Markus Vinzent's Blog

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Justin and the Gospels - a discussion

Was Marcion the First To Write a Gospel?

I just received a very kind and engaging post here from Tim Henderson who I admire for his thoroughness, and also his wonderful blog!

His summary is accurate in that I contend that Marcion was the first to write a gospel. The canonical gospels, among others, were reactions to Marcion’s gospel. My primary evidence - to be precise in the post Tim is referring to, but, as the forthcoming book on Christ's Resurrection in Early Christianity will show is much broader. In addition, I am working on a commentary on Marcion's Gospel at the moment which, in the light of the Synoptics, so far at least, seems to confirm my hypothesis - comes from Justin and is supplemented by information from Irenaeus and Tertullian. Here is a key excerpt from his post, discussing Justin, Dial. 100.1:
The only time (!) where Justin deploys the expression that ‘in the Gospel it is written’ – he produces a reading that is exactly that of Marcion, neither that of Matthew nor that of Luke. If this source is the written Gospel that he is referring to in his Dialogue (and, consequently, in his first Apology), we understand, why Justin is so sceptical with the name of this text – expressed in his expression ’so-called’, the ‘so-called Gospel(s)’.
I don't think that I put more weight on Justin’s inclusion of “it is written” than other scholars who took this reference as a clear indication (the only, by the way) where Justin refers to a clearly identifiable written Gospel and, therefore, took this particular reference as one of the cornerstones for dating the Gospels.
Indeed, I think, the meaning here is different than in places where Justin refers to the 'memoirs' or the gospels (he only does so three more times anyway, twice in the plural). But let's see in which way.

Tim's 'second and more substantial issue ... is how to account for the high regard in which Justin held these “gospels” (i.e. “memoirs of the apostles”).'
Here, I can agree with Tim, if he differentiates, as I do, between the Gospel and the Memoirs. Justin, who has written a book to (or against) Marcion and wrote later more about him must have known Marcion quite well. If he was able to quote Marcion, then he will have had access to Marcion's Gospel, one of the reasons, why I notice his distance to the Gospel(s), and the reason why he calles them so-called Gospel(s), while he himself always speaks of the 'memoirs of the Apostles'.
Of course, as I comment at some length in the obove mentioned forthcoming book on the passage, Justin tells us that in the community gathering they these “memoirs of the APOSTLES” or the writings of the prophets are used, but he says so in the Apology which tries to convey the message to the Emperor that the Emperor should differentiate between the Marcionites (who are also called Christians) and the true Christians. Hence, the stress is a) on possible inclusion of the writings of the prophets, and b) on the fact that Justin's community reads not 'the gospel of the Apostle (namely Paul)', but the 'memoirs of the Apostles' (note the plural) (1 Apol 67). And yet, I think, the fact that here we hear for the first time of these alternative readings in Christian worship, we can not infer that these writings were beyond dispute. The case of the Gospel of Peter and the way bishop Serapion changes his views about such community reading is another case in point. Again, we need to be careful before anachronistically re-interpreting second century texts. Justin certainly was sceptical of Marcion's Gospel, although he does not simply reject, but quotes it. And he was not entirely convinced by the 'memoirs' either - one of the reasons why instead of quoting those, he sometimes refers to them, but constructs his own Jesus-narrative relying on the Jewish Scriptures, those still seem to be his first authority.
When, as Tim rightly quotes, Justin says that just as the prophets spoke for God and their message was accepted by Christians, so Christians also believe in the “voice of God” that “is spoken by the apostles of Christ” (Dial 119.6), and Justin thinks this voice is present in the memoirs, Justin uses the prophets as benchmarks for the 'memoirs' and begins in Dial. 98-106 not with the 'memoirs', but with Psalm 22:
'I shall repeat the whole Psalm, in order that you may hear His reverence to the Father, and how He refers all things to Him, and prays to be delivered by Him from this death.' In Dial. 99 he introduces Jesus' prayer to the Father in Gethsemane (see Matth. 26:39), 'showing by this that He had become truly a suffering man'. But, then, Justin quotes a critical voice: 'Lest any one should say, He did not know then that He had to suffer', an opinion which Justin counters not by reference to the 'memoirs', but to the Psalm: 'He adds immediately in the Psalm: "And it is not for want of under standing in me."' What follows in Justin, is a reference to Marcion's Antitheses (see A. Harnack, Marcion: The Gospel ..., 1990, 60). Moreover, it is followed in Dial. 100 by precisely the quote from Marcion's Gospel, which I discussed in Tim's mentioned blog: 'Nobody knows the Father except the Son'! Justin, then, adds a reference to the 'memoirs': 'And since we find it recorded in the Memoirs of His Apostles that He is the Son of God, and since we call Him the Son, we have understood that He proceeded before all creatures from the Father by His power and will'. From this sequence, we can take the hierarchy of authority for Justin: The (Jewish) Scriptures - Marcion's Gospel - and the Memoirs of His Apostles. To what extent Justin differentiates between the latter two still needs further exploration. But it is clear, Justin is dealing in these chapters of the Dialogue with Marcion's text and views. And the claims that Justin finds in the Memoirs, complementing Marcion's Gospel, are backed up by the (Jewish) Scriptures, such as the crucifixion scene (see Matth. 27:42) by what follows in Dial. 102ff.

