Justin Martyr was a Gentile, but born in Samaria, near Jacob’s well. The date of his birth is uncertain, but may be fixed about A.D. 114. His father and grandfather were probably of Roman origin. Before his conversion to Christianity he studied in the schools of the philosophers, searching after some knowledge which would satisfy the cravings of his soul. At last he became acquainted with Christianity, being at once impressed with the extraordinary fearlessness which the Christians displayed in the presence of death, and with the grandeur, stability, and truth of the teachings of the Old Testament. From this time he acted as an evangelist, taking every opportunity to proclaim the gospel as the only safe and certain philosophy, the only way to salvation. It is probable that he traveled much. We know that he was some time in Ephesus, and he must have lived for a considerable period in Rome. While In Rome, The philosophers, especially the Cynics, plotted against him, and he sealed his testimony to the truth by martyrdom. The writings of this author are among the most important, it is said, to have come down to us from the second century.
Martyr offers his explanation of the significance of the “blood of the grape” in Gen. 49:11, and he writes:
And that expression which was committed to writing by Moses, and prophesied by the patriarch Jacob, namely, “He shall wash His garments with wine, and His vesture with the blood of the grape,” signified that He would wash those that believe in Him with His own blood. For the Holy Spirit called those who receive remission of sins through Him, His garments; amongst whom He is always present in power, but will be manifestly present at His second coming. That the Scripture mentions the blood of the grape has been evidently designed, because Christ derives blood not from the seed of man, but from the power of God. For as God, and not man, has produced the blood of the vine, so also (the Scripture) has predicted that the blood of Christ would be not of the seed of man, but of the power of God. But this prophecy, sirs, which I repeated, proves that Christ is not man of men, begotten in the ordinary course of humanity.
In his dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, Justin Martyr refers again and again to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. In one of these writings to Trypho he offers us a brief and running explanation of Is. 53, that Isaiah teaches that sins are forgiven through the blood of Christ. He introduces this explanation as follows:
For Isaiah did not send you to a bath, there to wash away murder and other sins, which not even all the water of the sea were sufficient to purge; but, as might have been expected, this was that saving bath of the olden time which followed those who repented, and who no longer were purified by the blood of goats and of sheep, or by the ashes of an heifer, or by the offerings of fine flour, but by faith through the blood of Christ, and through His death, Who died for this very reason, as Isaiah himself said, when he spake thus: “The Lord shall make bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the nations and the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God.”
Elsewhere in his dialogue with Trypho, Justin Martyr refers to the curse which Christ endured upon the cross. Referring to the brazen serpent of Moses in the wilderness, he writes:
For tell me, was it not God Who commanded by Moses that no image or likeness of anything which was in heaven above or which was on the earth should be made, and yet who caused the brazen serpent to be made by Moses in the wilderness, and set it up for a sign by which those bitten by serpents were saved? Yet is He free from unrighteousness. For by this, as I previously remarked, He proclaimed the mystery, by which He declared that He would break the power of the serpent which occasioned the transgression of Adam, and would bring to them that believe on Him Who was foreshadowed by this sign, i.e., Him Who was to be crucified, salvation from the fangs of the serpent, which are wicked deeds, idolatries, and other unrighteous acts. Unless the matter be so understood, give me a reason why Moses set up the brazen serpent for a sign, and bade those that were bitten gaze at it, and the wounded were healed; and this, too, when he had himself commanded that no likeness of anything whatsoever should be made.
Hereupon Martyr continues his discourse upon the curse of the cross. He does not specify sharply whether Christ died for all men or only for His own, although one could conclude from his writings that he views the death of Christ as having occurred for all mankind, head for head. He writes:
For the whole human race will be found to be under a curse. For it is written in the law of Moses, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” And no one has accurately done all, nor will you venture to deny this; but some more and some less that others have observed the ordinances enjoined. But if those who are under this law appear to be under a curse for not having observed all the requirements, how much more shall all the nations appear to be under a curse who practice idolatry, who seduce youths, and commit other crimes? If, then, the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise Him up, why do you argue about Him, who submitted to suffer these things according to the Father’s will, as if He were accursed, and do not rather bewail yourselves? For although His Father caused Him to suffer these things in behalf of the human family, yet you did not commit the deed as in obedience to the will of God.
