Question: Is a non-attributed citation useless in providing evidence of the existence of an antecedent text (especially in the case of the early Christian Fathers’ alleged use of the written Gospels)?


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

[First written: Nov 2/2008]


As part of the whole “the NT was written so late” position, it makes sense to address this good question:


I was wondering.  In that answer you touch upon issues related to dating Mark and the other Gospels.  At the end you state that other early documents like Barnabas and Clement of Rome contain quotes, showing that the synoptic tradition was known this early.  I have heard some skeptics before say that it is not at all justified to declare this.


Because these authors never say where they are getting their quotes from.  They never say, "This is from Luke's Gospel, or even, this is from Luke."  One skeptic I read quite some time ago says that even Ignatius, because he never names where the quote originate from, cannot be said to "know" any of them.  Is this too skeptical?  Did the ancients regularly cite quotes like we do now?  Thanks!


I want to address two issues here: (1) the ostensible question on non-attribution; and (2) the evidence for the existence of Jesus-traditions in the late first/beginning of the second century AD.


The first question is fairly straightforward: the ancients routinely did NOT mention an author’s name in a quotation, and frequently never even indicated that a quotation was ‘occurring---they expected the reader to know, or they simply were reusing some ‘good turn of phrase’.


The data for this comes from just about every source in the period: (1) Classical writers; (2) New Testament use of the OT; and (3) Other Jewish writings of the period.


There are, of course, times when the source-as-authority DOES have to be mentioned (e.g., when Philo is demonstrating the philosophical ‘sophistication’ of Moses…smile), but more often than not, quotes are either (a) unmarked as being quotes; or (b) introduced with a generic formula without mention of the author’s name.


Let’s look at the data for these three classes:


(1) Classical writers in the New Testament/early Church period.


“His [Celsus] discussion of NT texts will be treated below, but one can say at the outset that Celsus does not bother to give verbal quotations from OT or NT texts with some rare exceptions. He quotes Jesus' words without identifying Matthew (2.24 [154,9 Koet.] is close to Mt 26:39)... In 6.16 (86,13-14 Koet.) he quotes Mt 19:24 par. He also quotes a Gnostic Christian who knows Gal 6:14 without mentioning Galatians (5.65 [68,10-11 Koet.]):… He approaches Paul's words in 1 Cor 3:19 in 6.12 (82,12 Koet.) …. …Borret identifies twenty one references to texts from Matthew by Celsus, no references to Mark, eight references to Luke (most of which are parallel to Mt), four references to John, one to 1 Cor 10:20, and one to Col 2:18. Jesus is one of the few NT figures Celsus is willing to call by name.” [HI:INTGRP, 25]



“These [Greco-Roman] works were selected over others for a variety of reasons. All the authors are relative contemporaries of Paul, spanning the period from just before to just after his time. Each represents a different type of literature: Strabo writes a semi-scholarly treatise on a "scientific" subject; "Longinus" offers an exercise in literary criticism designed to promote a particular style of writing; Heraclitus puts forward a passionately rhetorical defense of Homer against the accusations of certain detractors; and Plutarch's two essays represent first, a moral critique of poetry in general (and Homer in particular), and secondly, a personal letter of condolence to a friend grieving over a lost child. Finally, each author employs the Homeric materials in a somewhat different fashion, permitting the study of a reasonable variety of citation techniques within a narrow range of texts… A second point of note concerns the manner in which various authors incorporate citations into the body of their texts. Even more than Paul, the Greco-Roman writers examined here exhibit a high degree of flexibility and originality in the way they merge quotations into the developing flow of their own compositions. To be sure, certain more or less formulaic expressions do appear on occasion, usually in combinations that include the words phasi, legei, and heterothi (…). Linking back-to-back citations by kai, kai palin, or some similar short phrase is also a common practice. Far more common, however, are those instances where the author uses his own words to integrate the citation in a creative manner into its new literary context. Often this means omitting every explicit indication that a quotation is even being offered: the reader is expected to recognize the verse as a quotation by its metrical qualities, its familiar content, or both. In many cases the author assumes that the reader will be familiar enough with the original text to supply its precise context - yet another indication of just how deeply the Homeric texts had become engraved upon the corporate psyche. [HI:PATLOS, 272ff]



(2) NT use of the Old Testament


“In other places, Paul quotes biblical texts virtually word-perfect with no indication to his readers that a citation is even present (e.g., Rom 2.6; 1 Cor 5.13, 15.32, 2 Cor 13.1).” [HI:PATLOS, 33]


This conclusion is obvious if sufficient attention is given to the amount of the OT embedded in the NT. The OT has provided the words and ideas for much of the NT. Unless one has a Bible that prints OT quotations in bold print, this may not be easily seen, for the NT writers often weave the OT words into their own without indicating they are borrowing from the OT. One Bible that does use bold print for NT passages that explicitly use OT words reveals that there are over 400 such texts. Almost half of these are introduced by a statement like “Scripture says” to draw attention to the fact that the authority and thought of the OT is being implemented. For the others, however, the OT words are woven into the fabric of the author’s own statement. … Matthew quotes or consciously reflects the wording of OT passages about 62 times, almost half of which have an introductory formula. The Book of Revelation, on the other hand, never quotes the OT and never has an introductory formula but is probably more dependent on the OT than any other NT book. The Book of Hebrews quotes or consciously reflects the OT about 59 times, again half of which have an introductory formula, but the Gospel of John does so only 18 times, nearly always with an introductory formula. However, the allusions to the OT are present on virtually every page of John’s Gospel, so much so that some scholars have argued that he has modeled his account on the exodus narrative, the Jewish feasts, or OT persons and images.” [Baker Ency of the Bible]



(3) Other Jewish writings of the Period


“Leroy Hammill, in studying biblical interpretation in the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha, notes that these books contain almost no exegesis per se (i.e. formal biblical commentary) but that the results of such exegesis can be inferred from their use of the Old Testament, especially in direct quotations. Such quotations are not always easy to detect, since they are 'nearly always filled right in with the author's own words without any mention that Scripture was being quoted'. [OT:SQVP,147]


“(from Qumran) Every reader of the Manual of Discipline (1QS) is impressed with the wealth of biblical language that permeates every quarter of this important text. It thus comes as something of a surprise to discover only three explicit quotations within the eleven columns of this diverse work. Clearly the direct citation of biblical texts played almost no role in the literary and rhetorical aims of the author(s) of this document. The few quotations that do occur bear out this conclusion: one agrees fully with the Masoretic text (5.17), another diverges from it only in the characteristic Qumran elimination of the divine name (8.14), and the third shows only one minor deviation that can be seen also in the Septuagint (the addition of kol in 5.15). The only feature of note is a further instance of "limited selection" in5.15. … War Scroll (1QM) … Like the Manual of Discipline, the War Scroll resounds with biblical language. Nevertheless, explicit quotation remains the exception rather than the rule in IQMas in 1QS. Only four times in the entire document (all in the hortatory sections of columns ten and eleven) is a specific biblical text adduced with an introductory formula, and this always with the stereotyped la’mor. [HI:PATLOS, 300,301; but no author is given, even in those cases.]


“Thirdly, the use of introductory formulae is apparently a historical development, since they appear only in the latest apocryphal books and with increasing frequency at Qumran. Since they are not employed every time a passage from the Old Testament is repeated almost verbatim by a later writer, even at Qumran, it is wrong to demand such a formula for 'true quotation' to be present. It is not clear what their use indicates about an author's attitude toward the Old Testament. Since formulae never accompany the Hodayoth citations, it may be that their use is governed by the author's purpose within a given text or passage. The infrequency of explicit quotations also may be due in part to stylistic or generic requirements. [OT:SQVP, 169f]



So, the answer to the first part of the question is fairly clear: the ancients in the period only indicated they were using a quotation sometimes, and generally did not even mention the author’s name even when they did.


So, if a Church Father uses gospel-close wording without using the name of one of the Evangelists, it doesn’t mean anything relative to their use/non-use of a synoptic source.




Now let’s turn to the bigger question: to what extent do the writings of the late-first and early-to-mid second century writers indicate the existence of historical traditions about a historical Jesus (whether written or oral)?


I cannot tell from the question what the skeptic is exactly skeptical about:


1. Are they skeptical about the existence of written traditions about Jesus’ earthly life?

2. Are they skeptical about the specific writer’s USE of written traditions about Jesus’ earthly life?

3. Are they skeptical about the existence of ANY traditions about Jesus’ earthly life?


The reason I make this distinction is ONLY because of apparent allegations by some Christ-mythers that traditions about a ‘historical’ Jesus only originated LATE, as a result of polemical interactions among rival groups.


This was mentioned in one of the original “Mid-plat” questions (“He relegates all four Gospels and Acts to 100-150 CE”), and I pointed out (from a wide range of scholarship) that that date range is WAY TOO LATE for the gospels (at the end of ).


But I personally didn’t do more than mention the extra-biblical sources which confirm the existence of Markan literature (or at least Markan ‘traditions’ about the historical Jesus), so I will use this question as an ‘excuse’ (‘pretext to a verbose text’…smile) to show just how pervasive the Synoptic tradition is in ALL the literature—not just ‘orthodox’-- of the early 2nd century (and earlier).


