Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Gospels Written After 170 AD??

For this round I once again turn the mike over to guest author (and up and coming apologist) Benjamin Stevens, who takes on a familiar face with a wacky claim for us.

            The infamous Christ-myth theorist responsible for much of the fabricated “facts” in the online documentary “Zeitgeist” has recently contended the canonical four New Testament Gospels were composed after A.D. 170. D.M. Murdock under her alias “Acharya S” published a short article based from her book Suns of God on her website Truth Be Known this January.[1] Though never directly asserting such late dates for the Gospels, Acharya dismisses the typical dating range of the four Gospels (i.e. between A.D. 70-110) as orthodox propaganda and insists: “In reality, the four gospels selected for inclusion in the New Testament do not make any appearance in the literary and archaeological record until the last quarter of the 2nd century, between 170 and 180 CE, and even then they are not much mentioned for a couple of decades.”[2] Acharya argues such by concentrating on the famous second-century Christian apologist Justin Martyr, whom she insists never knew any of the Gospels. Justin Martyr’s silence on the four Gospels becomes her main excuse for questioning the earlier dates of the Gospels.

            Justin is often asserted by scholars and Christians to have known, at least, the first three Gospels from his quotations and allusions to them under the title “Memoirs of the Apostles.” But according to Acharya, Justin was not quoting from any of the four Gospels. Instead, Justin’s “Memoirs” was a singular work used and accepted by Justin to be the authoritative source for Jesus’s teachings.
[3] Acharya points out Justin never quoted from the Gospels in any precise parallel fashion to justify dependence: “As confirmed by Tischendorf, only a couple of short exceptions are sufficiently similar to warrant comparison with the synoptic gospels.”[4]

Acharya next hypothesizes Justin consistently showed clear and more exact quotation use of the Old Testament writings, while his references to any verse in the “Memoirs” are “sloppy” if they are in reference to the Gospels.[5] Since Justin could quote more exactly from writings such as the Old Testament, one should expect him to show similar care with the “Memoirs.” Acharya concludes if one accepts this, they must agree Justin used different writings not among the New Testament Gospels. According to Acharya, Justin used the lost Gospel of the Hebrews, Gospel of Peter, and even the Gospel of Nicodemus.[6] But he never used the canonical Gospels. 

Finally, Acharya responds to the possible criticism that Justin explicitly mentioned the “Memoirs” as being called “gospels” and referenced quotes from them as the “Gospel” on occasion. In response to the charge that Justin in his First Apology calls the “Memoirs” the “gospels”, Acharya dismisses the phrase as “evidently an interpolation”.[7] Acharya defends the point by contending the phrase is “extraneous and gratuitous to the subject matter of the rest of the paragraph.”[8] Acharya complains Justin should have mentioned the phrase elsewhere in his writings if it were genuine.[9] Though Justin used a singular term “Gospel” three times in reference to parallel verses of the New Testament Gospels in his Dialogue with Trypho, Acharya postulates this is only proof of another lost gospel Justin possessed, since he used the singular and not the plural one would expect for four different Gospels.

            My response to Acharya cannot mask my humor and sarcasm towards such a ridiculous theory. First, one should consider the church history which followed Justin. Justin did not die until about A.D. 167 by martyrdom. Though Acharya appears to tone down the popularity of the Gospels after that date, Irenaeus of Lyons wrote his Against Heresies in A.D. 180 where he boldly proclaimed the four Gospels to be the “four winds” uniting the churches throughout the entire Roman Empire. After announcing the authority and authorships of the four Gospels, Irenaeus concludes: “
If any one do not agree to these truths, he despises the companions of the Lord; nay more, he despises Christ Himself the Lord; yea, he despises the Father also, and stands self-condemned, resisting and opposing his own salvation, as is the case with all heretics.”[10] Yet Irenaeus mentioned Justin Martyr in praise of his works against heretics and agreement with the orthodox views multiple times.[11] Tertullian, a contemporary of Irenaeus, emphasized the apostolic churches existed in their time and would testify to the four Gospels as their authoritative texts of Jesus handed down from the apostles: “The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage-I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew-whilst that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter’s whose interpreter Mark was. For even Luke’s form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul.”[12]

