Sunday, April 24, 2016

Did Justin Martyr Make Reference to Mark?

Recently, the radio show "Unbelievable" aired a debate between noted New Testament scholars Bart Ehrman and Richard Bauckham. The debate centered around Ehrman's new book "Jesus Before the Gospels" where Ehrman contends that the stories about Jesus were circulated, altered, and invented by the followers of Jesus before they were written down. Bauckham, provides a counter-argument, where, in his book "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses," he has argued that the Gospels were written within "living memory" of those eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry and these Gospels are based upon this testimony.
During this spirited discussion Ehrman mentions the second century Church figure Justin Martyr (140's CE) who makes reference throughout his writings to the "memoirs of the apostles." In regard to this, at 48:43, Ehrman states that  "he doesn't call them by our Gospels. . . the only memoir he names is the memoirs of Peter. . . he's talking about the Gospel of Peter."
The reference that Ehrman is referring to is Justin Martyr's comments in his Dialogue with Trypho;

“And when it is said that He changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and when it is written in the memoirs of Him that this so happened, as well as that He changed the names of other two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means sons of thunder. . ." (Dia. 106; ANF)

Justin is referring to the memoirs of Peter and he is loosely quoting an incident recorded in this "memoir." That Jesus changed the name of an apostle to Peter and the names of two others to "Boanerges." In all of the Gospels, this account can only be found in the Gospel of Mark at 3:16-17;

"He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder);" (ESV)

 No where in the Gospel of Peter is this account of the naming of Peter and the sons of Zebedee mentioned (Hill, 133-134). Therefore, contrary to Ehrman's claims, Justin Martyr can only be referring to the Gospel of Mark and here he connects it to Peter, independently verifying Papias' famous comments on the origins of Mark's Gospel;

"And the Elder used to say this: 'Mark, having become Peter's interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter, who adapted his teachings as needed but had no intention of giving an ordered account of the Lord's sayings. Consequently Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his one concern not omit anything which he heard or to make any false statement in them." (Eusebius Hist. eccl. 3.39; Holmes, 569)

Here are at least two independent sources, one from the late first century (Papias) and one from  mid second century (Justin Martyr) that point to a common understanding in the early Church; that the Gospel of Mark was sourced in the testimony of the apostle Peter.

Hill, C. E. Who Chose the Gospels: Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Holmes, Michael W., ed. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.


  1. I'm not so sure they are independent sources. Justin is not specific in attributing this 'memoir' (clearly Mark) to Peter. The AUTOU could possibly refer to Jesus (as in fact the translation you cite does). Or, we take it as referring to Peter because of the other evidence (like Papias). So I'm not sure it is completely independent.

  2. Thank you Dr Head for reading the post and for your comments. The statement by Justin Martyr is vague on this point. It is clear at least that Ehrman was referring to this point in Justin's dialogue to claim that Justin was referring to the memoirs of Peter as the Gospel of Peter when it is clear that Justin cannot be referring to the Gospel of Peter at all.

  3. Two of the biggest assumptions that many Christians make regarding the truth claims of Christianity is that, one, eyewitnesses wrote the four gospels. The problem is, however, that the majority of scholars today do not believe this is true. The second big assumption many Christians make is that it would have been impossible for whoever wrote these four books to have invented details in their books, especially in regards to the Empty Tomb and the Resurrection appearances, due to the fact that eyewitnesses to these events would have still been alive when the gospels were written and distributed.

    But consider this, dear Reader: Most scholars date the writing of the first gospel, Mark, as circa 70 AD. Who of the eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus and the alleged events after his death were still alive in 70 AD? That is four decades after Jesus' death. During that time period, tens of thousands of people living in Palestine were killed in the Jewish-Roman wars of the mid and late 60's, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem.

    How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus in circa 30 AD was still alive when the first gospel was written and distributed in circa 70 AD? How do we know that any eyewitness to the death of Jesus ever had the opportunity to read the Gospel of Mark and proof read it for accuracy?

    I challenge Christians to list the name of even ONE eyewitness to the death of Jesus who was still alive in 70 AD along with the evidence to support your claim.

    If you can't list any names, dear Christian, how can you be sure that details such as the Empty Tomb, the detailed resurrection appearances, and the Ascension ever really occurred? How can you be sure that these details were not simply theological hyperbole...or...the exaggerations and embellishments of superstitious, first century, mostly uneducated people, who had retold these stories thousands of times, between thousands of people, from one language to another, from one country to another, over a period of many decades?

