This is part two of the question on:

Can the gospels (or the stories of the historical Jesus) not have been written (or invented) until 100-150 AD? (at noquotes1.html)…



[draft Nov 9/2008]

In the first part of this analysis (noquotes1.html), we looked at the ‘non-Fathers’ of the 1st/2nd century and found TONS of early, strong, and varied traditions about the historical Jesus—most of which showed up in the canonical gospels. Much of this data supports the existence of the written gospels by as early as mid-to-Q3 of the first century, but NONE of it supports a ‘creation/invention’ date of later than 100AD.


In this Part Two, we want to look at the Church Fathers’ writings in our period (and two other documents), to see what evidence they provide as to the existence of historical traditions about Jesus early life, and to what extent those traditions agree with or disagree with the writings in the ‘non-Fathers’.


So, in this part, we will looking at the data from (in chrono-order, roughly):


  1. Didache
  2. 1 Clement
  3. Barnabas
  4. Ignatius
  5. Polycarp
  6. 2 Clement
  7. Shepherd of Hermas

    And, then some ‘post-Fathers’ writings in/around our period (with implications FOR our period)
  8. Aristides of Athens
  9. Justin






22. The Didache


The estimated date for the writing of the Didache has varied widely during my adult life, from mid-1st to mid-2nd , and back again. The current dating du jour is mid-first (for the sources of the Didache) and mid-2nd for the actual writing of the completed document. Jefford surveys some of the dating approaches:


French scholarship:


“A review of the research that has derived from French examinations of the Didache reveals the continual return to a central understanding of the text: the materials of the Didache and their composition both are early and probably can be attributed to the first century; the provenance is most likely that of Syria, and possibly is even Antioch itself. [HI:SJTTA:6]


German scholarship:


“As a methodological advance over previous German scholarship, Koster's work ultimately led to the German capstone date of c. 90-130. … While the conclusions of Wengst and Kohler continue to date the origin of the Didache to the turn of the first century (in a consistent perspective with the original view of Harnack), both authors represent a shift away from the typically German hypothesis of Egyptian provenance and toward an understanding of the Didache in its relationship to the Matthean Gospel in Syria.. [HI:SJTTA:10,11]


(British and American scholar is all over the map…)


His analysis leads him to an early date for the ‘sayings materials’ (i.e., historical traditions of Jesus’ sayings), and still a 1st century date for the rest:


“Because the general nature of the texts in chaps. 7-15 is consistent with parallels that occur throughout the Synoptic Gospels (and are consistent especially with the parallels that are preserved in the Matthean Gospel), it must be assumed that the majority of these materials were influenced by the written form of those Gospels or, at least, that these materials were introduced into the Didache after the composition of the Gospels. … The formation of the original sayings materials that appear in Did. 1-5(16?) and the association of those materials with the Two Ways source with some justification may be placed prior to the construction of the Matthean Gospel (i.e., certainly before C.E. 80; probably before C.E. 70; possibly ca. C.E. 50). Most of the remaining materials (i.e., Did. 7-15) should be dated to the composition of the Matthean Gospel or shortly thereafter (ca. C.E. 80-100). [HI:SJTTA:143, 145]


And the Hermeneia Commentary Series entry for the Didache (Kurt Niederwimmer) also sides with a first-century date for the sources of the document:


“We should begin with a distinction between tradition and redaction. The pre-didachistic traditions, that is, in the narrower sense the sources of the Didache, have an altogether archaic character. This is true of the Two Ways tractate, the liturgical formulae, and with special clarity of the piece of tradition about the reception of itinerant charismatics; the only thing one might possibly doubt is whether the pre-didachistic apocalypse [tn: chapter 16] can be called "archaic" tradition. In general, one can say that the sources, that is, the pre-didachistic traditions, should probably be located in the first century C.E., most likely toward the end of the century. [52]





Here’s some of the data on the inclusion of historical Jesus traditions (either oral or based on canonical written gospels):


“This essay has attempted to analyse the parallels that exist between materials in the Didache and other books of the New Testament. In relation to the NT books apart from the synoptic gospels, the evidence is mostly negative: there is no compelling evidence to suggest that the Didache knew any of these books.


In relation to the synoptic gospels, the situation is rather different. The Didache clearly has a number of places where a form of wording that is strikingly similar to that of the synoptics is offered, even though it rarely if ever appears to quote the gospels as such. However, the few references to the 'gospel' may indicate that the author knew of one or more written texts, and also referred to it or them as a 'gospel'. Moreover, the likeliest candidate to have been in mind here is the gospel of Matthew. Apart from Did. 1. 3-2. 1, almost all the echoes of the synoptic tradition which appear in the Didache can be explained as deriving from Matthew. (The one exception might be the possible parallel which exists between Did. 16.1 and Luke 12. 35.) In virtually every instance where there are synoptic parallels, the version in the Didache is closest to the Matthean version. Moreover, in some instances the Didache appears to reflect elements of Matthew's redactional activity, and hence to presuppose Matthew's finished gospel rather than just Matthew's traditions.


The parallels concerned also cover the range of material in Matthew in relation to Matthew's possible sources. Thus some parallels are with material peculiar to Matthew, some with Q material, some with Marcan material. The slightly lower proportion of Marcan material (whether from Matthew or not) may simply reflect the fact that the Didache is clearly interested in material giving (Jesus') teaching, and, for whatever reason, Mark's gospel is relatively speaking less rich in this respect than the Q material. However, it is certainly not the case that the parallels with Matthew in the Didache are confined (or even largely confined) to Q material (implying that the Didache might be dependent on Q) or to Matthew's special material (implying an ability by the editor(s) of the Didache to home in only on this material in a way that seems inherently implausible).


In the case of Did. 1. 3-2. 1, more parallels with Luke's gospel were found, along with some evidence suggesting that the Didache might reflect elements of LkR, and hence of Luke's finished gospel, as well. Given the peculiar nature of this section of the Didache, it may be that any theories about relationships to the synoptics in this section do not apply to the rest of the text. On the other hand, the general picture that emerges from the analysis here is fairly consistent across the whole of the present (i.e., H) text of the Didache. Parallels with Matthew predominate and at times relate to elements of MattR. In theory, it is of course possible that the Didache derived some of its language in part from Matthew's traditions rather than from Matthew's gospel itself; but it is probably a more economic solution to say that, if some parts of the Didache derive (ultimately) from the finished gospel of Matthew, then other parallels with Matthew are to be explained in the same way.


“However, to reiterate what has been said many times in the course of this discussion, the Didache is clearly not attempting to produce a scribal copy of the text of any of the gospels. Whoever compiled the Didache was aiming at a new literary production. Any 'agreements' between the Didache and the gospels are thus almost all at the level of allusions only, not quotations, and they should be judged as such. Further, if (as has been argued here) the agreements are to be explained as due to a measure of 'dependence' of the Didache on the Gospel of Matthew (and perhaps of Luke), it must also be remembered that this 'dependence' is not necessarily a direct dependence. Certainly, the Didachist is not using Matthew (if at all) in the same way as, say, Matthew used Mark. Certainly he or she did not have Matthew's gospel open in front of him or her as he or she wrote. Any 'dependence' here is likely to be somewhat indirect, perhaps mediated through a process of oral tradition and/ or memory. Yet, if the arguments of this essay have any validity, they show that the Didache is primarily a witness to the post-redactional history of the synoptic tradition. It is certainly none the worse for that! But it may not then be a witness to pre-redactional stages of the Jesus tradition.





Koster places it as an early witness to synoptic-related materials (e.g. oral-only):


“According to Helmut Koster (Synoptische Uberlieferung bei den apostolischen VQtem, 159-241), Didache l:3ff. contains sayings that go back to Matthew (and Luke), but they are not the result of direct use of the written gospels but come rather from ready-made sayings collections. There is, in addition, material in the Didache that comes from the free-floating (oral) tradition, from the Old Testament and Judaism, and from the Christian community. Apparently the compiler of the Didache knew a written gospel, but he does not appear to have used it himself. Koster argues that the Didache establishes the existence of the synoptic gospels, but certainly not their value as authoritative sources of what Jesus said and what his community was ordered to do. For Koster, the Didache stands not behind the synoptic gospels, but rather beside them. The material of the Didache stems not from the gospels, but rather from the same tradition from which our synoptic gos­pels took over a good part of their material. [HI:IGSM3, 181]



From [DictLNT]:


“The Didache’s version of the Lord’s Prayer (Did. 8.1-2) is closely related to Matthew 6:9–13. The prayer is introduced in a similar way: “Do not pray as the hypocrites do, but as the Lord commanded in his Gospel, pray like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” The Didache includes the earliest example of what came to be the traditional doxology: “For yours is the power and the glory for ever.” The Lord’s Prayer is followed by the instruction, “Pray like this three times a day.” This regular Jewish practice (see Ps 55:17) is taken over for the first time in a Christian writing. But instead of Jewish prayers, the words of the Lord (Jesus) are to be used. In this way Christians are to differentiate themselves from Jews.


“In one key passage a saying of Jesus is quoted (probably from oral tradition) with an introductory formula: “The Lord has also spoken concerning this [i.e., participation in the Eucharist by unbaptized persons]: ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs’ ” (Did. 9.5). In Matthew 7:6 an identical proverbial saying is enigmatic; here it is given a specific context.


“The final chapter of the Didache opens with an exhortation, “Watch over your life: do not let your lamps go out, and do not let your loins be ungirded, but be ready, for you do not know when our Lord is coming” (Did. 16.1). Further numerous parallels to verses in Matthew 24 follow, at least some of which presuppose knowledge of Matthew’s written Gospel rather than the sources on which the evangelist drew (see Tuckett, 200–214).