            Irenaeus was a contemporary to Justin in the orthodox churches and wrote his work only a decade after Justin’s death. Would Irenaeus gladly accept Justin if he not only was oblivious to the four Gospels in contradiction to Irenaeus’s repeated assertions that everyone in the church accepted them, but believed apocryphal Gospels like Hebrews or Peter were authentic? Justin asserted the “Memoirs of the Apostles” were read every Sunday throughout all the churches in the cities and in the country;[13] the only texts in the succeeding church history that showed such prominence were the New Testament Gospels. How could Tertullian proclaim the old composition and use of the Gospels throughout all the “apostolic” churches extant to verify his claim if they were recent productions? Her theory suffers from additional and unprovable assumptions about later church history for survival. Was Irenaeus just a filthy liar? Did Tertullian fabricate it or were all the apostolic churches oblivious to their own past? One would not have to answer such ludicrous questions if they argued the simpler hypothesis: the Gospels were written decades prior to Justin. Such additional questions demanding an answer would soon show how conspiratorial Acharya’s hypothesis becomes. But I am pointing out the later church evidence as proof one need not engage Acharya’s points to conclude their absurdity. Now I will examine her specific points.

            If one entertains Justin knew the Gospels, he truly quoted the Old Testament prophets more accurately than the Gospels as Acharya posits. But this proposition does not consider the likelihood Justin memorized the Gospels and was attempting quotes from memory. The title “Memoirs” may be rendered “Reminiscences” of the apostles which signals ancient society’s preference for the “memory” of traditions over written texts. That Justin chose such a title could not be by accident.[14] And considering the popularity of the Gospels asserted by bishops like Irenaeus after Justin, later Gentile Christians cared more for studying the New Testament works. The Old Testament writings represented Jewish texts Christianity was influenced by, but the Gospels were the texts which handed down the genuine words their Christ spoke. When Justin quoted the Old Testament, he likely quoted it from reading it recently ensuring verbatim recall. The Gospels were sufficiently important to Christians for Justin to memorize them; this would more adequately explain why Justin often did not quote them exactly and conflated verses of different Gospels in a harmonious fashion. 

In addition, most of Justin’s quotes from the Old Testament and the Gospels are in his Dialogue with Trypho. But that work was directed towards Jews and show casts Justin in a heated debate with the famous Jewish teacher Trypho. The main argument disputed in the book was whether Jesus was the predicted Messiah from the Old Testament prophets. This forced Justin’s focus primarily on the Old Testament. Given this context, Justin would have desired more precision with his Old Testament quotation in a work designed to answer Jews by addressing their Scriptures.

Acharya’s claim that the real gospels Justin used included the Gospel of the Hebrews, Peter, and Nicodemus appears convoluted and absurd. Among these texts, the only one accessible in its full text is Nicodemus. Acharya uses this Gospel as the parallel to Justin’s few assertions regarding a certain Acts of Pilate. But multiple works under such a title existed in the churches, as Eusebius of Caesarea appeared to show familiarity with different works purporting to show the records of Pilate’s notice on Jesus.[15] Justin never quoted from the Acts of Pilate but only claimed it mentioned some of Jesus’ miracles and his crucifixion. Since Justin never quoted from the Acts of Pilate, one cannot be sure which text he used, as most scholars date the Gospel of Nicodemus in the fourth or fifth century![16] Justin also mentioned this work in his First Apology where one would expect such a notice to be brought up before a Roman audience if it existed. Yet this would not demonstrate the work was part of the “Memoirs” when Justin distinguished the titles and never quoted from the Acts to prove any parallels.

As for the Gospel According to the Hebews and Gospel According to Peter, we do not even possess such gospels in a full version! The Gospel of the Hebrews is only known from a few mentions in later church writers. Its contents are known by a handful of quotations. The Gospel of Peter is extant in a fragmented manuscript that only retains the passion and resurrection of Jesus. Yet in this Gospel Jesus rises from the grave in a gigantic form followed by a talking cross and appears to even the Jews and Romans:

[35] But in the night in which the Lord's day dawned, when the soldiers were
safeguarding it two by two in every watch, there was a loud voice in heaven; [36] and they saw that the heavens were opened and that two males who had much radiance had come down from there and come near the sepulcher. [37] But that stone which had been thrust against the door, having rolled by itself, went a distance off the side; and the sepulcher opened, and both the young men entered. [38] And so those soldiers, having seen, awakened the centurion and the elders (for they too were present, safeguarding). [39] And while they were relating what they had seen, again they see three males who have come out from they sepulcher, with the two supporting the other one, and a cross following them, [40] and the head of the two reaching unto heaven, but that of the one being led out by a hand by them going beyond the heavens. [41] And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, 'Have you made proclamation to the fallen-asleep?' [42] And an obeisance was heard from the cross, 'Yes.'[17]

Considering Justin routinely repeated Jesus’s resurrection in his Apologies and Dialogue with Trypho, one would expect him to not gloss over such grand details to a Roman and Jewish audience but, instead, appear to merely quote or allude to verses in the canonical Gospels on Jesus’s resurrection. But Justin never alluded to this significant passage, and any quotation by him from a work on Jesus’s resurrection is paralleled in the canonical Gospels.