Here’s my approach:


  1. I will go through ALL the early literature of the period:

    • ‘Heretical’ writings
      • Simon the Magician.
      • Cerinthus.
      • Basilides
      • Marcion.
      • Montanus.
      • Valentinus.
      • Carpocrates.
      • Disciples of Valentinus: Heracleon
      • Disciples of Valentinus: Marcus

    • The “Jewish-Christian gospels”
      • Gospel of the Ebionites.
      • Gospel of the Nazoreans
      • Gospel of the Hebrews

    • Christian elements in mixed writings—mostly apocalypses;
      • Odes of Solomon
      • Ascension of Isaiah
      • Apoc of Peter (non-Gnostic version)
      • Sibylline Oracles
      • Gospel of Peter
      • Apoc of Peter (Gnostic version)

    • Any “outsider” writings—those not involved in the intra-church battles;
      • Celsus
      • Lucian the satirist
      • Other Roman literature showing influence

    • Church Fathers/Apologists [In part two -- noquotes2.html-- of this series]

    and list all the passages which are considered by experts to be ‘lifted’ (smile) from the Gospel of Matthew. [I will use this Gospel since it was the early favorite of ALL ‘rival groups’ except Marcion, and my primary secondary source focuses on this gospel, too].

  2. I will note references to non-Matthean traditions sometimes, but those are not necessary—a reference to a Matthean ‘distinctive’ will be enough to demonstrate the existence of that tradition.
  3. I will also look for references to historical-life kinds of events (e.g. baptism of Jesus) which might not be worded in a ‘literary’ fashion, but nonetheless witness to at least a historical tradition about Jesus’ earthly life. [contra some Mythers].


I will try to err on the side of ‘conservatism’, using only parallels and passages which do not require much ‘benefit of the doubt’, but the reader should note that many, many more passages could be listed—using ‘softer’ criteria—which would add further weight to the conclusion.


I will start with the non-orthodox groups, since the allegation is apparently made that the historical Jesus was ‘invented’ to combat such groups.




But first we have to talk about methodology of identifying ‘references’, ‘citations’, and/or ‘quotations’.


I have dealt with this issue extensively in the series on ‘did the OT/Tanaach just rip-off stories/myths from other ANE myths?’ and a little in the CopyCat series, but in the New Testament case I don’t have to do that myself.


There has been a ton of scholarship on this issue of ‘did XYZ borrow from the gospels?’, so all I need to do is survey the extreme positions and select some point along the spectrum.


As I mentioned, I will err on the side of ‘caution’ and this will be reflected in which ‘authority’ I follow.


As it sits here in 2008, the only point of real scholarly contention in the question of “Did the Apostolic Fathers quote from the written Gospels?” is whether they used a written source or an oral source. So, we shall have on one hand Massaux from decades past (updated by Bellinzoni) who says ‘mostly written sources’ and on the other (mende) Koester who says ‘mostly oral’. [Although this discussion focuses on the Apostolic Fathers, with some reservations it will also apply to the literature of the ‘non-Fathers’ we will look at.]


Although I will document these positions in a moment, let me quickly point out one major fact: both groups are referring to historical traditions about Jesus’ earthly life. When Koester says ‘not referring to a written gospel’, he is NOT saying ‘he made it up’! Rather, he is saying that the historical tradition received by the Father (whether historically true or not!) either had not been written down yet, or they were just not using it or aware of it.


There is nothing in this scholarly debate that remotely supports a position that the narrative of the historical Jesus’ ministry and life was ‘invented’ by the Fathers (writing in the 75-175 AD time frame) or that this ‘invention’ was only created/written down in the “100-150 AD” time frame. Let us be clear on that.


We are only talking here about how early the gospel/historical traditions had to be, in order to influence the literature we will examine. [This approach is similar to the one I took on dating the book of Daniel (qwhendan3b.html), btw.]




Here are some extended quotes contrasting the ‘script versus speech’ positions:


“Identifying the Use of the Synoptic Tradition


Two very different approaches to the question of the possible use of the synoptic tradition in the Apostolic Fathers may be seen in the contrasting studies of Edouard Massaux and Helmut Koster. Whereas Massaux found the use of Matthew in all of the Apostolic Fathers whom he studied (and the use of Luke in 2 Clement, the Didache, and perhaps in Ignatius), Koster found in favour of the preponderance of oral tradition independent of and often earlier than the written gospels. He concluded that Ignatius drew on Matthew once, and that Polycarp, in his postulated second letter, drew on both Mat­thew and Luke. Each of the Didache and 2 Clement includes sayings of Jesus taken from a sayings-harmony that depends on the synoptic gospels, argued Koster, so neither used Matthew or Luke directly or treated them as authori­tative. Not surprisingly, such different results were obtained from the adop­tion of different methodological approaches. Neirynck describes Massaux as having been guided by a 'principle of simplicity', for 'a source which is "unknown" does not attract him'. Massaux's own initial account of his methodology is quite brief. He notes that he will speak often of 'literary contact', and states that he will use the term in a rather strict sense of the word, requiring, when speaking of contact, sufficiently striking verbal concurrence that puts the discussion in a context that already points towards the gospel of Mt. These literary contacts do not exhaust the literary influence of the gospel; one can expect, without a properly so-called literary contact, the use of typically Matthean vocabulary, themes and ideas.


“Thus Massaux seeks passages that are similar to Matthew, and he evaluates their relationship to Matthew by asking if they are closer to Matthew than to other New Testament writings. This, in effect, is what Neirynck has described as Massaux's principle of simplicity: material that looks like Matthew prob­ably depends on Matthew, and little or no consideration is given to the possibility that it depends on postulated sources such as M or Q, or on the shared vocabulary of a common community (for it could be a specifically Christian or even a Graeco-Roman commonplace), or even on coincidence.


“Massaux assumes the knowledge and use of Matthew in at least some of the Apostolic Fathers, and sets out to determine its extent, whereas Koster sets out to determine whether the use of the synoptic gospels may be established at all. Koster's approach is by far the more subtle and penetrating of the two. He takes proper account of the possibility that Jesus tradition may stem not from the synoptics but from their sources, written or oral; so he formulates a criterion to assess whether or not parallels to the synoptic tradition may be shown, rather than assumed, to depend on the synoptic gospels. This criter­ion is that literary dependence on the finished form of a text is to be identified only where the later text makes use of an element from the earlier text that can be identified as the redactional work of the earlier author or editor. Koster does not refer to Massaux in his monograph, but his methodology differs from Massaux's in its attempt to deal with the difficulty that the presence of similar or even verbally identical material in two texts is not itself sufficient proof of literary dependence, for two texts might each draw independently on a common source. Yet, if Massaux may be accused of finding dependence on Matthew too readily, Koster's weakness may be that his criterion makes it virtually impossible to demonstrate any dependence on a synoptic gospel except in passages where the redactional activity of an evangelist may be readily identified. The importance of Koster's criterion must be noted, but it is important to emphasize the limitations placed upon it by the nature of the evidence to which it must be applied. [HI:RNTAF:70f]


I will take the moderating position of Kohler in the charts below:


“The history of the New Testament canon involves much more than an ex­amination of the citation of individual books. Yet a study of the citation of indi­vidual documents is a useful place to begin any study of the history of the canon. Edouard Massaux's The Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Christian Literature before Saint Irenaeus first appeared in French in 1950 and was re­printed with additional bibliographical entries in 1986. In this monumental vol­ume Massaux identified the Gospel of Matthew as the New Testament book that most influenced primitive Christian literature. In spite of the title of this important book, Massaux's study included a discussion not only of the influence of the Gos­pel of Matthew, but also the influence of Mark, Luke, John, the Pauline letters, and some of the catholic letters on most of the Christian literature written up to the time of Irenaeus and known at the time that Massaux wrote in 1950. The Nag Ham-madi material was, of course, not known to Massaux at the time of his research.


“It is Massaux's contention that the Gospel of Matthew was both known and used by the end of the first or the early part of the second century and with in­creasing frequency as time passed. Not all scholars have agreed with Massaux's conclusions. As Frans Neirynck has indicated in his introduction to the 1986 edi­tion (…), Massaux's thesis found a strong opponent in the study of Helmut Koster, who argued that the Apostolic Fathers were primarily depen­dent not on the written gospels but on the church's oral tradition. The differences between the positions of Massaux and Koster are limited principally to the writ­ings of the Apostolic Fathers. The issue has recently been reexamined by Wolf-Dieter Kohler, whose conclusions are basically compatible with those of Mas­saux. Kohler tries to develop criteria for determining what constitutes evidence for the status of the Gospel of Matthew in a particular writing and has the advan­tage of treating some of the Gnostic literature unknown when Massaux wrote in 1950. But Massaux's treatment is much more thorough. [HI:IGSM1,viii-ix, Bellinzoni, 1990 preface]



So, we will be looking first for elements of ‘Matthean redaction’ –elements supposedly added or changed by Matthew, when dealing with Mark or other sources. [This essentially is what Kohler’s criterion was. It is ‘too strong’, for some Matthean references will slip through, but it is ‘cautious’ enough for our purposes.]




So, let’s proceed chronologically through the ‘heretics’, first


1. Simon the Magician.


Simon is known to us from the encounter with Philip in the Book of Acts, but his story in history is much wider than that. He settled in Rome during the time of the Emperor Claudius (AD 41-54) [ECH:15] and even had a monument erected to his honor by the Romans.


