Ehrman on Justin Martyr’s Use of the Gospel of Peter (Part 2)

In my first post, I outlined the three possible understandings of Justin Martyr’s reference to “his memoirs” (Dial. 106.3): 1) the memoirs about Jesus (i.e., gospels in general); 2) the Gospel of Peter; and 3) the Gospel of Mark.

In Forgery and Counterforgery, Ehrman argues for the second option, contending that Justin is including the Gospel of Peter among the “memoirs of the apostles.” He makes arguments against the other positions and for his own. Arguments against the alternatives:

1.  The nearest antecedent of “his” is “Peter.” Therefore, it is not natural to read it as anything other than “Peter’s memoirs.” This is indeed possible, but does it necessarily mean that Justin had the Gospel of Peter in mind at this point? I’ll say more on this later, but the indicators in the immediate context make the most sense if we understand Justin to be referring to the Gospel of Mark

2.  Arguing against Paul Foster’s claim that Justin is using an objective genitive – “memoirs about him [i.e., Jesus]” – Ehrman states:

Objective genitives occur with nouns of action (love, hate, vision, and so on). A “memoir” (like a “book”) does not seem to qualify; Foster, at least, provides nothing analogous. But what is more, how can a personal pronoun in the genitive be an objective genitive? “His book” or “his writing” or “his anything” surely indicates possession (the one who owns it) or derivation (the one who created it). (325)

I’m not entirely convinced by Foster’s claims, but Ehrman’s points fall flat here. First, the noun “memoir” (ἀπομνημόνευμα) in some ways is in fact a noun of action, linked most closely to its verbal form ἀπομνημονεύω (“to remember,” “to recall”). The “memoirs” are the “recollections” of the apostles, for Justin.

Second, Ehrman chastises Foster for not providing something analogous and for not explaining how a personal pronoun in the genitive can function as an objective genitive. The clearest example from the New Testament that came to my mind that would support Foster’s claim is found in Matt 4:24 // Mark 1:28

Immediately the news about him (ἡ ἀκοὴ αὐτοῦ) spread everywhere… (Mark 1:28)

The news about him (ἡ ἀκοὴ αὐτοῦ) spread throughout all Syria… (Matt 4:24)

We find that, contrary to Ehrman’s claim, a personal pronoun in the genitive can function as an objective genitive, as Foster argues. So it is grammatically possible to understand Justin to mean “memoirs about Jesus.” Moreover, the example from Matthew and Mark contains a concept very similar to the one in Justin (news/report vs. memoirs – both dealing with information). As I stated in my first post, though, this would be Justin’s only such use.

3. According to Ehrman, understanding Justin to be referring to Mark “presupposes knowledge of Papias, whom Justin never mentions, even though he may be front-and-center in the minds of modern scholars thinking about the Gospel of Mark in relation to Peter” (326). Why must one presuppose Justin’s knowledge of Papias? This assumes that the work of Papias is Justin’s only possible source of information on the matter. Just because Papias is the only extant source pre-dating Justin known to modern scholars that connects Mark’s gospel with Peter, this does not necessitate that the same applies to Justin.

Now is the best time to look at precisely what information is contained in “his memoirs” in Dial 106, because this brings to light exactly why there is a good case for seeing it as a reference to Mark’s gospel. Here again is the relevant text from Justin:

And when it is said that Jesus changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and when it is written in his memoirs that this so happened, as well as that he changed the names of other two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means sons of thunder.

The two things Justin identifies as being found in “his memoirs” are: 1) Jesus changed the name of one of the apostles to “Peter”; and 2) Jesus changed the names of the sons of Zebedee to “Boanerges,” which means sons of thunder.

Concerning the first detail, three NT gospels indicate that it was Jesus who gave the name “Peter” to one of his disciples – Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14; John 1:42. I can’t recall which, if any, of the non-canonical texts include this information. In the extant portion of the Gospel of Peter, no such detail is included.

More important, though, is the second detail. There is only one extant text that predates Justin and refers to Jesus giving two of his disciples the name “Boanerges.” That text is the Gospel of Mark. This seemingly insignificant tidbit does not appear in Matthew, Luke, or John, or in any other extant Christian text prior to Justin. So here are the most relevant facts as I see them:

1) We know that several decades before Justin wrote, Peter was associated with the writing of Mark’s gospel. Therefore, it should not be surprising at all if Justin was aware of such a tradition (setting aside the veracity of the tradition itself). An important related fact…

2) We know that, although Justin seems to consistently refer to the “memoirs of the apostles,” he does not think that the apostles themselves were the authors of all such texts. In Dial 103.8, he writes, “…in the memoirs, which I say were drawn up by the apostles and their followers, [it is recorded] that” This indicates unambiguously that Justin believed that some of the memoirs were written not by the apostles, but by followers of the apostles. This is exactly the sort of relationship known in the Peter-Gospel of Mark tradition that predates Justin by several decades.

