SBL Paper on “Justin Martyr and the Fourfold Gospel” Uploaded Online

I have chosen to upload my Society of Biblical Literature paper entitled “Justin Martyr and the Fourfold Gospel” onto SBL Central, so hopefully that should appear in a few days. However, I recognize that not everyone is a member of the society, so I am posting the paper on my blog so that you can have access to it. I would love to hear any positive or critical feedback by email. Otherwise, I hope some of you can check out my online presentation on December 1!

If you are interested in my previous publications that have discussed Justin Martyr among other topics, check out:

Classes in 2021

I have just finished teaching for the semester, so I am just in the final stretch of marking before the summer break. However, I am looking forward to teaching the introductory unit “Jesus and the Gospels”, the advanced exegetical unit “General Epistles” (focusing on 1 Peter and 1 John), and New Testament Greek in semester 1. I will also run a few tutorials on biblical hermeneutics and am available to supervise graduate research projects. In semester 2, I will be teaching the introductory unit “Early New Testament Church” (i.e. Acts to Revelation), the advanced exegetical unit “Epistle to the Hebrews,” a seminar unit on “New Testament Christology,” and the second half of “New Testament Greek.” However, hopefully I will be able to complete some writing between now and the next semester and will see some of you at the online Society of Biblical Literature meeting.

The Reception of John Mark

I was recently asked to review Dean Furlong’s monograph The John also called Mark for the Catholic Biblical Quarterly and the review should be out next July. You can check out the author’s distinct thesis in the abstract of the book posted in the link, but without giving the details away I will just note that it is a thoroughly researched examination of the Patristic and Medieval traditions identifying John Mark with either the second or the fourth evangelist. He has also published The Identity of John the Evangelist: Revision and Reinterpretation in Early Christian Sources.

If you are interesting in how my views differ on the reception of the evangelists Mark and John, you can check out the following sources:

New Testament Christology Unit

I teach at Vose Seminary, which is part of a consortium of affiliated colleges known as the Australian College of Theology, Australia’s largest theological education provider. I recently developed a new unit entitled “New Testament Christology” taught at three different levels. It was an interesting challenge trying to provide a bibliography of 15-25 items for each of these levels, but I have provided a larger bibliography on Christology on this blog. For my own work on Christology, see the following articles:

My “Society of Biblical Literature” Paper on Justin Martyr and the Gospels

When I was last blogging several months ago, I was working on a series about the reception of the Gospels in the writings of the Christian philosopher and martyr Justin in the second century CE. However, I had to put the series on hold indefinitely due to my work responsibilities at the Seminary and the excitement of planning my wedding for December. However, I am presenting at the upcoming conference of the Society of Biblical Literature and, because it is completely online, I can present from the comfort of my own home in Western Australia. The program book has been made available online if you have not seen it. I will post my own session and abstract below:

Inventing Christianity: Apostolic Fathers, Apologists, and Martyrs
10:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Room: Room TBD – Hotel TBD

Theme: Canon as Concept

Taylor Petrey, Kalamazoo College, Presiding

Timothy A. Gabrielson, Sterling College
Tailoring Scripture: Clues about Barnabas’s Canon from Its Citation Formulae (30 min)
Tag(s): Apostolic Fathers (Early Christian Literature – Other), Intertextuality (Interpretive Approaches)

Michael J. Kok, Vose Seminary
Justin Martyr and the Fourfold Gospel Canon (30 min)
Tag(s): History of Christianity (History & Culture), History of Interpretation (Interpretive Approaches), Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament)

Ian N Mills, Duke University
Did Theophilus of Antioch Compose a Gospel Harmony? Reconsidering Testimonia from Jerome and the Book of Saint James (30 min)
Tag(s): Early Christian Literature (Early Christian Literature – Other), Gospels (Biblical Literature – New Testament)

Grant W Gasse, University of Notre Dame
Assessing the Latin Polycarp (30 min)
Tag(s): Apostolic Fathers (Early Christian Literature – Other), Latin (Philology / Linguistics (incl. Semiotics))

