At Bible and Interpretation, Justin Marc Smith has a post about the relationship of the Gospels’ genre to the their intended readership and proposes a new typology (contemporary open, contemporary focused, non-contemporary open, non-contemporary focused) based on whether the Gospels were written within the living memory of the subject and whether they had a particular or general audience in mind. I have a few initial thoughts. First, we may have to look at each Gospel individually, for Mark may be contemporary with and may have consulted some eyewitnesses (though I question the tradition that Mark was Peter’s interpreter) while Luke-Acts was potentially an early 2nd century work. Second, I agree that the Gospels should not be treated like epistles and I appreciate that Smith notes that there are biographies directed towards specific or broad audiences. However, outside of Luke’s address to the official Theophilus, the evangelists do not explicitly mention the audiences they envisioned and I would need to see Smith’s evidence about why they should be classified as “contemporary open.” Finally, I agree that reconstructions of “Gospel communities” are often built on sand, but I also disagree with Bauckham’s view of the early Christ movement as a unified international network and think that there are some clues in the Gospels about the implied reader. Mark’s implied reader seems to be a Christ-following insider on the margins (e.g., unexplained Christological titles and secrecy themes, the cryptic reference to flee at the sight of the desolator, allusions to persecution) or Matthew’s implied reader a Torah observant Jewish Christ-follower (e.g., scriptural proof-texts, distinct M traditions on the Law and Israel). It is possible that the evangelists did hope that their Gospels would persuade other Christ-followers to their points of views and the eventual success of these Gospels in reaching a wide readership often resulted in their distinctive theological emphases getting suppressed in the process. Anyways, the Bible and Interpretation article is a summary of Smith’s case in his monograph Why Bios? On the Relationship Between Gospel Genre and Implied Audience (LTS 518, London: T. & T. Clark, 2015).
For those interested in the Latin Prologues attached to the Gospels found in manuscripts from the fourth to fourteenth century, instead of putting them all up here I will just point you to Ben C. Smith’s website for the full Latin texts and translations of the so-called “Anti-Marcionite” prologues (the second century dating, Roman provenance, and unitary purpose in refuting Marcionism has first put forward by De Bruyne has been challenged in subsequent scholarship) and the “Monarchian” Prologues (Monarchians view the deity as appearing in different modes as Father, Son or Spirit as opposed to trinitarianism where God consists of three co-eternal Persons in one essence). If you are interested in exploring some of the idiosyncratic claims about the individual evangelists made in the prologues based on traditions contemporary in their day, such as Mark as stump-fingered (cf. Hippolytus, Refutations 7.30) along with the various rationalizations offered for this odd description, Luke as a Syrian who remained celibate and wrote in the regions of Achaea, John as opposing the adoptionist Cerinthus/the Jewish-Christian Ebionites or that Papias served as his scribe, the following bibliography may be helpful:
- Black, C. Clifton. Mark: Images of an Apostolic Interpreter. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001.
- Chapman, John. Notes on the Early History of the Vulgate Gospels. Oxford: Claredon, 1908.
- De Bruyne, Donatien. “Les plus anciens prologues Latines des Evangiles.” Revue Bénedictine 40 (1928): 193-213.
- Grant, Robert M. “The Oldest Gospel Prologues.” Anglican Theological Review 23 (1941): 231-245.
- Gutwenger, Engelbert. “The Anti-Marcionite Prologues.” TS 7 (1946): 393-409.
- Harnack, Adolf von. “Die ältesten Evangelien-Prologe und die Bildung des Neuen Testaments.” Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-historische Klasse 24. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1928: 322-341.
- Heard, Richard G. “The Old Gospel Prologues.” Journal of Theological Studies 6 (1955): 1-16.
- Howard, W.F. “The Anti-Marcionite Prologues to the Gospels.” Expository Times 47 (1935-36): 534-38.
- North, J.L. “MARKOS HO KOLOBODAKTYLOS: Hippolytus, Elenchus, VII.30. Journal of Theological Studies 29 (1977): 498-507.
- Orchard, Bernard and Riley, Harold. The Order of the Synoptics: Why Three Synoptic Gospels. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1987.
- Regul, Jürgen. Die antimarcionitischen Evangelienprologe. Vetus Latina 6. Freiburg: Herder, 1969.