3) The most immediate context of “his memoirs” refers to two details found in Mark’s gospel, one of which is not found in any other gospel. This is a very weighty point, one that Ehrman brushes aside by stating that we can’t know whether these two traditions appeared in the Gospel of Peter. But that’s the way evidence works – one must work with what is at hand, not with what one wishes were at hand.

Although I’ve made clear in this post why I think Ehrman’s arguments against the contrary positions fall short, in my next post I’ll summarize his positive case and note my disagreements with it.

Part 1

Part 3

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12 thoughts on “Ehrman on Justin Martyr’s Use of the Gospel of Peter (Part 2)

  1. To make a case, Ehrman often stretches and avoids evidence.

    His arguments for the angry Jesus in Mark and the unperturbed Jesus in Luke, as examples, are annoying for their lack of perspective. (In a few places, when discussing these supposed irreconcilable views of Jesus, he seems to create evidence where it does not exist.)

    If there were a Better Business Bureau for New Testament historians, Bart Ehrman would have a hard time holding their endorsement.

  2. When it comes to intentions, I always try to give the benefit of the doubt to those with whom I disagree, though I fail at this sometimes. With Ehrman, though, I’m stretched to my limits in this area. Take, for example, his comments questioning the possibility of a personal pronoun functioning as an objective genitive. I’m convinced that Ehrman is far more proficient in Greek grammar than I am. I couldn’t hold a candle to his knowledge of Greek. Granted this, why did it take me 30 seconds to find two NT examples that refuted his claim? Since then, I’ve found others as well. Was it a momentary lapse on his part? Possibly. But it’s a significant lapse for one as knowledgeable about the subject as he is – how can a Greek expert not know that a personal pronoun can function as an objective genitive? And yet these “lapses” in the presentation of the evidence seem to be frequent, which makes me wonder exactly what’s going on…

  3. Great post. I prefer Ehrman and Stanton’s reading “his (Peter’s) memoirs,” but I like the parallel that you bring up in favour of Foster’s objective genitive reading. Another argument in support of reading Justin’s reference to Mark in addition to what you write above may be that Justin’s choice of “memoir” (ἀπομνημόνευμα) may have been influenced by Papias’s description of how Mark “remembered” the teachings of Peter, at least according to Richard Heard, “APOMNĒMONEUMATA in Papias, Justin and Irenaeus” NTS 1 (1954): 122-29.

    • p.s. I am not sure Ehrman’s argument that Justin does not mention Papias is all that strong, since Justin also fails to mention the apostle Paul even though he was familiar with Pauline writings.

    • Mike – That’s a great point about Papias using ἀπομνημονεύω and a similar verb in his discussion of the Mark-Peter connection. I’d not thought of that before. I’ve not read Heard’s article, but I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for this info!

  4. “His memoirs” could mean “Peter’s memoirs” unambiguously, and he still could have been talking about Mark, which he might have known as such.
    I can’t weigh in on the Greek grammar issue, but it seems to me we’re dealing with a period in which these attributions were still fluid. So even if you were wrong about the grammar, you’re still right.
    Ehrman has become cavalier about this stuff. He believes his own press, he feels infallible, and he writes too fast.

    • C.J. – I lean in this direction. When I wrote my dissertation a couple years ago, I thought Foster’s (“Jesus’ memoirs”) and Stanton’s (“Gospel of Mark”) views had equal merit. But since then I’ve become more convinced that Justin is referring specifically to Mark in this instance, and he’s identifying it as “Peter’s memoirs.” Theoretically, Foster’s position could result in the same reference – Justin is referring to “Jesus’ memoirs” but he has in mind specifically Mark’s gospel.

  5. Pingback: Ehrman on Justin Martyr’s Use of the Gospel of Peter (Part 3) | Earliest Christianity

  6. Pingback: Ehrman on Justin Martyr’s Use of the Gospel of Peter (Part 1) | Earliest Christianity

  7. Pingback: Recommended reading for December 7th, 2012. | Near Emmaus

  8. Pingback: Was Mark’s Gospel Among Justin Martyr’s “Memoirs of the Apostles”? « Euangelion Kata Markon


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