This paper will challenge the thesis that the “fourfold Gospel” (τετράμορφον εὐαγγέλιον), along with the conventional titles in the surviving manuscripts of the canonical Gospels, developed in the period before Justin Martyr. Although Justin was aware that some of his contemporaries were labelling the biographies of Jesus as εὐαγγέλια (1 Apol. 66.3; Dial. 10.2; 100.1), he preferred the designation “memoirs of the apostles” and does not explicitly name the evangelists. While some scholars read Dial. 103.8 as identifying at least four memoirs, two from the apostles (i.e. Matthew and John) and two from the apostles’ followers (i.e. Mark and Luke), the passage may only imply that all of the Gospels were produced by the apostles and their scribal assistants. Justin may have taken his cue from Papias (cf. Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.39.15-16), for Papias reasoned that an amanuensis named Mark transcribed the preaching of Peter (cf. the memoirs of Peter in Dial. 106.3) and that qualified translators produced the Greek edition of Matthew’s Gospel. Perhaps Justin surmised that Luke recorded the Apostle Paul’s traditions about Jesus when composing his “account” (διήγησις), but this is uncertain since the earliest evidence for the tradition of Lukan authorship of the third canonical Gospel is found in the heresiological treatise of Irenaeus of Lyon (Haer. 3.1.1; 11.7; 12.12), the Muratorian Canon (2-8), and Bodmer Papyrus XIV. There is some limited evidence that Justin was familiar with the contents of John’s Gospel, but the debate over whether he included this book in the “memoirs of the apostles” mainly revolves around Dial. 105.1. I will argue that the memoirs that were read liturgically during Christian worship services (1 Apol. 67.3) were restricted to the Synoptic Gospels, whereas the Fourth Gospel was treated as equivalent to other valuable historical records about the life of Jesus such as the Gospel of Peter (cf. 1 Apol. 35.4). It may be anachronistic to read back the later dividing line between “canonical” and “apocryphal” Gospels to Justin’s discussion of the “memoirs of the apostles” or to the reception of Gospel literature in the first half of the second century CE more generally.

Abstract for Justin Martyr and the Fourfold Gospel Canon

My Article “Re-naming the Toll Collector in Matthew 9:9: A Review of the Options”

I have published a new article entitled “Re-naming the Toll Collector in Matthew 9:9: A Review of the Options” for the Journal of Gospels and Acts Research [JGAR] 4 (2020): 24–34. The volume is on sale at Amazon (it also includes articles from Craig Keener, Marie McInnes, Peter Bolt, Craig Evans, and Christoph Stenschke), but here is my abstract:

In contrast to the Synoptic parallels (cf. Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27), Matthew 9:9 specifies that it was Matthew, instead of Levi the son of Alphaeus, who was sitting at a ‘toll booth’ (τελώνιον) in Capernaum. Matthew 10:3 reinforces this point by attaching the label ‘the toll collector’ (ὁ τελώνης) to Matthew’s name. This article will review the various scholarly explanations for these two redactional changes. It will defend the position that the anonymous Gospel writer transferred Levi’s call narrative over to Matthew because it was believed that they both had worked in the same general occupation. Further, the evangelist deemed it necessary to narrate how Matthew completely abandoned this notorious profession, even though the exact details of how Matthew became a disciple of Jesus had long been forgotten, since his former means of livelihood is strongly condemned in passages that are unique to the first canonical Gospel.

If you are interested further in my work on the authorship traditions about the Gospel of Matthew, you can also check out my article entitled “The Patristic Traditions about the Evangelist Matthew” at The Bible and Interpretation web-journal. This one draws on my article “Did Papias of Hierapolis Use the Gospel according to the Hebrews as a Source?” for the Journal of Early Christian Studies. Finally, I have summarized some of the main theories for why Levi was renamed Matthew in Matthew 9:9 and 10:3 in my blog series here.

