The Patchwork Gospels
The Evolutionary Origins
About This Book
(This is the entire Introduction; you may not wish to read it all.)
There are two major assumptions at the root of all modern New Testament scholarship which have been shielded from challenge, whereas nearly every other assumption has been ravaged and savaged in modern criticism. They are the assumptions (1) that the four canonical gospels, or at least the synoptic three of them, were written and completed in the eighth or ninth decades of the first century, and (2) that “early church” theology, myth, Christology, eschatology, apocalyptic, or any other issue about doctrine or praxis, can somehow be known by guesswork without reference to actual documents. Vast and profound conclusions about Jesus are founded upon totally non-existant and hypothetical gospel documents. Judgments are based upon literary forms (Form Criticism is the father of this notion), aside from any exact reference to written statements in any one of the early church writers, including the first century writers with their very meagre available literary output. And the second century writings of Barnabas, the Didache, Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and a few others, and citations from Marcion’s AntiqeseV, and Valentinus’s Upomnhmata, the first writings ever which actually present the sayings and events as the story of Jesus Christ, are regarded as commentaries only, and not as the creative matrices of the actual evolving gospels themselves. These vague and mostly groundless assertions about “the early church” are not improved by the currently stylish reference to recently rediscovered para-canonical literature from the dry caves of Egypt and Judea.
This study, The Patchwork Gospels, challenges the idea that one or more writers sat down somewhere and wrote out the New Testament gospels sometime before the 70s or 80s of the first century, the dates in which Matthew, Luke, and perhaps even John are said to have written out their gospels. The widely held belief is that all four gospels – or as a more sophisticated modern version pictures it, at least Mark and the “Gospel Sayings Source,” known as “Q” (the synoptic gospel materials common to Matthew and Luke) – were finished in these late first century decades. These writings, the legend goes, were based upon the authors’ recollections of sayings and events of which they or persons close to them, or members of their communities, had been eye-witnesses. Their writings then are based upon “oral traditions.”
I find this idea almost as silly as the idea that the gospels fell out of the sky on golden tablets. And in my informal survey of the average reader, I have discovered that the concept of an evolving gospel is easy for most people to accept. Many of the people I have queried have said “I always suspected it would turn out that way.” The only people who resist the idea of evolving and expanding written gospels over a period of four centuries are the scholars! And I suspect they have adopted a conservative viewpoint like this because they are afraid they might lose their jobs to the governing boards of the seminaries and divinity schools where they teach.
The old view is based far too precariously upon tiny bits of wholly flimsy evidence: 1. of hearsay written in ~325 by an inveterate liar, Eusebius, about 2. the word of a known second-century dimwit named Papias, who was supposed to have heard from some elders 3. that they had heard (more hearsay) that Mark had taken down a written summary of the life and sayings of Christ from Peter (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 3,39,15). Instead of this groundless Papian-Eusebian legend, I propose the far more plausible picture (and one that accords far more closely to the facts, as we shall see) that the gospels emerged gradually out of a far longer period of struggle between various Christian communities and their points of view over a succession of important issues, and that the real, authentic, or historical Jesus is almost completely lost to us, buried under the sayings and narration of events made up in his name by succeeding generations of his followers to support their doctrines; except for a few fundamental facts about him which are known and attested very early by Paul—namely, that he was executed by the government of his day as a rebel, or a revolutionary, or an insurrectionist, and that he taught a new way of life, a life of initiating kindness based upon the honor of all humans as individuals bearing the likeness of god, leading to a complete transcendence of old ways of thinking and behavior.
The implications of his crucifixion run much closer to the causes of the rebellious Exoduses of “Abraham,” probably a siglum name for “Ee-per-oo-am,” the people of the Ee-per-oo (source of the later word “Hebrews,” meaning “out of the house of bondage”), the well-attested renegades of 2000 BCE, and Moses a millennium later, both groups escaping from the pyramid slave-drivers of Mesopotamia and Egypt, than they are to all the insipid Christian interpretors of him subsequent to his death on the cross, which failed to stand up in rebellion and resolute defiance against the idolatrous form of humanity which calls itself “government,” the force which killed their lord. The “Ee-per-oo,” described in the Amarna texts, were escapees from the “per-oo”—the “big house,” also the root for “pharaoh.”1 Thus, the very name of these fugitives (“ee-per-oo”) meant “away from the pharaoh” or “out of the big house” (still our word for prison today). The religious experience built so far upon Jesus Christ has not yet even begun to dream of the power of the escape from and rejection of human government, the contemptible rule of a small group of men and women over others, the regular and systematic slaughter of their 19-year olds, the systematic rape of their daughters and wives, and the regular and systematic taking of everyone’s earnings and possessions by the commandment-violating thievery called taxation, against which both Abraham and Moses stood up in anger. But all this is to offer the ancient goal once more. We must concentrate on the path before us to that goal.
If the synoptic gospels were fairly complete written documents by ~100 CE, then the so-called Sayings Source Q, along with Mark,2 according to the Two Source Theory, both had to predate the writing of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke which were based upon them, all before 100 CE. Q, that wondrous new mirage, is now speculated to have enjoyed its own communities, “the Q people,” and a “stratigraphic” growth from Q1 to Q2, by the insertion of apocalyptic and son-of-man elements in Q2. But if the synoptic gospels were more or less finished writings by that date, why does Paul claim to know only seven sayings of Christ, and of those only five which were retained in the canonical gospels? And why are there only “look-alike” sayings in other places in Paul’s writings, and more importantly, in the anti-Pauline “Epistle of James,” and even fewer, if any, in the other “Catholic” epistles? It is no answer to dismiss Paul’s or James’ silence on the sayings with the shrug that they just didn’t bother to quote Jesus Christ, which is what scholars have had to resort to doing. See my Evolution of John and Mark on Paul’s scorn in Galatians 1 and 2 for all “detail-mongering gospels,” which he calls “those damned gospels” owing to his own late-comer status as an eye-witness of those details. Paul’s conclusion was that any quest for the historical Jesus, even in his own times, was a forbidden quest for a human idol. The far more important reality, the only important reality, was the living Christ in the church, and/or in heaven, the one who spoke to him in “an abundance of revelations” (2 Cor 12:7).
And why does Clement of Rome in 96 present only seven sayings of Christ, six of them retained in a little cluster at Luke 6? And why does Polycarp know only the same six-pack with one or two variations when he wrote in ~100, four years later in Smyrna? A six-verse gospel is a very tiny gospel. And the evidence from Clement and Polycarp, the one in Rome and the other in Asia/Turkey, says that the tiny gospel of six verses was singular, namely, Luke. Why were only 24 sayings fragments presented in the Didache in ~105? Was the rest of “Q” and “Mark” unimportant to the writer(s) of the Didache? And if the gospels were complete in 100, why does Justin present a total of only 71 sayings in his two writings in ~135 and 150, with 15 of them taken from the earlier writings named here, and only 56 new ones? And why is it that at the end of the century, in ~185, even Irenaeus presents only some 135 of the sayings of Jesus, some of these taken from Justin and the Didache and Barnabas? And now they are growing in size as well as in number. Did all the earlier writers simply ignore the texts that Irenaeus finally found useful? But then why do nearly every one of the texts that Irenaeus presents function for him to smash the Gnostics? Does their function for Irenaeus possibly have something to do with their origin? Why have scholars never noticed this hard evidence of a mathematical growth in the number of sayings from the beginning to the end of the second century? (see Appendix A) And why have scholars not presented an alternative theory to Q, by examining every putative Q saying to see what writer first presented it: Justin, or Irenaeus, or Tertullian, or Clement—and that is only in the second century! And why has no scholar heretofore examined these writers’ purposes in presenting these sayings, and the reasons they gave for their speaking in the name of Christ, and as New Testament prophets? They are no different from Paul who got all his revelation from heaven – much of it while he was in Arabia, as he is hot to tell us – not from Palestine. They have not only the right, but the responsibility, to speak for Christ, that is to put the word in his mouth in the growing “gospel” story haggadah, as it came out of his mouth earlier in the Old Testament as halakah. The question they raise is about the functions these new sayings, never seen before, served in these second century writings, whether or not they were representative of “the early church” in “Q communities” or dealt with this or that socio-economic-political community character. These are the issues in the following pages.
