Justin Martyr’s Memoirs of the Apostles

January 21, 2013

Justin Martyr often calls the Gospels “memoirs of the apostles” (apomnēmoneumata tōn apostolōn).  In his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 106.3 (Greek/English), Justin refers to the “memoirs of him” (apomnēmoneumasin autou) which can be translated “the memoirs about him” (the him is Jesus as the subject) or “his memoirs” (referring back to the one whose name was changed – Peter).   If one adopts the latter reading, there is debate about the referent of “Peter’s memoirs.”  Tim Henderson engages Bart Ehrman’s view that Justin has the Gospel of Peter in mind and persuasively argues for a reference to Mark here, here, here (cf. Tim Henderson’s The Gospel of Peter and Early Christian Apologetic).  I agree that Justin is likely referring to Mark’s Gospel as Peter’s memoirs and that the Greek should probably be rendered as “his memoirs,” with Papias influencing Justin’s view on Mark’s Petrine authorship.  As for the term “memoirs,” see the interesting posts by Joel Watts and Mike Bird.  Both think the clearest parallel is to Xenophon’s Memorabilia of Socrates, though Bird also mentions Helmut Koester’s view that Justin was echoing Papias’s remarks that Mark “remembered” the preaching of Peter or rival Gnostic claims of the disciples “remembering” the private teachings of Jesus (cf. Ancient Christian Gospels, 37-40).  The question is how known was the Greco-Roman genre of “memoirs” and was the distinction between private notes (hypomnēmata) and published memoirs (apomnēmoneumata) known to the evangelists composing the Gospels or to their earliest commentators (Papias, Justin, Irenaeus, Clement)?

Here are the other references to “memoirs of the Apostles” (apomnēmoneumata tōn apostolōn) or “memoirs” (apomnēmoneumata) from an online translation of 1 Apology and Dialogue with Trypho the Jew.  It seems that Justin had access to plural memoirs, recounts the liturgical reading of the Gospels in Christian worship suggesting they had a scriptural status, and definitely included Matthew and Luke and possibly John (pre-existence and begotten of the Father in 105.1; cf. 100.1; John 3:4 in 1 Apol. 61.4-5; Logos Christology; etc.) among the memoirs.  If I am right on Dial. 106.3, Mark was classified as a specific apostle’s memoirs.  However, Justin harmonizes the Gospels in a way that may have influenced his pupil Tatian who went on to write a major Gospel harmony, the Diatessaron, and may have access to other sources (e.g., what might he mean by the Acts of Pilate in 1 Apol. 35.9; 38.7; 48.3?), so there is uncertainty about whether Justin would have yet reached Irenaeus’s conclusion about why there should be no more or less than four Gospels.