Demonstrating Justin’s Literary Dependence on a Gospel

The prologue to the Gospel of Luke specifies that many attempted to write an “account” of what Jesus accomplished in bringing about the fulfillment of salvation history (Luke 1:1). Papias of Hierapolis insists that he preferred to learn about Jesus from a living voice rather than from books (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.4). The Apostle Paul preached a sermon where he quoted Jesus as saying that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), even though this line is not found in any of the New Testament Gospels. Ignatius of Antioch reassured the Smyrneans that the resurrected Christ was not a “bodiless demon” (Smyrn. 3.2), a quote that sounds like Luke 24:39, but that later church authorities ascribed to other apocryphal Christian sources (cf. Origen, princ. praef. 8; Eusebius, h. e. 3.36.11; Jerome, Vir. ill. 16; Is. praef. 18). These examples can be multiplied to demonstrate that there were oral and written sources about Jesus that preceded the composition of the New Testament Gospels and that continued well after these Gospels were published. This raises the question of how scholars determine when an ancient Christian writer was referencing one of our New Testament Gospels or was referring to a saying or deed of Jesus that parallels material found in the New Testament Gospels but actually derived from another (extant or lost) Christian writing or oral tradition.

Scholars have thus developed methods for detecting intertextual references or allusions to the Gospels in later Christian literature. The clearest cases are when a Christian writer uses a citation formula, such as “it is written in the Gospel according to Matthew” or even “the Lord says in the gospel.” If this is not present, some scholars allow for literary dependence on a Gospel if there is enough verbal and thematic agreement with that Gospel and possible parallels to other texts are more distant. They might also look for rare terminology or unique material from the Gospel that is reproduced in the later text or explain the differences in wording or content as reflecting a writer’s purposeful alterations to a source text rather than two independent writers drawing on a shared tradition. The other approach originally developed by Helmut Koester is to argue that literary dependence can only be demonstrated when a later Christian writer reproduces an earlier Gospel writer’s redactional contributions. For instance, we might be able to detect when Matthew’s or Luke’s deliberate editorial changes to Mark’s text have influenced a subsequent Christian writer. I offer an example of this method in my article “Why Did the Gospel of Mark Survive?”, which is based on pages 230-36 of my book The Gospel on the Margins: The Reception of Mark in the Second Century (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015). Here are some specialist studies on this topic:

  • Gregory, Andrew, and Christopher M. Tuckett. Editors. The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Gregory, Andrew. The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Hill, Charles E. The Johannine Corpus in the Early Church. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Massaux, Édouard. The Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Christian Literature Before Saint Irenaeus. 3 vols. Translated by Norman Belval and Suzanne Hecht. Edited by A. J. Bellinzoni. Macon, GA: Mercer University press, 1990.
  • Koester, Helmut. Synoptische Überlieferung beiden Apostolischen Vätern. TU 65. Bd. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1957.
  • Koester, Helmut. “Written Gospels or Oral Tradition?” JBL 113.2 (1994): 293-97.
  • Köhler, Wolf-Dieter. Die Rezeption des Matthäusevangeliums in der Zeit vor Irenäus. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1987.
  • Nagel, Titus. Die Rezeption des Johannesevangeliums im 2. Jahrhundert: Studien zur vorirenäischen Auslegung des vierten Evangeliums in christlicher und christlich-gnostischer Literatur. Arbeiten zur Bibel und ihrer Geschichte 2. leipzig: evangelische verlagsanstalt, 2000.
  • Tuckett, Christopher. Nag Hammadi and the Gospel Tradition: Synoptic Tradition in the Nag Hammadi Library. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1986.
  • Wenham, David. Gospel Perspectives, Volume 5: The Jesus Tradition Outside of the Gospels. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984.
  • Young, Stephen E. Jesus Tradition in the Apostolic Fathers: Their Explicit Appeals to the Words of Jesus in Light of Orality Studies. WUNT 2.311. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011.

Justin Martyr’s Writings Online

If you have the Logos software, you can purchase the Greek texts of Justin’s writings (cf. the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew). J. David Stark has pointed out the links to two volumes of the Greek text of Justin’s Dialogue (vol. 1; vol. 2). There are English translations available at Text Excavation, Early Christian Writings, and Biblicalia. Also, if you are interesting in ancient literature more generally, you may be interested to discover that the PDFs of all the ancient texts in the LOEB Classical Library Series in the public domain have been compiled at this website.

