and women among the common people”
The stories of Roman gods were the foundation of Roman religion and commemorating the gods happened often in the public square and political arena. Sporting events always began with a ceremony to the gods. Christians, however, refused to partake in these ceremonies. When Roman citizens began to take notice that some were refusing to honor the gods, it was seen as a public protest (Rueger). By rejecting expected Roman religious norms Christians were seen as attacking all of Roman society, literal attacks on humanity. Lies were thrown at Christians, which caused them to be the most hated people on earth (Rueger).
Justin Martyr writes that the woman felt it necessary to divorce her husband but she had some friends who persuaded her to stay with him, in the hopes that her changed life, and her new Christian cultural norms, guided by her faith in Christ, he might be changed. Staying with him was emotionally draining on her though, to the point that her marriage became a vehicle of psychological abuse.
At one point, her husband went to the city of Alexandria, without her. It became known that he engaged in behavior worse than ever before. She was determined to divorce him so “that she might not, by continuing in matrimonial connection with him, and by sharing his table and his bed, become a partaker also in his wickedness and impieties. She gave him what you call a bill of divorce and separated from him“.
The man grew angry, remembering how she used to have sexual relations with her servants and hired hands and how she used to delight in drunkenness and every vice. He hated that she had given up her former habits and worse, she expected him to change too. Instead of enjoying his freedom to continue in his way of life, he accused her of being a Christian. Legally he was no longer her husband so we was not allowed to prosecute her. He then directed his accusations against the man who led her to Christ, Ptolemaeus.
Ptolemaeus was imprisoned for teaching the woman Christian doctrine. While in prison, he was interrogated and asked “whether he were a Christian? And Ptolemæus, being a lover of truth, and not of a deceitful or false disposition, when he confessed himself to be a Christian, was bound by the centurion, and for a long time punished in prison”.
After sometime, he was questioned again. He declared with boldness,
“For he who denies anything either denies it because he condemns the thing itself, or he shrinks from confession because he is conscious of his own unworthiness or alienation from it, neither of which cases is that of the true Christian”
In other words, those who deny the Gospel are actually condemning the Gospel. Those who cower down from confessing the Gospel are very much astute that they are ignorant of the Gospel’s power to change a heart and life dramatically. When a heart is changed through the power of the Gospel, it’s an all-encompassing change. It not only changes one from the inside out, it allows one to have convictions that align with their faith in Christ, convictions worth dying for, or being ridiculed, or persecuted to the point of death. To deny the Gospel and the power of the Gospel means that a person was never saved to begin with.
Interestingly, concerning Christians, Rome operated under a modified “don’t ask don’t tell”. Confessing the Christian faith was worthy of death. However, it was not allowed for Christians to be sought outright. If a person was accused of being a Christian, they were demanded to participate in a ritual act of sacrifice to the Roman gods. If they conceded they were declared innocent and released. If someone refused to perform the sacrificial act, they were punished with death. It was up to the police to coerce an admission of guilt, showing that police brutality is not a new phenomenon.
When Ptolemeus was led away for continued punishment a man by the name of Lucius, who was also a Christian, stated that unjust treatment was given to Ptolemeus for his faith.
Lucius was then accused of being a Christian as well, simply because he interceded for Ptolemeus. Lucius did admit that he was a Christian and was led away to be executed. Instead of regretting his admission, he declared a profession of thanksgiving that he was on his way to be with the Father and the King of heavens.
A third Christian objected to Ptolemaeus’s harsh punishment and had the same fate fall on him as well.
One of the reasons I signed the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel is because I appreciated the strong language when it came to sexuality and marriage.
The signers may not be finding themselves in the execution chair nor are they being called “atheists” for refusing to bow down to the sexual orientation god. However, I am finding that they are being called racists, bigots, hate mongers and their characters are being trashed across many social media platforms, by other professing Christians as well as unbelievers.
I read Justin Martyr’s Second Apology the night before the statement came out. It moved me so much, the morning the statement went live, I didn’t even hesitate. I signed it. Without apologies. If I could have stood up to applaud the section on sexuality, I would have, even if my children were the only one’s to witness my standing ovation.