Four passages in the Didache refer to “the Gospel.” In addition to Didache 8.2, cited above, these passages advise readers to “deal with the apostles and prophets in accordance with the decree of the Gospel” (Did. 11.3); “Reprove one another, not in anger but in peace, as you find in the Gospel. . . . Carry out all your prayers and acts of charity and actions just as you find in the Gospel of our Lord” (Did. 15.3-4). Although these passages may refer to an oral collection of the sayings of Jesus, Matthew’s written Gospel is more probable, especially in the light of Didache 8.2, which reflects the Matthean context of the Lord’s Prayer.


“The date of the Didache cannot be settled easily, especially since it is clearly a composite document. While many traditions in the Didache have first-century roots and thus predate some NT writings, the final redaction seems to have taken place in the early decades of the second century. By this time Jesus traditions in both oral and written form were being used extensively in instruction of Christians.”




And then Holmes:


“A remarkably wide range of dates, extending from before a.d. 50 to the third century or later, has been proposed for this document. Dating the Didache is made difficult by a lack of hard evidence and the fact that it is a composite document. Thus the date when the anonymous author(s) stitched together this document (note the awkward transition in 6.2–3) on the basis of earlier materials must be differentiated from the time represented by the materials so utilized. The Didache may have been put into its present form as late as 150, though a date considerably closer to the end of the first century seems more probable. The materials from which it was composed, however, reflect the state of the church at an even earlier time. The relative simplicity of the prayers, the continuing concern to differentiate Christian practice from Jewish rituals (8.1), and in particular the form of church structure—note the twofold structure of bishops and deacons (cf. Phil. 1:1) and the continued existence of traveling apostles and prophets alongside a resident ministry—reflect a time closer to that of Paul and James (who died in the 60s) than Ignatius (who died sometime after 110).” [Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers : Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (247). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.]



Here’s the material that Kohler lists as “Possible” (i.e., direct literary borrowing from the written gospel of Mt):








But do not let your fasts coincide with those of the hypocrites. They fast on Monday and Thursday, so you must fast on Wednesday and Friday.


Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting


 Instead, “pray like this,” just as the Lord commanded in his Gospel: Our Father in Heaven

6.5; 6.9-13

Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, (6.9)


for the Lord has also spoken concerning this: “Do not give what is holy to dogs.”


Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces


Also, do not test or evaluate any prophet who speaks in the spirit, for every sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven.


Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32 “ Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.


But every genuine prophet who wishes to settle among you “is worthy of his food.” (2) Likewise, every genuine teacher is, like “the worker, worthy of his food.”


for the worker is worthy of his support


Jefford [HI:SJTTA:160f] provides this table of sources for the Didache. I have highlighted those sections which refer to traditions reflective of the earthly life of Jesus:




Note also that Jefford (in a different work, [HI:AFANT, 20]) points out that the traditions/sources that Dx draws from probably pre-date Paul. This is especially relevant to (some versions of) the Mid-Plat/Myther position that Paul invented those traditions, based on midrashic techniques. If the historical data in the Didache pre-date Paul, then Paul obviously could not have made them up—and this is very strong data for the existence of traditions about the earthly life of Jesus (contra a Mid-Plat/Myther scenario):


“With this understanding of an "evolved literature" in mind, I consider a date of composition for the Didache to be a complex issue. In the first instance, I believe that the traditions that are found within the Didache are precisely of a "remaining" nature; that is, they are preserved materials. They probably are every bit as old as the traditions with which the apostle Paul worked as he visited early Christian communities around the Mediterranean and encountered their idiosyncratic beliefs and liturgies. I am not sure how to put a date on such texts except to say that they precede the work of Paul in their origin.”



This is strong and early data, and it is noteworthy that it is not used in a ‘polemical’ context. The sources for the Didachaist are used for edification, not controversy.




23. 1st Clement


This document is traditionally dated to 95AD (with a later date possible), but some place it as early as pre-70AD.  It contains numerous reflections of historical traditions of the earthly life of Jesus. [I have argued elsewhere on the Tank that it shows definite knowledge of the Greek NT text, and the reader should consult MY list of dependencies at dumbdad2.html.]


Jefford, however, dates it to pre-70:


“A standard school of thought has come into existence among scholars that the text belongs sometime toward the end of the reign of the emperor Domitian (81-96) or perhaps at the beginning of the reign of the emperor Nerva (96-98). As argued, this would explain the persecution that faced the church in Rome according to the author (7 Clem. 1.1), the reference to the Christians who had lived blamelessly within the community "from youth to old age" (7 Clem. 63.3), and the suggested reference to the deaths of Peter and Paul (7 Clem. 5.3-6.1) in past days, presumably during the reign of the emperor Nero (54-68). This would also be in accord with the rule of Clement as the bishop of Rome from 92-101, as indicated by Eusebius.


Of course, not everyone agrees with this dating, and I myself am not completely satisfied. Some have argued for a later time, but many prefer something earlier. Clearly, the best arguments for an earlier date include the following: (1) Even if Clement is considered the author of the text, the suggestion that he was some type of secretary might argue that he was not yet bishop. (2) The discussion of the temple in chapters 40-41 seems to assume that the temple is still standing and liturgically active. (3) An argument based upon any reference to the temple would have been seen as counterproductive among the anti-Jewish tendencies of the church at the end of the first century. (4) The reference to chaos and problems in 1 Clem. 1.1 may be less a reference to an imperial persecution than a reference to troubles throughout the empire in general, or even within the local church community in specific. (5) The recognition of Peter and Paul as those who "belong to our own generation" (chapter 5) may mean more specifically in recent years, rather than simply "of our time." (6) The author uses the motifs of the suffering servant of Isa 53 and Ps 22 that were likewise employed by the New Testament gospels but does not cite the gospels themselves. (7) The single-bishop system that Ignatius envisioned after the beginning of the second century does not seem evident in 1 Clement, thus suggesting an earlier date than the end of the century. Indeed, we perhaps should assume that the rise of an established bishop in Rome took more than the decade of time often suggested between the writing of 1 Clement and Ignatius. I am ultimately content, therefore, to place 1 Clement in Rome, written by the hand of someone named Clement (perhaps eventually to become Pope Clement) after the deaths of Paul and Peter (by tradition during the reign of Nero) but before the fall of the temple in the year 70.” [HI:AFANT, 19]



Here’s some of the scholarly data on historical traditions in 1Clem:


From [DictLNT]:


“Although this lengthy letter (see Clement of Rome) has traditionally been dated to about A.D. 95, it may come from the early decades of the second century. Two passages use clusters of Jesus traditions; several others contain probable allusions. In 1 Clement 13.1 seven maxims are introduced as follows: “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, which he spoke as he taught gentleness and patience. For he said this:

1.      Show mercy that you may receive mercy;

2.      forgive that you may be forgiven.

3.      As you do, so shall it be done to you.

4.      As you give, so shall it be given to you.

5.      As you judge, so shall you be judged.

6.      As you show kindness, so shall kindness be shown to you.

7.      With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Five of the seven maxims are related, with varying degrees of closeness, to traditions in Matthew’s or Luke’s versions of the Sermon on the Mount. Oral traditions seem to have been reshaped for ready memorization. … The second passage opens with a similar introductory formula, “Remember the words of Jesus our Lord, for he said: ‘Woe to that man! It would have been good for him if he had not been born, than that he should cause one of my elect to sin. It would have been better for him to have been tied to a millstone and cast into the sea, than that he should turn aside one of my elect’ ” (1 Clem. 46.7-8). Here there are links with Mark 14:21 and Mark 9:42 and parallels, but the verbal agreement is not extensive. Once again oral rather than written Jesus traditions seem to have been used.”


Here are the “Possible” borrowings from written Matthew (Kohler):







You see, dear friends, the kind of pattern that has been given to us; for if the Lord so humbled himself, what should we do, who through him have come under the yoke of his grace?


Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.“For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”


“The sower went forth,” and cast into the earth each of the seeds.64 These seeds, falling to the earth dry and bare, decay; but then out of their decay the majesty of the Master’s providence raises them up, and from the one seed many grow and bear fruit.


Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. “Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. “But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. “Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. “And others fell on the good soil and *yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.


for he said: “Woe to that man! It would have been good for him if he had not been born, than that he should cause one of my elect to sin. It would have been better for him to have been tied to a millstone and cast into the sea, than that he should pervert one of my elect.

26:24; 18.6

“The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”… but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea


Under any dating of the document (pre-70 or 95), this is strong and early data, supporting the existence of traditions about the earthly life and ministry of Jesus (e.g. specific sayings! Sayings, by the way, are not very ‘midrash-friendly’…smile), prior to the writing of this document.




24. Barnabas


This is a difficult to date document. Jefford gives the three main positions:


“Thus, with conflict seen as imminent and the destruction of the temple as complete, we are left with three options: (1) the years 70-79, a time when Rome was seen as the tenth kingdom and the destruction of the temple was fresh in the mind of Jews and Christians; (2) the years 96-117, the reign of the emperor Nerva (96-98) or the emperor Trajan (98-117), a time when Christianity had grown particularly hostile to its Jewish roots; (3) the years 132-135, the time of the Jewish call to rebuild the temple and the resulting hostility of Rome's response (see Barn. 16.3-4). The majority of scholarship tends to favor the middle choice, with a preference for the years 96-100, and I am in agreement. This does not mean that the other options can be ruled out, but the tone of anti-Jewish hostility that pervades the work seems appropriate for a date at the turn of the century. [HI:AFANT, 34]


And Holmes situates it in the middle dating too:


“It appears to have been written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in a.d. 70 (16.3–5) but before the city was rebuilt by Hadrian following the revolt of a.d. 132–135. Within these limits it is not possible to be more precise.” [Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers : Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (272). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.]