Hence, I can agree with Tim that for Justin the “memoirs” were very important in proving that Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures, but more importantly was that what he read in these memoirs (and it was not very different with Marcion's Gospel) was in harmony with the Scriptures. Hence, I would not add that 'the memoirs are the sources that confirm the message of the prophets', but rather the other way around, that the Memoirs were able to carry weight, because they were confirmed by the prophets, a position that Justin shared with the author(s) of the Memoires and, as one can still see from this passage, resulted from answering Marcion to whom, of course, the Gospel was the antithesis to the prophets.

I agree with Tim, that 'Justin believed that the memoirs/gospels derived from apostolic sources, and he certainly did not consider Marcion to be such', but even though, the Apostles' words still needed the authority of the prophets.


  1. Everyone knows that someone named Mark or with a subform of the name Mark wrote the first gospel. Haven't we already narrowed that down one hundred years ago? The question as I see it is whether the original evangelists real name was Mark or Markion (the diminutive). For me, the Philosophumena 7.18 and a number of agreements between Mark and the Marcionite readings suggest that whoever first reported on the existence of Marcion (the witness in Irenaeus's AH 1.27 is almost universally regarded as originating from Justin's Syntagma not Irenaeus) might have mistook a ritual use of the diminutive form of the name Mark for the proper name of heretic.

    The use of the diminutive form in contemporary addresses to authority figures has already been demonstrated by Hilgenfeld. Notice the reference to Callixtus in Rhodo:

    Dass Μαρκίων ein Deminutivum von Μαρκος ist, schliesse ich auch aus dem Verhaltniss von Εὐρυτίων zu Εὔρυτος (vgl. Phil. Griech. Gramm. 21. Aufl. S. 119, Anm. 12), κοδράτίων (bei Philostratus vit. sophist. II, 6 p. 250) zu κοδράτος (vgl. W. H. Waddington, Memoire sur la Chronologie de la vie du rheteur Aristide, 1867, p. 32). So möchte ich auch an den von dem Verfasser der Philosophumena so angefeindeten κάλλιστος, romanischen Bishof 217 - 222, denken, wenn Rhodon bei Eusebius KG, V, 13, 8 κάλλιστίωνι προσφωνων genanne wird. Um so mehr werden die Μαρκιανοί welche Justinus Dial. c. Tr. c. 35 p. 253 vor Valentinianern, Basilidianern, Satornillianern, u.s.w. erwahnt, Marcioniten sein. Ebenso wird man in dem Muratorianum Z 82 - 84 zu lesen haben: quia etiam novum psalmorum librum Marciani (= Marcionitae) conscripserunt.

    Here is a rough translation of what Hilgenfeld is saying for your readers (I apologize in advance for my rusty German):

    That Μαρκίων is a diminutive of Μαρκος, I conclude also from the relation of Εὔρυτος to Εὐρυτίων, (vgl. Phil. Griech. Gramm. 21. Aufl. S. 119, Anm. 12), κοδράτίων (from Philostratus vit. sophist. II, 6 p. 250) to κοδράτος (vgl. W. H. Waddington, Memoire sur la Chronologie de la vie du rheteur Aristide, 1867, p. 32). So also I think κάλλιστος, the Roman Bishop (217 - 222) against whom the author of the Philosophumena shows such hostility, is behind Rhodon's reference to κάλλιστίωνι προσφωνων (Eusebius, Church History V, 13, 8). Stronger still is the case for the Μαρκιανοί - which Justin Dial c. Tr. c. 35 p. 253 mentions before the Valentinians, Basilideans, Satornillians, etc - being a reference to Marcionites. Similarly, one will have to read the Muratorianum Z 82-84: quia etiam librum novum psalmorum Marciani (= Marcionitae conscripserunt).