Did Justin Rely on Four “Memoirs of the Apostles”?

The title “the Gospel according to Matthew” serves to distinguish this text from the written records of the singular “gospel” or “good news” about Jesus penned by Mark, Luke, and John. However, Justin virtually never refers to the individual authors of the “memoirs” (i.e. Gospels in 1 Apology 66.3) and attributes them to the apostles collectively. A possible exception may be the reference to the “memoirs of him” (ἀπομνημονεύμασιν αὐτοῦ) in Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 106.3 if the pronoun is taken in reference to Peter, but this is a debated point that I will return to in a future post. Yet there may be one more hint as to how many apostolic “memoirs” were known to Justin in Dialogue 103.8. In this text, Justin affirms that the plural memoirs were compiled “by his [Jesus’s] apostles and their followers” (ὑπὸ τῶν αποστόλων αὐτοῦ καὶ τῶν ἐκείνοις παρακολουθησάντων).

Some scholars argue that this text indicates that Justin consulted at least four memoirs, two of which were composed by apostles and two by the followers of the apostles, and this would line up nicely with the traditional view that two of the evangelists were apostles (i.e. Matthew and John) and two were the assistants of the apostles Peter and Paul (i.e. Mark and Luke). Here is a sample of scholars who take this position:

  • Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ (trans. John Bowden; London: SCM, 2000), 20.
  • Graham Stanton, Jesus and Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 100-101.
  • Charles E. Hill, The Johannine Corpus in the Early Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 338-340.
  • Oskar Skarsaune, “Justin and His Bible” in Justin Martyr and His Worlds  (ed. Sara Parvis and Paul Foster; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 72.

On the other hand, Francis Watson (Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013], 476n.106) counters that Justin would have used ἤ (or) rather than καί (and) if he was intended a contrast between memoirs that were either directly or indirectly apostolic. Instead, all of the memoirs were products of the apostles and their scribal assistants. I support Francis Watson’s reading of the passage as part of my larger argument that the “memoirs of the apostles” were equivalent to the three Synoptic Gospels in my book The Beloved Apostle? (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2017), 80-90, 82. The plan on this blog will be to go through every passage in Justin on the “memoirs of apostles” to see if we can detect what texts were being cited.

Why Did Justin Martyr Call the “Gospels” Memoirs?

Even though he was aware that certain “Jesus books” were called “Gospels” in his day (1 Apology 66.3; Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 10.2; 100.1), Justin preferred to designate them as απομνημονεύματα or “memoirs” of the apostles (1 Apol. 66.3; 67.3; Dial. 100.4; 101.3; 102.5; 103.6, 8; 104.1; 105.1, 5, 6; 106.1, 3, 4; 107.1). Why did Justin prefer this designation? The main debate has been whether Justin was influenced by the claim of Papias of Hierapolis that the Gospels were based on the memories of the apostles (i.e. Peter and Matthew), as well as what the evangelist Mark remembered from Peter’s preaching about Jesus (cf. Richard Heard, “The ΑΠΟΜΝΗΜΟΝΕΥΜΑΤΑ in Papias, Justin, and Irenaeus” NTS 1 [1954]: 122-129, Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development [London: SCM, 1990]), or whether Justin understood the Gospels to be comparable to Greek philosophical memoirs such as Xenophon’s Memoirs of Socrates (Ἀπομνημονεύματα Σωκράτους) (cf. Niels Hydahl, “Hegesipps Hypomnemata” ST 14 [1960]: 70-113). For an extremely helpful overview of the terminology (i.e. ἀπομνημονεύματα, ὑπομνήματα, or commentarii) and function of a wide variety of commemorative writings and how Justin employed this terminology to advance his apologetic arguments (e.g., the Gospels as eyewitness records documenting the fulfillment of prophecy in history and evidence of the literacy of the apostles and their subsequent literate interpreters in the Christian assemblies), check out Wally V. Cirafesi and Gregory P. Fewster, “Justin’s and Ancient Greco-Roman Memoirs” Early Christianity 7.2 (2016): 186-212 (pre-publication version available on