His story is very entertaining, but our first interest is in one of his traveling companions, one Helen an ex-prostitute. Here is the account from Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, with the reference to a Lucian tradition:


“She (the ‘soul’ of the travelling companion) was in that Helen because of whom the Trojan war was undertaken [tanknote: a reincarnation thing]. Therefore when Stesichorus vilified her in his poems he was deprived of eyesight; later, when he repented and wrote the Palinodes, in which he praised her, his sight was restored. … Transmigrating from body to body, and always enduring humiliation from the body, she finally became a prostitute; she was the "lost sheep" [Luke 15:6]. For this reason he [=Christ] came, in order to rescue her first and free her from her bonds, then to offer men salvation through his "knowledge." [Irenaeus, Adv Haer 1.23.1-4, in [ECH:19]


And Irenaeus continues with an account of how Simon referenced the humanity and suffering of a historical Jesus:


“For when the angels misgoverned the world, since each of them desired the primacy, he came for the reformation of affairs; he descended, transformed and made like the powers and authorities and angels, so that among men he appeared as a man, though he was not a man, and he seemed to suffer in Judaea, though he did not suffer. [Irenaeus, Adv Haer 1.23.1-4, in [ECH:19]


The first passage shows knowledge by Simon of a Jesus-saying (in Luke), and the second presupposes knowledge of the historical life (and death, specifically in Judea!) of Jesus. He explains away the earthly life, though, by a standard docetic/Gnostic ploy (“Sure, it looked like He was human and that He died in Judea, but it was just a trick by Him – He was there for real, but only LOOKED human”).


In other words, somebody already—in the middle of the first century—had already being teaching the historical, human, earthly Jesus widely enough for it to have been accepted as true. And Simon had to ‘explain that away’ to make progress with his own system. Simon—like most of the heretics we will see—started with what was ‘already out there and believed’ and built on that, or re-interpreted that, to achieve his ends. Simon was NOT ‘there first’ with a heavenly-only Jesus, with the later Church inventing a historical one to counter him! Simon started with a ‘human-first’ Jesus (from the earliest Christian proclamation) and invented a ‘heavenly-mostly’ one.


This is early and this is fairly strong. And the others will follow in the same pattern: start with the basic historical Jesus and re-interpret THAT. And the church will have to fight their re-interpretation.


2. Second, Cerinthus.


Cerinthus is also first-century, and overlaps into our period. He also provides a Gnostic-like reinterpretation of the historical Jesus, but shows evidence of even MORE synoptic-like detail:


“Cerinthus (late first century and early second century A.D.) was an early gnostic teacher in Asia Minor. Little is known about his background. Hippolytus says that he was schooled in the "teaching of the Egyptians" (Refutation 7.21), which could imply that he was educated at Alexandria, although not necessarily. With Cerinthus there is for the first time the explicit teaching that Christ (as a spiritual power) descended upon Jesus at his baptism and departed from him prior to his crucifixion. A similar teaching is also expressed by Basilides (cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.24.4), the famous gnostic teacher of Alexandria some fifty years later. [ECH:34]


Here’s the passage from Irenaeus:


“A certain Cerinthus in Asia taught that the world was not made by the first God, but by a power which was widely separated and remote from that supreme power which is above all, and did not know the God who is over all things. Jesus, he suggested, was not born of a virgin, for that seemed to him impossible, but was the son of Joseph and Mary, just like all the rest of men but far beyond them in justice and prudence and wisdom. After his baptism Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove, from the power that is over all things, and then he proclaimed the unknown Father and accomplished miracles. But at the end Christ separated again from Jesus, and Jesus suffered and was raised again, but Christ remained impassible, since he was pneumatic. (Iren, Adv Haer 1.26.1, in [ECH:34f])


Notice that there are several Synoptic-like elements: virgin birth, Joseph, Mary, baptism, the descending ‘like a dove’, miracles, suffering/death, resurrection.


Later, Epiphanius states that they ONLY used the Gospel of Matthew:


“They (Ebionites) too accept the Gospel of Matthew, and like the followers of Cerinthus and Merinthus, they also use it alone.” [Epiph, Panarion 30.3.7]


Notice that this is a very, very ‘core’ set of historical traditions about the historical Jesus—and in the late first century. [Basilides will do his teaching in the 120-140ad ranges, which makes the ‘fifty years later’ reference by [ECH] mean 70-90AD for Cerinthus.


Again, early and strong data, from ‘opponents’. And the pattern repeats: the opponents use/re-use the historical core of the historical Jesus. They do not start with a ‘heavenly-only Jesus’ and the church then ‘invents’ an ‘earthly-also’ Jesus in response. The ‘earthly/historical’ Jesus was ‘there first’, in the oral proclamation and in the derivative written versions (the Gospels) as they became more and more important in circulation.



3. Next is Basilides.


We have already noted his main teaching career was from 120-140.


Here are the passages which are judged by Kohler to rely upon the Gospel of Matthew (the last column term is the judgment by Kohler).





Matthean Text


Clem of Alex,

Strom. 3.1.1

The sectarians of B say, 'As the apostles wondered whether it was better not to marry,' the Lord, they say, answered, 'Not everyone understands this say: for there are eunuchs, some by birth and others by necessity'"


But He said to them, “ Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuc



AdvHaer 25.5.2 (sic, 24)

"But the scum [Basilides!] says, '"We are the 'men' The others are all swine and dogs. And this is why he said, 'Cast not thy pearls before swine, neither give that which is holy unto 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.


Clem of Alex,

Strom. 4.82.2

For just as he who wishes to commit adultery is an adulterer, even if he did not have the opportunity to commit adultery..


but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart




Here are references to Synoptic traditions about historical utterances of Jesus, but notice he doesn’t ‘gnostic-ize’ them any—they already fit his purposes with only a minor bit of tweak here and there.


We should also note here that these are not passages/issues which a Church Father would ‘invent’ and put into the mouths of his opponents! A conspiracy position could argue that all of these references to some historical tradition were themselves made up and put into the mouths of the opponents, but one can tell from the passages we are noticing that they are not that important. They are ‘little fish’ when the orthodox dudes really needed ‘bigger fish’ to win the day… We will see this as we go along, also. We should not that we are NOT saying that the Fathers are ‘representing their opponents fairly’ (!), but that the points they pick up to attack are not wholesale fabrications…



4. Next, Marcion.


Marcion (c. 85-160) was the son of a Christian bishop. He made his way to Rome in 130 and made a large donation to the church there. In 144, he founded his own church (as was refunded his donation!). His doctrines are to be dated, then, to no later than 130-140AD, and will be roughly contemporaneous with Basilides.


“Marcion (second century, died ca. A.D. 160) was the founder of a major, independent church that rivaled the Catholic church and continued to exist until at least the middle of the fifth century. The son of a bishop, Marcion was born at Sinope, a city in Pontus on the southern coast of the Black Sea. He arrived in Rome around A.D. 130, joined the church there, and presented it with a large gift. In time Marcion came under the influence of the gnostic teacher Cerdo, and in 144 he founded his own church (and received his contribution to the Catholic church back). His church had an organizational pattern similar to that of the Catholic church. When Justin wrote his First Apology (ca. A.D. 155), he said that Marcion's followers could be found in every nation (1.26)” [ECH:101]



This is an ‘easy’ one—and very strong data, btw—since he is famous for using only the Gospel of Luke (expurgated), and repudiating the OT/Tanaach. Rejecting the other gospels in favor of Luke says a lot about how early the synoptics are (1) floating around; and (2) authoritative enough, so that you have to ‘select among them’ (and expurgate) to defend off-center doctrinal systems.


Compare the general assessment of M’s positions by Frend:


“The new factor which Marcion introduced was that Scripture could not be understood allegorically. What was written must be accepted or rejected on its merits. Taken thus, there were too many occasions in which the New Testament contradicted the Old, or in which Yahweh's actions fell far short of the standards preached by Christ. … Marcion, as Tertullian shows in his five books of refutation, had made a most detailed and thorough study of Scripture to support his conclusions. These were revolutionary. For a Christian living in the first half of the second century to argue on the basis of Scripture against the church's attempt to wrest the title of "Israel" from the Jews was remarkable. Marcion proceeded on the same basis to deny the whole tendency of orthodox Christian apologetic, the assertion that the Old Testament prophecies referred to none other than Christ, and he rejected the orthodox system of interpreting Scripture typologically and allegorically to achieve this result. He went further: he was the first Christian to attempt to define a canon of Scripture embodying the gospel of salvation. Perhaps because this was the gospel used at Sinope, or because it appeared to promise most to those outside the Law, he chose Luke's Gospel, beginning at chapter 3 and omitting references to Jesus' post-resurrection appearances. To this he added the Pauline epistles, excluding the Pastorals, but he purged these of material he believed to have been introduced by Jewish and Jewish Christian opponents of Paul. Thus Gal. 3:16—4:6 was cut because of its references to Abraham, his sons, and his promises, and 2 Thess. 1:6-8 because God was not concerned with "flaming fire" and punishment. There was to be no "warrior Messiah" on the contemporary Jewish model. This was the good news, God's uncovenanted gift to man, preached within historical memory (Tertullian calculated 115 years and 6'/2 months) by "the saving spirit" Jesus Christ, and now to be proclaimed everywhere.” [FRC,215]


A sampling of the Synoptic detail Marcion knew of (and wrestled with) can be seen in the account of Irenaeus (1.27.2-3):