Carlton-Paget is very frank about the strong witness of Barnabas to existence of ‘authoritative’ and ‘written’ synoptic tradition:


“We shall begin with Barn 4. 14: (eng: Moreover, consider this as well, my brothers: when you see that after such extraordinary signs and wonders were done in Israel, even then they were abandoned, let us be on guard lest we should be found to be, as it is written, “many called, but few chosen.”, translation of Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers : Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (283). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.)


“There are a number of things to note about this passage. First, it is introduced by a formula citandi (it is written) which is normally reserved for citations from OT texts. But the closest text we have to this one comes not from the OT but from the NT, namely, Matt. 22. 14 (“For many are called, but few are chosen”/NASV).  If the author of Barnabas were in fact quoting from the NT, this would be the earliest example of a citation of the NT as scripture. But, given the uniqueness of this occurrence (all other citations introduced by formulae citandi come from the OT, or very occasionally from apocryphal sources), a number of scholars have sought alternative explanations. So, for instance, some, citing passages from 4 Ezra which bears a reasonably close relationship to the citation at Barn. 4. 14 (4 Ezra 8. 3 and 9. 15) have argued that the author of Barnabas may be quoting an unknown apocalypse which contained the citation in the form we find it in his epistle and Matthew. The use of a formula citandi would be entirely compatible with the use of such a formula at 4. 3, 16. 5, and 12. 1, where he appears to be quoting from apocryphal texts. Others have argued that the author may have mistaken the text concerned as coming from the OT. But that is simply based upon the assumption that he could not quote a text from the NT as scripture even if he was writing as late as the 130s. Here, however, it is worth noting Koster's observation that the term evaggelion when referred to in Barnabas (cf. 5. 9; 8. 3) seems to bear no relationship to written texts. But the force of this observation depends upon when you think the gospels received their present titles. It is not, of course, out of the question that the quotation could have done the rounds independent of Matthew, a possibility that is suggested by the gnomic character of the sentiment, and by the appearance of a similar sentiment at Matt. 20. 16 and in the passages from 4 Ezra already referred to, although here in slightly different contexts. But in spite of all of these arguments, it still remains the case that the closest existing text to Barn. 4. 14 in all known literature is Matt. 22. 14, and one senses that attempts to argue for independence from Matthew are partly motivated by a desire to avoid the implication of the formula citandi which introduces the relevant words: namely, that the author of Barnabas regarded Matthew as scriptural. We should also note Beatrice's attempts to argue for reliance on Matthew not only by reference to verbal similarities but also by reference to the apparently similar theo­logical contexts of both passages. In both we see a mixture of anti-Jewish polemic (the covenant has now passed to Christians) with a concomitant warning against what one might call an over-realized eschatology and moral complacency on behalf of the new people of God. Of course, one could argue that precisely the similarity of context makes the very different ways in which these two writers have presented their cases more striking.


“Certitude, then, cannot be arrived at, but Kohler's judgment that the possibilities of this going back to Matthew are 'gut moglich' (tt: ‘a good possibility’) is not unreason­able." [HI: RNTAF, 232f]



He goes on to discuss the apparent synoptic tradition in 5.9 (“And when he chose his own apostles who were destined to preach his gospel (who were sinful beyond all measure in order that he might demonstrate that “he did not come to call the righteous, but sinners”, Holmes):


“If, as was implied in my discussion of Barn. 4.14, it is the case that the author of Barnabas did know Matthew, then does it make sense to state that a series of Greek words which come very close to words found in Matthew go back to a tradition independent of that Gospel?” [HI:RNTAF, 234]



Here are the three passages Kohler assigns a ‘quite possible’ ranking to:







Moreover, consider this as well, my brothers: when you see that after such extraordinary signs and wonders were done in Israel, even then they were abandoned, let us be on guard lest we should be found to be, as it is written, “many called, but few chosen.


For many are called, but few are chosen.”


And when he chose his own apostles who were destined to preach his gospel (who were sinful beyond all measure in order that he might demonstrate that “he did not come to call the righteous, but sinners”


But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”


they will say, “Is this not the one whom we once crucified and insulted by spitting upon him? Surely this was the man who said then that he was the Son of God!”


They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29 And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “ Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. 31 After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him


Even thought the document might have been written in the early 2nd century, its use of ‘it is written’ for a Jesus saying implies that that historical tradition had been around long enough to achieve ‘scriptural status’. If the ‘majority view of scholarship’ places it at 96-100, then this completely blows a 100-150 AD ‘invention date’ out of the water. To have achieved ‘scriptural status’ by 100 would have likely required several decades of circulation.




25. Ignatius


The materials from Ignatius were generated while he was in-route to his martyrdom, and the general tendency is to date his martyrdom to the reign of Trajan (98-117):


From Holmes:


“Just as we become aware of a meteor only when, after traveling silently through space for untold millions of miles, it blazes briefly through the atmosphere before dying in a shower of fire, so it is with Ignatius, bishop of Antioch in Syria. We meet him for the first and only time for a few weeks shortly before his death as a martyr in Rome early in the second century. But during those few weeks he wrote, virtually as his “last will and testament,” seven letters of extraordinary interest because of the unparalleled light they shed on the history of the church at this time and what they reveal about the remarkable personality of the author. Because of the early date of these writings and the distinctiveness of some of his ideas, particularly with regard to the nature and structure of the church, Ignatius’s letters have influenced later theological reflection and continue to be a focus of scholarly contention and discussion regarding early Christian origins.


“Setting and Occasion: Ignatius’s letters were written under extraordinarily stressful and difficult circumstances. After his arrest (it is not known why and under what circumstances he was arrested) in Syria, which left the church in Antioch leaderless and vulnerable, Ignatius was sent to Rome in the custody of a detachment of ten soldiers (the “leopards” of Rom. 5.1) to be executed. At a fork in the road at some point along the way through Asia Minor, probably Laodicea, the decision was made to take the northern route through Philadelphia to Smyrna, thus bypassing the churches that lay along the southern route (Tralles, Magnesia, and Ephesus). It is probable that when the northern road was chosen, messengers were sent to these churches informing them of Ignatius’s itinerary, and they evidently dispatched delegations to meet him in Smyrna. Ignatius responded to this show of support by sending a letter to each of the three churches, and he also sent one ahead to the church in Rome, alerting them to his impending arrival there. The guards and their prisoners next stopped at Troas, where Ignatius received the news that “peace” had been restored to the church at Antioch (Phld. 10.1; Smyrn 11.2; Pol. 7.1), about which he apparently had been quite worried, and sent letters back to the two churches he had visited, Philadelphia and Smyrna, and to his friend Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. But before he could write any more letters the group hurried on to Neapolis and then Philippi, where he was warmly received by the church (Pol. Phil. 1.1; 9.1). There he disappears from view. Presumably he was taken on to Rome and thrown to the lions in the Coliseum. While it is not absolutely certain that he died a martyr’s death, there is no reason to think otherwise.


“There has long been a virtually unanimous consensus that Ignatius was martyred during the reign of Trajan (A.D. 98–117).



[Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers : Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (128, 131). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.]




Ignatius shows considerable familiarity with the Gospel of Matthew:



“This brings us to the question of which New Testament texts were known to Ignatius. It is clear that the bishop falls well within the influence of the letters of Paul, particularly since his letters to Ephesus and Rome are so closely modeled upon those of the apostle. Ignatius indicates only a slight awareness of the Gospels of Mark and Luke, and he seems familiar with Johannine themes, if not John's Gospel itself. It is clear, however, that the Gospel of Matthew is his preferred text, a gospel upon which he is dependent for many of his arguments. [HI:AFANT, 12]


“Much more difficult is the problem of the bishop’s use of writings produced by the early Christians. Of the Synoptic Gospels a strong case can be made only for Matthew as a source for Ignatius. Even in this instance, however, we [tn: Koester and his co-author…] are inclined to agree with Helmut Koester that it was oral material to which Ignatius was indebted (see especially on Sm. 1.1; Pol. l.3). Nevertheless, it remains significant that the Antiochene bishop was acquainted with tradition primarily of a Matthaean type. Beyond that there is one striking use of material with affinities to Luke (see on Sm. 3.2–3), and there are a few passages that have a Johannine ring (see on Phd. 7.1; cf. Rom. 7.2; 7.3; Phd. 9.1). But dependence on the Gospel of Luke seems excluded, and it is also unlikely that Ignatius was acquainted with the Gospel of John.” [Schoedel, W. R., Ignatius, S., Bishop of Antioch, & Koester, H. (1985). Ignatius of Antioch : A commentary on the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch. Includes indexes. Hermeneia--a critical and historical commentary on the Bible (9). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.]