Tertullian of Carthage (ca 160-225 CE) was a trained lawyer and one of the most influential of the Latin fathers, though the legacy of the great heresiologist has been controversial as he later became a Montanist (the New Prophecy that originated with Montanus in Asia Minor was branded a “heresy”). Of his many writings he is most famous for his five-volume work Adversus Marcionem (Against Marcion) in which he rips into Marcion with one of the most biting pieces of polemic that I have come across in the literature (see here). Marcion is also accused of mutilating the text of Luke (Irenaeus, A.H. 1.27.2; Tertullian, Adv. Marc. 4.2.4.; 4.3.1-2; Epiphanius, Haer. 1.3.11; contra Hippolytus, Ref. 7.18) and Tertullian even denigrates Luke as only an apostolic assistant/disciple in his polemic against Marcion (4.2.4), though Tertullian acknowledges that Marcion did not have an author’s name as the title for his gospel (Adv. Marc. 4.2.3) and seems to have read Paul’s proclamation of “my gospel” (a summary of his kerygma; Rom 2:16) as a reference to a Gospel text. In this light, Tertullian defends the unity of the fourfold canon against Marcion’s “mutilated” Gospel in Adv. Marc. 4.2.2:
Denique nobis fidem ex apostolis Ioannes et Matthaeus insinuant, ex apostolicis Lucas et Marcus instaurant, isdem regulis exorsi, quantum ad unicum deum attinet creatorem et Christum eius, natum ex virgine, supplementum legis et prophetarum. Viderit enim si narrationum dispositio variavit, dummodo de capite fidei conveniat, de quo cum Marcione non convenit. (Latin text)
In short, from among the apostles the faith is introduced to us by John and by Matthew, while from among apostolic men Luke and Mark give it renewal, <all of them> beginning with the same rules <of belief>, as far as relates to the one only God, the Creator, and to his Christ, born of a virgin, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. It matters not that the arrangement of their narratives varies, so long as there is agreement on the essentials of the faith—and on these they show no agreement with Marcion. (Ernest Evans)
Of the apostles, therefore, John and Matthew first instil faith into us; while of apostolic men, Luke and Mark renew it afterwards. These all start with the same principles of the faith, so far as relates to the one only God the Creator and His Christ, how that He was born of the Virgin, and came to fulfill the law and the prophets. Never mind if there does occur some variation in the order of their narratives, provided that there be agreement in the essential matter of the faith, in which there is disagreement with Marcion. (Peter Holmes)
In short, from among the Apostles, John and Matthew implant in us the Faith, while from among apostolic men Luke and Mark reaffirm it, [all of them] beginning with the same rules [of belief,] as far as relates to the only God, the Creator, and to his Christ, born of a virgin, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. It matters not that the arrangement of their narratives varies, so long as there is agreement on the essentials of the Faith – and on these they show no agreement with Marcion. (Bernard Orchard, The Order of the Synoptics, p. 134)
In short, from among the apostles the faith is introduced to us by John and by Matthew, while from among the apostolic men Luke and Mark give it renewal, [all of them] beginning with the same rules [of belief]… It matters not that the arrangement of their narrative varies, so long as there are agreement on the essentials of the faith – and on these they show no agreement with Marcion. (C. Clifton Black, Images of an Apostolic Interpreter, p. 126)
Origen of Alexandria (ca 185-254) may be the most brilliant Christian scholar and theologian of the patristic period. As a biblical critic he produced a critical edition of the OT in Hebrew/Greek versions called the Hexapla, composed several commentaries (see his commentaries on Matthew and John online) and was well aware of biblical discrepencies at the literal level including in the Gospels which his allegorical hermeneutic sought to transcend. His testimony on the fourfold Gospels is conventional and seems dependent on earlier authorities like Irenaeus and Clement. I cite the Greek and various online translations below (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.25.3-6). Eusebius goes on to cite Origen’s comments in his fifth book of his Exposition of John on other canonical writings and especially the identification of the author of the Gospel of John with the one who reclined on Jesus’ bosom (cf. John 13:23-5) and author of the Apocalypse (6.25.7-14) (for more on Origen’s canon see here).