  • And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. (1Apol. 66.1-3)
  • And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. (67.3)
  • And Christ changed the name of one of His disciples from Simon to Peter, when he, enlightened by the Father, recognized Him to be Christ, the Son of God.  And since we find it written in the Memoirs of the Apostles that He is the Son of God, and since we call Him by that same title, we have understood that this is really He and that He proceeded before all creatures from the Father by His power and will (for in the prophetic writings He is called Wisdom, the Day, the East, Sword, Stone, Rod, Jacob, and Israel, always in a different way); and that He is born of the Virgin, in order that the disobedience caused by the serpent might be destroyed in the same manner in which it had originated. (Dial. 100.4)
  • And by the words which follow, ‘All they who saw me have laughed me to scorn; they have spoken with their lips, and wagged the head: He hoped in the Lord, let Him deliver him, seeing He desires Him’.  He again predicted what would happen to Himself. For they that beheld Him on the cross wagged their heads, curled their lips in scorn, turned up their noses, and sarcastically uttered the words which are recorded in the Memoirs of the Apostles:  ‘He called Himself the Son of God, let Him come down from the cross and walk! Let God save Him!’  (101.3)
  • And the expression, ‘My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue hath cleaved to my jaws,’ was also a prediction of what He would do in conformity with His Father’s will. For the power of His mighty word with which He always refuted the Pharisees and Scribes, and indeed all the teachers of your race who disputed with Him, was stopped like a full and mighty fountain whose waters have been suddenly shut off, when He remained silent and would no longer answer His accusers before Pilate, as was recorded in the writings [memoirs] of the Apostles, in order that those words of Isaiah might bear fruit in action: ‘The Lord gives me a tongue, so that I may know when I ought to speak’. (102.5)
  • It is narrated in the Memoirs of the Apostles that as soon as Jesus came out of the River Jordan and a voice said to Him: ‘You are My Son, this day I have begotten You,’ this devil came and tempted Him, even so far as to exclaim:  ‘Worship me’; but Christ replied: ‘Get behind Me, Satan; you will worship the Lord your God, and Him only will you serve’.  For, since the devil had deceived Adam, he fancied that he could in some way harm Him also. (103.6)
  • For in the Memoirs of the Apostles and their successors, it is written that His perspiration poured out like drops of blood as He prayed and said:’If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me’. His heart and bones were evidently quaking, and His heart was like wax melting in His belly, so that we may understand that the Father wished His Son to endure in reality these severe sufferings for us, and may not declare that, since He was the Son of God, He did not feel what was done and inflicted upon Him. (103.8)
  • The next words of the Psalm are: ‘You have brought me down into the dust of death. For many dogs have encompassed me; the council of the malignant has besieged me. They have pierced my hands and feet. They have numbered all my bones. And they have looked and stared upon me. They parted my garments among them; and upon my clothing they cast lots’.  This passage, I have already shown, was a prophecy of the kind of death to which He would be condemned by the assembly of the wicked, whom He calls both dogs and hunters, affirming that they who hunted Him united to use every possible means to condemn Him. This event, too, is recorded in the Memoirs of the Apostles. (104.1)
  • Now, here are the next words of the Psalm: ‘But You, O Lord, remove not Your help to a distance from me; look towards my defense. Deliver my soul from the sword, and my only-begotten from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth; and my lowness from the horns of the unicorns’. These words, too, point out what He would be and what would happen to Him. I have proved that He is the Only-begotten of the Father of the universe, having been properly begotten from Him as His Word and Power, and afterwards becoming man by a virgin, as we have learned from the Memoirs of the Apostles. (105.1)
  • Thus, God through His Son also teaches us (for whom these things seem to have happened) always to do our utmost to become righteous and at our death to pray that we may not fall into any such power.  For, the Memoirs of the Apostles said that, as He was giving up His spirit on the cross, He said: ‘Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit’.  (105.5)
  • Further, He urged His disciples to excel the Pharisees’ way of living, warning them that otherwise they should know that they would not be saved; His words on this occasion are thus recorded in the Memoirs of the Apostles: ‘Unless your justice exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven’ (105.6)
  • The rest of the Psalm shows that He knew that His Father would grant all His requests, and would raise Him from the dead. It also shows that He encouraged all who fear God to praise Him, because through the mystery of the Crucified One He had mercy on the faithful of every race; and that He stood in the midst of His brethren, the Apostles (who, after He arose from the dead and convinced them that He had warned them before the Passion that He had to suffer, and that this was foretold by the Prophets, were most sorry that they had abandoned Him at the crucifixion).  The Psalm finally shows that He sang hymns to God while He was with them, which actually happened, according to the Memoirs of the Apostles. (106.1)
  • And Moses predicted that He would arise like a star from the seed of Abraham, when he said: ‘A star will rise out of Jacob, and a leader from Israel’. And another passage reads: ‘Behold the Man; the Orient is His name’.  Therefore, when a star arose in the heavens at the time of His Nativity, as the Apostolic Memoirs attest, the Magi from Arabia knew the fact from this sign, and came to worship Him. (106.4)
  • And these Memoirs also testify to the fact of His resurrection from the dead on the third day after the crucifixion, for it is therein recorded that in answer to the contentious Jews who said to Him, ‘Show us a sign,’ He replied, ‘An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, and no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonas’.  Though these words were mysterious, His listeners could understand that He would arise from the dead on the third day after His crucifixion (107.1)

See also Justin’s occasional use of the term “gospel”

  • 1 Apology 66.3 (above)
  •  [Trypho says] But the precepts in what you call your Gospel are so marvelous and great that I don’t think that anyone could possibly keep them. For I took the trouble to read them. (Dial. 10.1)
  • And the words, ‘But You dwell in the holy place, You praise of Israel’, signified that He would do something worthy of praise and admiration, which He did when through the Father He arose again from the dead on the third day after the crucifixion. I have indeed pointed out earlier that Christ is called both Jacob and Israel, and that not only in the blessing of Joseph and Judah have things been predicted mysteriously of Him, but also in the Gospel it is written that He said: ‘All things have been delivered to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son; nor does anyone know the Son except the Father, and those to whom the Son will reveal Him’. (Dial. 100.1)

Here is a short bibliography:

  • Abramowski, Luise.  “The memoirs of the apostles in Justin.”  Pages 323-35 in The Gospels and the Gospel.  Edited by Peter Stuhlmacher; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991 (“Die ‘Erinnerungen der Apostel’ bei Justin” in Das Evangelium und die Evangelien.  Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1983).
  • Bauckham, Richard.  Jesus and the Eyewitnesses:  The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006.
  • Foster, Paul.  “The Relationship between the Writings of Justin Martyr and the So-Called Gospel of Peter.”  Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007.
  • Heard, Richard.  “APOMNĒMONEUMATA in Papias, Justin and Irenaeus.” New Testament Studies 1 (1954): 122-29.
  • Hyldahl, Niels.  “Hegesipps Hypomnemata.” Studia Theologica 14 (1960): 70-113.
  • Kennedy, George.  “Classical and Source Criticism.”  Pages 125-55 in The Relationship among the Gospels: an Interdisciplinary Dialogue .  Edited by William Walker.  Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1978.
  • Köster, Helmut.  Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development.  London: SCM; Philadelphia: Trinity International, 1990.
  • Pilhofer, Peter.  “Justin und das Petrusevangelium.”  ZNW 81 (1990): 60-78
  • Stanton, Graham.  Jesus and Gospel.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.