“Marcion of Pontus succeeded Cerdo and developed his doctrine, shamelessly blaspheming him who was proclaimed as God by the law and the prophets and calling him the creator of evil things [Is. 45:7], desirous of wars, inconstant in purpose [Gen. 6:6], and inconsistent with himself. From the Father, who is above the God who made the world, Jesus came to Judaea in the time of the governor Pontius Pilate, procurator for Tiberius Caesar, and was manifested in the form of a man to those who were in Judaea; he destroyed the prophets and the law [cf. Matt. 5:17] and all the works of that God who made the world, whom Marcion calls Cosmocrator [world-ruler]. Furthermore, Marcion circumcises the gospel according to Luke and takes out everything written about the generation of the Lord [Luke 1:1—2:52], as well as many items about the teaching of the Lord's words in which the Lord is most plainly described as acknowledging the Creator of this universe as his Father. He persuaded his disciples that he himself was more trustworthy than the apostles who transmitted the gospel; but he delivered to them not the gospel but a particle of the gospel. Similarly he abridged the epistles of the apostle Paul, taking out whatever was clearly said by the apostle concerning that God who made the world [since this God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ] as well as whatever the apostle taught when he mentioned passages from the prophetic writings which foretell the Lord's coming.” [ECH:102f]


And here is Tertullian’s take:


“In short, from among the apostles the faith is introduced to us by John and by Matthew, while from among apostolic men Luke and Mark give it renewal, [all of them] beginning with the same rules [of belief], as far as relates to the one only God, the Creator, and to his Christ, born of a virgin, the fulfilment of the law and the prophets. It matters not that the arrangement of their narratives varies, so long as there is agreement on the essentials of the faith—and on these they show no agreement with Marcion. Marcion, on the other hand, attaches to his gospel no author's name,—as though he to whom it was no crime to overturn the whole body, might not assume permission to invent a title for it as well. At this point I might have made a stand, arguing that no recognition is due to a work which cannot lift up its head, which makes no show of courage, which gives no promise of credibility by having a fully descriptive title and the requisite indication of the author's name. But I prefer to join issue on all points, nor am I leaving unmentioned anything that can be taken as being in my favour. For out of those authors whom we possess, Marcion is seen to have chosen Luke as the one to mutilate. [Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4.2, cited in [ECH:108]



5. Then, Montanus.


Montanus is not in the general stream of ‘proto-gnosticism’, but still sits in the middle of our period, and has one overt reference to a gospel tradition (from John, no less!):


“His work and teaching can be dated anywhere between AD 135 and 175…It appears that Montanus claimed both to be a unique fulfillment of the work of the Paraclete promised by Jesus in John 14:26, and to be able to pass that power on to his adherents… “I am the Father and I am the Son and I am the Paraclete (recorded by Didymus, on the Trinity, 3.41.1)” [ECH:127f]




6. Next, Valentinus.


Valentinus lived c.114-165, and is said to have ‘florit’ (smile) in the 140-160ad period.


But by this time the Gnostics are having to REALLY engage with the historical traditions (like they had since mid-FIRST century), so the references are more extensive (all references are from Irenaeus):





Matthean Text



And for this reason they affirm it was that the “Saviour”—for they do not please to call Him “Lord”—did no work in public during the space of thirty years, thus setting forth the mystery of these Aeons. They maintain also, that these thirty Aeons are most plainly indicated in the parable of the labourers sent into the vineyard. For some are sent about the first hour, others about the third hour, others about the sixth hour, others about the ninth hour, and others about the eleventh hour. Now, if we add up the numbers of the hours here mentioned, the sum total will be thirty: for one, three, six, nine, and eleven, when added together, form thirty. And by the hours, they hold that the Aeons were pointed out; while they maintain that these are great, and wonderful, and hitherto unspeakable mysteries which it is their special function to develop; and so they proceed when they find anything in the multitude of things contained in the Scriptures which they can adopt and accommodate to their baseless speculations.


For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 “When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 “And he went out about the third hour



The production, again, of the Duodecad of the Aeons, is indicated by the fact that the Lord was twelve years of age when He disputed with the teachers of the law, and by the election of the apostles, for of these there were twelve


When Jesus had finished giving instructions to His twelve disciples, He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities (but notice the link to Luke's 12yo story in the temple!)



And this they declare to be “the salt” and “the light of the world.”


“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.  14 “You are the light of the world.



Christ then instructed them…. He also announced among them what related to the knowledge of the Father,— namely, that he cannot be understood or comprehended, nor so much as seen or heard, except in so far as he is known by Monogenes only


All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him



They tell us, however, that this knowledge has not been openly divulged, because all are not capable of receiving it, but has been mystically revealed by the Saviour through means of parables to those qualified for understanding it.


10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 Jesus answered them, “ To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted



while, for the same reason, they tell us the Saviour said, “One Iota, or one tittle, shall by no means pass away until all be fulfilled.”


“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.



They further maintain that the passion which took place in the case of the twelfth Aeon is pointed at by the apostasy of Judas, who was the twelfth apostle, and also by the fact that Christ suffered in the twelfth month. For their opinion is, that He continued to preach for one year only after His baptism. The same thing is also most clearly indicated by the case of the woman who suffered from an issue of blood. For after she had been thus afflicted during twelve years, she was healed by the advent of the Saviour, when she had touched the border of His garment; and on this account the Saviour said, “Who touched me? ” —teaching his disciples the mystery which had occurred among the Aeons, and the healing of that Aeon who had been involved in suffering. For she who had been afflicted twelve years represented that power whose essence, as they narrate, was stretching itself forth, and flowing into immensity; and unless she had touched the garment of the Son, that is, Aletheia of the first Tetrad, who is denoted by the hem spoken of, she would have been dissolved into the general essence [of which she participated]. She stopped short, however, and ceased any longer to suffer. For the power that went forth from the Son (and this power they term Horos) healed her, and separated the passion from her.

3.13-17; 9.20-22;

10.4; 26.14-16

Then Jesus *arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. (3.13).. And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; 21 for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.” 22 But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” At once the woman was made well. (9.20-22) ... Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him (10.4)... Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. 16 From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus. (26.14ff)



They then represent the Saviour as having indicated this twofold faculty: first, the sustaining power, when He said, “Whosoever doth not bear his cross (Stauros), and follow after me, cannot be my disciple; ” and again, “Taking up the cross follow me; ” but the separating power when He said, “I came not to send peace, but a sword.” They also maintain that John [the Baptist] indicated the same thing when he said, “The fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge the floor, and will gather the wheat into His garner; but the chaff He will burn with fire unquenchable.”

10.34, 38; 3.12

Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword… He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. ...His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire



There are also some who maintain that he also produced Christ as his own proper son, but of an animal nature, and that mention was made of him by the prophets. This Christ passed through Mary just as water flows through a tube; and there descended upon him in the form of a dove it the time of his baptism, that Saviour who belonged to the Pleroma, and was formed by the combined efforts of all its inhabit ants. In him there existed also that spiritual seed which proceeded from Achamoth. They hold, accordingly, that our Lord, while preserving the type of the first-begotten and primary tetrad, was compounded of these four substances,—of that which is spiritual, in so far as He was from Achamoth; of that which is animal, as being from the Demiurge by a special dispensation, inasmuch as He was formed [corporeally] with unspeakable skill; and of the Saviour, as respects that dove which descended upon Him. He also continued free from all suffering, since indeed it was not possible that He should suffer who was at once incomprehensible and invisible. And for this reason the Spirit of Christ, who had been placed within Him, was taken away when He was brought before Pilate...

3.13-17; 27.2

Then Jesus *arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 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.” Then he *permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “ This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” ... and they bound Him, and led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate the governor



But they relate that when the Saviour came, the Demiurge learned all things from Him, and gladly with all, his power joined himself to Him. They maintain that he is the centurion mentioned in the Gospel, who addressed the Saviour in these words: “For I also am one having soldiers and servants under my authority; and whatsoever I command they do.”


“For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”



 the following are some specimens of what they attempt to accommodate out of the Scriptures to their opinions. They affirm that the Lord came in the last times of the world to endure suffering, for this end, that He might indicate the passion which occurred to the last of the Aeons, and might by His own end announce the cessation of that disturbance which had risen among the Aeons. They maintain, further, that that girl of twelve years old, the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue, to whom the Lord approached and raised her from the dead, was a type of Achamoth, to whom their Christ, by extending himself, imparted shape, and whom he led anew to the perception of that light which had forsaken her.  ... Again, the coming of the Saviour with His attendants  Then, also, they say that the passions which she endured were indicated by the Lord upon the cross. Thus, when He said, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? ” He simply showed that Sophia was deserted by the light, and was restrained by Horos from making any advance forward. Her anguish, again, was indicated when He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; ”101 her fear by the words, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; ”




While He was saying these things to them, a synagogue official came and bowed down before Him, and said, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 Jesus got up and began to follow him, and so did His disciples. 20 And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; 21 for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.” 22 But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” At once the woman was made well. 23 When Jesus came into the official’s house, and saw the flute-players and the crowd in noisy disorder, 24 He said, “Leave; for the girl has not died, but is asleep.” And they began laughing at Him. 25 But when the crowd had been sent out, He entered and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26 This news spread throughout all that land ... Then Jesus *came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and *said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. 38 Then He *said to them, “ My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”  ... “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?”



And they teach that He pointed out the three kinds of men as follows: the material, when He said to him that asked Him, “Shall I follow Thee? ”104 “The Son of man hath not where to lay His head; ”—the animal, when He said to him that declared, “I will follow Thee, but suffer me first to bid them farewell that are in my house,” “No man, putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven”105 (for this man they declare to be of the intermediate class, even as they do that other who, though he professed to have wrought a large amount of righteousness, yet refused to follow Him, and was so overcome by [the love of] riches, as never to reach perfection)—this one it pleases them to place in the animal class;—the spiritual, again, when He said, “Let the dead bury their dead, but go thou and preach the kingdom of God,”106 and when He said to Zaccheus the publican, “Make haste, and come down, for to-day I must abide in thine house”107 —for these they declared to have belonged to the spiritual class. Also the parable of the leaven which the woman is described as having hid in three measures of meal, they declare to make manifest the three classes. For, according to their teaching, the woman represented Sophia; the three measures of meal, the three kinds of men—spiritual, animal, and material; while the leaven denoted the Saviour Himself.