Perhaps the reason for the shielding of these two assumptions from criticism is not far to seek. Perhaps it is like what a clergyman described when he stood up at a funeral attended by an unusually large number of other clergymen: he said, “There are many arguments for and against the resurrection, but I will tell you the main reason why we clergy continue to believe in the resurrection. It is because if we did not, we would all be out of work.” One of the reasons scholars have not seriously questioned either the early dating of the written gospels (before the end of the first century, except for courageous writers like David Friedrich Strauss in 1835 and for the Tübingen school, though H J Holtzmann got away with it owing to his stature as founder of the Markan Priority Theory at Strasbourg University in 1890), or the failure to tie all claims for early church theology to exact references in the patristics, may be a concern like this poor clergyman stated. And many poor German scholars in the 1800s did lose their jobs after they wrote courageously this way.
Despite all the differences of outlook on a number of gospel-related issues from Reimarus to Wrede, and from Schweitzer through Bultmann, Käsemann, Jeremias, and all three generations of Questers of the Historical Jesus (I myself having written two long, 800-page treatises which resemble the “guesswork Jesus” produced by a blend of E.P. Sanders and Burton Mack, before I threw my inspired work aside, remembering the words of my parents’ doctrinal mentor, John Calvin, to “Beware of vain speculation”)—these two assumptions remain unchallenged.
In this study I have found it necessary, and possible, to challenge them, and to come out on the other side with what I think is a positive result. There is absolutely no ground for the assumption about the early date for the written completeness of the synoptics or all four canonical gospels. And all the evidence is against it. Perhaps I can challenge it because I don’t have to worry, as Reimarus, and Strauss, and Weiss, and Gunkel did, about an ecclesiastical paycheck. Albert Schweitzer also seems to have known in advance that he ought to plan on an alternate source of income, or perhaps more than one, in music and/or medicine, after he ran into the buzz-saw of ecclesiastics who held the purse-strings. Incidentally, not to stray too far from the point, Vincent van Gogh in his young career as a coal-stained missionary to the potato-eaters of the mine tips in Belgium, ran into the same sort of ecclesiastics for the same reasons, and was also forced to turn to a different career, though he was renowned in Paris when he finally arrived there and Emile Zola was breathless with anticipation to meet “The Christ Man of the Borinage.”
Instead, as I shall demonstrate, the gospels were forged gradually over a period of three or four centuries, until the 17th church Council of Carthage held on Mar 28, 419 closed the doors to any further emendation of them. And as I shall show in the work that I present here, they were forged as weapons of war in the heat of battle with real enemies, not just probable ones, and in a step-wise fashion, and in real-life situations, not in “the early church” (a mostly speculative phrase), but from the pens of the few master writers who dominated the creation of the literary record. From the beginning of history with the cave painters of Lascaux and Altamira, and the cunning inventors of hieroglyphics in Egypt-Kishi/Iraq, the person with the brush, pen, or chisel – the writer – had the power. And it was no different with the creation of the record of the government-executed revolutionary who became the fulfillment of two millennia of Hebrew prophecy. (It will be up to the reader to decide whether the word “forged” means more, considering the belief these early writers held, shared with Paul, about the guidance of the holy spirit upon their thinking as they wrote.)
I have been compelled by the evidence to take the position that the first, second, and third century writers were not merely commentators upon a putative set of gospel texts, unknown and unavailable and hypothetical as those fabled texts are. They, both heretics and orthodox writers, the latter often in reaction against the more original former, are the originators of the sayings of Jesus, and of the gospels.
One may take issue with me that just because a writer is the first to present a text in writing, we must not necessarily conclude that he is also its originator. And to this I doff my cap. One may certainly find room yet within the evidence for oral tradition as the source of some, many, or all of the sayings. Some people will never let go the idea of an earlier oral tradition as the solution to all problems of ancient source, no matter what the evidence indicates. Albert Schweitzer's argument that "a later generation would never have gone so far as to put words into his mouth which were belied by the subsequent course of events," falls down when we consider that by 160, 208, 250 and beyond that, the subsequent course of events in the life of Jesus were long forgotten. Now the battle was for wholly different prizes, such as episcopal authority, and soon, the nature of the divinity of Jesus Christ. I simply refuse to continue to speculate about possibilities, for speculation has no bounds or limits, and to stick to the facts, including the importance of original function and first use, particularly when they are found together, in determining the origin of the sayings. And if the sayings of Christ and the narration of events in his life that emerge for the very first time in the writings of Irenaeus and Tertullian and Clement around the end of the second century were commonly known for 150 years before they wrote them down, why were all previous writers such as Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Barnabas, the Didache, Ignatius, Hegesippus, the Pastor of Hermas, Athenagoras, and Justin silent about them, to say nothing of the silence of Paul, Peter, James, and John, or those who wrote the New Testament Epistles in their names? The late date of the first appearance of all but some 24 sayings that are known by ~105 CE in the Didache, argues overwhelmingly against the theory of the oral transmission of the authentic sayings and deeds of Christ, just as it does against the first century writing of the complete or nearly complete “canonical” gospels and the Gospel of Thomas.
To test this claim that the first use and first function determine origin, I shall present a hard look at the evidence from the first four centuries up to the time of the early uncials, the complete texts of the New Testament Gospels as we know them that come down to us as Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, in mid-4th century. But of course by the time we get to the fourth century we are nearly 1/4 of the way down to ourselves in Christian history. (In this first edition I take the study up to about 208 when Tertullian wrote his last treatises, and the G Thomas which I date at ~210. The claim that Tertullian died in ~220-240 is implausible, for one cannot picture the fiery Tertullian spending 12-34 years editing his earlier writings without producing anything new. And since his final works are existential utterances on Martyrdom, written at the height of Severus’ slaughter of Christians, we may guess that the reason his works end suddenly at that point is obvious—that his voice was silenced.)
We may call these writers from the first four centuries fabricators of the sayings, or we may call them midrashists or haggadists, redactors and expanders of the fluid, labile, nourishing text of their ancestors in faith. What they did with the text was essentially no different from what earlier midrashists did with it, especially Paul, even altering it to suit the current religious, but also socio-economic, needs of their communities, except that they pinned it all onto a crucified revolutionary Nazarene, as the fulfillment of their national and religious hopes. They were not so opposed to the details of the historical Jesus as Paul was, since they had not been locked out of the inner circle of eye-witnesses as he had.
If our faith allows it, as it must if we believe Paul, we may also say that the writers from the earliest christian centuries were inspired, and received the sayings from heaven, the way they sometimes admit that they got them, the same way Paul got six out of the seven of the sayings he claimed to know from the ascended Christ, in one of his abundant revelations from Christ (2 Cor 12:7)—for example, the whole saying-event vignette of the Last Supper, as he states so clearly at 1 Cor 11:23, and not from the early church, or from Peter, or one of the other apostles, as all scholars foolishly assert.