“Establishing literary dependence is difficult. Such problems may be exacer­bated in the case of Ignatius in comparison with the other authors whose writings comprise the corpus known as the Apostolic Fathers. The compos­ition of the seven letters that form the middle recension were not the products of measured literary reflection, but were produced while the writer was en route to his martyrdom (if the testimony of the epistles themselves is accepted as genuine). Such circumstances in all probability prevented Ignatius from consulting those texts which he might have had at his disposal in Antioch. Despite this, at a number of points he refers to passages from some of the documents that were later to constitute the New Testament. Among the Pauline corpus his knowledge of 1 Corinthians is assured, and he seems to be able to cite large portions of this text from memory. Here Inge's conclusion is correct, that 'Ignatius must have known this Epistle almost by heart'. Among the other Pauline epistles a strong case can be made for Ignatius' use of Ephesians and 1 and 2 Timothy. These four epistles all make mention of Ephesus or the Ephesian church, and this corresponds remarkably well with Ignatius' own statement that in all his epistles (that Ignatius knew about) Paul makes mention of the Ephesians (Ign. Eph. 16. 2). No decisive case can be made for Ignatius' use of the other epistles of the New Testament. In relation to the gospel material, on the basis of the parallel between Ign. Smyrn. 1. 1 and Matt. 3. 15 it is most likely that Ignatius knew Matthew's gospel, although Koster's counter-proposal that this material came to Ignatius indirectly is impossible to rule out. The case for seeing the other cited examples as instances of Ignatius' dependence on Matthew is inconclusive when they are viewed in isolation. But perhaps the case may be strengthened somewhat if one concludes that Matt. 3. 15 has been cited in Ign. Smyrn. 1.1. While it appears unlikely that Ignatius used either Mark's or Luke's gospel, the parallel between Ign. Eph. 14. 2 and the double tradition material contained in Matt. 12. 33b and Luke 6. 44a may well suggest that Ignatius used Q, or oral tradition that fed into that document.  [HI:RNTAF, 185]



Now, let me again remind the reader that the scholars here are talking about written-versus-oral, not ‘historical-versus-invented’. When you look at the Ignatian correspondence, the amount of historical ‘tradition’ about the earthly life of Jesus is staggering. Consider the first section from Smry:


“(Smrn 1.1) I glorify Jesus Christ, the God who made you so wise, for I observed that you are established in an unshakable faith, having been nailed, as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ in both body and spirit, and firmly established in love by the blood of Christ, totally convinced with regard to our Lord that he is truly of the family of David with respect to human descent, Son of God with respect to the divine will and power, [tn: Rom 1!] truly born of a virgin, baptized by John in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him, (2) truly nailed in the flesh for us under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch (from its fruit we derive our existence, that is, from his divinely blessed suffering), in order that he might raise a banner for the ages through his resurrection for his saints and faithful people, whether among Jews or among Gentiles, in the one body of his church.” [Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers : Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (185). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.]


The scholars argue/defend that only one phrase of the above (“that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him”) can safely be attributed to the written gospel of Matthew(!). But the reader can see that the passage is replete with historical traditions about the earthly life of Jesus. EVEN IF Igny is unfamiliar with written gospels, this does not reduce his early-N-strong witness to belief/knowledge of historical tradition about Jesus’ earthly life. He provides us with strong evidence for the existence of (much of the) synoptic traditions at the turn of the century.


And these are the same historical episodes which show up in ALL the ‘non-Fathers’ writings. They all have the same basic framework: virgin birth, Davidic status, baptized by John, crucifixion (not stoning) under Pilate, and resurrection. If all the various witnesses came up with DIFFERENT historical events, then we might suspect ‘uncontrolled invention’; but the fact that they ALL are using/re-using the same structure means that that historical structure pre-dated their work and had become ‘foundational’ enough to require treatment/interpretation.


Here are the passages Kohler mentions in his determination:






Kohler’s Rank


I glorify Jesus Christ, the God who made you so wise, for I observed that you are established in an unshakable faith, having been nailed, as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ in both body and spirit, and firmly established in love by the blood of Christ, totally convinced with regard to our Lord that he is truly of the family of David with respect to human descent, Son of God with respect to the divine will and power, truly born of a virgin, baptized by John in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by him,


15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”



 Stay away from the evil plants, which are not cultivated by Jesus Christ, because they are not the Father’s planting.


But He answered and said, “ Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted.



Let no one be misled: if anyone is not within the sanctuary, he lacks the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two has such power, how much more that of the bishop together with the whole church!


Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

Quite Possible


It is better to be silent and be real, than to talk and not be real. It is good to teach, if one does what one says. Now there is one such teacher, who “spoke and it happened”; indeed, even the things which he has done in silence are worthy of the Father.


But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers

Quite Possible


The Lord accepted the ointment upon his head for this reason: that he might breathe incorruptibility upon the church. Do not be anointed with the stench of the teaching of the ruler of this age, lest he take you captive and rob you of the life set before you.


Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. … “For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. 13 “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

Quite Possible


Now the virginity of Mary and her giving birth were hidden from the ruler of this age, as was also the death of the Lord— three mysteries to be loudly proclaimed, yet which were accomplished in the silence of God. (2) How, then, were they revealed to the ages? A star shone forth in heaven brighter than all the stars; its light was indescribable and its strangeness caused amazement. All the rest of the constellations, together with the sun and moon, formed a chorus around the star, yet the star itself far outshone them all, and there was perplexity about the origin of this strange phenomenon which was so unlike the others. (3) Consequently all magic and every kind of spell were dissolved, the ignorance so characteristic of wickedness vanished,


“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” … After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

Quite Possible


For many seemingly trustworthy wolves attempt, by means of wicked pleasure, to take captive the runners in God’s race; but in your unity they will find no opportunity.


“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

Quite Possible


But if either of them fail to speak about Jesus Christ, I look on them as tombstones and graves of the dead, upon which only the names of men are inscribed.


“ Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.

Quite Possible


Bear the diseases of all


This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “HE HIMSELF TOOK OUR INFIRMITIES AND CARRIED AWAY OUR DISEASES.”

Quite Possible


Be as shrewd as snakes” in all circumstances, yet always “innocent as doves.”


Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves

Quite Possible


Let no one be misled. Even the heavenly beings and the glory of angels and the rulers, both visible and invisible, are also subject to judgment, if they do not believe in the blood of Christ.  “The one who accepts this, let him accept it.


He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”

Quite Possible




26. Polycarp


Polycarp’s letter is customarily dated to around the time of Ignatius’ martyrdom under Trajan, commonly assumed to be around 108 [HI:AFANT, 14].


“The references to Ignatius (1.1; 9.1) imply that he is already dead, while in 13.2 Polycarp asks for information about his fate. These are usually understood to indicate that while sufficient time has passed since Ignatius’s final departure for Rome for Polycarp to assume that Ignatius has now been martyred, he has not yet received a confirmatory report. Thus the letter is customarily dated within a few weeks (or at most a few months) of the time of Ignatius’s death.” [Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers : Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (203). Grand Rapids , Mich.: Baker Books.]


Polycarp is one of the earliest CLEAR witnesses to the written traditions (even though the oral tradition was still honored and transmitted at his time). There is so much material here that I will have to be selective in what I present.


First, from Berding’s study on Polycarp and Paul:


“The question of dependence on the sayings of the Lord came to the surface in our discussion of 2.2. In 2.3 Polycarp refers to the teachings of the Lord explicitly and then lists quite a few. Before an analysis of that section, a brief discussion of the nature of the Dominical oral tradition in the early parts of the second century seems appropriate.


Polycarp seems to have lived in a period of transition. He lived in a time when the oral tradition was still highly regarded. Much of the evidence from antiquity has shown that in most ancient societies the oral word was often more highly valued than written documents. That this attitude was displayed at many points in the developing church should not be a surprise. At the same time, the written gospels were becoming more and more influential, though regional differences surely existed.


“Helmut Koester is usually associated with the view that knowledge of the written Gospels cannot be proven in the Apostolic Fathers; rather, the words of Jesus are often mediated orally. He has been followed by many scholars. Koester also argues for the independence of many of the sayings of Jesus in the Apostolic Fathers (i.e. 'agrapha'). Neverthe­less, even Koester thinks that in Polycarp's letter there is evidence of the influence of the written gospels (in particular Matthew and Luke) during a period when orality was still important. Still, we must con­stantly remind ourselves that the emergence of written gospels did not immediately supplant the value placed upon the tradition passed down in oral form. Thus, it is often difficult to know whether a written gospel or a saying mediated orally (if not both) is being used by a writer in Polycarp's time in a given instance.


“This does not mean that the oral tradition was unstable (a common assumption). Kenneth Bailey has presented a model that argues both that the oral traditions were handed down informally and that they were still quite stable. His model is formed out of comparisons with modern oral traditions as they are passed around pre-literate cultures in the Middle East today. His view is that some oral traditions in such cul­tures are controlled (i.e. quickly receiving a fixed form) but that they are also often informal (i.e. protected more by shared consensus than even by an authoritative body assigned to protect the tradition). He gives a number of telling examples of how traditions become quickly fixed and are protected by unwritten rules governing such traditions in oral cultures. This can be contrasted to form-critical approaches which view the oral traditions as informal but largely uncontrolled. It can also be con­trasted to the view of Birger Gerhardsson who understands them to be controlled and formal. [HI:PolyPaul:51f]


Berding spends a good deal of time on analyzing the passage in 2.3:


“…but instead remembering what the Lord said as he taught: 'Do not judge, that you may not be judged, forgive, and you will be forgiven, show mercy, that you may be shown mercy, with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you'; and 'blessed are the poor and those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.'” (2.3)


This passage is very similar to a list in 1 Clement 13, and scholars have sometimes argued that Polycarp was depending on 1 Clement, instead of on the Gospels themselves. In Berding’s study, Polycarp is shown to have ‘corrected Clement’ on the basis of the written gospels (Matt and Luke)!


“But we still have not answered the question of whether Polycarp depends upon 1 Clem 13.1-2 when he employs the sayings of the Lord… It is highly probable that Polycarp is aware of 'Clement"s list when he makes his own. The fact that they are congregated in a similar fash­ion in his letter argues such, as does Polycarp's regular use of 1 Clement elsewhere. Moreover, the way Polycarp separates out the final saying from the four maxims found also in 1 Clement argues for treating these as a group and thus probably for dependence upon 1 Clement? Many scholars accept dependence upon 1 Clement in this instance but con­jecture that the differences are caused by Polycarp citing 1 Clement by memory. A more satisfactory accounting of the evidence is that Polycarp's relationship to 1 Clement in this case is primarily in the fact that 'Clement' has such a list and less on the form of each individual saying. In other words, Polycarp may have been influenced by 'Clem­ent' to employ such maxims in his own exhortation.