ἐν δὲ τῷ πρώτῳ τῶν εἰς τὸ κατὰ Ματθαῖον, τὸν ἐκκλησιαστικὸν φυλάττων κανόνα, μόνα τεσσάρα εἰδέναι εὐαγγέλια μαρτύρεται, ὧδέ πως γράφων·ὡς ἐν παραδόσει μαθὼν περὶ τῶν τεσσάρων εὐαγγελίων, ἃ καὶ μόνα ἀναντίρρητά ἐστιν ἐν τῇ ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανὸν ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅτι πρῶτον μὲν γέγραπται τὸ κατὰ τόν ποτε τελώνην, ὕστερον δὲ ἀπόστολον Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ Ματθαῖον, ἐκδεδωκότα αὐτὸ τοῖς ἀπὸ Ἰουδαϊσμοῦ πιστεύσασιν, γράμμασιν Ἑβραϊκοῖς συντεταγμένον· δεύτερον δὲ τὸ κατὰ Μάρκον, ὡς Πέτρος ὑφηγήσατο αὐτῷ, ποιήσαντα, ὃν καὶ υἱὸν ἐν τῇ καθολικῇ ἐπιστολῇ διὰ τούτων ὡμολόγησεν φάσκων, Ἀσπάζεται ὑμᾶς βαβυλῶνι συνελεκτὴ καὶ Μάρκος ὁ υἱός μου· καὶ τρίτον τὸ κατὰ Λουκᾶν, τὸ ὑπὸ Παύλου ἐπαινούμενον εὐαγγέλιον τοῖς ἀπὸ τῶν ἐθνῶν πεποιηκότα· ἐπὶ πᾶσιν τὸ κατὰ Ἰωάννην. (Greek text from Stephen Carlson)
In his first book on Matthew’s Gospel, maintaining the Canon of the Church, he testifies that he knows only four Gospels, writing as follows: Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language. The second is by Mark, who composed it according to the instructions of Peter, who in his Catholic epistle acknowledges him as a son, saying, ‘The church that is at Babylon elected together with you, salutes you, and so does Marcus, my son.’ And the third by Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, and composed for Gentile converts. Last of all that by John (Arthur Cushman McGiffert)<!—->
…but in the first of his [commentaries] on Matthew, defending the Church canon, he testifies of knowing only four gospels, writing something like this: as learned by tradition about the four gospels, which alone are incontested in the church of God under heaven, that, first, written was Matthew, once publican but later apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it for the believers from Judaism, composed in Hebrew letters; but second, Mark, who composed as Peter led him, whom he avowed as son in the catholic epistle, saying as follows: “She who is in Babylon, chosen together, sends you greetings and so does my son Mark” and third, Luke, who has composed for those from the Gentiles the gospel praised by Paul; after all of them, John. (Stephen Carlson)
… and in his first [book of his commentaries] on the [Gospel] according to Matthew, when defending the ecclesiastical canon, he testifies that he knows only four gospels, writing as follows: As [I have] learned in the tradition about the four gospels, which are alone uncontested in the church of God under heaven, namely, the first written was that according to the one-time tax collector but later apostle of Jesus Christ, Matthew, who published it for the believers from Judaism, composed in Hebrew characters; And second, that according to Mark, composed as Peter guided, whom he also proclaimed to be his son in the catholic epistle, speaking thus: “She that is in Babylon jointly chosen [with you] greets you, and my son Mark too.” And third, that according to Luke, the gospel praised by Paul, composed for those from the Gentiles. Finally, that according to John. (Bernard Orchard, The Order of the Synoptics, p. 169)
Now in the first of his [commentaries] on [the Gospel] according to Matthew, defending the ecclesiastical canon, [Origen] testifies to knowing only four gospels, writing somewhat as follows: … ‘having learned by tradition about the four gospels, which alone are undeniable in the church of God under heaven, that written first was that [Gospel] according to Matthew, who was at one time a taxcollector but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ. For those who came from Judaism came to believe, [Matthew] published it, composed in the Hebrew language. And second, the one according to Mark, as Peter guided him. In the Catholic Epistle he [Peter] also acknowledged him as a son through this assertion: “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark.” And third, the one according to Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul for those who, from the Gentiles, [came to believe]. After them all, the one according to John.’ (C. Clifton Black, Mark: Images of an Apostolic Interpreter, p. 145)
Here are three excerpts from Clement of Alexandria on Mark in the original languages with various translations I found available online (there is still the scholarly stalemate about whether the Letter to Theodore should be accepted into Clement’s canon, but the Greek text with M. Smith’s translation is available here and Scott Brown’s new translation in his Mark’s Other Gospel). There are some interesting new and conflicting details given below about the relationship of Mark to the other evangelists, the location of the evangelist’s writing the Gospel, the make-up of Mark’s audience, the situation that gave rise to the production of the Gospel, and the reaction of Peter when he learns the news (note that Peter is still alive unlike some other patristic traditions on Mark!). I will try to get at what Clement, or Eusebius who paraphrases him, is up to in his account of the origins of Mark at the EABS conference.