These first, but especially second century writers, for reasons of effectiveness, took enormous pains to be as sly and subtle as the mystery of the kingdom and the work of the spirit would allow. They could not claim, as Paul had done, and gotten away with it, expanding that story three times in the Acts (at chapters 9, 22, and 26, if Paul had anything to do with that story in Acts), that Christ stopped him en route to Damascus, so as to establish an alternative epistemological method. And in studying these writers, tracing the OT roots of the sayings they concoct, we gain an immense appreciation for their intellect that is frankly otherwise rarely noticed. These connections between “the lord’s” words (they mostly call him “the lord” for this reason) in the gospels and his words to David, for example, as Irenaeus connects them, have never yet been noticed as the matrix for the very utterances of “the lord” in the gospels, and the result is that scholarship still continues to grope blindly in the mists of “Q theory,” staring frustrated into the 1st century in the attempt to delineate some line or trace of the purported gospels they want so desperately to have been written in the 7th, 8th, or 9th decades of that century. What they have failed to do is to look at the sayings as they were first used, and to investigate whether these were not the first appearances of the sayings.
Again it needs to shatter no one’s faith to consider that the sayings as revealed to Justin and Irenaeus came from the same place that Paul got his, namely, from the inspiration of the holy spirit and the self-revelation of Christ to these successors of prophet and apostle—that is, from heaven. The open heavens stayed open as a source for the gospel sayings all the way to Augustine in 419 as I stated earlier. Then they were slammed shut, and a completed NT gave fixed parameters within which all further discussion must be conducted. But during those wild and breezy decades of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the heresy later branded as Montanism was the very salvation of the orthodox church in its war against two other heresies, what bade fair to be a better idea by Marcion and the Gnostics, a sweet, lovely, and judgmentless religion on the one hand, and the old Judaism on the other. (History might have been far different—the Dark Ages for example, might never have happened: church government might never have replaced the Roman imperial butchery with its own sanctimonious savagery, had Marcion’s tender ideas about god been allowed to grow and flourish instead of being stamped out by the Montanist and OT boots of Justin, Irenaeus, and Tertullian.) This much is beyond conjecture: the freedom to make up sayings of Christ under the spirit’s influence—if one could convince his listeners that he was in the diodoce of the apostles and prophets, the succession, the line from the OT to Jesus and his followers—was what saved orthodoxy from Judaism and Gnosticism and what gave us our NT Gospel sayings and events. Ironically, it may even have helped to save the very OT text itself from the flames of Vespasian, Titus, Trajan, and Hadrian. I. Arguments in favor of this position are these:
1. The idea of a developing text, of evolving texts, emerging by mutation to fit their changing environmental niches, and surviving fittest in those niches, is a methodological approach which has better scientific credentials and a better track record in modern science than the traditional one that the texts of our gospels or their putative precursors were essentially written and completed in the 7th or 8th decades of the first Christian century, a more-or-less all-at-once product, very nearly fallen perfect from the sky to some writer sitting under a tree. Even if the picture one has is that of a few persons composing in reflective revery and contemplation of the blessed event only recently transpired to which they had borne witness, and even if in four locales or with four functional purposes, or from four sources, or from “Q” and one or two other sources—such a notion of the origins of the gospels, when encountered where it started in the writings of the second and third century church writers in their battles with “heretics,” is so blatantly and fraudulently presented that it should be jettisoned if only by reason of suspicion of the tendentiousness of its first promoters.
2. As already stated, if the gospels were written in the 70s, 80s, or 90s of the first century, why are there so few quotations from them by all the apostolic fathers and apologists and heretic battlers? Only a handful, in fact, are quoted— as we shall see,3 fewer than ten sayings in the entire first century, until the Didache in about 105. And even in the Didache, there are only 24 fragmentary, very tiny, precursors, separated ever so carefully into larger sayings when expanded in later centuries.
3. The writers presented these sayings as the words of Christ, but often admitted that they were speaking in the name of “the lord,” a very cagey way to assert that he also spoke every revealed word recorded in the OT (and they in his place, or “in his name,” as his mouthpieces, namely as prophets or apostles). C.H. Dodd, Parables of the Kingdom, 1961, 67n, has no clue that the use of “the lord” as a designation for Jesus Christ in the early church literature in general, has this function of identifying Christ as the source of the OT word of god as well as the NT word.
4. Justin and Irenaeus used many of the sayings we find them using, only once. If they had been using accepted sayings they would have reused them frequently, as they do with sayings they know were presented by an earlier writer. The fact that in the case of nearly every saying they present for the first time is presented only once, in most instances shows that they thought it a good idea, but not a divine precept, a pearl from the mouth of the lord, even if they did not dream that it would one day be regarded as divine revelation of a halakhic sort. There are exceptions, of course, but if they did use the saying more than once, and they varied it by a word or two, then sometimes both versions were preserved in different gospels. In fact, it begins to become evident, at least it is a good workable theory, that one of the reasons for the existence of duplicates (not the putative “Q”), and even for the existence of several gospels, was to preserve the several different presentations or renditions of each saying where it was used more than once, or in two slightly different versions, by these earliest fathers, one often copying from another earlier writing.
5. There are no clear functions stated in the gospel text itself for many of the gospel sayings we know that have come down to us in the texts from after ~350, in the uncial manuscripts Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, X and B. The sayings are thrown together in our Gospels into thematically random groups of apho-risms, “short sayings,” Justin called them, recalling perhaps the psychological power of the “Chreia” of his erstwhile Cynic philosophy, “for he was no sophist!”—like the later Beatitudes and the other general ethical teachings, as well as harsh sayings, even curses, against the Jews, a few healing utterances, and some eschatological sayings. (We may divide these differently if we want to stay closer to the Form Critical categories of Rudolf Bultmann and Martin Dibelius. I am interested more in Tertullian’s functions for the sayings than in Bultmann’s 20th century grid of literary forms of the utterances and narrative.) That is about the only thematic or functional structure one can put upon the sayings as we get them in our canonical gospels. They aren’t even batched, as Justin batched nearly all of his 71 sayings, except rarely like the Dinner Parables of Luke 14, from Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria. Compare that to the precise and powerful function they possess in the hands of the 2nd century writers in the heat of their battles, and you have a good basis for determining primary and secondary status. The functions of the sayings are far more specific and clear in some writers, notably Justin and Irenaeus, than in Clement of Alx, whose writing often wanders without direction. And in Tertullian we get two major types of functionality, sayings and gospel narrative function either anti-heretically, or to prove a wide range of moral imperatives. We find Tertullian emerging from battle with the heretics Marcion and Praxeas, asserting against the former that there was only one, not two gods; and against the latter that there was twoness in god, not just indistinct identity or unity of father and son. These two problems would drive him to the first expressions of Trinitarianism. His need for ammunition and weapons would then compel him to apotheosize a third member of the divinity, the source of his admittedly sometimes “novel” teachings, the holy spirit.
