Mystery Exegesis and the Meaning of Prophetic Scripture in Justin

T.J. Lang, a doctoral candidate next door at Duke University, presented his findings on Justin Martyr’s exegetical foundations in his Dialogue with Trypho. Lang’s presentation was concise and insightful. The crux of the presentation was what distinguished a distinctly Christian reading from a traditional Jewish understanding of prophetic Scripture.

Lang began by highlighting Justin’s distinct usage of the Greek word μυστηριον “mystery.” The word appears 29 times throughout the Dialogue whereas τυπος “type” only occurs 11. The frequency with which μυστηριον is used over against that of τυπος dictates a closer investigation.

Lang ably demonstrates that, according to Justin, one is not capable of rightly understanding Old Testament prophetic scripture without having been shown these mysteries by the Holy Spirit. This formulation has ties back to the Pauline conception of the Church as a μυστηριον “mystery.” Though the μυστηριον was present, it was not understood until a later time. The best way I can explain this is through the cliche expression, “hidden in plain sight.”

For Justin, this “hidden in plain sight” concept applies to a correct reading of prophetic scripture. It is not until the Spirit enlightens the soul that the interpreter is capable of seeing the scriptures in a Christological fashion.

This mystery exegesis has further implications. The Old Testament believers would not have been able to put this all together. After all, it was hidden. It was a mystery. It is not until after the Christ event that these things have been made clear.

In no way does this compromise the Old Testament text. Justin is capable of establishing continuity between the Old Testament in the New Testament believes. The Jews, as represented by Trypho, were not capable of understanding because their minds have not been enlightened. This does not make it any less the case that Christ is the proper referent of prophetic scripture.

Much more can be said about this. As a matter of fact, I will be writing a paper on this same topic. I will probably tease out the implications μυστηριον has for Justin’s straightforward (literal?) and typological readings of Old Testament texts.

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