19.16-30; 13.33

And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” 17 And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 Then he *said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; 19 HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 20 The young man *said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. 23 And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 And looking at them Jesus said to them, “ With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”   ... He spoke another parable to them, “ The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.” (but also notice the Lukan accounts of Zaccy and the synoptics 'let the dead bury their dead')



Moreover, that Achamoth wandered beyond the Pleroma, and received form from Christ, and was sought after by the Saviour, they declare that He indicated when He said, that He had come after that sheep which was gone astray


What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 “If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14 “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish





You see here a massive amount of material from Mathew—most of it used to ground symbolisms of the 12, the 30, etc. But no dispute over the historicity. If the historical Jesus was ‘invented’ to combat these folks, it was a miserable failure



7. Then, Carpocrates


Cx is also dated mid-second century, so he overlaps with Valentinus and his disciples.


This group is a bit weird and not your normal ‘pre-Gnostics’ or early-Gnostics of the 130-180 AD period. They are much more speculative (e.g., they can become greater than Jesus, heavy-duty reincarnation) but even here, they have to deal with certain historical facts about a historical Jesus—even though they can explain them away like any good allegorizer…


“Carpocrates (second century A.D.) was a gnostic teacher in his native city of Alexandria, Egypt, in the middle of the second century. He founded a school, and his followers were called Carpocratians. He taught that the world was created by intermediaries (angels) that had been created by the Father. Moreover, he and his followers held that Jesus was the son of Joseph (and Mary) and was distinct from the rest of humanity only in the purity of his soul. But the distinction between Christ and the Gnostic becomes blurred in this system, for the Gnostic can become like Jesus. Indeed, some of the Carpocratians believed that they were even "stronger" than Jesus, and still others claimed superiority to his disciples, including Peter and Paul. Among other things, the Carpocratians also taught the transmigration of souls and a libertine ethic. The sect seems to have ceased existing sometime in the fourth century A.D.” [ECH:49]


Here are excerpts from Irenaeus’ account (AH 1.25.1-6), showing their familiarity with historical and/or Synoptic gospel elements:


“Cx and his disciples say that the world and what is in it was made by angels, who are much inferior to the unbegotten Father, Jesus was born of Joseph and like the rest of men, but he was distinct from the rest in that, since his soul was strong and pure, it remembered what it had seen in the regions of the unbegotten God: and for this reason power was sent down to him that he might escape the world-creators by it. It passed through them all and was set free in all, and ascended up to him, and likewise the [souls] which embraced the like. They say that the soul of Jesus was lawfully nurtured in the traditions of the Jews, but despised them and thereby obtained powers by which he vanquished the passions which attach to men for punishment. 2. The soul which like the soul of Jesus is able to despise the creator archons likewise receives power to do the same things. Hence they have come to such presumption that some say they are like Jesus, some actually affirm that they are even stronger than he, and some [declare] that they are superior to his disciples, like Peter and Paul and the other Apostles; they are in no way inferior to Jesus himself. Their souls derive from the same surroundings, and therefore likewise despise the creators of the world and are counted worthy of the same power, and return again to the same place. But if anyone despises the things here more than he, he can be greater than he.” [ECH:49f]


Here’s the passage that shows clear dependence on Matthew (or synoptic history):






Matthean Text

Irenaeus A.H.1.25.4

They affirm that for this reason Jesus spoke the following parable:—“Whilst thou art with thine adversary in the way, give all diligence, that thou mayest be delivered from him, lest he give thee up to the judge, and the judge surrender thee to the officer, and he cast thee into prison. Verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt not go out thence until thou pay the very last farthing.”


“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. 25 “ Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 “Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent






Then, the disciples of Valentinus: Heracleon, Marcus, and Ptolemy


These, of course, have some overlap with Valentinus. We will only give the data for the first two—the third is even more explicit in his use of Matthew, but the first two will suffice. Plus, we are getting later into the second century here.


8. Heracleon.


These are from Fragments from Origen:








H said: For the proverb is true if we understand that the sower is someone other than the harvester; the Son of Man indeed sows over the place. And the Savior, who is also the Son of Man, harvests and sends as harvesters the angels, portrayed by the disciples, each toward his own soul


Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “ Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” 37 And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 “So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 “ The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness



As to the demiurge's men, their loss is obvious in the text; the Sons of the kingdom will leave for the outer darkness


but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness



they [the souls of the believers] are already ripe and ready for the harvest, and suited to be gathered into the barn, that is to say, through faith in rest--for those at least who are ready


‘Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.””’



The following text focuses on the same goal: the soul and the body perish in gehenna


Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.



…and by merit, in a sense whereby some speak of children of gehenna and of darkness and of iniquity, and some speak of the offspring of serpents and vipers

23.15, 28, 33

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves … So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness... So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness ... You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?





9. Marcus.


These are from Iren. A.H. again:








The diverse sounds (he adds) are those which give form to that Aeon who is without material substance and unbegotten, and these, again, are the forms which the Lord has called angels, who continually behold the face of the Father

18.20 (sic)--actually 18.10

What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 “If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14 “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish (18.10)



Some passages, also, which occur in the Gospels, receive from them a colouring of the same kind, such as the answer which He gave His mother when He was twelve years of age: “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business? ”258 Thus, they say, He announced to them the Father of whom they were ignorant. On this account, also, He sent forth the disciples to the twelve tribes, that they might proclaim to them the unknown God. And to the person who said to Him, “Good Master,”259 He confessed that God who is truly good, saying, “Why callest thou Me good: there is One who is good, the Father in the heavens; ”260 and they assert that in this passage the Aeons receive the name of heavens. Moreover, by His not replying to those who said to Him, “By what power doest Thou this? ”261 but by a question on His own side, put them to utter confusion; by His thus not replying, according to their interpretation, He showed the unutterable nature of the Father. Moreover, when He said, “I have often desired to hear one

10.5-6; 11.28-29

These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; 6 but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…. 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.” (but notice all the Lucan elements and other Synoptics links)



But they adduce the following passage as the highest testimony,265 and, as it were, the very crown of their system:—“I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to babes. Even so, my Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father; and no one knoweth the Father but the Son, or the Son but the Father, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him.”266 In these words they affirm that He clearly showed that the Father of truth, conjured into existence by them, was known to no one before His advent. And they desire to construe the passage as if teaching that the Maker and Framer [of the world] was always known by all, while the Lord spoke these words concerning the Father unknown to all, whom they now proclaim.


At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. 26 “Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. 27 “ All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him



he at the same time pronounces these words: “May that Chaffs who is before all things, and who transcends all knowledge and speech, fill thine inner man, and multiply in thee her own knowledge, by sowing the grain of mustard seed in thee as in good soil.


He presented another parable to them, saying, “ The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; 32 and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES.”

Quite Possible


He asserts that the fruit of this arrangement and analogy has been manifested in the likeness of an image, namely, Him who, after six days, ascended into the mountain along with three others, and then became one of six (the sixth), in which character He descended and was contained in the Hebdomad, since He was the illustrious Ogdoad, and contained in Himself the entire number of the elements, which the descent of the dove (who is Alpha and Omega) made clearly manifest, when He came to be baptized; for the number of the dove is eight hundred and one. And for this reason did Moses declare that man was formed on the sixth day; and then, again, according to arrangement, it was on the sixth day, which is the preparation, that the last man appeared, for the regeneration of the first, Of this arrangement, both the beginning and the end were formed at that sixth hour, at which He was nailed to the tree.

17.1-8; 3.16;

 27.62; 27.45

Six days later Jesus *took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and *led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “ This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. 7 And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” 8 And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone ... After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God

Quite Possible


And for this reason he declares that fie is Alpha and Omega, that he may indicate the dove, inasmuch as that bird has this number [in its name].


16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him

Quite Possible


And on His coming to the water [of baptism], there descended on Him, in the form of a dove, that Being who had formerly ascended on high,

26.64; 3.16

Jesus *said to him, “ You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.”.. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him,

Quite Possible


for they assert that a defection took place from the Duodecad. In the same way they oracularly declare, that one power having departed also from the Duodecad, has perished; and this was represented by the woman who lost the drachma, and, lighting a lamp, again found it. Thus, therefore, the numbers that were left, viz., nine, as respects the pieces of money, and eleven in regard to the sheep, when multiplied together, give birth to the number ninety-nine, for nine times eleven are ninety-nine


“What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 “If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14 “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish

Quite Possible


For they declare that the twelve sons of Jacob, from whom also sprung twelve tribes,—the breastplate of the high priest, which bore twelve precious stones and twelve little bells, —the twelve stones which were placed by Moses at the foot of the mountain, —the same number which was placed by Joshua in the river, and again, on the other side, the bearers of the ark of the covenant, —those stones which were set up by Elijah when the heifer was offered as a burnt-offering; the number, too, of the apostles; and, in fine, every event which embraces in it the number twelve,—set forth their Duodecad


Now the names of the twelve apostles are these

Quite Possible


Some passages, also, which occur in the Gospels, receive from them a colouring of the same kind, Moreover, by His not replying to those who said to Him, “By what power doest Thou this? ”261 but by a question on His own side, put them to utter confusion; by His thus not replying, according to their interpretation, He showed the unutterable nature of the Father. Moreover, when He said, “I have often desired to hear one

31.23-27 (sic),

actually 21.23ff

When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.