6. A sixth argument for the piecemeal accretion of the sayings and narrative which gradually constituted a few usable ecclesiastical gospel texts, even a stepwise internal accretion and development of individual sayings, is that when a father cites or recites “a saying” which he has found in an earlier writing, he recites part or all of it, even perhaps cutting it, but always tailoring and redesigning it according to the function he needs it to serve; he may even re-issue a saying that some heretic has already popularized, by altering the wording, and sometimes then blaming the heretic for altering it. And a great trick used by Tertullian was to add a new verse to one that had Marcion written all over it, and give Marcion’s earlier one a completely new meaning and direction! A new source of confirmation for this sort of scribal insertional freedom comes from the study of the Qumran Scrolls. As Shemaryahu Talmon writes in Cross and Talmon, Qumran and the History of the Biblical Text, 1975, 32, “the deliberate insertion of textual alterations into scripture for various reasons of style and dogma, the uncontrolled infiltration of haphazard changes due to linguistic peculiarities of copyists or to their characteristic concepts and ideas, which may be observed in the wider transmission of the text, have their counterparts in the ‘Qumran Bible.’ ” Here, the Qumran Bible is the control which has finally allowed perpetrators of a wide spectrum of theories of Ur-Vorlagen, Ur-Rescensions, and Vulgartexten, to see how lively word and saying-creativity went on with the “Word” within one living Hebrew community. So there is good OT precedent for this gradual, functionally guided and stepwise development and evolution of the NT gospels. For centuries since the earliest Babylonian and Palestinian traditions of the OT Mishnah, so the Qumran evidence proves, active redaction was performed upon a live, labile text, more in one tradition than another, and finally in a third large group, the Egyptian tradition and text. James L. Kugel (Early Biblical Interpretation, 1986, 70) provides an excellent introduction to this active interaction of community interpreters with the nourishing text, except that he does not seem to see that the great activity of haggadah upon halakah is not “narrative” but means “expansion” (“ha gadol” in Hebrew means “the enlargement”) upon the halakah. The only difference between the OT haggadah and the NT haggadah in “gospels” and “epistles” is that the interpreters in the NT times pinned their expansions and variations on the old text hopefully onto a crucified Palestinian revolutionary named after Joshua and Moses (“Savior” and “Saved”) of old. That is what we see being done in the formation of the gospels over a period of four centuries. Even Acts and the New Testament epistles need to be reexamined in the light of this developmental phenomenon.
7. The moment we have manuscript evidence, such as the Chester Beatty Papyri, in “Papyrus 45,” allegedly provide, that some text had to exist by the early third century, let’s say about 210 CE, we can state categorically that that saying or event must come from that time or earlier. P45 includes the first seven verses of Luke 7, but no writer up to 207 CE ever cites or uses any verses from Lk7:1-7, so 210 is too early for P45 . The alleged date of P52 at ~125 is based upon hand-writing style. But there is hardly a trace of reference to John’s Gospel by any writer until the end of the 2nd century, and absolutely no use of any verse on P52 by any writer up to the terminus of this study, ~208, so 125 seems far too early for the dating of the 4th gospel, despite all the excitement it has engendered among conservative scholars who think it brings them closer to the 70s and 80s of the 1st century. It is heartening to read J.D. Crossan in Four Other Gospels, 1985, 128, arguing that “From Swete in 1893...to Denker in 1975...the conclusion is that there is no clear evidence of usage for this Gospel of Peter before the end of the second century.” But it is disheartening that he applies this rule of “usage” only to the Gospel of Peter. And why does he suddenly spring out this new rule for the age of a text, whereas he never used it before, or after this one application? In these Patchwork Gospels I will apply this excellent rule of First Use and First Function to every word, phrase, and text in the canonical and non-canonical gospels. (And I will predict that no gospel manuscript will ever be found under any of the four canonical names earlier than from the time Irenaeus begins to name them, in Bk III of his Against Heresies in ~185.)
8. Why can we trust Barnabas when its earliest manuscript evidence is no older or earlier than Codex Sinaiticus, around 350, whereas we call that manuscript late evidence when it contains the gospel sayings? The answer is simple: Barnabas contains only four gospel saying fragments, even as late as ~350. No one makes big claims for Barnabas like scholars do for Mt, Mk, Lk, and Jn. So the four sayings that Barnabas includes at about 100 CE, which are integral to his argument, are not only very old sayings, but also prove that there are very few very old sayings.
9. When we look at the gospel of Mt or Lk as they were known around 200 by Clement of Alx and Irenaeus and their readers, we see that often only alternate verses are given; sometimes every other verse out of the later gospel is missing yet at 200. This again shows us that the gospel was laid down in pieces, or perhaps a better image is “in layers,” by successive hands, and that second and third level expansion verses were added later, to what the later “redactor” regarded as gospel bedrock upon which to add his accretion. For example in Mt 6 we have at ~200 the series, verses 16, 17, 19, 20, 25, 26, 31, 33. Verse 24 was carried over from Lk, or placed in both as an expansion verse. (In a separate series on The Gospels of Matthew, Luke, John, and Mark, I show exactly who added which verses. For example, an expansion-verse on Martyrdom could also serve as a concluding verse on the Apocalypse like “He that endures to the end will be saved.”)
10. The empty gaps in the text of the gospels or the dark boldface, uncolor-coded text that appears in the pages that follow are verses that are simply never quoted or cited by any writer in the first or second century. It is possible that they existed in written documents now lost, and that the reason no one ever cited them is that no one found them useful. But it is likelier that if there is no shred of evidence that they existed, they did not. And the objector must either silence his objection, or bring forward counter-evidence that there is some earlier written text. Else he must either continue to find refuge in speculation or submit to the evidence that what is presented in the pages to follow is original material. About 50% of the received, canonical gospel text, except Mark, was developed to the extent we see in the following pages by ~208. Mark is the one exception, and a special case. Contrary to current and long-running scholarly agreement (except for William R. Farmer, in The Synoptic Problem, A Critical Analysis, Mercer, 1976), Mark was still virtually non-existent by 208 except for the large chunk (Mk 10:17-31) similar to Matthew 19:16s and Luke 18:18s. To Clement of Alx the chunk was known as “written in the gospel according to Mark.” Perhaps the easiest explanation of the origin of Mark’s gospel is to say that there were so many versions of the story of Jesus and the rich man looking for life which were circulating around 200, that a new gospel was fabricated to carry one of the many versions. We also have Origen’s version which he says comes from yet another gospel, The Gospel according to the Hebrews (in Origen’s Latin Commentaria de Matthew 15:14, and in Hippolytus’ Refutation of All Heresies, 5,7,26), which claimed a fifth gospel for its source, The Gospel of the Naassenes. See Huck and Lietzmann, Synopsis of the First Three Gospels.
11. The evidence shows that it was not oral tradition that preserved the sayings and perhaps some of the narrative in the gospels until they were finally written down in early source documents such as Q and Mark, and a few decades later, the full-blown gospels; but instead it was six brilliant 2nd century writers who created most of the gospel sayings and much of the narrative connections between the sayings. These writers were, in sequence both chronological and influential, Justin Martyr in ~135 and 150, Marcion in ~160, Valentinus in ~170, Irenaeus in ~185, Tertullian in ~192-208, and Clement of Alexandria in ~200. These six represent two schools of thought which were nearly violently opposed to each other, and out of their furious debate – not out of any church need to commit its precious message to print, as most church history of the period probablisitically tries to paint the picture – the gospel segments poured forth. What this means is that the Oral Tradition Theory and the Two Source Theory must now be replaced by the Great Writer, or the Great Scribal Interpreter, Theory. We shall see that the very words of these six writers are the evidence that blows the Q Theory and the Theory of Markan Priority to smithereens. The verbal war between Judaic “orthodoxy” as it became known and Marcionite and Valentinian Gnosticism left three distinct historic layers of bedrock deposit for the later complete gospels to build upon. This bedrock could be touched and felt, but strangely it was not mined by careful analysis of the second century evidence by critics from Reimarus until our times: the first layer of gospel bedrock was the early Palestinian literature laid down by Paul, James, Clement, Polycarp, Barnabas, the Didache, Ignatius, 2 Clement, and Justin in Trypho. Then came Marcion and Valentinus, who laid down a new deposit of bedrock granite atop the old, the former by setting up oppositions between Christ and the Old Testament Law and religion, including a god of unconditional love and miracles which made Christ more glorious in overcoming the material world than Moses or Elijah, and based upon what they got from Paul in his conflict with the early Palestinians, and their own conflict with the ideas of the later Palestinians. Their work was the core of Luke, as scholars of the Tübingen school noted, an idea which must be reintroduced into the discussions. In reaction to these came Irenaeus and Tertullian with a third layer of gospel materials never seen before, trying to blanket the Gnostic bedrock out of view with their neo-Palestinian interpretation. And this work was the basis of the later gospel of Matthew. Among their products were the first parables and the beatitudes, most of the gospel of John, and the beginnings of a catch-all gospel, called Mark. The “creative element” in the tradition noted beyond the “historical elements” by Reimarus in the work published by Lessing in 1774+ was the Marcionite material built upon the early Palestinian elements. The two-sided gospel which Semler thought he discerned in his critique of Reimarus in 1779, one “a sensuous, pictorial method” for the ignorant and the other “a purely spiritual teaching” (Schweitzer’s words in The Quest) for the learned, were the two layers of Palestinianism and Gnosticism laid down as we shall see until about 208, and even beyond in the writing of Origen against Celsus. It is these same two elements that D.F. Strauss tried to distinguish as history and myth in his Lives of Jesus beginning in 1835. But none of these, or their successors, not even Schweitzer, bothered to wonder whether the greater part of the story might have come from two and three centuries after Christ! There were some minor writers and writings as well, with some interesting contributions, but the Diatesseron of Tatian must be rejected as any sort of second century writing since the oldest existing copy of it is from around 900, and there is no way to determine how much was added to it from the days of its first writing in around 175 to the date of that late copy. Even if we grant that there is enough evidence that a “mixed gospel” (Tatian never called it Diatesseron) was started in the late second century, it can have harmonized only the tiny collection of sayings and narrative that were found in writings like Justin’s by ~175, before even Irenaeus made his significant contribution to the gospel oeuvre. Here we must heed Nestle’s warning about inserted lemmas. We must assume that most of it is based upon the canonical materials which we find in complete codex form after ~350.
