Dialogue with Trypho

In the Dialogue with Trypho, Christian theologian Justin Martyr undertakes to show that Christianity is the new law for all men, and to prove from Scripture that Jesus is the Christ via a fictitious intellectual conversation between Justin and Trypho, a Jew. The concluding section propounds to demonstrate that the Christians are the true people of God.


Historical background

Date of Writing

Identity of Trypho

The identity of Trypho, as rabbi Tarfon (the Hebrew name Tarfon being derived from Greek Trypho) has been proposed, either literally, or as a literary device[citation needed].


In the opening of the "dialogue", Justin relates his vain search among the Stoics, Peripatetics, and Pythagoreans for a satisfying knowledge of God; his finding in the ideas of Plato wings for his soul, by the aid of which he hoped to attain the contemplation of the God-head; and his meeting on the sea-shore with an aged man who told him that by no human endeavor but only by divine revelation could this blessedness be attained, that the prophets had conveyed this revelation to man, and that their words had been fulfilled. Of the truth of this he assured himself by his own investigation; and the daily life of the Christians and the courage of the martyrs convinced him that the charges against them were unfounded. So he sought to spread the knowledge of Christianity as the true philosophy.

Doctrines delivered by God

Interestingly, in the Dialogue, Justin also wrote, "For I choose to follow not men or men's doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], 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." [1] This passage is sometimes cited as evidence that the early church subscribed to the doctrine of soul sleep.

Poetry and truth

The Catholic Encyclopedia includes cautionary remarks that are a helpful guide to understanding Justin's writings: “In both "Apologies" and in his "Dialogue" he gives many personal details, e.g. about his studies in philosophy and his conversion; they are not, however, an autobiography, but are partly idealized, and it is necessary to distinguish in them between poetry and truth ... He received a good education in philosophy, an account of which he gives us at the beginning of his "Dialogue with the Jew Tryphon"…This account cannot be taken too literally; the facts seem to be arranged with a view … This interview is evidently not described exactly as it took place, and yet the account cannot be wholly fictitious”.[2]

Documentary authenticity

The authenticity of the Dialogue with Trypho and the two Apologies is universally accepted. They are preserved only in the Sacra parallela; but, besides that they were known by Tatian, Methodius, and Eusebius, their influence is traceable in Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, the Pseudo-Melito, and especially Tertullian. Eusebius speaks of two Apologies, but he quotes them both as one, which indeed they are in substance. The identity of authorship is shown not only by the reference in chapter 120 of the Dialogue to the Apology, but by the unity of treatment. Zahn showed that the Dialogue was originally divided into two books, that there is a considerable lacuna in chapter 74, as well as at the beginning, and that it is probably based on an actual occurrence at Ephesus, the personality of the Rabbi Tarphon being employed, though in a Hellenized form.


  1. ^ Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 80
  2. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia

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