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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 academia.edu).


Justin Martyr and the Title “Gospel”

When referring to the accounts of Jesus’s life, Justin Martyr preferred to call them “memoirs of the Apostles”  (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 100.4; 101.3; 102.5; 103.6; 104.1; 106.1, 4) or, more simply, the memoirs (1 Apology 66.3; 67.3; Dial. 103.8; 105.1, 5, 6; 106.3; 107.1). However, Justin was aware that these texts were commonly called “Gospels” (εὐαγγελία) in his day (1 Apol. 66.3; cf. Dial.  10.2; 100.1). Eric Francis Osborn (Justin Martyr  [Beiträge zur Historischen Theologie 47; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1973], 124) maintains that the relative clause ἅ καλεῖται ευαγγέλια (“which are called Gospels”) in 1 Apology 66.3 may be a scribal gloss, especially since it appears only in this version of the Eucharist or “thanksgiving” meal (cf. Dial. 41.1-3; 70.4; 117.1). Luise Abramowski (“The ‘Memoirs of the Apostles’ in Justin” in The Gospel and the Gospels [ed. Peter Stuhlmacher; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991], 323) counters that Justin added the relative clause to clarify what he meant by the term “gospel” for a Gentile readership (i.e. it is another name for the memoirs that record Jesus’s words and deeds) and points to other clarifying glosses in Justin’s writings (e.g., τοὺς λεγομένους άδελφούς or “the ones who are called brothers” in 1 Apol. 65.5; οἱ καλούμενοι παρ’ ἡμῖν διάκονοι or “the ones who are called by us deacons” in 1 Apol. 65.1; ἐν τῷ λεγομένῳ εὐαγγελίῳ or “in the so-called Gospel” in Dial. 10.2). Jesus’s words at the Last Supper were read out of the apostolic memoirs during Sunday worship services (cf. 1 Apol. 67.3).

Generally, the term “gospel” (εὐαγγέλιον) was used as a shorthand for the oral proclamation about Christ’s saving mission in the period before Justin Martyr. However, Mark 1:1 may summarize the entire narrative from the baptism of Jesus to his death and resurrection as the “gospel of Jesus Christ.” There is also debate about whether Matthew’s references to “this gospel” (Matt 24:14; 26:13) refers to the oral proclamation of the kingdom or Matthew’s book itself. There is further debate about whether the term continues to denote an oral proclamation or is used in reference to written materials in the Apostolic Fathers (cf. Didache 8.2; 11.3; 15.3-4; Ignatius, Philadelphians 5.1-2; 8.2; 9.2; Smyrnaeans 5.1; 7.2; Martyrdom of Polycarp 1.1; 4.1; 2 Clement 8.5). Marcion’s text was dubbed a “Gospel” and was not attributed to a named author (cf. Tertullian, Against Marcion 5.2-3). Finally, Justin’s Jewish interlocutor, Trypho, had become familiar with the use of “Gospel” for a written text and was impressed by the ethical precepts found within it (Dial. 10.2). However, the earliest Christian writer to connect the term “Gospel” with a named author was Theophilus, the Patriarch of Antioch (ca. 169-183 CE; cf. Apology to Autolycus 2.22), and I remain convinced that the standard title “The Gospel according to [insert evangelist]” was introduced when the four Gospels were grouped together as an authoritative collection during the latter half of the second century CE. This title makes the important theological point that there is only one message of “good news” about Jesus that is proclaimed “according to” the vantage point of four inspired witnesses. Here is a brief biography covering the debate over the early or late origins of the Gospel titles (please email me if there are important recent books or articles that I have missed):

  • Aune, D. C. “The Meaning of Εύαγγέλιον in the Inscriptiones of the Canonical Gospels” in Jesus, Gospel Tradition and Paul in the Context of Jewish and Greco-Roman Antiquity (WUNT 303; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013), 3-24.
  • Gathercole, Simon. “The Titles of the Gospels in the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts.” ZNW 104 (2013): 33–76.
  • Gundry, Robert. “ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ: How Soon a Book?” JBL 115 (1996): 321-325.
  • Heckel, Theo K. Vom Evangelium des Markus zum viergestaltigen Evangelium (WUNT 120; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1999).
  • Hengel, Martin. The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ (trans. John Bowden; London: SCM, 2000).
  • Kelhoffer, James A. “‘How Soon a Book’ Revisited: ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ as a Reference to ‘Gospel’ Materials in the First Half of the Second Century” ZNW 95 (2004): 1-34.
  • Koester, Helmut. Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development (London: SCM, 1990).
  • Larsen, Matthew D. C. “Correcting the gospel: putting the titles of the gospel in historical context” in Rethinking ‘Authority’ in Late Antiquity: Authorship, Law, and Transmission in Jewish and Christian Tradition (ed. A. J. Berkovitz and Mark Letteney; New York: Routledge, 2018): 78-104.
  • Petersen, Silke. “Die Evangelienüberschriften und die Entstehung des neutestamentlichen Kanons.” ZNW 97 (2006): 250-274.
  • Reed, Annette Yoskiko. “ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ: Orality, Textuality and the Christian Truth in Irenaeus’ Adversus Haereses” VC 56 (2002): 11-46.
  • Stanton, Graham. Jesus and Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
  • Trobisch, David. The First Edition of the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Scholarly Resources on the Life of Justin Martyr

For an article introducing Justin, the second-century Christian philosopher and “martyr,” check out Paul Parvis, “Justin Martyr”  The Expository Times 120.2 (2008): 53-61. This article was reproduced as the first chapter in Early Christian Thinkers: The Lives and Legacies of Twelve Key Figures (ed. Paul Foster; London: SPCK, 2010). For another recent edited volume, check out Sara Parvis and Paul Foster, eds., Justin Martyr and His Worlds (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007).