12. But the most important argument for this line of investigation is its results. Finally, we get to see what many texts which have long puzzled scholars mean. I should not say “many texts.” I mean very nearly every text! We shall finally see the real (that is, the historically rooted), connected, meaning of the Parable of the Unjust Judge and why he lived “in a certain city” at Luke 18:1s, and why the ending of the parable has totally confused everybody for nearly 2000 years. We finally get to see why the release of the daughter of Abraham at Luke 13:16 is compared to the leading of an ox or ass “from the manger” “away to water” in the previous verse. We discover that the 5 commands listed at Mt 19:17s are not a meaningless litany of half of the Decalogue, but Irenaeus’ very precise “Stairway to the Stars,” a shorter stairway of the Law by half, overagainst Marcion’s swimming in the 'Abyss.' We discover from Irenaeus, too, that the Parable misnamed “the Evil Tenant Farmers” should be renamed “The O.T. Succession of Good Messengers,” and that Irenaeus created it against Marcion to show his own place in the succession. Once we have put this interpretive second century key into the locks, we can open up most of the mysteries of the origin and meaning of the gospel texts. Every word counts. There is no “loosely remembered and interpreted” oral tradition at work, and the “minor differences” are now really only the minor stylistic ones. These new insights will of course have profound implications for the so-called Q Theory. It has been like picking up great gold nuggets in a river that has so far been totally overlooked, for me to go back and read the functions or reasons stated in Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria for why each word is as it is in the gospels, and each variation. These writers, each of them, had a profound regard for each word. We read them to our own loss when we skim over them fast because we think they believe pretty much the way we do. They did not. Their ideas are wild! Christianity was still a wild, untamed young religion in the second century. They did not just give slightly different readings to settled sayings, as all modern scholarship blindly and foolishly believes, perhaps as their poor or loose memory dictated an orally transmitted and audially received saying, finally committed to print. Nonsense. The drama is far more precise and exciting than that, as the reader will soon discover in this thoroughly delightful drama of creativity that is the second century creating its Christ. It is really not a very profound insight to see that the writer who first used a gospel text might actually tell his readers what he was using the text for, what purpose it fulfilled, what function it performed. And even if he does not always admit honestly that the spirit of god was moving himself as the disciple to expand a certain Old Testament halakah, or to gloss an excerpt from Paul or James, everything begins to make sense if we follow this line of investigation where it takes us.
II. A Few Other Observations
1. If the point has not been clearly enough made, let me stress that I am maintaining in this study that the First Function of a saying or piece of narrative in its First Use is the origin of the saying or narrative segment. Any critic may scold me for presenting nothing but a second and third century commentary on the original gospels, and the book might even be valuable as a set of commentary notes of the first writers to make written use of the gospels which they presumably had to work from. But these are not commentary notes. These are the first appearances in human history, under the light of the sun, of these gospel segments. I defy anyone to present any earlier document bearing each or any of these sayings and narrative segments. Should we keep hoping that new evidence will be found for documents earlier than these expressions from these writers? Of course, we should. And new documents will be found. But until they do, the functions for which these writers wrote them are perfectly adequate and fully explanatory.
2. Along with other things to watch for in the early emergent gospel text, I too suggest watching for the use of words and phrases about “the kingdom.” However I will suggest that when it is used the word “kingdom” always expresses a Palestinian concern for a land of their own and for political freedom from the ancient curse from which the Eeperoo were liberated, “the Pharaohs, the Land of Egypt, and the House of Bondage.” That is, it is a word which means not just the rule of a king, but the rule of one person over another, that is, h basileia means “government.” This in sharp distinction from all tendencies like the neo-Platonic, or Stoical, Gnostic idea of salvation as an escape from matter to spirit. It is a great loss to all theology and to human culture itself, not only to NT studies, that scholarship has consistently failed to hold tenaciously to the roots of all Judaeo-Christian-Islamic religion—namely, its conception and birth and lasting birthright out of its struggle against human lordship over other humans, and against the ultimate idolatry of this Götze to which money gifts and allegiance are demanded at gunpoint by our IRS as much as by swordpoint of the ancient Romans, known by all its names: empire, state, or government. Their struggle, on-going, was a struggle for us, as much as for them, and involving us. It found high points in the rule of the Maccabees or in the life of the man of Nazareth, depending on which community you were born in, and what your community saw, or may only now be able to see anew, in both those anti-government movements.
3. There are few references to The Gospel of Thomas because I find no reason to regard that document either in its Coptic or its Greek Oxyrynchian form as older than ~+200 CE or as the earliest known source of any gospel saying or narrative. I will try to show this to be true in cases where comparisons make a difference. Otherwise, Thomas is, in my estimation, exactly what it is in the mainline tradition of the early church: at best derivative, and at worst insignificant. Its best scholarly use and function is that it sets off the other texts better by flattering contrast with itself. Thomas was not written before 140 as Grenfell and Hunt argued in 1898:2 in The Oxyrynchus Papyri, because their argument for that early dating is a very tenuous stylistic one based upon comparisons between Thomas and the canonical texts, the “wide divergence from the text of the canonical gospels,” a text whose existence in the first century is highly suspect. Where relevant, extra-canonical sources such as The Gospel of Peter, The Secret Gospel of Mark, Egerton Papyrus 2, and others, will be cited as earliest known First Users.
4. Note that the formulaic “And Jesus said to him/them,” probably the most common set of five words in the gospels, usually stands for what Justin, Irenaeus, or Tertullian each thought were the words of the heavenly voice to himself: “and the lord said to me.” We do not need to worry about twinges of conscience in regarding this process as fraudulent. There were different rules afoot for writing in the second and early third centuries. But the first rule was to demolish the heretic. Whatever smashed the ideas of the heretics was used, especially by Irenaeus and Tertullian. Sarcasm, scorn, slander, and the most incredible name-calling were used, and lies, half-truths, and outrageous illogic, were all part of the whole armor of faith.