    1. Thank you for your engagement with the post Gary. I will give you two eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry that were alive at least into the 90s CE. They were mentioned by Papias, the apostle John, and Aristion. (Eusebius, Hist. ecl. 3.39)

  4. Hi Timothy,

    Does Papias himself claim to be the disciple of John the Apostle or is this simply an unsubstantiated claim made by someone living several centuries later (Eusebius)? Do you have evidence that Aristion was an eyewitness to the death of Jesus and the alleged events after his death? If so, could you share that evidence with me to review?

    Please read this:

    according to Irenaeus, Papias, like Polycarp was a disciple of John.

    Although Papias' original work entitled Interpretation of the Oracles of the Lord is no longer extant, Eusebius (c260-c340) preserved some excerpts from this work in his History of the Church. In one excerpt there is a revealing passage from Papias own work about his actual relationship with John:

    History of the Church 3:39:4
    [Papias Wrote] "...If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders,-what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice." [Italics mine-PT]

    It is important to note what Papias is saying here. [6]
    •Papias got his information about the apostles second hand ("any one came, who had been a follower of the elders"). He never claimed to know the apostle John.
    •He used "said" in past tense with respect to the apostles (including John)-implying that the apostles had already died.
    •There were two Johns mentioned. One was obviously the apostle John while the other was a mysterious "Presbyter John" which was placed outside the circle of apostles by Papias.
    •With this "Presbyter John" and one Aristion, Papias used the present tense ("say")- meaning that they were still alive when at the time of writing.
    Some apologists have tried to argue that the Presbyter John could still be the same apostle John referred to earlier in the same passage. This is highly improbable. We have noted that he was described in the present tense, while the apostle John was described together with the other apostles in the past tense. Secondly the Presbyter was named after Aristion, someone who was obviously not one of the apostles; implying that the Presbyter was at best the equal of Aristion and very likely his inferior when it came to the teachings of Christ. It is unlikely Papias would have described the apostle John this way.[7]
    The two Johns, one of whom was still alive, and whose teaching could have been "heard", second hand, by Papias is very likely the root of Irenaeus' confusion. Papias heard the teachings of the Presbyter John, not the apostle John, son of Zebedee. Recall that Irenaeus himself said in his letter to Florinus (see above) that he was "a child" (Greek : pais) when he was taught by Polycarp. It is highly probable that Polycarp (like Papias) told him that he had heard "John and the rest of the followers of the Lord are saying", meaning the Presbyter John which the young boy Irenaeus mistook for the apostle John. [8]

    1. Thank you for your reply Gary. Of course, one is free to discount the evidence of Papias. Either way one takes it, here are two witnesses to Jesus' ministry that lived into the 90s.
      Thank you again for reading the blog and for interacting in the comments here, I appreciate it.

    2. Wrong, Timothy.

      The person who claimed that Papias was a disciple of John the Apostle who lived over TWO HUNDRED years after Papias! Papias never once claims to have been the disciple of John the Apostle. In fact, Papias clearly states that he never once met ANY of the eyewitnesses.

      And upon what evidence do you claim that Aristion witnessed the death of Jesus and the alleged events after his death? Again, Eusebius? That would be like me stating that I know as FACT what someone living in 1816 did.

      That's is ridiculous.

      That is hearsay.

      This is why I left a message for you, Timothy. You are following an ancient superstition whose "evidence" is based on second hand information (hearsay) from the second, third, and fourth centuries.

      Abandon superstitions, friend, and embrace the real world absent ghosts, gouls, and ancient gods.

    3. Thank you again, Gary, for your comments.

  5. Newsflash: The majority of New Testament scholars no longer believe that eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels.

  6. In Justin Martyr's ‘First Apology’, chapter 35, he refers to a moment during Jesus' Passion in which his naysayers tauntingly ask him to judge them. This moment is unattested to in the canonical gospels, yet is attested to in the Gospel of Peter.

    And as the prophet spoke, they tormented [Jesus], and set him on the judgment-seat, and said, “Judge us”...

    Gospel of Peter:
    And they clothed him with purple and sat him on a chair of judgment, saying “Judge justly, King of Israel”...

    So Martyr not only describes a memoir under the name of Peter, but he shows awareness of stories seemingly unique to it. It's simply much easier to assume that Martyr accepted the Gospel of Peter. Ehrman is right.

    It is also unfair to say "No where in the Gospel of Peter is this account of the naming of Peter and the sons of Zebedee mentioned" because the portion in which the account would have occurred simply didn't survive. Our sole fragment of the Gospel of Peter starts halfway through Jesus's trial under Pilate. We don't know whether it did or did not include those earlier moments. There's every possibility it did.