Αὖθις δ’ ἐν τοῖς αὐτοῖς ὁ Κλήμης βιβλίοις περὶ τῆς τάξεως τῶν εὐαγγελίων παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνέκαθεν πρεσβυτέρων τέθειται, τοῦτον ἔχουσαν τὸν τρόπον· προγεγράφθαι ἔλεγεν τῶν εὐαγγελίων τὰ περιέχοντα τὰς γενεαλογίας, τὸ δὲ κατὰ Μάρκον ταύτην ἐσχηκέναι τὴν οἰκονομίαν. τοῦ πέτρου δημοσίᾳ ἐν Ρώμῃ κηρύξαντος τὸν λόγον καὶ πνεύματι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἐξειπόντος, τοὺς παρόντας, πολλοὺς ὄντας, παρακαλέσαι τὸν Μάρκον, ὡς ἂν ἀκολουθήσαντα αὐτῷ πόρρωθεν καὶ μεμνημένον τῶν λεχθέντων, ἀναγράψαι τὰ εἰρημένα· ποιήσαντα δέ, τὸ εὐαγγέλιον μεταδοῦναι τοῖς δεομένοις αὐτοῦ·ὅπερ ἐπιγνόντα τὸν Πέτρον προτρεπτικῶς μήτε κωλῦσαι μήτε προτρέψασθαι. τὸν μέντοι Ἰωάννην ἔσχατον, συνιδόντα ὅτι τὰ σωματικὰ ἐν τοῖς εὐαγγελίοις δεδήλωται, προτραπέντα ὑπο τῶν γνωρίμων, πνεύματι θεοφορηθέντα πνευματικὸν ποιῆσαι ευ0αγγέλιον. τοσαῦτα ὁ Κλήμης. (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.5-7, Greek from Stephen Carlson’s website)
Again, in the same books, Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner: The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel. This is the account of Clement. (Arthur Cushman McGiffert)
And again in the same books [the Outlines], Clement states a tradition of the very earliest presbyters about the order of the gospels; and it has this form. He used to say that the first written of the gospels were those having the geneologies, and that the Gospel of Mark had this formation. While Peter was publically preaching the Word in Rome and proclaiming the gospel by the the [sic] Spirit, the audience, which was numerous, begged Mark, as one who had followed him for a long time and remembered what had been said, to write down the things he had said. And he did so, handing over the Gospel to those who had asked for it. And when Peter got to know about it, he exerted no pressure either to forbid it or to promote it… (Bernard Orchard in The Order of the Synoptics, pg 166)
But again in those very books Clement presented a tradition of the original elders about the disposition of the gospels, in the following manner: He said that those gospels with genealogies were openly published, but Mark had this procedure: when Peter was in Rome preaching in public the word and proclaiming the gospel by the spirit, those present, who were many, entreated Mark, as one who followed him for a long time and remembered what was said, to record what was spoken; but after he composed the gospels, he shared it with anyone who wanted it; when Peter found out about it, he did not actively discourage or encourage it; but John, last, aware that the physical facts were disclosed in the gospels, urged by friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual gospel. So much for Clement. (Stephen Carlson, see further Stephen C. Carlson, “Clement of Alexandria on the ‘Order’ of the Gospels,” NTS 47 : 118-25 to justify his translation “openly published”)
Τοσουτον δ επελαμψεν ταις των ακροατων του Πετρου διανοιαις ευσεβειας φεγγος, ως μη τη εις απαξ ικανως εχειν αρκεισθαι ακοη μηδε τη αγραφω του θειου κηρυγματος διδασκαλια, παρακλησεσιν δε παντοιαις Μαρκον, ου το ευαγγελιον φερεται, ακολουθον οντα Πετρου, λιπαρησαι ως αν και δια γραφης υπομνημα της δια λογου παραδοθεισης αυτοις καταλειψοι διδασκαλιας, μη προτερον τε ανειναι η κατεργασαθαι τον ανδρα, και ταυτη αιτιους γενεσθαι της του λεγομενου κατα Μαρκον ευαγγελιου γραφης. γνοντα δε το πραχθεν φασι τον αποστολον αποκαλυψαντος αυτω του πνευματος, ησθηναι τη των ανδρων προθυμια κυρωσαι τε την γραφην εις εντευξιν ταις εκκλησιας. Κλημης εν εκτω των υποτυπωσεων παρατεθειται την ιστοριαν, συνεπιμαρτυρει δε αυτω και ο Ιεραπολιτης επισκοπος ονοματι Παπιας, του δε Μαρκου μνημονευειν τον Πετρον εν τη προτερα επιστολη, ην και συνταξαι φασιν επ αυτης Ρωμης, σημαινειν τε τουτ αυτον, την πολιν τροπικωτερον Βαβυλωνα προσειποντα δια τουτων· Ασπαζεται υμας η εν Βαβυλωνι συνεκλεκτη και Μαρκος ο υιος μου (in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; unaccented Greek from http://www.textexcavation.com/papias.html)