5. Watch the gospel of John. Notice that the color of John is mostly magenta. Almost none of this gospel saw the light of day until the end of the second century. John 14-16, sayings on the holy spirit, reveal Tertullian’s source of all of his new sayings after ~204, for they are Tertullian’s sayings, from a time when he went deep into the holy spirit, with no restrictions.
6. Note that the name “Patchwork” has good precedents. It was Clement’s name for his famous Miscellany of themes in ~200. The name also brings to mind Homer’s “Stitched Odes,” a kind of quilt, if not a “crazy-quilt” of pieces placed together, also like the gospel aphorism of the patches of new cloth on an old garment. The image of a patchwork quilt goes well with this sort of developmental, or if one prefers, evolutionary, history of the gospel text, because the effort takes real pieces of documentary history and stitches them together, in a color for each century, making a colorful final document, one which in this volume I carry through to about 210 CE. In the pages below the reader will find two columns. In the left column are what I propose are the original sources of the gospel sayings and events, and in the right are the sayings that for the most part have no earlier credentials than the manuscripts Sinaiticus or B, Vaticanus, from about 350 CE. There are exceptions, notably the Chester Beatty papyri, which bring the text back to the early 3rd century, around the time Tertullian wrote, or slightly later, and these will be noted.
First century original statements of sayings and events will be in red; I consider any writer up to about Ignatius of Antioch in ~107 a first century writer. Second century writers will be in blue. The third century color, represented mainly by Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian at this point, is magenta. A few sayings from the fourth century will be in light blue, and anything from the fifth century will be in orange. Sayings from heretical gospels or other writings will be in green. Abbreviations for writings are “Tr” for Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho; “FA” for Justin’s First Apology. The only writing of Irenaeus cited is Against Heresies, by book, chapter, and section, whose real name of course is A Refutation and Subversion of Knowledge falsely so-called. Clement of Alexandria’s titles are: “RM” for Rich Man’s Salvation, “P” for Paedogogus, or The Instructor, “S” for Stromata, and “G” for ProtreptikoV ProV HellhnaV, or Exhortation to the Greeks. Tertullian’s writings will be spelled out except for AM which stands for his large work, Adversus Marcion. The so-called “Memoirs of the Apostles,” which M. Schneemelcher4 finds as a gospel precursor in Justin Martyr, is found upon reading Justin, to be as useless as it is mis-named.
I will show only the first uses by the first users, and their first functions with the sayings. The later users often use the sayings for entirely different purposes, or with entirely different functions. I get into those evolving uses in volumes supporting this one. These books, The Evolution of Matthew, of Luke, and of John and Mark will back up the first uses and functions in this volume with the history of the use and function of each saying.
In the first century, the writings of the “apostolic fathers” function mainly to unify Jesus communities against schisms, either born out of some unspecified contention, or traced to some vaguely identified schismatic leader.
In the second century, there are four major gospel-saying fabricators: Justin Martyr, Marcion, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. Marcion (and Valentinus, the Gnostics) reworked Justin’s sayings, those of the Didache, and of the Old Testament. Irenaeus and Tertullian try to rework the texts created by Marcion and Valentinus back into something useable by the orthodox churches.
Justin wrote two books, the Dialogue with Trypho in ~135, and the First Apology in ~150. Marcion wrote a set of Antitheses between Christ and the O.T. Law of Moses and the Prophets, and Valentinus a gospel called the Commentary. Irenaeus wrote Adversus Haereses, in Latin, ~185. In Trypho Justin slaps the Jews, he hopes, awake. In this he really belongs to the first century. For the other major problem facing the Jesus communities in the first century was to prove to other Jews that Jesus was the fulfillment of the OT prophecies. That is all Justin does in Dialogue with Trypho. Then, in FA, Justin strokes the emperor, Antoninus Pius. In AH, Irenaeus smashes the Gnostics. These three writings, and these three issues, give us the first broad base of gospel sayings, and every single saying which is seen for the first time in the second century functions either to slap the Jews, stroke the imperial fur, or crush the Gnostic valedictory. The trouble with Q theory is that it must remain completely oblivious of this real second-century history.
The rise of the Gnostics was the major problem facing the church from 150-250. They were so popular that they threatened the very survival of the OT-based Orthodoxy. Their dualistic thinking finds its basis, strangely, in Paul’s pique at the snubbing he got from the primitive apostles for missing the witness of the earthly ministry of Jesus with his own eyes, which they had been privileged to experience. Paul turned this handicap into an advantage, in fact into a supreme virtue, by claiming revelations from the ascended Christ to himself alone. This trick gave him access to “sayings” of Christ, like the Eucharistic words and exactly 6 other ones, that no one else had. This private revelation was exactly the technique that Justin and Irenaeus used as the source of their sayings, always consistent with OT prophecy, of course, and admittedly, albeit slyly, going exactly where Paul had gone for his “transcendent Christ-mystery” gospel, instead of a “flesh-and-blood” gospel like the “preached perversions” he cites (early oral synoptics, Gal 1:16), which was of course impossible for him. Sometimes Paul’s sayings served the Gnostics well, but at other times they needed battle weapons that Paul didn’t have to offer. So they had to read the OT closely, and listen to heaven more intently, and we can watch these two efforts in fascinatingly different ways in Justin, Irenaeus, Clement Alx, and Tertullian. Each one comes up from the OT well with new treasure, or as Irenaeus said, “like a householder who goes into the family treasure and takes out some new things and some old” (which itself became a Jesan saying, of course, though one which until this study had no meaning rooted in real history).
Also following Paul, the Gnostics themselves went to the heavens for their sayings of Christ as well. This heavenly source would not be closed until Montanism was condemned. It was of course so rich a source that Tertullian refused to abandon it, and (1) left the orthodox fellowship as a result, and (2) gave us a whole additional new batch of sayings to boot! The Gnostics took Paul’s rift with the primitives like Peter and James to the extreme, ignoring his solid rooting in the OT, and elaborating only his heavenly source and his contempt for the “flesh-and-blood” details of Jesus into a non-physical Christ and a god who was anti-matter.
Did Justin and Irenaeus quote existing gospel sayings of Jesus? Or did the later gospels present – as sayings of Jesus – statements fabricated by Justin and Irenaeus under the influence of the OT and the Holy Sprit, written in the name of Christ, revealed to them from heaven by the spirit of Christ? Did they (as Paul claimed he had received from heaven, abundantly) find Christ merely fulfilling his own words earlier in the OT which he as the eternal Word had revealed to the prophets? I believe the answer is Yes. The answer will be found in the evidence.
Some people will never be convinced, even by the evidence. But these ought to be haunted by the question: is there any known written text from the first century to which Justin, Irenaeus, Clement, or Tertullian, referred? Other than Paul’s written references to six or seven (including Acts 20:35) sayings of the lord that he knew, only five of which appear in the later synoptic gospels, there is none. That text, or those texts, purportedly from the first century, are to this day not yet known to exist.
But asked the other way – Is there any text that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John can go back to? – the answer is Yes: to Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian—and a century before them, to Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Barnabas, the Didache, and even Paul, and “Peter, James, and John,” slender as those earlier sources for precursors are. Furthermore, what function did each saying serve in those as yet non-existent gospel texts, say from the 7th or 8th decade of the 1st Century? We cannot say; we can only speculate, for there was no function where there is no text. And aren’t we tired of speculation! But we can get the function, the use in situ, of the sayings as they were forged in the heat of battle by the 1st and 2nd and early 3rd century Christian writers.