Quite Possible


And the baptism of John was proclaimed with a view to repentance, but the redemption by Jesus268 was brought in for the sake of perfection. And to this He refers when He says, “And I have another baptism to be baptized with, and I hasten eagerly towards it.”269 Moreover, they affirm that the Lord added this redemption to the sons of Zebedee, when their mother asked that they might sit, the one on His right hand, and the other on His left, in His kingdom, saying, “Can ye be baptized with the baptism which I shall be baptized with?


Then Jesus *arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 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.” Then he *permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “ This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”.. with elements from the other Synoptics (e.g. Lk 12.50 and Mar 10.35ff)

Quite Possible




“The underlying problem for a Gnostic is illuminated by Irenaeus’ (Adv. haer. 1.21.2) observation on the Marcosians that they take Luke 12:50 and Mark 10:38 to refer not to the passion but to another baptism (the so-called redemption which has to do with “Christ” and “perfection”) distinct from the first (which is connected with “the phenomenal Jesus” and “forgiveness of sins”).”Schoedel, W. R., Ignatius, S., Bishop of Antioch, & Koester, H. (1985). Ignatius of Antioch : A commentary on the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch. Hermeneia--a critical and historical commentary on the Bible (86). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.





From the middle of the first century (with Simon) to the end of the 3rd quarter of the second century, there is an unbroken line of non-orthodox writers who presuppose, interact with, (often) reinterpret, and indeed even USE traditions about the historical Jesus. Many of these traditions are found uniquely in Matthew (which, under the standard two-source theory of the day, requires an even earlier date for Mark/Marcan materials). Some even refer to Lukan and Johanine traditions. If these were the people the orthodox church ‘invented’ a historical gospel to combat, then the ‘invention’ of the historical basics of the life of Jesus must have pre-dated this non-orthodox crew—since they already manifest a knowledge of the historical Jesus. They are already ‘spiritualizing’ an earthly Jesus at the time Paul is just starting to write in the mid-1st century. This is NOT the order which is expected under the late-gospels Mythicist perspective.


[A skeptic might conceivably try to argue that the 2nd century Fathers who describe these heretical teachers (the source of much of the data above) invented also the stories of the heretics using the historical data/gospels deceptively. In other words, they might argue that these early heretics really were Christ-not-Jesus types but that the Fathers made them look like they were using the historical data (when they never actually did), but this is far-fetched and speculative in the extreme, and more importantly cannot account for the content of the textual data recorded. In other words, this theory cannot account for why the Fathers even invented stories about ‘minor points’ (e.g. the interpretation of various parables, the numerology of the ‘twelve’ etc). The passages are just too ‘random’ and varied to have been invented for major polemical purpose.


So, this data alone should force a re-thinking of the dating of (at least) the gospel historical traditions, and require some of those traditions to be in circulation, accepted by a core-group of believers, and foundational enough (i.e., ‘pre-canonical’) to be taken into consideration in the first extra-biblical evidence in Simon at, or a couple of years before, 50 AD. This data supports an ‘origination’ of some of the major elements of the Synoptic tradition (e.g. Mary/Joseph, Baptism of John, suffering in Judea) a full century before the late-gospel Mythicist theory can allow them…



Next, let’s look at the early “Jewish-Christian gospels”


Here we are looking at the (reputedly) earliest Jewish-Christian, ‘non-orthodox’ writings. [This will exclude the later Pseudo-Clementines, which are replete with gospel references.]


There are three mentioned in the sources:

  1. Gospel of the Ebionites,
  2. Gospel of the Nazoreans,
  3. Gospel of the Hebrews

—but only the first two are ‘close enough’ (or even ‘distinct enough’) to compare. The first two are dated early-to-mid 2nd century, so they fit our period. The name ‘Jewish-Christian Gospels” is a bit of a misnomer--IMO—since I accept the traditional authorship of the four gospels. Under this/my understanding, 3 of the canonical gospels were written by baptized Jews in the 1st century. They are ‘Jewish-Christian’ in the truest sense of the word. But we will use the ‘table of contents’ descriptor here, instead…


If these reflect ‘acceptance’ and ‘existence’ of synoptic/historical traditions about Jesus then they will have a similar ‘weight’ as the heretical writers (since they too are castigated by the ‘orthodox’ who chronicle them). And if they somehow ‘discriminate’ between the gospels (pitting one against/over another), this is even more weight to the ‘authority’ of those writings/traditions.



10. Gospel of the Ebionites.


This gospel is easiest to date to the second century, and the timing puts it in the first half of the century (100-150):


Time and place of origin: since the GE presupposes the Synoptics, it can have originated at the earliest in the beginning of the 2nd century. Irenaeus (c. 175) knew of its existence, although only from hearsay. Accordingly the origin of the GE is to be dated in the first half of the 2nd century.” [NTA1:169]


This work thoroughly presupposed and used the synoptic tradition—all in the first half of the century:


“The seven citations in Epiphanius, Panarion 30, are to be assigned to the Gospel of the Ebionites.

1.  13.2-3 ("a certain man, Jesus by name, aged about thirty" brings to mind the calling of the disciples).

2.  13.4 (activity of John the Baptist; he feeds on honeycakes, not on grasshoppers as in the Synoptics).

3.  13.6 (beginning of the gospel: baptism of John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, in the time of Herod and Caiaphas).

4.  13.7-8 (baptism of Jesus).

5.  14.5 (those who are the mothers and the brothers and sisters of Jesus; see Matt 12:47-50).

6.  16.5 (Jesus came to do away with sacrifices).

7.  22.4 (Jesus refuses to eat meat at the Passover meal).


“According to Epiphanius, the Ebionites called their gospel "The Gospel according to Matthew," which agrees with the information in Irenaeus. Item 6 has a parallel only in Matthew. In any case, Epiphanius' identification of the work with the Gospel of the Hebrews is in error. The language was Greek, as is shown by the play on the words akris (grasshopper) and egkris (honeycake) in item 2. The accounts of the birth were missing, while the gospel did contain the Last Supper and doubtless the passion as well. Item 1 is spoken by one of the disciples who uses "we"; perhaps the speaker is Matthew, who is given a position of prominence at the end of Jesus' list ("and you, Matthew, who sat at the moneychanger's table"). Was the entire gospel thus narrated? The identification of this gospel with the Gospel of the Twelve mentioned by Origen and Jerome is uncertain. D. A. Bertrand has shown that this gospel is a gospel har­mony, that is, one that summarizes and reconciles what is said in Matthew, Mark, and Luke (though not also John, as in Tatian's Diatessarori).


“Typically Ebionite theological traits are evident even in these few fragmentary passages. The absence of the stories of the birth is in keeping with the Ebionite re­jection of the virginal conception; the same holds for the stress on Jesus as "man" in item 1; Jesus becomes the Son of God when the Spirit enters into him at his baptism (item 4). Jesus came to do away with the sacrificial worship of the temple, which the Ebionites fiercely opposed (item 6). John eats honeycakes, not grasshoppers (item 2), and Jesus refuses to eat meat (item 7); both of these reflect Ebionite vegetarianism. The apostles bear witness to Israel (item 1), which is fitting in a Jewish Christian gos­pel. G. Howard has suggested, however, that the "heretical" readings in this gospel were not created ad hoc by the sect but were derived from a repertory of variants that were originally theologically neutral and from which every gospel author could choose. The date of composition was between the beginning of the second century, when the three Synoptics were widespread and accepted, and Irenaeus. They probably originated in the country east of the Jordan, where Epiphanius and other writers situ­ate the activity of the Ebionites.” [HI:ECGLL1, 60f]


Even Koester points out the derivative character of this work:


“It was a harmonizing Greek composition on the basis of the three synoptic gospels that shows some similarities with the gospel harmony of Justin Martyr” [HI:TTNT,36]



Here’s the data from Kohler:








in the Gospel that is in general use amongst them, which is called according to Matthew, which however is not whole and complete but forged and mutilated--they call it the Hebrew Gospel--it is reported: There appeared a certain man named Jesus of about thirty years of age, who chose us. And when he came to Capernaum, he entered into the house of Simon whose surname was Peter, and opened his mouth and said: As I passed along the Lake of Tiberias, I chose John and James the sons of Zebedee, and Simon and Andrew and Thaddeus and Simon the zealot and Judas the Iscariot, and thee, Matthew, I called as thou didst sit at the receipt of customs, and thou didst follow me. You therefore I will to be twelve apostles for a testimony unto Israel.

8.5,14; 5.2;

10.2-6; 9.9-13

And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him  … When Jesus came into Peter’s home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever … He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, … Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; 6 but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.. As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He *said to him, “ Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.




and it came to pass that John was baptizing; and there went out to him Pharisees and were baptized, and all Jerusalem. And john had a garment of camel's hair and a leathern girdle about his loins, and his food, as it saith, was wild honey, the taste of which was that of manna, as a cake dipped in oil. Thus they [the Ebionites] were resolved to pervert the word of truth into a lie and put a cake in the place of locusts.


Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism



after much has been recorded it proceeds: when the people were baptized, Jesus also came and was baptized by john. And as he came up from the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the holy spirit in the form of a dove that descended and entered into him. And a voice (sounded) from heaven that said: Thou are my beloved son, in thee I am well pleased. And again: I have this day begotten thee. And immediately a great light shone round about the place. When john saw this, it saith, he saith unto him: who are thou, Lord and again a voice from heaven to him: this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. and then, it said, John fell down before him and said; I beseech thee, lord, baptize thou me. but he prevented him and said; suffer it; for thus it is fitting that everything should be fulfilled.