“The first evidence for this assertion lies in the differences between the two lists. Differences in such a case speak more loudly than do simi­larities. If Polycarp is drawing upon 1 Clement directly, how is it that the order is so significantly different? If the changes are (supposedly) due to a lapse in memory, how does Polycarp make it rhyme so nicely? If Polycarp's primary source for the form of these sayings is 1 Clement, why are there differences in wording (again toward a more stylized form in Pol. Phil.)? Polycarp's wording is different in three out of the four sayings from the wording used by 1 Clement. Finally, if Polycarp is de­pending directly on 1 Clement (apart from the simple fact that 'Clement' uses such sayings) why does he leave out three of the sayings preserved by 'Clement'? …It seems more likely that Polycarp is aware of 1 Clement and perhaps encouraged by 'Clement' to include such a list in his own letter but corrects the form of the text toward the written gospels. An argument for this is that he excises the two sayings found in 1 Clement that are not found in any of the synoptic writers. All four of Polycarp's maxims are found in the synoptic gospels. [HI;RTCL, 54, 55f]


[He cites Harrison here in footnote 79 on page 56: “Harrison comments, "But Polycarp...substitutes again and again for Clement's loose wording the exact terms now of Matthew, now of Luke, and now a combination of the two, adding at the same time matter contained in them for which Clement offers no equivalent, and omitting matter contained in Clement for which neither Gospel has any equivalent." P. N. Harrison, Two Epistles, 286.]


“Admittedly, Polycarp could have been dependent upon the oral tra­dition for his changes. But the evidence in this final quotation of Jesus points toward dependence on Luke and Matthew via a conflation of Luke 6:20 (cf. Matt 5:3) and Matt 5:10. The mere probability that Polycarp is choosing in one case Matthew and in another Luke, shows us that it is the words of Jesus more than the text of Matthew and Luke that hold authority for Polycarp. At the same time, the fact that he has just previously corrected 1 Clement toward the texts of Matthew in one case and Luke in another shows that he considers Matthew and Luke to be accurate representations of the words of the Lord.


“Summary of 2.3: Probable general dependence upon 1 Clem. 13.1-2 for the fact but less for the form of the introductory formula and the four maxims. Possible correction toward Matt 7:1 in maxim # 1 and toward Luke 6:38 in maxim #4. Possible influence also from the oral tradition. Probable citation (conflation) of Luke 6:20 (cf. Matt 5:3) with Matt 5:10. [HI:PolyPaul:59]



What this means is that at the beginning of the second century, written versions of Matthew and Luke(!) are being used to ‘judge’ the wording of other texts! Not only is this evidence for ‘early existence’ of Mt&Luke (and underlying Mr, if you buy that theory), but ‘even earlier’ existence since they have such authority by this time.


And notice that the written tradition is not being used (in this case) on ‘heretics’, but rather as a mild corrective to earlier Christian Fathers.


Later, Berding turns to 7.2: “let us be self-controlled with respect to prayer and persevere in fasting, earnestly asking the all-seeing God to lead us not into temptation, because, as the Lord said, 'The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.' [p92]


He states the results of his analysis:


“Summary of 7.2: A probable loose citation of 1 Pet 4:7. A possible borrowing of the word pantepoptan from 1 Clem. 55.6; 64.1. An almost certain citation of the Lord's Prayer with Matt 6:13 as its probable source. An almost certain true citation of the words of the Lord with Matt 26:41 its probable source. [HI:PolyPaul, 94]



Holmes takes a more cautious view of literary dependence, but still agrees with Benecke’s on Polycarp’s usage of a Johannine tradition:


“In short, given that there are in Philippians no more than a very few possible references to the Fourth Gospel, Benecke's conclusion—'The reference seems certainly to be to a Johannine tradition, though it need not necessarily be to our Fourth Gospel'—remains a fair assessment of what can be said about the matter.46 There is no evidence that Polycarp did not know the gospel of John, but neither is there evidence to demonstrate that he did.” [HI:RNTAF,199]


Here are Kohler’s passages for written Matthew:








but instead remembering what the Lord said as he taught: “Do not judge, that you may not be judged; forgive, and you will be forgiven; show mercy, that you may be shown mercy; with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you”


and 5.10 (sic)

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy (5.7)… Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. (7.1) … For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (6.14)



Pray for all the saints.69 Pray also for kings and powers and rulers, and for those who persecute and hate you,70 and for the enemies of the cross,71 in order that your fruit may be evident among all people, that you may be perfect in him.


and 5.16,48

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (5.44) … Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (5.14) … Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.



Therefore if we ask the Lord to forgive us, then we ourselves ought to forgive, for we are in full view of the eyes of the Lord and God, and we must “all stand before the judgment seat of Christ,” and “each one must give an account of himself.”


(cf. 18.23-35)

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (6.12)… For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.--- ‘ Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 “ My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart (18.23-35)

Quite Possible


earnestly asking the all-seeing God “to lead us not into temptation,


and 26.41

And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (6.13) … Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; (26.41)

Quite Possible




27. 2nd Clement


2nd Clement is an ancient sermon, and might fall toward the end of our period. The dating is very uncertain, with various scholars giving a wide range of dates:


  • W.H.C Frend (around 100AD)
  • Lightfoot/Jefford (120-140)
  • K.P. Donfried (98-100)
  • Helmut Koester (‘prior to the middle of the 2nd century”, i.e. before 150)
  • Stanton (‘before the middle of the 2nd century”, i.e. before 150)


The weight of the evidence from 2CLEM, then, will vary with how early in 100-150 one dates the document.


But the document provides much evidence as to the existence and ‘scriptural status’ of the 4 gospels.


Here’s the assessment of Gregory and Tuckett in [HI:RNTAF, 277]:


At a number of places 2 Clement presupposes the redactional activity of both Matthew and Luke in traditions of the sayings of Jesus which they have in common. At the very least, this suggests that the tradition on which 2 Clement is based for its knowledge of Jesus tradition represents a stage which presupposes the finished gospels of both Matthew and Luke. 2 Clement is thus primarily a witness to the post-synoptic development of the tradition, at least at these points. There are a number of other places where the evidence is not so clear-cut, and 'Clement' could in theory be dependent (directly or indirectly) on the gospels or on earlier traditions used by the synoptic evangelists. However, given his use of some redactional elements from the synoptic gospels, it seems simplest to assume that the rest of the common tradition shared by 'Clement' and the synoptic gospels is also to be explained as due to 'Clement's' dependence (again direct or indirect) on the finished synoptic gospels of Matthew and Luke. But there is no evidence that 'Clement' had access to the gospel of Mark except via the gospels of Matthew and/or Luke.


“On the other hand, we cannot say that 2 Clement necessarily used the gospels of Matthew and Luke as we have them, or even directly. It may be that the gospels were available to 'Clement' in a textual form not quite the same as the ones many use today (cf. above on possible textual variants which may be reflected in 2 Clement). But much more important is the evidence suggesting that 2 Clement may be accessing the synoptic tradition via a harmonized form of that tradition, a form which may also be attested in writers such as Justin. Thus 2 Clement may well be accessing the tradition of Matthew's and Luke's gospels only indirectly.”


(We will discuss the implications of the ‘harmonized form of the synoptic traditions’ when we come to Justin…)


And then that of Stanton:


“This sermon (whose relationship to 1 Clement is unclear) probably dates from the middle of the second century, a little later than the writings discussed above. For several reasons its use of Jesus traditions is particularly interesting.


“Immediately after citation and discussion of Isaiah 54:1 in 2 Clement 2.1-3, a striking introductory formula precedes citation of a saying of Jesus: “And another Scripture says, ‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’ ” (cf. Mk 2:17 par. Mt 9:13). Here for the first time in an early Christian writing, a written Gospel or possibly a written collection of sayings of Jesus is quoted as Scripture and considered to have the same authority as Isaiah.


“In 2 Clement 8.5 an introductory formula introduces baffling Jesus traditions: “For the Lord says in the Gospel: ‘If you did not guard something small, who will give you something great? For I say to you, the person who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.’ ” The latter part is in verbatim agreement with Luke 16:10, so perhaps this a rare early quotation of Luke’s Gospel. While the first part of the quotation could be a free rendering of Luke 16:11–12, it may stem from a noncanonical source.


“In three further passages, the formula “the Lord says” introduces Jesus traditions (2 Clem. 5.2-4; 6.1-2; 9.11). In each case there are close but not exact parallels in the Synoptic Gospels. The author could be quoting freely from memory from two or even all three Synoptic Gospels, he could be drawing on a harmonized written collection of Jesus traditions or an apocryphal gospel, or he could be referring to oral traditions. The evidence does not allow us to settle the matter.


“In 2 Clement 13.4 a Jesus tradition very similar to Luke 6:32, 35 is introduced by “God says.” Since 2 Clement does not equate Jesus with God, the sense here seems to be, “God says in a [scriptural] Gospel,” as in 2 Clement 2.1-3 (see above).