A New Series: Justin Martyr and the Gospels

I will begin a new series looking at what Gospels were known to the second-century Christian philosopher Justin Martyr over the next few months. Eventually, I would like to publish some of my research findings on this one. I hope that you will enjoy the series.

Personal Update

I am currently working from home (e.g., grading, course preparation, research and writing, supervision, online meetings, etc.) and teaching my two units “Jesus and the Gospels” and “Paul and Corinthian Christianity” online. In the next semester beginning in July 27, I will be teaching “The Early New Testament Church” (i.e. Acts to Revelation), “The Fourth Gospel,” and “Christianity in History to 1550.” If you are interesting in enrolling for a course of study or even auditing a unit while you are at home, you can participate in online classes and access all of the materials on our website from anywhere in the world. Check out https://www.vose.edu.au/ for more information!

I had multiple papers on Cerinthus and Carpocrates accepted for the international SBL conference in Adelaide, which is fitting because Irenaeus of Lyon links their “heretical” teachings together in Against Heresies 1.25.1-26.1 and many heresiologists followed him on this. Of course, this conference has been rightly cancelled while we try to be better neighbours and follow the rules about social distancing. I hope to have an article about Cerinthus’s views about the millennium (cf. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.28.2; 7.25.3) for an online dictionary on apocalypticism coming out in the future and I have another article on the reception history of the Carpocratians under peer-review. I did have a paper accepted for the SBL conference in Boston in November, but I am content to wait until SBL makes the decision about whether or not that will go ahead.

Finally, some of you may have seen my article “The Patristic Traditions about the Evangelist Matthew” at The Bible and Interpretation web-journal. I also have a forthcoming article “Renaming the Toll Collector in Matthew 9:9: A Review of the Options” for the  Journal of Gospels and Acts ResearchMy (long-term?) goal is to write another article about when the third canonical Gospel was attributed to Luke and then, perhaps, a popular-level book on the church traditions about all four Gospels. In the end, this season has taught me that the future is not in my hands, so all I can do is entrust these plans to God and learn to be fully present in the day-to-day and support the wider community during this time.

A New Book and Blog on Karl Barth

I recently received an email from Simon Hattrell about his blog that explores some of the dominant themes associated with the unique theological friendship of French Pastor/Theologian Pierre Maury (1890-1956) and the great Swiss Theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968). The latest post is especially relevant as it contains a summary of the last sermon that Pierre Maury preached in January 1956 days before he died and also contains a post with some remarks by Barth who preached on the same passage (Psalm 31:15 – ‘My times are in your hands’) in Basel prison 5 years later. Most of the 69 posts that he has put up look at the Maury/Barth theological friendship developed in some depth in the second edition of his book “Election, Barth and the French Connection: How Pierre Maury gave a ‘Decisive Impetus’ to Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Election” and my own colleague in the area of systematic theology Michael O’Neil contributed a chapter to this revised second edition and wrote a blog post about the book. I realize that I need to learn more about the theological work of Karl Barth, though there are some interesting conferences that interact with Barth’s contributions to the study of the Gospels and Pauline Epistles online.

The Jerusalem Collection in 1 Corinthians 16

This is the last post in my series on 1 Corinthians and I will turn to the Jerusalem Collection in 1 Corinthians 16. Ever since Paul was instructed by the “Jerusalem Pillars” Peter, John, and James the Lord’s brother to “remember the poor” (Gal 2:10), Paul chose to raise a collection from his Christ assemblies throughout the nations as a gift for the poor saints in Jerusalem and we can read about the development of the collection in Paul’s letters (cf. 1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8:1-9:15; Rom 15:25-28). This gift was not only intended to supply their material needs, but also to be a sign of unity between Jews and non-Jews in Christ. It is curious that Paul does not report on the reception of the collection in letters that postdate his arrival in Jerusalem (e.g., the “Prison Epistles” if written from their traditionally-conjectured location in Rome) and the book of Acts is completely silent about the collection altogether, unless Acts 24:17 is a subtle reference to it. This has lead some scholars to speculate that the collection may have been rejected due to some of the significant opposition that Paul faced in some quarters of the Jerusalem Church, which Acts 21:20-22 acknowledges. Moreover, it is interesting that some Jewish Christ followers continued to identify themselves as ’ebyônîm or “poor ones” and despise the Apostle Paul in subsequent centuries, though the beliefs and practices of certain Ebionites as documented in Patristic literature may not be representative of the pre-70 CE Jerusalem Church.

I also want to call attention to the documentary A Polite Bribe, which has a particular spin on the biblical data but does interview quite a number of biblical scholars from across the religious spectrum. When the documentary was released, there were some blog reviews and discussions of the film (or the book) by James McGrath, Larry Hurtado, Mark Goodacre, Max Lee, Ben Witherington III, Mark M. Mattison, Bradford McCall, J. Goodrich, Philip J. Long and Richard Fellows and Gerd Luedemann uses the term “polite bribe” in a Bible and Interpretation article on the Jerusalem Collection. If I missed your post, send me an email so that I can include the link.