And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the needs of Peter’s hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark. And they say that Peter – when he had learned, through a revelation of the Spirit, of that which had been done – was pleased with the zeal of the men, and that the work obtained the sanction of his authority for the purpose of being used in the churches. Clement in the eighth book of his Hypotyposes gives this account, and with him agrees the bishop of Hierapolis named Papias. And Peter makes mention of Mark in his first epistle which they say that he wrote in Rome itself, as is indicated by him, when he calls the city, by a figure, Babylon, as he does in the following words: The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, salutes you; and so does Mark my son (Arthur Cushman McGiffert)
And the light of religion lit up the minds of those who heard Peter, so much so that they were not sufficiently satisfied with one single hearing, nor with theunwritten teaching of the divine preaching, and with all kinds of encouragements they besought Mark, whose gospel is extant, a follower of Peter, that he might leave for them also a note, in writing, of the teaching that had been delivered to them through the word, and they did not cease before prevailing with the man, and becoming the causes of this writing of the gospel called according to Mark. And they say that the apostle, when he came to know what had been done, it having been revealed to him by the spirit, was pleased with the desire of men, and the writing was authorized for the petition of the churches. Clement in the eighth of the Outlines sets forth the record, and the Heirapolitan bishop, Papias by name, also testifies with him, and they say that Peter remembers Mark in in the first epistle, which he also ordered together in Rome itself, signaling this very thing, calling the city Babylon most figuratively through these words: She who is in Babylon, elect with you, greets you, as well as Mark my son. (Ben C. Smith)
But such a light of piety shone on the minds of those who heard Peter that they were not nearly satisfied with a single hearing or with an unwritten account of the divine proclamation. And so with all kinds of entreaties they begged Mark (whose Gospel is now in circulation), a follower of Peter, that he might leave behind a written record of the teaching that had been given to them orally. And they did not rest until they prevailed upon him. To this extent they were the impetus for the writing called the Gospel According to Mark. And they say that when the Apostle came to know what had happened, after the Spirit revealed it to him, he delighted in their eagerness and authorized the writing to be read in the churches. Clement passes along this story in the sixth book of the Outlines, and the one who is called Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis, corroborates his account, pointing out in addition that Peter makes mention of Mark in his first epistle, which also they maintain was composed in Rome itself… (Bart Ehrman, LOEB, pg. 97)
Marcus, Petri sectator, praedicante Petro evangelium palam Romae coram quibusdam Caesareanis equitibus et multa Christi testimonia proferente, petitus ab eis, ut possent quae dicebantur memoriae commendare, scripsit ex his quae a Petro dicta sunt evangelium quod secundum Marcum vocitatur (Adumbrationes in epistolas canonicas in 1 Peter 5:13)
Mark, the follower of Peter, while Peter was publically preaching the Gospel at Rome in the presence of some of Caesar’s knights and uttering many testimonies of Christ, on their asking him to let them have a written record of the things which had been said, wrote the Gospel which is called the Gospel of Mark, form the things said by Peter… (Bernard Orchard in The Order of the Synoptics, pg 131)
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.