“In 2 Clement 9.5-6 there seems to be clear dependence on John’s Gospel: “If Christ the Lord who saved us was spirit at first but became flesh [cf. Jn 1:14] and so called us, so we shall receive the reward in the flesh. Let us then love one another [cf. Jn 13:34] so that we may all come to the kingdom of God.” In this case there is no introductory formula, so at best we have here two allusions to John’s Gospel. Nonetheless, this passage provides evidence that Johannine as well as Synoptic Jesus traditions were known and used in the same circles before the middle of the second century.“ [DictLNT, s.v. “Jesus Traditions”]



Here are Kohler’s verses for Matthew’s written gospel:








 Indeed, he himself says, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will acknowledge before my Father.”


Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.



For he says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will be saved, but only the one who does what is right.”


Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.



“For what good is it, if someone gains the whole world but forfeits his life?”


“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?



 And another Scripture says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”


for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Quite Possible


For if we do the will of Christ, we will find rest


Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.

Quite Possible


For the Lord also said, “My brothers are those who do the will of my Father.


“For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

Quite Possible




28. The Shepherd of Hermas


This writing is another somewhat difficult to date document, but it is also only slightly relevant to the research—because of its genre/nature.


“The date of the Shepherd is likewise difficult to establish. Reference to it by Irenaeus (ca. 175) establishes a date before which it must have been written, but on the other end dates as early as the 70s and 80s have been proposed. The evidence of the Muratorian Canon (“But Hermas wrote the Shepherd quite recently in our time in the city of Rome while his brother Pius, the bishop, was sitting on the throne of the church of the city of Rome”) must be used with caution, since it appears to reflect a subtle attempt to discredit the Shepherd. The internal evidence is inconsistent. Data in visions 1–4, including the reference in 8.3 to “Clement,” who may well be the Clement of Rome responsible for 1 Clement (cf. above, p. 23), points to around 95–100, while the section comprising vision 5/parable 10 seems to come from a later time. If the Shepherd is, however, a composite document, this would resolve many of the difficulties. Visions 1–4 would represent the earliest stage of its formation, while the final editing, including the interpolation of parables 9–10, may well have occurred about the time suggested by the Muratorian Canon.” [Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers : Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (330). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.]


The data on this is fairly mixed, so I won’t be citing evidence from this:


Shepherd of Hermas. In this lengthy writing, there are a large number of possible allusions to Jesus traditions, but none of them is preceded by an introductory formula. Scholarly opinion is divided: some think that the writer is steeped in oral Jesus traditions, while others are convinced that he knew at least some of the Gospels that later became canonical. As in most of the writings under discussion, the allusions are all to sayings of Jesus” [DictLNT, s.v. “Jesus Traditions”


Verheyden, however, points out that:


“Man 4.1 and 4.4 contains some remarkable parallels with the teaching on marriage and adultery of Matthew and of Paul in 1 Corinthians” [HI:RNTAF, 324]


So, there probably ARE a good number of allusions here, but none ‘clear enough’ to use as data for our purposes.







The next group of writings are from the ‘post-Fathers’


28. Aristides of Athens


Aristides is one of the original Apologists of the early church:


“For most of the first century a.d. Christianity was, in the larger world of the Roman Empire, scarcely noticed or noticeable. But in the second century, as Christianity continued to expand rapidly, the Roman state and pagan culture became increasingly aware of what the Roman historian Tacitus called a “pernicious superstition.” Because Christian beliefs and practices often ran counter to Greco-Roman values and customs, the church found itself in the midst of an increasingly hostile environment. Rumors that Christians practiced incest, cannibalism, and infant sacrifice were widespread among the general population; the state regarded these “atheists” (for Christians did not believe in the traditional Greek or Roman gods) as a threat to its own well-being and guilty of a capital crime; and educated intellectuals like the satirist Lucian of Samosata, Fronto, the tutor of Marcus Aurelius, and especially Celsus attacked Christian doctrines as a recent and perverse corruption of sound ancient traditions. … In the face of such attacks the Christian apologists (ca. 130–200) sought to defend the faith to which they had committed themselves. They attempted, for example, to dispel the rumors arising out of half-truths and ignorance by describing in general terms Christian beliefs and rituals, to win for the faith a fair hearing from the authorities by asserting their loyalty and value to the government, and to counter the charge of newness by asserting that Christianity was, by virtue of its Jewish heritage, more ancient than Greek philosophy. Writers whose works have survived are Justin Martyr (d. 165), Athenagoras (ca. 170–180), Aristides (ca. 145), Theophilus of Antioch (ca. 180–185), and Tatian (d. 180?). Only fragments have been preserved of the works of Quadratus (ca. 125–130), Melito of Sardis (ca. 170–180?), and Apollinaris of Hierapolis (ca. 170–180), while those of Aristo of Pella (ca. 140?) and Miltiades (ca. 160–180?) have been lost. These, together with the Epistle to Diognetus, comprise the Greek Christian apologists.” [Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers : Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed.) (528). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.]



“The early Christian writers who defended the Christian faith became known as apologists. The first apologies were legal defenses directed to the Roman emperors in the second century. Many of the names of the authors are known, and we have full copies of the apology addressed by Aristides to Hadrian (117–38) and of that of Justin Martyr to Antoninus Pius (138–61). The plea of Athenagoras to Marcus Aurelius (161–80) is similar. The literary form, which was influenced by the current persecutions, reached its height in the North African Tertullian (ca. 160-ca. 225). It then faded out, merging into the stories of martyrs. [The encyclopedia of Christianity (1:104). ]



Aristides is the author most relevant to our period, with his work often being dated to either 125AD or 140AD, and his work shows familiarity with the basic historical ‘core’ we have noticed in writers from mid-first to mid-second century:


“Aristides wrote his Apology either c. 125 or c. 140. Textual problems make it difficult to be sure about the details of his thought (the less reliable text has the more explicit theological statements). God is understood as the ‘prime mover’, who created all things because of man. Jesus Christ is spoken of as Son of God and (perhaps) as God, who was incarnate through a virgin, died and rose again, and was preached by the twelve apostles in all the world. Christians live an exemplary life in the knowledge of a judgment after death. These doctrines can all be found in the Scriptures of the Christians.” [Ferguson, S. B., & Packer, J. (2000, c1988). New dictionary of theology (electronic ed.) (38). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.



“According to Eusebius, both Quadratus and Aristides presented Christian apologies to the Emperor Hadrian at Athens, probably in 124 c.e. [ABD]




The textual tradition of Aristides is difficult to navigate, so I cannot find all of these “Possible” references cited by Kohler:






3.9-13 Arm



And He said to him, ”‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

9.24 Gr

And after three days He came to life again and ascended into heaven.


 and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’

10.13-19 Gr

And if you would read, O King, you may judge the glory of His presence from the holy gospel writing, as it is called among themselves. He had twelve disciples, who after His ascension to heaven went forth into the provinces of the whole world, and declared His greatness.


Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,


 And their oppressors they appease (lit: comfort) and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies;


“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you

38.7-11 Syr

So shall they appear before the awful judgment which through Jesus the Messiah is destined to come upon the whole human race.


But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.

39.21-23 Syr

And they do not proclaim in the ears of the multitude the kind deeds they do, but are careful that no one should notice them; and they conceal their giving just as he who finds a treasure and conceals it.


Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

39.24-40.1 Syr



The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field


But other than these, our author restates the basic historical core anyway—and actually references the writings of the Christians.


Here’s a section from the Greek mss—notice the same historical core that was there from the mid-first century:


“XV. Now the Christians 1 trace their origin from the Lord Jesus Christ. And He is acknowledged by the Holy Spirit to be the son of the most high God, who came down from heaven for the salvation of men. And being born of a pure virgin, unbegotten and immaculate, He assumed flesh and revealed himself among men that He might recall them to Himself from their wandering after many gods. And having accomplished His wonderful dispensation, by a voluntary choice He tasted death on the cross, fulfilling an august dispensation. And after three days He came to life again and ascended into heaven. And if you would read, O King, you may judge the glory of His presence from the holy gospel writing, as it is called among themselves. He had twelve disciples, who after His ascension to heaven went forth into the provinces of the whole world, and declared His greatness. As for instance, one of them traversed the countries about us, proclaiming the doctrine of the truth. From this it is, that they who still observe the righteousness enjoined by their preaching are called Christians” [Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (1997). The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. X  : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. The Gospel of Peter by Professor J. Armitage Robinson, Introduction and Synoptical Table by Andrew Rutherfurd, B.D. (electronic edition of the Edinburgh ed.) (283). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.]


Remember, this is 125AD…!




30. Justin


Justin sits just outside our time window, but provides one piece of data about our time period—the existence of ‘harmonies’ of the Gospels. (His student Tatian is the author of the most famous gospel harmony in antiquity, of course.) Justin’s works are in the 150’s and 160’s:


“Justin (d. ca. 165) was a Christian teacher from Flavia Neapolis (modern Nablus) in the Roman province of Syria. He tells us that his people were the Samaritans (Dial. 120.6) and that his father was Priscus, his grandfather Bacchus (1 Apol. 1.1); these names and the fact that he was not circumcised (Dial. 28.2) suggest that he was quite assimilated to Greco-Roman customs. He traveled as a teacher and spent at least two periods of time in Rome, where he was martyred under the prefect Rusticus. … Some important writings by Justin have been preserved: Dialogue with Trypho, which presents arguments in favor of Christian faith in contrast to Judaism, and two Apologies (the second probably an addendum to the first) addressed to Emperor Antoninus Pius (138–61) and his sons, Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. The Apologies can be dated to the early 150s; the Dialogue adds a warning about Gnostic groups (35.6) to the denunciation of Marcion in the Apologies (1 Apol. 26.5), which suggests that it is later.” [The encyclopedia of Christianity (3:100). ]



Tatain writes his work in 175AD, but it might have been dependent on Justin’s harmony.