Justin Martyr then proceeds to correct Trypho when the latter contends that, if the Father wished the Christ to suffer all these things, then the Jews are blameless when they caused the prophets of the old dispensation to suffer and when they nailed Christ to the cross. Indeed, should the Jews repent, then remission of sins would also be theirs. We must bear in mind that Justin Martyr is writing this to a Jew who does not believe in the Christ of the cross. It is also possible that when this author writes of the death-of Christ as occurring for all mankind and for the whole human family, he may mean this in the sense that Christ suffered and died for all in the sense that he died for all classes of men. The Scriptures use the word “all” often in this sense. Martyr, however, does not teach that Christ took upon Himself the curse that was due to us.
Irenaeus does indeed speak of reconciliation through satisfaction but it is not quite clear just what this church father meant even by this phrase. Little is known of the personal history of Irenaeus. In his early youth he was acquainted with Polycarp, the illustrious bishop of Smyrna. It is generally believed that he was born somewhere between A.D. 120 and A.D. 140, and that he closed his life, as a true shepherd, with thousands of his flock, in the massacre, A.D. 202, stimulated by the wolfish emperor Severus.
Concerning the view of Irenaeus in redemption, Philip Schaff writes in Volume II of his History of the Christian Church, page 587, the following:
Irenaeus is the first of all the church fathers to give a careful analysis of the work of redemption, and his view is by far the deepest and soundest we find in the first three centuries. Christ, he teaches, as the second Adam, repeated in himself the entire life of man, from childhood to manhood, from birth to death and Hades, and as it were summed up that life and brought it under one head, with the double purpose of restoring humanity from its fall and carrying it to perfection. Redemption comprises the taking away of sin by the perfect obedience of Christ; the destruction of death by victory over the devil; and the communication of a new divine life to man. To accomplish this work, the Redeemer must unite in himself the divine and human natures; for only as God could he do what man could not, and only as man could he do in a legitimate way, what man should. By the voluntary disobedience of Adam the devil gained a power over man, but in an unfair way, by fraud. By the voluntary obedience of Christ that power was wrested from him by lawful means. This took place first in the temptation, in which Christ renewed or recapitulated the struggle of Adam with Satan, but defeated the seducer, and thereby liberated man from his thralldom. But then the whole life of Christ was a continuous victorious conflict with Satan, and a constant obedience to God. This obedience completed itself in the suffering and death on the tree of the cross, and thus blotted out the disobedience which the first Adam had committed on the tree of knowledge. This, however, is only the negative side. To this is added, as already remarked, the communication of a new divine principle of life, and the perfecting of the idea of humanity first effected by Christ.
Reinhold Seeberg, in his The History of Doctrines, Book I, page 129, offers us his conclusions from the writings of Irenaeus:
By His blood Christ redeemed us from the unrighteous dominion of sin (unrighteous dominion of sin, which may well be questioned—H.V.), by His blood effectually redeeming us, He gave Himself a ransom for those who have been led into captivity . . . . Through this fellowship of Christ with the race, it becomes reconciled to God; “for in the first Adam we offended, not observing his commandment; in the second Adam we have been reconciled again, having become obedient unto death” . . . . Through the fall, the race was brought under the dominion, though unlawful, of the devil. Christ has lawfully as a man, by the application and observance of the divine commandment (at His temptation), conquered the devil, and He has by His resurrection broken the power of death Over the race. Thus the race became free from the power of death and the devil and from condemnation . . . . And thus man became again precious in God’s sight, and intercourse and fellowship between God and man was restored through the forgiveness of sins . . . . As fellowship with the first Adam brought death to us, so fellowship with the second Adam brings life and perfection. Irenaeus accordingly means that Christ taught us to know God, and that He, by entering the race and becoming a member of the body of humanity, has, as the new Adam, made the latter acceptable to God and freed it from the devil, death, and the dominion of sin.
Seeberg, therefore, surely confirms the observation of Philip Schaff, namely, that Irenaeus gives us a careful analysis of the work of redemption, and his view is by far the deepest and soundest that can be found in the first three centuries. According to Irenaeus, redemption comprises the taking away of sin by the perfect obedience of Christ, the destruction of death by victory over the devil and the communication of a new divine life to man.