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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.

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