Here’s some of the scholarly data on this topic, beginning with an extended quote dealing with Bellinzoni’s work:



“When Justin's references are compared to the documents which later became canonical, three observations can be made. First, in all likelihood a harmony was employed by Justin. He may have har­monized the texts himself, or he may have used an already existing harmony. Second, the harmony is based on the synoptics, with most of the information paralleled there. Third, the harmony also employed some extra-canonical source(s).


“For many years debate has centered on how best to understand these phenomena. In this vein, Justin's divergences from or additions to the text of our canonical Gospels has been explained from five perspectives. (1) Failure of memory. This perspective believes that when Justin quotes variations and diverges from canonical sources it is because he relies on his memory rather than referring directly to the document for his source. (2) The use of one or more extra-canonical source. This perspective sees Justin as dependent on a source that was not later included in the NT canon. However, the source is most likely a harmony of documents that were later included in the canon. (3) The use of pre-synoptic harmony. This perspective argues that the vari­ations in Justin are due to the fact that Justin used harmonized sources that were prior to the synoptics. (4) The use of a post-synoptic harmony. This perspective holds that the variations are explained by the fact that Justin used a harmony that was based upon the syn­optics and other extra-canonical material. (5) The use of only the canon­ical gospels. This position argues that Justin used only the canonical gospels, which he sometimes quoted exactly, sometimes harmonized, and sometimes modified for dogmatic or catechetical reasons.


“A. J. Bellinzoni, in his monograph The Sayings of Jesus in the Writings of Justin Martyr, has carefully examined the variations of the sayings of Jesus in Justin's writings. In light of the above explanations for their occurrence Bellinzoni examines each position and concludes that the best solution is that Justin relied on a post-synoptic harmony.

Bellinzoni concludes that there is no basis for the position that Justin's variations were the result of a failure of memory. The posi­tion that Justin is dependent upon pre-synoptic material is also seen as without foundation because the evidence overwhelmingly points to a post-synoptic source. The thesis that Justin used only the canon­ical gospels is also given little credence because, even though the majority of Justin's sources were based upon canonical sources, there is considerable evidence that Justin's sources were not always the canonical gospels themselves but rather post-canonical sources based on the synoptics. Bellinzoni also concludes that the idea that Justin is dependent on one or more non-canonical gospels is also lacking in evidence. Not only are the parallels between the specific non-canonical gospel mentioned by adherents different, but ultimately all the sayings in Justin are based in the synoptics.


“Bellinzoni places his agreement with the solution that Justin used a post-synoptic harmony of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. His evidence for such a conclusion includes the following:


1)  It is easily demonstrated that Justin used more than one source.

2) Justin generally used as his source written tradition.

3) Justin's written sources harmonized parallel material from Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

4)  In the case of Matthew and Luke, related material from different parts of a single gospel were often combined into a single saying.

5) Justin's sources often derived material from a single gospel (either Matthew or Luke, never Mark or John).

6) Justin's quotations of the sayings of Jesus show absolutely no depen­dence on the Gospel of John.


“It should be pointed out that Bellinzoni purposed only to examine the sayings of Jesus contained in the writings of Justin. He did not examine the narrative material. But with respect to the narrative material, I agree with many scholars who say virtually the same thing, i.e., that Justin's source was a harmonized account."


“The point in this brief recount of explanations of variants in Justin is to center on the fact that Justin's use of, or even composition of, a harmony is undeniable. It is apparent that each of the above expla­nations somehow allows for a harmony as a source for Justin's cita­tions. Agreement on this point is quite significant when we bring it into the subject of the shape or state of the NT canon at the time of Justin's Dialogue with Ttypho. [HI:RTCI, 200-202]



Now, Taitian had all four gospels in harmony, but Justin may have only had one composed from the Synoptics:


“As you recall, Tatian created his gospel harmony about 175 CE. It appears that he copied from his teacher's harmony: Justin Martyr apparently had a harmony compiled of material from Matthew, Mark and Luke. Tatian seems to have taken this pre-existing harmony and revised it. He added material from the Gospel of John, and expanded Justin's rather brief harmony. Justin's harmony was in Greek, the original language of the canonical gospels. Tatian knew Greek, so he would have had no trouble working from the Greek text of Justin's harmony. But it seems that Tatian' s Diatessaron was first issued in Syriac. This Semitic language is closely related to Hebrew, but written with a different alphabet. So it seems that Tatian and his harmony were a bridge between the Greek and the Syrian Christian worlds. [NT:EG,56]



“Another answer - the third - to our question 'Why a harmony?' is precedent. The idea of harmonizing gospel accounts was not invented by Tatian. We can say this because we know of other gospel harmonies earlier than Tatian's Diatessaron. In fact, Tatian's teacher, Justin Martyr, apparently used a harmony of Matthew, Mark and Luke; John, interestingly enough, does not seem to have been part of his har­mony. Reports also survive of other early harmonies: one is attributed to a certain Ammonius of Alexandria - but we know nothing of Ammonius or his harmony; we are also told that Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, who died near the end of the sec­ond century, created a gospel harmony.Perhaps the most surprising realization is that the canonical gospels themselves are harmonies of earlier material. It has long been known that some sort of a rela­tionship exists among the gospels. The vast majority of scholars presume that Matthew combined Mark with other materials to create his gospel of Matthew.... [NT:EG, 54]


And Hurtado:


“Of course, this does not necessarily mean that authors of other books about Jesus had copies of the canonical Gospels open before them as they wrote. In fact, it is likely that the influence of the Gospels was exercised more broadly through the frequent public reading of them in worship gatherings of Christians (referred to famously by Justin, i Apol. 67.3; cf. 66.3), their phrasing, cadences, and contents thereby becoming familiar to many Christians who may never have read them as we are accustomed to reading books. In addition, as we shall see later in this chapter, scholars have shown that within the first few decades of the second century texts circulated in which material (especially sayings of Jesus) from the canonical Gospels was harmonistically combined for didactic purposes. These harmonization texts were a further way for the contents and phrasing of the canonical Gospels to influence other writings. As Frans Neirynck observed, "'Harmonization' is a general characteristic of the extra-canonical gospel literature in the second century." [HI:LJC,438]



Justin of course is replete with the full details of the gospels:


“For example, in refer­ence to Jesus' life, Justin informs his readers that Jesus ascended into heaven, that there was no lodging place at Bethlehem at the time of Jesus' birth, and that the soldiers cast lots for Jesus' garments at the cross. In reference to John the Baptist, Justin informs his readers that Elijah is a forerunner of the Christ and that John the Baptist is Elijah. In reference to dominical sayings, one can deduce that there are no less than twenty-three sayings in the Dialogue that Justin attributes to Jesus. The question at hand concerning the information contained in these references in the Dialogue centers around the source—where did Justin get this information? … We do know that all the information contained in the concen­trated section of chapters 99-107 can be found in what later became the canonical Synoptic Gospels. If we now compare the information that Justin cites or alludes to with no source reference we can also see that the majority of it is found in what later became the canon­ical Synoptic Gospels. This is strong evidence that the source for this material is also the Memoirs of the Apostles which, ultimately, contain (at least) synoptic gospel material. Thus, one possible con­clusion which might be reached that is Justin, in one form or another, knew of the Synoptic Gospels, that he used them in his Dialogue with Trypho, and that he referred to them as Memoirs of the Apostles. But, it remains to be seen that this is the most likely conclusion. [tn: the author opts for a harmony of the gospel, as cited above]” [HI:RTCI,194-5]



Now, if this is the case—that Justin has available to him a document that harmonizes the Synoptics in the 150’s—then what would this mean for the dating of the original gospels? How early must they have been written down, circulated, adopted, and authoritative enough that they have to be ‘harmonized’?!! If you think about this for a second, you realize that they must be earlier that the putative ‘100-150’ (at least SOME of them…smile), and ALL of them must have been before 120-125AD (even being ‘generous’…).




All of this Church Father data combines with the non-Father data to overwhelmingly establish the existence of the historical traditions about the earthly life of Jesus well before 100-150AD. Even the Gospel of John (who, btw, was the reference in the earliest ‘heretic’ we found—Simon in 50AD used the ‘paraclete’ word in a Trinitarian formula, for goodness sake!!!) was authoritative in this period:


“Except that there were Christian communities in Egypt before 135, practically nothing is known of their organization. John's Gospel was circulating among them by the reign of Hadrian (117-38) and also a variety of other gospels, including the "Unknown Gospel" which appears to be a mixture of Luke and John with some original and semilegendary tradition about Jesus… Dispute centered on the Johannine works. Were these the work of the apostle, or were they the work of another, even of the heretic Cerinthus? Some (the so-called Alogi) refused to accept John's Gospel as canonical, while on the other side of the Mediterranean in Egypt, it seems to have been in use since c. 125. [Frend, 129, 251]





Looking back over these two articles, several things come to mind:


One. The earliest reference of them all is that of Simon Magnus, around 50AD. This reference—oddly enough—is to a Trinitarian formula, based on the words of Jesus, as recorded in John’s Gospel, given at the Last Supper!  The Last Supper is the more easily-remembered of all events, since it was re-enacted constantly in the Communion act. The Cross and the Empty tomb are not ‘re-enacted’(except at baptism, perhaps) and there are no ‘ritual words’ to say about those events (communally). But the very words of Jesus at the Last Supper (including the formulaic tradition given by Paul and Luke) would have been rehearsed and rehearsed countless times since the resurrection. The words of Jesus recorded in John 13-17 are some of the most treasured (and enigmatic!) of Jesus’ words to His disciples. That the ‘high Christology’ and ‘trinitarian introduction of the Paraclete’ should be shared among the earliest Christian communities is not surprising—it was a sharing of intimacy with the God who walked, in gentleness and with acceptance, among us.