Even though Irenaeus makes the claim in ~185 that there are four gospels, they must have been very small ones even at that late date. In fact it begins to look as though the Didache gives us the earliest Palestinian gospel with its very small collection of some 24 sayings fragments. There is enough agreement between the six variations on the Golden Rule as presented by the Didache, and as presented by Clement and Polycarp around the same time, that these may be regarded as from the same Palestinian, pre-Pauline tradition. Barnabas does not know either the Didache or Clement or Polycarp, but he belongs to this tradition and is the first in it to adduce O.T. data to support details about Christ as the predicted Messiah. Justin is the next writer whose work is actually known. Hegesippus and Papias and everything about them are putative. We have nothing in writing from either of them. We know of them only through Eusebius in 325, and he is not always accurate. And Justin is where we find extensive OT prophecy lists which are used to prove that Christ was the messiah. Justin also presents a number of sayings for the first time which he must have concocted, since they have no known precursors, and which serve the purpose of impressing the emperor Antoninus Pius with the great soul and mind of Jesus.
Matthew was later based upon this whole Palestinian tradition, (especially Justin’s two writings), mixing some Tough Talk to Jews with some Smooth Talk to an Emperor, giving us the second deepest layer of bedrock in Matthew’s gospel. Most of Justin’s sayings in his First Apology are a sweet-smelling bouquet of Jesan aphorisms for the imperial court—though he does not hesitate to include some thorns with the roses. The Gnostic Marcion in ~160, seems to have written his Gospel Antitheses overagainst and based upon some of Justin’s sayings, adding “but I say to you” to those and other Old Testament legal positions he began to find on his own. Luke may well be a combination of Marcion’s Antitheses and the corrections of the inspired Irenaeus and Tertullian upon them. Both of these latter writers seem to have had a profound respect for the gospel of Luke as Marcion presented it and as they found it. I have not had the chance to compare the details of this theory overagainst the handling of the relevant texts by the Q Theory.
Justin is very sly about his sources, even faking a source with an impressive name he calls “the memo notes of the apostles,” which is no more than a commentary, his own, on 13 sayings, events, or doctrines related to Jesus which “had to happen” to fulfil Psalm 22 and a few other Old Testament predictions.4 For both Justin and Irenaeus believed themselves inspired apostles and prophets, and literary fulfillers of OT prophecy, in the direct line of succession from the OT prophets and the apostles themselves. What is important about that belief is that it gave them the right, in their own minds, but also the duty, to fabricate the words, the sayings, of the lord, against the enemies of his revelation in the Old Testament, and the OT Father he came to obey, and a text to fulfill. For this is what they claimed about their work.
Now long forgotten, and indeed forgotten soon after it, the second century was a tight-rope walk for Justin, and Irenaeus, and even Tertullian, between the Jews and the Gnostics on the place of the OT in the new faith. The Jews had to be told that the Old Testament had been fulfilled and was not as valid as it once was, and the Gnostics had to be told that it was still somewhat valid, and should not be rejected altogether.5 For Irenaeus, at least 135 sayings, about half of the synoptic gospel collection, were forged like steel swords for the bloody work of these conflicts on two fronts. Justin had just barely heard of the Gnostics in 150 when he wrote his second piece to the emperor. Irenaeus, ~185, takes the Gnostics on in full battle, as did Tertullian right after him. Clement of Alexandria, who was himself a soft-headed sort of gnostic, and had little problem calling himself one, or calling all Christians gnostics, was the first truly pastoral curate, applying what he knew to a genuine concern for the lives and souls of his readers, and unlike all the other major writers before him, not at all concerned to wage theological battle. Like a Buddhist, he also agreed with the Gnostics that the major problem in the human condition was suffering and that suffering was caused by the whole range of human passions. So salvation was the suppression of passion for this Clement. But his was only a moral Gnosticism. He did not go along with the theology.
Tertullian on the other hand fought hard, in north “Africa” (a khpoV, a garden area then, full of “apricot” trees, named for the lush region) against the Gnostics, especially Marcion, side by side with Irenaeus over in Lyons, though about 2 decades later. Again, the point is that a majority of Tertullian’s sayings of Jesus were heaven-sent, not given by the man from Palestine, as battle weaponry against the 2nd and 3rd century Gnostics who threatened to take all the church members from the Jewish-Christian assemblies. They were doing it with their message of a god of love and kindness, completely devoid of any anger or judgment—a god we might say, of unconditional love. It is a religion that still thrives among us. Irenaeus and Tertullian insisted upon, and wrote the “sayings” such that they reflected, the OT requirement of repentance, metanoia, as a precondition for forgiveness. And the sayings we get after ~350 reflect both the Gnostic gospels from which some of them were taken, and the anger of our writers, 2nd century “scribes,” who tried to demolish their thinking in the minds of the faithful, all mixed together, but separable.
On the question whether Irenaeus and Justin cited and quoted existing gospel sayings, and did not make them up (obviously the most important question in this study), the Nestle editors suggest that later redactors may have up-graded the sayings considerably in later editions of both Justin and Irenaeus. It is possible that later redactors put sizeable chunks of a more complete gospel into the arguments of these writers, but the same argument may be adduced against the derivative character of the sayings in these writings, as against the idea that expanded, up-graded sayings were later inserted. For when we discover the functions of the sayings as they used them, or as Wittgenstein might have asked, to what use, therefore meaning, the sayings were put for each writer in the context of his language game, we find it hard to believe that the later redactor would also have inserted some of the wild arguments that they used these sayings to prove. The very functions, nearly always stated by Justin and Irenaeus, tell us the origin of the sayings, as well as their raw, unexpanded status as we find them. At least we may be sure about the many sayings that were never used by these early writers, that we have no reason for believing that they ever existed until some church writer used them for some specific purpose, such as demolishing the ideas of Marcion and Valentinus. Nearly every one of Irenaeus’ First Uses fulfil this function. It is the function that nearly all of his 135 sayings were born to serve, all except the ones he got from Justin and his other predecessors. The method is also clear and strong in Justin. There is no reason we should expect anything different for the sayings that we shall see for the first time falling from the pens of the writers of the third and fourth centuries, until the canon, and all the verses in it, were closed late in the 4th century.
1 E. A. Wallis Budge, The Mummy, The University Press, Cambridge, 1893, 76; William L. Langer, ed. An Encyclopdeia of World History, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1940, 21; James B. Pritchard, ed. The Harper Atlas of The Bible, Harper & Row, 1987, 46.
2 For an overview of the current status of “Q Theory,” see John S. Kloppenborg, “The Sayings Gospel Q and the Quest of the Historical Jesus,” in the Harvard Theological Review 89:4 (1996) 307-344, with responses to Kloppenborg by Helmut Koester (344-349) and Ron Cameron (351-354).
3 See my book, The Sayings of Jesus in Paul’s Medical Gospel, 1996, in the Series What Jesus Really Said, and What the Church Made Up, Aretee Publications, 292 Nashua Street, Milford, NH 03055.
4 Edgar Henneker, New Testament Apocrypha, ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Vol 1, 1959, p. 31; writes Schneemelcher, “Justin speaks of the apostolic apomnhmoneumata, which he introduces as a fixed quantity. We shall not go wrong in seeing in them the Gospels....” But he does go wrong, for if he had traced this purported source in Justin’s entire writing, he would have discovered that it is nothing more than a tiny commentary, mostly on Psalm 22 (21, LXX), and in any case should be named “memo notes of the apostles,” not “Memoirs.” It is probably Justin’s own name for his own notes on the Psalm, fraudulently presented as a writing of an apostle. He regarded himself as a successor of the apostles.
