Justin Martyr and the Gospel(s)

Over on his blog, Larry Hurtado has responded to my last post on textual transmission, and I fear we may be talking past each other. Just to try to clarify the actual points of our disagreement:

Hurtado writes: “Nongbri seems to doubt that we can view the term [apomnemoneumata] as referring to the familiar NT Gospels.”

No, this oversimplifies and blurs the matter under discussion. What I wrote was this:

In his preserved works, Justin doesn’t mention the “Gospel According to” any author. Now, I have no reason to doubt that Justin was familiar with texts very much like what we call the Gospels According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke (John is trickier). But the issue Larsen’s work raises is that Justin isn’t talking about the gospel(s) in that way. Justin is not distinguishing between discreet, independent writings, with individual attributed authors (it’s the “apomnemoneumata of the apostles”), and this point is what should be catching our attention.

To bring it back to the start of the discussion, the particular issue about the gospel(s) that Larsen raised in his essay was this: In an early second-century context, “it would be anachronistic to categorize Matthew as creating a separate piece of literature from Mark.”

When Justin refers to texts very similar to what what we would call the Gospel According to Matthew and the Gospel According to Mark, he consistently uses the plural (both apomnemoneumata and euangelia) and does not distinguish individual authorship (it’s nearly always “of/by the apostles” “and their followers”).*

All of this tends, in my view, to confirm Larsen’s argument about how Justin and earlier Christian authors characterize the gospel(s), which in turn supports his larger conclusions: “…early readers and users of gospel texts regarded the gospel not as a book, but as a fluid constellation of texts. … Ancient writing practices and textual fluidity present us with exciting challenges and interesting possibilities to rethink how texts became books, how writers became authors, and how we might describe how texts change.”

* The lone exception to this “plural” rule in Justin’s surviving writings is actually quite telling: At Dialogue 106.3, the manuscripts read καὶ γεγράφθαι ἐν τοῖς ἀπομνημονεύμασιν αὐτοῦ. The singular αὐτοῦ is so out of keeping with Justin’s normal practice that some modern editors have emended the text at this point; Goodspeed and Bobichon follow the manuscripts; Otto reads ἐν τοῖς ἀπομνημονεύμασιν τῶν ἀποστόλων αὐτοῦ; I’m unable to consult Marcovich, but according to Bobichon’s apparatus, he follows Otto in adding the words τῶν ἀποστόλων.

Some translators have followed this emendation (“memoirs of his apostles”), while others have tried to the render the Greek as it is found in the manuscripts. In so doing, they tend to take the referent of the singular αὐτοῦ as either Jesus (Dods et al.: “When it is written in the memoirs of Him…”) or Peter. Either way, the association with the ἀπομνημονεύματα would not be individual authorship. It is either Jesus, the object of what the ἀπομνημονεύματα are about or Peter, who is the ultimate source of the ἀπομνημονεύματα but not the author of the text. It’s clear from context that the passage under discussion comes from (what we would call) the Gospel According to Mark, but Justin does not describe it that way. And that, I believe, is Larsen’s point.


Bobichon, Philippe. Justin Martyr: Dialogue avec le Tryphon: Édition critique, traduction, commentaire. 2 vols. Fribourg: Academic Press Fribourg: 2003. Page 1.470.

Goodspeed, Edgar J. Die ältesten Apologeten: Texte mit kurzen Einleitungen. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1914. Page 222.

Larsen, Matthew, “Accidental Publication, Unfinished Texts and the Traditional Goals of New Testament Textual Criticism.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 39 (2017), 362-387.

Otto, Johann Karl Theodor von. Iustini philosophi et martyris Opera quae feruntur omnia. 3rd ed. 3vols. Jena: Hermanni Dufft, 1876. Pages 1.380-1.382.

Dods, Marcus, George Reith, and B. P. Pratten. The Writings of Justin Martyr and Athenagoras. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1867. Page 233.

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6 Responses to Justin Martyr and the Gospel(s)

  1. Marcovich 1997 adds as does Otto, though within angle brackets.

  2. Pingback: Justin and the Gospels, Encore (in Dialogue with Brent Nongbri) | Larry Hurtado's Blog

  3. Geoff Hudson says:

    Brent, the three references Larry gives to the Dialogue indicate that the NT was not in its final stage. In other words it was being developed.

  4. vinnyjh57 says:

    I found Dr. Hurtado’s explanation for Justin Martyr’s failure to name the authors somewhat contrived: “That Justin does not name the figures in question is likely because this text purports to show him in dialogue/debate with Jewish figures over the validity of Christian faith. His interlocutors wouldn’t be impressed were Justin to name-drop!”

    As Dr. Hurtado notes, the Dialogue with Trypho purports to be an exchange with Jewish figures; however, Justin’s intended audience was actually (or at least also) Christians. Would he have foregone naming authors who were revered by his Christian readers simply because his purported Jewish interlocutors would have been unimpressed? Moreover, even if the names Matthew, Mark, and Luke would have meant nothing to an actual Jewish interlocutor, the fact that the identities of the authors were known might still have been worth mentioning.

  5. Pingback: Early Christian Textual Transmission, Part 1 | Variant Readings

  6. Pingback: How Did We Get Our Modern Bible? – John’s Apologetics

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