Justin narrates the manner of his conversion to Trypho the Jew. In Chapter III of his Dialogue with Trypho, he writes,

"And while I was thus disposed, when I wished at one period to be filled with great quietness, and to shun the path of men, I used to go into a certain field not far from the sea. And when I was near that spot one day, which having reached I purposed to be by myself, a certain old man, by no means contemptible in appearance, exhibiting meek and venerable manners, followed me at a little distance. And when I turned round to him, having halted, I fixed my eyes rather keenly on him.

"And he said, 'Do you know me?'

I replied in the negative.

"'Why, then,' said he to me, 'do you so look at me?

"'I am astonished,' I said, 'because you have chanced to be in my company in the same place; for I had not expected to see any man here.'

"And he says to me, 'I am concerned about some of my household. These are gone away from me; and therefore have I come to make personal search for them, if, perhaps, they shall make their appearance somewhere. But why are you here?' said he to me.

Who was this man that Justin met? Something tells me he's trying to tell us that he met Jesus Christ, but maybe not. Is there any evidence that it was Jesus Christ, whether elsewhere from Justin, or from other patristic writings?

2 Answers 2


Scholars typically interpret Justin Martyr's "old man" historically as a Christian teacher or figuratively as a literary device, and some argue that Justin paints him into the narrative specifically as a figure of Christ. Andrew Hofer takes this latter approach in "The Old Man as Christ in Justin's 'Dialogue with Trypho,'" and his summary of previous scholarship proves helpful as well.

Scholars preferring a historical old man include Oskar Skarsaune, who claims that "the Old Man may have been a Palestinian or Syrian Christian," and L. W. Barnard:

Barnard defends his historicity and considers that Justin's account of conversion at the hands of an old Christian "has a ring of truth about it and gives an adequate explanation of his later work as a Christian philosopher."

Others prefer a figurative old man. Niels Hyldahl draws parallels with similar characters in the writings of non-Christian philosophers and suggests that the old man himself is not a Christian. J. C. M. van Winden is among those who dispute this:

[T]he old man is a literary figure. He personifies wisdom, here Christianity. He is a Christian, not a 'barbarous stranger', a figure blindly copied by Justin from post-classical literature. Granted for the sake of argument that Justin followed a literary tradition, he certainly did so in a remarkably personal manner.

Edmond Robillard extends van Winden's analysis and connects the old man with the Ancient of Days of Daniel and suggests "that the old man symbolizes either God the Father or the Word of God." In turn, Andrew Hofer elaborates on Robillard, and argues that Justin's old man is a figure of Christ.

To defend this thesis, Hofer points to 15 parallels between Justin's story and the Road to Emmaus story of Luke 24, such as the unexpected appearance of a stranger, the teacher's apparent feint of ignorance, and the use of the prophets to teach the truth. To defend the idea of Christ being portrayed as "old," Hofer points to the biblical connection between Jesus and the Ancient of Days in Revelation 1, as well as other early Christian writings that portray Christ, the Lord of time, as elderly. Hofer offers many other evidences, some more technical and some merely suggestive, but generally emphasizing the similarities between Christ and Justin's portrayal of the old man as a wise, humble, and authoritative teacher.

Hofer is careful to clarify that it would be excessive to say that Justin physically saw Jesus, as the apostles did. "Justin need not claim a singular vision," he says, "but a common teaching given by the first-begotten, pre-existing Christ about how to read the scriptures." He summarizes his position:

Justin Martyr draws the old man as a figure for Christ. The pre-existent Son of God has interpreted the scriptures for Justin and given him the grace to understand, just as it was done for the first disciples after the resurrection.


I would say that since Justin Martyr was born in AD 100, we shouldn't assume it was the risen Christ ... If this event had happened shortly after the resurrection, I could see how it would be easy to interpret it so ... However, the apostles (witnesses of Christ) were not hesitant to claim they'd seen the risen Christ, would also lead me to believe that Justin would not have been so cryptic about it, had he in fact believed that it was Christ.

  • Good thought! What if it wasn't necessarily a physical presence (i.e., him literally being there), but a manifestation? Has there ever been anyone who has claimed to see Jesus, even if just a manifestation, since the time he ascended to heaven (in 33 A.D.)? I'm just musing though. Good answer, again!
    – user900
    Commented Feb 24, 2013 at 18:30
  • I believe that Christ's 'rebuke' to Thomas was to convey that we needn't rely on His physical manifestation in which to base our faith. And shortly thereafter, no more claims to seeing the risen Christ came out ... However, the spiritual manifestation (He became the life-giving Spirit) abounded, even to this day.
    – SonShawk
    Commented Feb 24, 2013 at 20:14
  • [link] (worldinvisible.com/library/fletcher/5e03.0183/5e03.0183.6.htm) ... A pertinent article
    – SonShawk
    Commented Feb 24, 2013 at 20:32

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