What other scholars make of these “memo notes of the apostles” also seems to go too far. Perrin and Duling in The New Testament, An Introduction, 1982, for example, at p.440, claim that when Justin Martyr “speaks of” these “memoirs” as “gospels” “we can see that the gospels are gaining scriptural status and that they are now being attributed to ‘apostles.’ ” But Perrin and Duling either do not know, or are intentionally hiding, the truth about these so-called “gospels” in the “Memoirs.” For, if they are what the “gospels” are supposed by them to have been at mid-second century, then they are ridiculously small gospels. In fact, by Justin’s own description, they consist of a handful (13) of tiny fulfillments of Psalm 22 (a fulfillment Justin sets out to perform at Trypho 97 and 98 to prove that Christ had to be crucified), and from a few other OT “prophecies” which he tosses in. There are two rather more self-assured references to these “Memo Notes” some 15 years later at First Apology 66 and 67, where Justin claims that they “are also called gospels” (see below).
Helmut Koester (Ancient Christian Gospels, 1990, 38) also leaps in with a fulsome description: “Justin” designates “the gospels as the ‘Memoirs of the Apostles’... referring to the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and possibly Mark.... It is clear (from FA 66 and 67) that these ‘memoirs’ are indeed gospel writings and that they are used liturgically as instructions for the sacrament and as texts for homilies.”
Witness what Justin’s highly touted apomnhmon- eumata contain (which Greek word means “memo notes” not “memoirs”—that is, they are scratch notes hardly worth more than jotted memory aids); we see that they are at most the tiniest elementary rudiments of far later written gospels: This is all Justin presents as these fabulous “Memo Notes” which don’t even have a fixed name for him, as we see. Beginning in ~135 in the Dialogue with Trypho:
1. Trypho 100: “We find it recorded in the memo notes of his apostles that he is the son of god” (fulfilling several OT prophecies, Justin claims, including the important one on the virgin-birth at Isa 7:14).
2. Trypho 101: (From Psalm 22:7) “they spoke in mockery the words which are recorded in the memo notes of his apostles: He said he was the son of god: Let him come down; let god save him.”
3. Trypho 102: (From Isaiah 50:4): “He kept silence and chose to return no answer to any one in the presence of Pilate, as has been declared in the memo notes of the apostles.”
4. Trypho 103: “This devil, when he went up from the river Jordan, at the time when the voice spoke to him, You are my son; this day have I begotten you, is recorded in the memo notes of the apostles to have come to him and tempted him, even so far as to say to him, Worship me; and Christ answered him, Get behind me, Satan; you shall worship the lord your god, and him only shall you serve.”
5. Trypho 103: “For in the memo notes which I say were drawn up by his apostles and those who followed them (here he shows that he means himself), that his sweat fell down like drops of blood while he was praying, and saying, If it be possible, let this cup pass” (fulfilling Psalm 22:14,17, he says). Earlier at Tr 99 he had added “Again he prayed, Not as I will but as you will,” in order to enhance the suffering as obedient resignation. And we might add the important opening line of Ps.22: “O God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Justin does not say this is in the Memo Notes, but he does have Christ say it “when crucified.” Justin is first to present these “sayings,” and the total number of sayings he “finds” in these Memo Notes from the prophecies to “the apostles” is six! (I have put them in bold face blue in this endnote.)
6. Trypho 104: “This is recorded to have happened in the memo notes of his apostles” (that they parted my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture, from Psalm 22:18). “And I have shown that after his crucifixion, they who crucified him parted his garments among them.”
7. Trypho 105: “I have already proved that he was the only-begotten of the father of all things, being begotten in a peculiar manner Word and Power by him, and having afterward become man through the Virgin, as we have learned from the memo notes” (a literary fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14).
8. Trypho 105: “For when Christ was giving up his spirit on the cross, he said, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit, as I have learned also from the memo notes” (this is from Ps.31:5).
9. Trypho 105: “These words are recorded in the memo notes: Unless your righteousness exceed that of the Writers and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
10. Trypho 106: “The remainder of the Psalm makes it manifest that he knew his father would ... raise him from the dead... that he must suffer these things... as is made evident in the memo notes of the apostles” (fulfilling Ps 22:22b: “ ‘He stood in the midst of his brethren’ the apostles....”)
11. Trypho 106: “It is written of him in the memo notes... that he changed the names of two other brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means sons of thunder.” (fulfilling Ps 22:22a: “I will tell of your name to my brothers.”)
12. Trypho 106: “When a star rose in heaven at the time of his birth, as is recorded in the memo notes of his apostles, the Magi from Arabia recognizing the sign by this, came and worshipped him” (fulfilling Num 24:17 ‘A star shall arise from Jacob, and a leader from Israel.’ and Zech 6:12 LXX, Behold a man, the East is his name.”)
13. Trypho 107: “That he would rise again on the third day after the crucifixion, it is written in the memo notes that some of your nation, questioning him, said, Show us a sign; and he replied to them, An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and no sign shall be given them, except the sign of Jonah. (meaning “that after his crucifixion he should rise again on the third day...as Jonah...thrown up on the third day from the belly of the great fish...”
Then in 150 writing in his First Apology to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, he closes the tract with two references to liturgical practice among the Christians whose cause he has presented like a bouquet to the lord of the earth:
14. “The apostles in the memo notes composed by them, which are called gospels, have thus delivered to us what was enjoined on them; that Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, said, Do this in memory 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” (FA 66). In this instance, against Koester, (1) Justin is quoting no “memo note” or “memoir” but Paul at 1 Cor 11:23s, despite Koester’s claim (p.37) that he never cites Paul, so that he may be thought to be quoting Matthew or Luke, and (2) despite Koester’s failure to consider that for Justin, “the apostles, in the memo notes composed by them, which are also called gospels” means “Paul in 1 Corinthians” since (3) Justin shows very clearly Paul’s heavenly source for the saying: “the apostles...have thus delivered to us what was enjoined upon them: that Jesus took bread...” refers to Paul’s statement: “I received from the lord what I also delivered unto you: that the lord Jesus took bread...” (p.40). Thus Koester’s claim that Justin was quoting multiple written gospels is as groundless as the idea that Paul himself was multiple apostles!
15. “And on the day called Day of the Sun, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memo notes of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits...” (FA 67).
That is the total extent of “the memo notes of the apostles:” a sprinkling of precursor details for a later gospel, literary fulfillments of OT “predictions:” 3 birth details (2 of them on the virgin quality of his mother), 1 temptation detail, 1 ethical preachment, 1 renaming, 5 crucifixion details, and 2 resurrection references. If this is the extent of “the gospel” in 135, then how much smaller it must have been in 70 and 80! Let it be said that Justin presents 71 sayings segments. Of those, 15 are ones he could have learned from writings before his. And the remaining 56 are born of his own reflection upon the Old Testament and his associations with the Cynics and Stoics before his conversion !
Justin sets forth a couple of other sayings of Jesus (for the first time in literary history) in his discussion of these “Memo Notes” but these do not come from Psalm 22 or any OT prophecy, even though he strains to have Ps 22:3 “You are enthroned on the praises of Israel” mean “he was about to do something praiseworthy:” “The son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the Pharisees and Scribes, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” These are all tendentious to his argument that he gets special revelation in his interpretation of the Old Testament (Trypho, 100, 101). All of these details will be treated in the text to follow, or in the Backup Volumes under the titles, The Evolution of The Gospel of Matthew, of Luke, and of John and Mark.
5 When Albert Schweitzer wrote that “Mark...knows nothing of any conflict in the mind of Jesus between a spiritual and a popular, political messianic ideal” (Von Reimarus zu Wrede, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 1906, ch.19), he had no idea, but that was a serious fault, that these were nevertheless the two major polarities in the gospel material presented by the Gnostic and the Palestinian Christian writers creating about half of the total gospel material in their polemical battles against each other in the second half of the second century.
© Copyright 1997-2002 Aretee Publications. All rights reserved.