Then Jesus *arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 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.” Then he *permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “ This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”



moreover, they (the ebonite’s) deny that he was a man [tn: Christ that is, not Jesus the human ‘receptacle’, see next passage], evidently on the ground of the word which the savior spoke when it was reported to him; 'behold, they mother and thy brethren stand without,' namely, 'who is my mother and who are my brethren?' and He stretched forth his hand towards his disciples and said 'these are my brethern and mother and sisters, who do the will of my father''


But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! 50 “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”



they say that he (Christ, tn: not ‘Jesus’) was not begotten of God the Father, but created as one of the archangels [and to an even greater degree (editors note)] that he rules over the angels and all the creatures of the Almighty, and that he came and declared, as their Gospel, which is called (according to Matthew? according to the Hebrews?), reports: I am come to do away with sacrifices, and if ye cease not from sacrificing, the wrath of god will not cease from you [tn: remember Christ was the spirit which descended into/upon the man Jesus—we STILL have a historical earthy-body Jesus in these passages]

5.17; 9.13;


Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. … But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” … “But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.



but they (the Es) abandon the proper sequence of the words and pervert the saying, as is plain to all from the readings attached, and have let the disciples say 'where wilt Thou that we prepare for Thee the Passover?' and him to answer to that, 'do I desire with desire at this Passover to eat flesh with you?'... from this is their deceit not seen to be a flagrant offence, because what follows cries that the mu and the eta have been added. For instead of saying 'I desire with a great desire to eat this Passover with you,' they have added the adverb me-eta (me). For he (Christ) truly said, 'I desire with a great desire to eat this Passover with you,' but they have written to chreas (flesh) and have deceived themselves by acting fraudulently and saying, 'do I desire with desire at this Passover to eat flesh with you?'


Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?”







11. Gospel of the Nazoreans.


This gospel is a little more fuzzy in the literature (but still clearly derivative on the Synoptics), but it is still easy to date to the second century, and the timing puts it in the first half of the century (100-150):


“Its literary character shows the GN secondary as compared with the canonical Mt; again, from the point of view of form-criticism and the history of tradition, as well as from that of language, it presents no proto-Matthew but a development of the Greek Gospel of Matthew (against Waitz). 'It is scarcely to be assumed that in it we are dealing with an independent development of older Aramaic traditions; this assumption is already prohibited by the close relationship with Mt. On the other hand the Aramaic (Syriac) GN cannot be explained as a retro version of the Greek Mt; the novelistic expansions, new formations, abbreviations and corrections forbid that. In literary terms the GN may best be characterised as a targum-like rendering of the canonical Mt' (Vielhauer, Geschichte, p. 652).  4. Time and place of origin: the terminus a quo is accordingly the writing of Mt., the terminus ad quem is Hegesippus (180), who is the first to testify to the existence of the GN. It will have appeared in the first half of the second century.” [NTA1:159]


Here’s a summary of the Synoptic material (and some of the sources in which they are witnessed to, from [HI:ECGLL1:59]):


1. Pseudo-Origen, Comm. Matt. 15.14 (on Matt 19:16-30: a variant of the episode of the rich man).

2. Eusebius, Theoph. 4.22 (variant of the parable of the talents, Matt 25:14—30).

3. Eusebius, Theoph. (Syriac) 4.12 (on the division within families; see Matt 10:34-36).

4. Jerome, perhaps Famous Men 3 (the two citations "From Egypt I have called my son" and "Therefore he will be called a Nazirite," taken from the Hebrew biblical text and not from the Septuagint; but in the context it is possible that Jerome is referring here simply to Matt 2:15, 23).

5. Jerome, Comm. Matt. 6:11 and Treatise on Psalm 135 (in place of the epiousion of Matt 6:11 this gospel has mahar, "of tomorrow").

6. Jerome, Comm. Matt. 12:13 (a novelistic expansion of the episode of the man with the withered hand, Matt 12:9-12).

7. Jerome, Comm. Matt. 23:35 (instead of "Zechariah the son of Berekiah" as is Matt 23:35, this letter has "the son of Jehoiada").

8. Jerome, Comm. Matt. 27:16 (Barabbas explained as "son of [their] teacher").

9.  Jerome, Comm. Matt. 27:51, and Letter 120 to Edibia; same theme as in the anonymous History of the Lord's Passion (collapse of the architrave of the temple at the death of Jesus, different from Matt 27:51).

10. Jerome, Pelag. 3.2 (despite his cousin's protests, Jesus is baptized by John).

11. Jerome, Pelag. 3.2; a parallel in the loudaikon to Matt 18:22 (forgive seventy times seven times, because even the prophets sinned; see Matt 18:21-22).

12. Variants of the loudaikon at Matt 4:5

13. Matt 5:22

14. Matt 7:5 (rather: 7:21-23)

15. Matt 10:16

16. Matt 11:12

17. Matt 11:25

18. Matt 12:40

19. Matt 15:5

20. Matt 16:2-3

21. Matt 16:17

22. Matt 26:74

23. Matt 27:65 (see also item 11 above)


This is a lot of data from Matthew… used by this early-2nd-century group.



12. Gospel of the Hebrews.


The fragments of this gospel are really strange and almost seem to bear NO relation to the canonical gospels. But oddly enough, it still witnesses to several of the basic core historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth. We still have the names of Mary, John, the baptism, first-begotten Son, James the Just, resurrection appearance of Jesus to James, the ‘cup of the Lord’/Last Supper, etc.


“Unlike the other two gospels we have been discussing, this one seems to depend on its own traditions, not on the canonical gospels.” [HI:ECGLL1,62]


“It did, however, tell of the baptism (item 7), and the temptation (item 2 [sic.. probably meant 3]), although with obvious differences from the Synoptic version. Also quite different was the story of the passion, in which there was a strong emphasis on James, who has an important place at the supper and receives the first appearance of the risen Jesus (after the priest's servant).” [HI:ECGLL1,62]


However, this too is still easy to date to the second century, and the timing puts it in the first half of the century (100-150):


“The GH was known to Hegesippus and must therefore have originated, as did the two other JG, in the first half of the century.” [NTA1:176]


Here’s a couple of fragments to show that it still is anchored on ‘shared historical narrative’ with the gospel/historical traditions about Jesus of Nazareth (all from [NTA1:177f]:


“2.  According to the Gospel written in the Hebrew speech, which the Nazaraeans read, the whole fount of the Holy Spirit shall descend upon him . . . Further in the Gospel which we have just mentioned we find the following written: And it came to pass when the Lord was come up out of the water, the whole fount of the Holy Spirit descended upon him and rested on him and said to him: My Son, in all the prophets was I waiting for thee that thou shouldest come and I might rest in thee. For thou art my rest; thou art my first-begotten Son that reignest for ever.”


“7. The Gospel called according to the Hebrews which was recently translated by me into Greek and Latin, which Origen frequently uses, records after the resurrection of the Saviour: And when the Lord had given the linen cloth to the servant of the priest, he went to James and appeared to him.18 For James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he had drunk the cup of the Lord until19 he should see him risen from among them that sleep. And shortly thereafter the Lord said: Bring a table and bread! And immediately it is added: he took the bread, blessed it and brake it and gave it [cf Mk 14:22 par; 1 Cor 11:23f] to James the Just and said to him: My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of man is risen from among them that sleep.”


This is amazing testimony that the historical narrative line (water baptism, Heavenly voice, Holy Spirit’s descent, Jesus’ first-begotten Sonship, Last Supper, resurrection, post-resurrection appearance to James, and the pre-Easter-only ‘Son of Man’ description!) was known (perhaps) apart from the canonical gospels. That is, the history was (probably) not ‘original’ to the synoptic gospels, but was an element of the earliest proclamation.


So, this last gospel does not speak to the existence of the written gospels one way or another, but it certainly speaks to the existence to traditions about the historical Jesus of the gospels.





So, we have 3 witnesses in the period 100-150AD that are not ‘orthodox-sponsored’. Two of these presuppose one or more of the Synoptic gospels as existing, accepted, and authoritative. The third bears witness to a historical narrative line about Jesus independent of the Synoptics.


This is very strong data (like the heretics’ selections) that the gospels were not invented in the 100-150AD time period, and that, rather, the historical accounts of Jesus were in circulation and accepted/honored well before that period.


Often, the issue being argued is not IF an event happened, but the MEANING of that event. The JGs and the ‘orthodox’ agreed on the history—it was the meaning of it at issue (and in some cases, how to ‘mesh’ the event with ‘theology’):


“Moreover, the apocryphal gospels give a totally different motive for the baptism of Jesus. So it is that, according to Jerome, the Gospel according to the Hebrews notes a certain reticence on the part of Jesus to be baptized, since he is not a sinner. In the Gospel according to the Ebionites, the sequence of words is different, and the word dikiaosune (righteousness) is missing. The Predicatio Pauli on the other hand, mentions that, urged by his mother and almost against his will, Christ allowed himself to be baptized.” [HI:IGSM1,89]





Next, let’s look at some of the relevant “Influenced” or “Hybrid” writings of the period


Here we are looking at some of the (largely) apocalyptic literature of period. Some of this material was originally Jewish, and the Christians modified it during our period (in transmission), so we will be focused on the Christian interpolations or additions to some of this material. And some of the works were written by Christians in their entirety.