                Acharya exaggerates the claim Justin never revealed enough exact knowledge of Gospel verses as he should when referencing the “Memoirs.” One cannot help but remember a New Testament Gospel verse every time Justin quoted from the “Memoirs” or of what Jesus reputably said:

And with regard to our not swearing at all, and always speaking the truth, He enjoined as follows: Swear not at all; but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these comes of evil. Matthew 5:34, 27 And that we ought to worship God alone, He thus persuaded us: The greatest commandment is, You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve, with all your heart, and with all your strength, the Lord God that made you. Mark 12:30 And when a certain man came to Him and said, Good Master, He answered and said, There is none good but God only, who made all things. Matthew 19:6, 17[18]

For this devil, when [Jesus] went up from the river Jordan, at the time when the voice spake to Him, Thou art my Son: this day have I begotten Thee, is recorded in the memoirs 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 thee behind me, Satan: thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.[19]

For when Christ was giving up His spirit on the cross, He said, Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit, as I have learned also from the memoirs. For He exhorted His disciples to surpass the pharisaic way of living, with the warning, that if they did not, they might be sure they could not be saved; and these words are recorded in the memoirs: Unless your righteousness exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.[20]

Note not only the quotation references to verses in the four Gospels but the contextual references. Justin named the contexts of the passages in parallel to the stories of the Gospels. Even the passage where Acharya asserts contained the interpolated phrase demonstrated an unambiguous and precise reference to the Gospels:

For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, Luke 22:19 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.[21]

            Acharya’s assertion that the phrase “which are called gospels” was interpolated into Justin later lacks any foundation. Acharya complains Justin is silent about this phrase elsewhere, but this was the first time Justin mentioned the “Memoirs” in his extant writings. In fact, Justin’s First Apology only mentioned the “Memoirs of the Apostles” twice in the entire work, and his Second Apology never mentioned the “Memoirs.” Only Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho repeatedly used the title in reference to verses in the Gospels. So Acharya’s claim of silence is absurd. Justin does not delve into the Gospels or “Memoirs” according to Acharya at all in his First Apology or second for the Roman audience he addressed. But Justin did repeatedly relate to the Romans they could verify the Christian claims of Jesus and welcomed them to investigate the religion. If one entertains the “Memoirs” were the New Testament Gospels to the rest of Christians, Justin would desire to explicate this in some manner lest confusion arise. Since Justin only stated the writings by name twice to his audience and in the same place (i.e. chapter 66 and 67 in First Apology), the silence caused from clarifying the “Memoirs” were “called gospels” by the Christians once is not deafening and certainly does not become “extraneous and gratuitous to the subject matter of the rest of the paragraph.”

            Finally, the singular use of the word “Gospel” by Justin cannot be used to point to another separate and lost gospel. Church history quickly after Justin revealed how frequently orthodox writers could obviously quote from one of the four Gospels as simply “the Gospel.” Tertullian often referred to the four canonical Gospels under the title “Gospel” when refuting the heretic Marcion.[22] Clement of Alexandria in the same time as Tertullian and Irenaeus affirmed: “Further the Gospel says, ‘that many bodies of those that slept arose,’ (Matt. xxvii. 52).”[23] That Justin could have conceivably quoted from the New Testament Gospels under the singular title “Gospel” is not without precedent in the early church. 

            Justin undoubtedly knew and was familiar with the canonical Gospels. What does this proposal imply? Justin not only referenced the Gospels, but referenced them as widely regarded Christian scriptures. The “Memoirs” or Gospels are practically the only writings Justin employed to his opponent Trypho as worthy Christian literature. If Justin wrote his works around A.D. 150, then the Gospels ought to be placed a generation behind Justin to answer the question of their unquestionable authority and popularity to most of the known churches. This theory would place them no later than the start of the second century or end of the first. Just as Acharya wishes to use Justin primarily in her late dating of the Gospels, so Justin alone may be assessed to date the Gospels to the end of the first century. But this is not to say Justin represents the only shred of evidence for earlier dating of the Gospels. It simply demonstrates how one is ridiculous to argue such late dates as Acharya.

