History of Hell | Justin Martyr, God’s Philosopher – Part 2

History of Hell :

Life and Immortality in Justin

In his expectation of life and immortality in the age to come Justin is likewise consistent with a Conditionalist view. In his First Apology, he argues that “if men by their works show themselves worthy of this His design, they are deemed worthy, and so we have received—of reigning in company with Him, being delivered from corruption and suffering. For as in the beginning He created us when we were not, so do we consider that, in like manner, those who choose what is pleasing to Him are, on account of their choice, deemed worthy of incorruption and of fellowship with Him.”1

In saying this Justin implies that only those who choose what is pleasing to Him are deemed worthy of incorruption. If the “soul” did not exist before it was created and is not immortal by nature and those who do not do what is pleasing to him are not made immortal they must, according to Justin, simply return to non existence.

Later, in the same work, Justin speaks of Christians presenting before God “petitions for our existing again in incorruption through faith in Him.”2  Such petitions for immortal resurrection life through faith in Jesus would be unnecessary were the “souls” of all human beings immortal by nature.

A few more examples will suffice. Justin is adamant that “only those who have lived near to God are made immortal”.3   His use of the word “made” in this context, implies that human beings are not born immortal. His insistence that “only” the godly will be made immortal logically implies that those who have not “lived near to God” will not be immortal. The logical implication is that they will cease to exist.

Still in the First Apology, Justin argues, “But if the soldiers enrolled by you [the Emperor], and who have taken the military oath, prefer their allegiance to their own life, and parents, and country, and all kindred, though you can offer them nothing incorruptible, it were verily ridiculous if we, who earnestly long for incorruption, should not endure all things, in order to obtain what we desire from Him who is able to grant it.”4 The contrast that Justin makes is clear. The obviously question is: Why would one long for incorruption, if the soul was already by nature immortal? No. Justin sees incorruption or immortality as a gift granted by God only to those who live like faithful soldiers of Christ.

Lastly, Justin says that “Jesus Christ, being crucified and dead, rose again, and having ascended to heaven, reigned”. He goes on to say that “by those things which were published in His name among all nations by the apostles, there is joy afforded to those who expect the immortality promised by Him.”5  Does one “expect” a “promised” immortality if one already possesses immortality by nature? No!

Justin and Annihilationism (Eventually)

In the fifth chapter of his Dialogue, Justin himself, having admitted that the soul is not immortal, says:

“But I do not say, indeed, that all souls die; for that were truly a piece of good fortune to the evil. What then? The souls of the pious remain in a better place, while those of the unjust and wicked are in a worse, waiting for the time of judgment. Thus some which have appeared worthy of God never die; but others are punished so long as God wills them to exist and to be punished.”6

Justin clearly believed that at death the soul goes to an intermediate place to await resurrection and judgment. Once again, we defer our discussion of this point until later. For now it will suffice to say that Justin also, just as clearly, believed in the annihilation of the wicked. He mentions the fact that only some worthy souls “never die”. Others, he says, exist only “so long as God wills them to exist and undergo punishment.” To put this the other way around, Justin must mean that after a time of punishment, when God no longer wills the wicked to live, they will simply cease to exist. Justin does elsewhere suggest that the period of conscious punishment of the wicked is quite long, being “not only, as Plato said, for a period of a thousand years”7 , but longer. The wicked do however, eventually die.

Heaven and the Heretics: Justin Condemns the Traditional View

We now turn to consider how Justin understands the so-called “intermediate state”. We have already seen how Justin, in his Dialogue, affirmed, that ”The souls of the pious remain in a better place, while those of the unjust and wicked are in a worse, waiting for the time of judgment“8 . Elsewhere, Justin argues that death “if it issued in insensibility, would be a godsend to all the wicked.” He says that “sensation remains to all who have ever lived, and eternal punishment is laid up (for the wicked)”9 . However he justifies his belief that “even after death souls are in a state of sensation” by an appeal to various occult practitioners, poets, philosophers and mythical heroes saying that “while we affirm that the souls of the wicked, being endowed with sensation even after death, are punished, and that those of the good being delivered from punishment spend a blessed existence, we shall seem to say the same things as the poets and philosophers.”10 Clearly, Justin is not a Conditionalist when it comes to the Intermediate State! He, along with most of the Fathers of the early Church, held that the souls of the dead were gathered to some subterranean locality, neither heaven nor hell, consciously to await the resurrection.  It is against this background that we must see Justin’s statement that the dead do not go immediately to Heaven or Hell:

“For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this (truth) (of the resurrection), and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians.”11

To take this statement by Justin, out of context, as confirmation of his thorough-going Conditionalism is wrong. It is, however, interesting to note that the view labelled the “traditional view” today, the view most common among Conservative and Protestant Christians, is not in fact the view held by most of the Fathers of the Church. It is most interesting to observe that the modern idea that upon the death of the body the soul goes immediately to the place of its final destiny, Heaven or Hell, has its closest affinity with that view which Justin condemns out of hand as a heresy. Such people, Justin said, should not even be considered to be real Christians. Justin is probably referring here to those Gnostics who denied outright the idea of a bodily resurrection. We can only guess at what he might have made of a theology that tries to combine the heresy of the soul going immediately to heaven with the notion of a bodily resurrection. Most likely his judgement would not have been positive.

Part One

Part Three

  1. Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 10.  See The Doctrine of Immortality in the Early Church by Dr. John H. Roller, an unpublished paper based on a thesis prepared for the faculty of Bethany Theological Seminary in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree, pp 32-35. []
  2. Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 13. See John H. Roller, pp. 32-35. []
  3. Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 21. See John H. Roller, pp. 32-35. []
  4. Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 39. See John H. Roller, pp. 32-35. []
  5. Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 42. See John H. Roller, pp. 32-35. []
  6. Justin Martyr, Dialogue, 5. []
  7. Justin Martyr, 1 Apology, 8. []
  8. Justin Martyr, Dialogue, 5. []
  9. Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 18. The adjective “eternal” used in connection with this punishment is discussed below. []
  10. Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 20. []
  11. Justin Martyr, Dialogue, 80. []


  1. […] Conditional immortality (the soul is not in itself eternal) and likely annihilationism (that souls die and cease to be, forever). “But I do not say, indeed, that all souls die; for that were truly a piece of good fortune to the evil. What then? The souls of the pious remain in a better place, while those of the unjust and wicked are in a worse, waiting for the time of judgment. Thus some which have appeared worthy of God never die; but others are punished so long as God wills them to exist and to be punished (7) […]

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