Many people find Irenaeus’s justification for a fourfold Gospel canon to be a real stretch, to put it mildly. Indeed, Irenaeus scoffs at the Valentinians when they resort to numerology such as seeing the 30 aeons as represented by Christ’s age of 30 (1.3.1; Irenaeus counters in 2.22.6 that Christ was actually 49 years old with John 8:47 “you are not yet 50 years old” as a prooftext!). However, if we enter sympathetically into Irenaeus’s argument, many of his analogies (world zones, winds, pillars) undergird the universality of the Church. So the acceptance of four Gospels is defended as the practice of the “catholic” Church, as opposed to groups Irenaeus perceives as schismatic “heretics” who privilege one Gospel (3.11.7 Ebionites with Matthew, Gnostic separationists with Mark, Marcionites with Luke, Valentinians with John). Irenaeus calls attention to the beginnings of each of the four Gospels as summing of the character of that particular narrative, in accordance with the Scriptures and symbolized by one of the four living creatures (cf. Ezekiel, Revelation).
It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and thepillar and groundof the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sits upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. As also David says, when entreating His manifestation,You that sits between the cherubim, shine forth.For the cherubim, too, were four-faced, and their faces were images of the dispensation of the Son of God. For, [as the Scripture] says,The first living creature was like a lion,symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second [living creature] was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; butthe third had, as it were, the face as of a man,— an evident description of His advent as a human being;the fourth was like a flying eagle,pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church. And therefore the Gospels are in accord with these things, among which ChristJesus is seated. For that according to John relates His original, effectual, and glorious generation from the Father, thus declaring,In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.Also,all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made.For this reason, too, is that Gospel full of all confidence, for such is His person. But that according to Luke, taking up [His] priestly character, commenced with Zacharias the priest offering sacrifice to God. For now was made ready the fatted calf, about to be immolated for the finding again of the younger son. Matthew, again, relates His generation as a man, saying,The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham;and also,The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise.This, then, is the Gospel of His humanity; for which reason it is, too, that [the character of] a humble and meek man is kept up through the whole Gospel. Mark, on the other hand, commences with [a reference to] the propheticalspirit coming down from on high to men, saying,The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Esaias the prophet,— pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel; and on this account he made a compendious and cursory narrative, for such is the propheticalcharacter. And the Word of God Himself used to converse with the ante-Mosaic patriarchs, in accordance with His divinity and glory; but for those under the law he instituted a sacerdotal and liturgical service. Afterwards, being made man for us, He sent the gift of the celestial Spirit over all the earth, protecting us with His wings. Such, then, as was the course followed by the Son of God, so was also the form of the living creatures; and such as was the form of the living creatures, so was also the character of the Gospel. For the living creatures are quadriform, and the Gospel is quadriform, as is also the course followed by the Lord. For this reason were four principal (καθολικαί) covenants given to the human race: one, prior to the deluge, under Adam; the second, that after the deluge, under Noah; the third, the giving of the law, under Moses; the fourth, that which renovates man, and sums up all things in itself by means of the Gospel, raising and bearing men upon its wings into the heavenlykingdom.(Adversus Haeresis 3.11.7, translated by Alexander Roberts, William Rambaut; for Ireneaus text preserved in Latin and later Greek excerpts see Ben C. Smith)
One of Ireneaus’s analogies to the fourfold Gospel is the four cherubim. Irenaeus seems to be harmonizing descriptions from Revelation 4:6-9 and Ezekiel 1:5-26 (on the question of whether Irenaeus is using a source here see T.C. Skeat, “Irenaeus and the four-gospel canon,” NTS 34  and response from Annette Yoshiko Reed, “EUAGGELION: Orality, Textuality and Christian Truth in Irenaeus’ Adversus Haeresis“ VC 56 ). So the Lion represents John’s high and confident Christology of the powerful Word, the human Matthew’s opening geneology of Jesus as son of David and Abraham, the calf Luke’s priestly character from its introduction of the priest Zechariah as the father of John the Baptist, and the Eagle Mark’s prophetic character with its first reference to Isaiah the prophet followed by the descent of the spirit in the baptism. Together, each image is essential to a fully orbed understanding of Christ’s identity. Other patristic writers were fond of this analogy, though they depart from Irenaus about which symbolizes which Gospel. I found this useful chart below in the classic commentary by Henry Barclay Swete, The Gospel According to St. Mark: The Greek Text with Introductory Notes and Indices (2nd Edition; London: Macmillan and Co, 1908), xxxviii. The chart features Irenaues, Victorinus of Pettau notes on the Apocalypse, Augustine (De cons. ev. 1.9), and the Pseudo-Athanasian Synopsis…