The Christ-myth theory has become an internet sensation in the twenty-first century with proponents like Acharya S, Earl Doherty, Richard Carrier, and Robert Price beloved by skeptics to Christianity. Unfortunately, such a non-scholarly theory is beginning to influence even more radical proposals such as this article tweeted by Acharya in January of 2014. But the Gospels were clearly quoted and evinced by the early second-century, which demonstrates earlier use. Most scholars accept a first-century dating for the Gospels because that is what the evidence demands. A work like 1 Timothy was undoubtedly written no later than the start of the second-century, as it was quoted by writers shortly after that date.[24] Regardless if Paul authored it, 1 Timothy 5:18 quoted Luke 10:7 as written “Scripture” already accepted in the churches. Acharya’s assertions that none of the Gospels were so much as known until Irenaeus’s time is debunked and silly. For a skeptic to assert any of the Gospels were written as late as A.D. 170 is nothing short of madness.


Murdock, D.M. “The ‘Historical’ Jesus?” Truth Be Known.
http://www.truthbeknown.com/historicaljc.htm (accessed 1 April, 2014).

Gospel of Peter. Translated by Raymond Brown. Early Christian Writings.
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/gospelpeter-brown.html (accessed 7 April

Acts of Pilate. Early Christian Writings. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/actspilate.html
(accessed 7 April 2014).

Kelber, Werner H. & Byrskog, Samuel, ed. Jesus in Memory: Traditions in Oral and Scribal
Perspectives. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009.

Irenaeus.  Against Heresies. 180.

Tertullian. Against Marcion. 208.

Clement of Alexandria. Stromata. 200.

Justin Martyr. First Apology. 150.

Justin Martyr. Dialogue with Trypho. 150.

Eusebius of Caesarea. Church History. 325.

[1] D.M. Murdock, “The ‘Historical’ Jesus?” Truth Be Known http://www.truthbeknown.com/historicaljc.htm (accessed 1 April, 2014).
[2] D.M. Murdock, “The ‘Historical’ Jesus?”
[3] D.M. Murdock, “The ‘Historical’ Jesus?”
[4] D.M. Murdock, “The ‘Historical’ Jesus?”
[5] D.M. Murdock, “The ‘Historical’ Jesus?”
[6] D.M. Murdock, “The ‘Historical’ Jesus?”
[7] D.M. Murdock, “The ‘Historical’ Jesus?”
[8] D.M. Murdock, “The ‘Historical’ Jesus?”
[9] D.M. Murdock, “The ‘Historical’ Jesus?”
[10] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.
[11] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.6.
[12] Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4.5.
[13] Justin Martyr, First Apology, 67.
[14] As one scholar noted: “For Justin, on the other hand, the expression ‘Memoirs of the Apostles’ clearly designates a text, the written deposit of this tradition—though still, it should be noted, a text accessed primarily through the ear, read aloud in public performance, rather than through the eye, in the privacy of the scholar’s library.” Mourner, “Memory and Tradition in the Hellenistic Schools,” Werner Kelber and Samuel Byrskog, ed., Jesus in Memory: Traditions in Oral and Scribal Perspectives, (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009), 119.
[15] Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History, 2.2.
[16] Acts of Pilate, Early Christian Writings http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/actspilate.html
(accessed 7 April 2014).
[17] Gospel of Peter, trans. by Raymond Brown, Early Christian Writings http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/gospelpeter-brown.html (accessed 7 April 2014).
[18] Justin Martyr, First Apology, 16.
[19] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 103.
[20] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 105.
[21] Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66.
[22] “For it is written in my Gospel that ‘Satan entered into Judas.’” Tertullian, Against Marcion, 5.6. “I say that my Gospel is the true one; Marcion, that his is. I affirm that Marcion’s Gospel is adulterated; Marcion, that mine is. Now what is to settle the point for us, except it be that principle of time, which rules that the authority lies with that which shall be found to be more ancient; and assumes as an elemental truth, that corruption (of doctrine) belongs to the side which shall be convicted of comparative lateness in its origin…. With regard, then, to the pending question of Luke’s Gospel…” Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4.4.
[23] Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 6.6.
[24] Polycarp, for example, quoted all three of these “Pastoral” epistles (i.e. 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) in his short epistle to the Philippines written no later than A.D. 130 though most likely earlier.

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