    I just think that continuing to reference 'Marcion' as a separate figure from Mark is only going to perpetuate the argument remaining in the wilderness forever. The question of whether Marcion is in fact some preservation of the name of the apostle of Alexandria is the only way toward victory and this research remaining merely a 'scholarly curiosity.'

    Another point connecting Mark and Marcion - the Muratorian Canon's identification of a Marcionite Epistle to the Alexandrians. Alexandria is Mark's home turf.

    Vielen Dank, Herr

    1. As someone new to this blog, I have to say how surprised I am that I didn't come across it earlier. Although I am not yet prepared to equate Mark with Marcion's gospel, nor to believe that Marcion wrote the first gospel, I do nevertheless believe that Luke is an expanded version of Marcion, or perhaps better put, that Marcion is an earlier version of what we know as Luke.

      Despite the invective dumped on Marcion by Tertullian and Epiphanius, I just don't see ANY convincing evidence that Marcion cut down Luke. Instead, things such as the obvious (to me anyway) original beginning of Luke at v. 3:1 strongly point in the other direction.

      I am also currently working on a new reconstruction of Marcion's gospel, and although it is not yet finished (I got bogged down with the knotty problem of what Marcion's version of Lk 22:17-20 looked like), most of it is available here . Any comments would be welcome.

      David Inglis, Lafayette, CA, 94549, USA

    2. Dear David,
      so good that you came across my blog - especially as we were exchanging emails in July 2011, as I admired your work on Marcion. Since then, I have progressed a lot in my Marcion research, although I am far from seeing the end. I am looking forward to seeing your reconstructive work, as I am myself working on a detailed reconstruction plus an extensive commentary (where I compare his Gospel with the Synoptics). So let us stay in contact and exchange our findings.

      When last year you wrote that you don't believe that Marcion wrote his Gospel, but found an earlier version of Luke, in reading more I found more confirmating evidence that he was, indeed, the author and does not point back to Luke - again, it is Tertullian's claim against Marcion, not Marcion's own opinion according to which others copied and enlarged his Gospel - although he did not lend his name to it in the title or subscription.
      Yours Markus

  2. Dear Stephan,
    thanks for Hilgenfeld and all the other arguments which I am going to evaluate with care. Reading now Marcion's Gospel in parallel with the Synoptics, there are more arguments that support the Markion - Mark connection (see my other post on 'Mark'). And, indeed, as little as 'Mark', the Gospel-writer, seems to have been the historical name of this redactor (rather than writer, but that nomenclatur depends whether we use a contemporary or antique framework) of 'Mark', so, it seems, did Luke as Gospel-writer derives from the use of 'Mark'. But on all of this, I am still exploring further connections and possibilities ... so grateful for any idea.
    The Marcion-Alexandria connection is, of course, intriguing, as Marcion's pupil, we are told (De praescr. 30) 'went to Alexandria', and Marcion was known by our famous Alexandrians, especially by Origen.

  3. ... and was understood to have been enthroned beside Jesus in Alexandria. Indeed what is more reminiscent of what Stephen J Davis notes is the most fundamental expression of Alexandrian Christianity than Mark enthroned? I have transcribed the opening words of his Early Coptic Papacy (Cairo: American Univ. in Cairo Press, 2005) at my blog

    My point is that it is impossible to read the description in Adamantius's Dialogue of Marcion as the episcopos of the true Church alongside the reference in Homilies of Luke and not be struck by something similar to the later Alexandrian devotion to Mark.

    Anyway enough of my theories ...

  4. Just a short addition to what I wrote previously. If you want to see how the account of Marcion which now appears in the Five Books Against Heresies was not originally known to Irenaeus follow this link -

    I am not trying to promote my blog. Rather I am just following up on an unproven assertion which I think has profound significance for the study of Marcion.

  5. The problem is being forced to assume the honesty of the fathers. They are virtually assumed to be inspired. But the fact is that the church fathers constantly and consciously twist passages from the Tanach and use them with no regard for their context or actual meaning, only regard to whether or not they can convince the ignorant that they prophecy of Jesus. Without exception, they were dishonest men. So when Justin quotes passages that clearly come from Marcion's gospel, adds some twisting of the Tanach, and calls them the memoirs of the apostles, what is he doing? He is making his own edition of Marcion's gospel and imputing authorship to the apostles.