Two. The next two events which surface are witnessed everywhere: the baptism of Jesus and the virgin birth. The baptism of Jesus episode is very credible since it is ‘selected’ by the Principle of Embarrassment (i.e., the Church would not have invented a story they were constantly having to ‘explain’!—why a sinless Christ was baptized was a source of ‘theological embarrassment’ for everybody!).


Three. In fact, the baptism event is also virtually ‘midrash on the OT’ impossible. In other words, there are no ‘baptismal’ proems in the OT/Tanaach (from which to ‘spin’ such a story) and the ‘descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove’ doesn’t fit either. (The promise of the Spirit and the ‘anointing’ of the Messiah in the OT/Tanaach are just too ‘imprecise’ to give rise to the specific forms of the synoptic accounts of Jesus’ baptism by John). The ‘this is My Son’ part is easy, as is the John the Baptist in the ‘wilderness’ (his ministry is prophetic ANYWAY), but the whole baptism in water and specifically of the Messiah, is just unheard of and unpredictable from the OT/Tanaach fount. [There is baptism in Qumran, of course, but that’s not the same thing at all.. ] This should be difficult in the extreme for a invention-via-midrash proponents. 


Four. The virgin birth was likewise a candidate for ‘least likely to be mentioned during evangelism’ (lol), as can be seen by the abuse heaped on Christians by their detractors, and by the outright dismissal of the event by (many of) the heretics. It has a scriptural background, of course, in the Isaiah prophecy, but why would you mention it much UNLESS IT WAS ‘locked in’? And the earliest quasi-Christians references go after this quickly… it must have been early and widespread to have elicited such a response, in the 70’s and 80’s of the first century!


Five. It is amazing to me how wide-ranging the Jesus traditions are, in the 75-100AD range of literature. What seems like ‘minor’ sayings of Jesus (e.g., ‘pearls before swine’, fasting by hypocrites, woe/millstone) are in the documents just like the ‘major’ ones are (e.g. Sermon on the Mount, Sower parable, the Lord’s Prayer). The amount of material circulating about Jesus’ teachings—and the seriousness with which it was taken by people all along the ‘orthodoxy’ spectrum—is amazing to me, and reflective of a much earlier establishment of that ‘authority’ than even ‘conservatives’ probably would suggest.


Six. At the turn of the century (from 1st to 2nd), the detail that shows up is much greater and yet it all is present in the records we now know to be the Gospels. No one tried to rip Jesus away from His Jewish heritage, His shameful death, His ‘narrow message of freedom from false gods’.


Seven. Marcion nails it shut for me. His selection of one gospel (anti-Jewish, after expurgation) and repudiation of the more ‘pro-Jewish’ gospels speaks volumes to me about how ‘equal’ the Gospels were in authority at that time! He could have accepted the other gospels and ‘allegorical-ized them away’ (like the Gnostic did), but he didn’t – he just ‘de-canonized them’… They already WERE that important by then.


Eight. At the time of Marcion, of course, we start getting our ‘harmony of the gospels’ showing up in bookstores (smile)… The canonical gospels were taken so seriously and were so ‘intractable’ from an authority standpoint, that efforts to make them ‘fit together’ became important.  These harmonies were produced by orthodox (e.g. Justin) and less-orthodox (e.g. G of Ebionites) alike. This is strong evidence for the early emergence of those multiple gospels.


Nine. From the apostolic period, Christianity headed out in three vectors: Gnosticim, Judaic-heritage-mostly (for lack of a better term), and ‘orthodoxy’. All three strands claimed the authority of the sayings of the earthly Jesus (with each group having its preference among the Gospels), but with none of them denying that the gospels contained things they didn’t agree with. The Gnostics couldn’t believe in a virgin birth or a fleshly death; the Judiac-heritage-mostly group downplays the supernatural elements in favor of a human-only Jesus; and orthodoxy has to deal with the ‘embarrassment’ passages. Even all the scholarly adherents to the ‘a gazillion competing cults, and orthodoxy was just the last cult standing’ school, admit that Jesus traditions (the same ones we have been noticing) were there all along.


Ten. By the time we get to Marcion and the Ebionites, we already have NAMES for the two gospels of Matthew and Luke. Their opponents describe them as only adopting the gospels under the names of Matthew and Luke. There are (like in point 7) ‘specific’ gospels (not just ‘oral tradition’) for them to pick, prefer, and (sometimes!) modify!


Eleven. Even the information that does NOT seem to reflect the wording of the Gospels, still reflects the EVENTS of those gospels. The historical core/timeline of Jesus life is sometimes recounted in ways not-as-consistent with the official version (e.g. James being at the Last Supper in the Gospel of the Hebrews), but this shows that the story of the Last Supper was ‘established’ in history and authority by then.


Twelve. Traditions about the earthly life of Jesus span all time periods (50AD-on), all doctrinal spectra (the 3 vectors above, plus a host of hybrids) within those periods, and all literary genres (e.g. anti-heresy, apologetics, sermons, teaching, apocalypses, letters, hymns). They were the bedrock of theological discussion and the start of the call to a new life of faith/freedom.


Thirteen. There is not a scrap of literature in our period in which we have a ‘Christ without a Jesus’ or a ‘Jesus without a Christ’. Both ‘development of doctrine’ positions (varying by which direction the human-supernatural vector points) have data to ‘explain away’ in the earliest periods of Christian manifestation.


Fourteen. And these writings/traditions were not kept ‘in secret’. The Celsus and Lucian’s of the world found/read/attacked these writings, within/close to our period.


Fifteen. The data from the Church Fathers supports an early date for the written traditions, and –regardless of one’s position relative to Koester and his school—supports an early date for the (oral) traditions themselves. There is no support whatsoever from modern Gospel scholarship for a “Jesus invented in the 70-150AD range” position. [We saw earlier that the dating of Mark alone by the full gamut of scholars supports a date earlier than that—EVEN for the ‘written’ version of Mark…] And the scholarly oral-versus-written debate has no bearing on the question of the existence of historical traditions about the earthly life of Jeus, but only on the “media” those traditions were in, or were used, in the writers of our period.


Sixteen. The comments by Bowersock in the first part—citing and endorsing the views of Rohde—virtually eliminates all Dying-and-Rising-God precedents from within Greco-Roman culture (this is NOT necessarily true of Semitic backgrounds). Just as the baptism-event is virtually inexplicable in a theory of ‘invention of historical Jesus via OT/Taanack midrash’, the bodily resurrection/empty tomb is inexplicable in a theory of ‘invention of a historical Jesus via ubiquitous Greco-Roman DARG borrowing’. [Some versions of the Mid-Plat/Myther theory assert that there were countless such DARG cults across the Mediterranean at the time—this is simply not the case, if Bowersock/Rhode are correct.]    



On a personal note, I really didn’t know what to expect as I started this study. But I have to tell you honestly that I did NOT expect the data to be this strong, this early, this varied (in time, locale, orientation), or this consistent… To me this is further evidence that the Jesus Who has ‘worked His way inside and throughout’ my life (i.e. ‘invasive and pervasive’—YES!), did the same thing 2000 years ago in the land of Palestine. The ‘footprints’ of His life, words, actions, and power are in EVERY SCRAP OF DATA in this period. To advance an alternative theory faces the task of explaining away every single document we have, in the 50-200AD time period! There is no other data of this period, other than the documents we have looked at in this series, that are relevant to this issue. None.


As a practical matter, I should also point out something about historical method here. When a figure or movement is born in obscurity, and makes a ‘sizable’ impact on other ‘common folk’ of the day, the historical ‘tracks’ of such a life/movement are NOT typically found within the ‘smaller circle’ of immediate impact, but in the vectors that shortly thereafter intersect the wider world. So, the incarnate life of Jesus created a vector that intersected the philosophy of the day (creating some forms of Gnosticism), the Judaic messianic community of the day (creating some of the Judaism-mostly forms), the Jewish ‘common folk’ (giving rise to the apostolic church), and the Hellenistic-mostly townspeople (giving rise to the gentile-majority church).  [It also had side-effects in Jewish-Roman relations, messianic revolts, Roman fictional literature, etc.]


This is a lot like research in particle physics, using cloud chambers. We cannot ‘see’ the events of particle collisions or of radioactive decay, but thethe resultant particles—as they vector away from the ‘central event’—leave a trail in the cloud. Researchers study these trails to see what types of particles were emitted (i.e., different types of particles leave different types of trails), and then ‘work backward’ to the event which gave RISE to the particles. In our case, we study the trajectories of the message of God’s in-breaking of love in the person of His Son, in the historical life of Jesus of Nazareth. This central ‘event’—the hands-on earthly life of Jesus, with His message from the Father about forgiveness and responsibility and truth and love and freedom, with His example of living that, and with His redemptive act of death and resurrection--impacted lives which cascaded through the literary ‘cloud-chamber’ of history.


[Notice again, however, that this does not address the ‘the historical traditions of the life of an earthly Jesus were invented and fobbed off on folks BEFORE the first literature emerged’ position. But the data above HAS shown that some of these earthly-Jesus traditions were pre-Pauline, and therefore that it wasn’t him who did the inventing. So the position—in addition to the other major problems in a ‘created before Paul’ scenario—has to come with plausible theories of who authored them (without being remembered or later attacked!), who in the world ‘bought that story’ (and then disappeared), where the ideas even CAME from (e.g. for a baptism), etc. But that’s not the subject of this series… ]


Ok, that’s enough data for me… I hope it helps… goodnite (got another business trip in a couple of hours)… little glenn





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