The relevant works that fit our time period are these:


  1. Odes of Solomon (late 1st century—early 2nd)
  2. Ascension of Isaiah (early 2nd)
  3. Apoc of Peter (non-Gnostic version,  135AD [OTP])
  4. Sibylline Oracles (no later than 150, [OTP])
  5. Gospel of Peter (mid-2nd)
  6. Apoc of Peter (Gnostic version, late 2nd)



OK. Let’s dive in…


13. Odes of Solomon (late 1st century – early 2nd).


We have one “quite possible” ranking here by Kohler (to the Matthean tradition), but many, many connections to the basic life-of-Jesus historical story.


Charlesworth wrote the entry for [OTP:2] and he points out that the connections with the synoptic (and even John’s) gospels are numerous. He points out the obvious commonplace—that it could be ‘oral’ tradition—but either way it demonstrates the existence, depth, influence, and distribution of a great mass of historical tradition about Jesus—very, very early.


“The Odist neither quoted from the Old Testament nor the New Testament, but he was directly influenced by the former and by the traditions recorded in the latter… Since the discovery of the Odes of Solomon, numerous attempts have been made to prove that the Odist is dependent on one or more of the books in the New Testament. The arguments have persuaded few; they are not persuasive because of the ambiguity of the parallels, and because the oral tradition continued to be influential even until Tatian compiled his so-called Diatessaron around the year A.D. 175. To be sure, the Odes share many of the traditions that have been recorded in the New Testament, but that by no means suggests that they are to be linked with one or more of the canonical records of these traditions. Significant traditions shared with the New Testament are Jesus' virginal birth, baptism, and walking on the water (cf. Odes 19, 24, 39). Jesus' suffering and crucifixion are significantly portrayed in Odes 8:5, 27; 28:9-20; 31:8-13; and 42:2. As we have seen, the Odes share with the Gospel of John many striking and significant parallels, but specialists on the Odes have cautioned against assuming that the Odes are dependent on John and have urged consideration of a shared community.” [OTP:1:731f]


Here’s the parallel from Kohler:


Odes of Solomon


And the foundation of everything is your rock. And upon it you have built your kingdom, and it became the dwelling place of the holy ones.

Mt 16.18

“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.


And here’s the dating that Charlesworth gives:


“The extensive and pervasive parallels with the Qumran Hodayoth, the undeniable similarities with the ideas found in the Gospel of John that cannot be explained away by either the hypothesis that they are dependent upon John or that John depends upon them, and the possibility that Ignatius of Antioch may have known and even quoted from them cumulatively indicate that the Odes were probably composed sometime around A.D. 100.” [OTP1:727]



But even if it is dated a couple of decades later, some of the constituent hymns probably go back into the 1st century:


“After some confusion and speculations, those focusing their research on the Odes now agree that the collection was completed in the second century and most likely before A.D. 125. The Greek manuscript (Bodmer Papyrus XI), which dates from the third century, was copied from an earlier Greek manuscript that would most likely take us back into the second century A.D. That is evident since the scribe inadvertently omits, and later adds in the margins, a portion of the ode. If the original language is not Greek, then we must allow for some time for the Odes to be composed and then later translated into Greek. If the Odes antedate  A.D. 125, then the question to be researched is the date of the odes in the collection. That is, how early does the collection go into the first century? It is clear that the hymns in a hymnbook were not written when they were collected into a hymnbook.” [Porter, S. E., & Evans, C. A. (2000). Dictionary of New Testament background  : A compendium of contemporary biblical scholarship (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]


“It is impossible to date the Odes precisely, since they make no identifiable references to their own period of history, and since they are not cited during the first two centuries A.D. Clearly, though, they cannot date earlier than the mid-1st cent, and they were probably composed somewhat later than this. If they arose from circles close to the Johannine tradition (…), a date around the end of the 1st cent would be most likely.” [Bromiley, G. W. (1988; 2002). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (4:569). Wm. B. Eerdmans.]


So, the Odes is a fairly early—and surprisingly ‘comprehensive’—witness to the basic structural elements of the historical Jesus (even Johanine accounts!): miraculous birth, baptism, miracles, suffering and crucifixion.




14. Ascension of Isaiah (early 2nd).


This work is dated in the early 2nd Century, and like the ‘heretical’ works of the period, the relationship between the known historical Jesus and the supernatural origins of the ‘Christ’ are still puzzling and the object of reflection. The Gnostics tried to solve the problem one way—by emphasizing the supernatural ‘capture’ of the historical Jesus—and the orthodox tried to just keep the two in ‘healthy tension’. Here’s the scholarship on AoI:


“The Ascension of Isaiah is a Jewish-Christian apocalypse which was written (so far as we know) in Syria between about 112 and 138 AD.” [OT:AscIsa, 9]


Here are the passages which Kohler considers ‘clear’ cases of borrowing specifically from Matthew:







that before the Sabbath He must be crucified on a tree, and be crucified with wicked men and that he would be buried in a grave, and the twelve who (were) with him would be offended at him; and the guards who would guard the grave


Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘ After three days I am to rise again.’ 64 “Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.” 66 And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.


and I saw a woman of the family of David the prophet whose name was Mary, and she was a virgin and betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, a carpenter, and he also was of the seed and family of the righteous David of Bethlehem in Judah. And he came into his lot. And when she was betrothed, she was found to be pregnant, and Joseph the carpenter wished to divorce here. But the angel of the spirit appeared in this world, and after this Joseph did not divorce mary...


Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. 17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations. 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “ Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save


words concerning faith in the Beloved





Notice how Knight’s description of the differences between ‘gnosticism’ and AoI reflects both a more conservative theology and a solid belief in the historical foundation of the life of Jesus (op.cit. 85f):


“A further feature of the Ascension of Isaiah is its tendency to assume that Jesus had superhuman abilities. This is a consequence of the view that he was the temporary appearance of the Beloved One who had come from heaven. The name generally given to this kind of Christology is 'docetism'. Docetism denotes a view of Jesus, judged unorthodox by mainstream Christian writers in the second century, which devalued or detracted from his humanity by drawing attention to the divine element which gave him extraordinary powers. The term denotes a complex of beliefs in Christian antiquity rather than a single, coherent point of view. It surfaces in a mild form in the Ascension of Isaiah but other sources are less cautious in discussing the extraordinary abilities of Jesus.


“The description of these other forms helps to explain the nature of the docetism in the Ascension of Isaiah. Ignatius knew of people who taught that Jesus only seemed to suffer, against whom he asserted the reality of the Saviour's birth, life and suffering (Ign. Trail. 9.1-2). The Asian heretic Cerinthus taught that Christ was a heavenly mediator who descended on Jesus at his baptism and returned to heaven before the crucifixion (according to Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 1.26). The Gnostic Basileides believed that Jesus and Simon of Cyrene changed forms on the way to the cross so that Simon was crucified at Calvary and Jesus mocked those who thought that they had killed him (according to Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 1.24). These three examples hold in common the belief that Christ did not really die on the cross, although Cerinthus acknowledged that Jesus did so. They represent an attempt to distinguish Jesus from Christ in a way which allowed the superhuman properties of the mediator to qualify a normal understanding of the humanity of Jesus.


“The Ascension of Isaiah must be distinguished from these kinds of docetism because its author insists that the Beloved One was really born of Mary and that he truly died on the cross (3.13; 9.26; 11.19-20). The author would have agreed with Ignatius in this, whatever other differences existed between them. The docetism found in the apocalypse is a mild form which accepts the possibility of an abnormal pregnancy (11.7-8) and questions whether the infant really needed Mary's suckling (11.17) but which does not allow the inclusion of the mediatorial pattern to deny the reality of the Beloved One's birth and death. This mild docetism retains the tensions between human person and heavenly mediator inherited from the Jewish angelophanic background. The Ascension of Isaiah has much to say about the way in which the person of Jesus was understood in second-century Christianity. It represents a stage of belief in which it was recognized that Jesus' ministry had begun and ended in heaven, but where the precise relationship between the heavenly and human aspects had yet to be fully defined.”



Indeed, the Jesus of history is clearly ‘available’ in AoI:


“Besides this vast apocalyptic picture with traditional tints, many other texts express ideas which are common to New Testament literature. So it is that many facts in the life of Christ are highlighted which are the common weal of the tradition, such as the Incarnation, the persecution which Christ must suffer and the torments which the children of Israel must inflict upon him, the coming of the twelve apostles to Jesus and the teaching they have received from him, the crucifixion before the Sabbath with criminals, the burial in a sepulchre, the scandal of the apostles before the events of the Passion, the guard at the tomb, its opening by two angels. There can also be added the mission of the Judge attributed to the Son, the seating of Christ at the right hand of the Father. [HI:IGSM2,61]






[By now the reader has probably noticed that we never had a ‘Christ’ without a ‘Jesus’. Every non-orthodox and quasi-orthodox writing we have seen is trying to ‘figure out’ how an ‘earthly Jesus’ could be a miracle-working, supernatural ‘Christ’. There is no Jesus-without-Christ nor any Christ-without-Jesus.


Here in the poetry/hymns of the Odes we see the ‘mystery of the incarnation’ become a source of comfort and joy. In images reminiscent of Phil 2 and the ‘He became like us’ passages in Hebrews, the Odes ‘touch’ this incarnation—the Christ/Jesus in the One who walked in history, and who walks into our lives now (Ode 7:2-6, cited in [DictNTB]:


My joy is the Lord and my course is toward him,

This way of mine is beautiful.

For there is a Helper for me, the Lord.

He has generously shown himself to me in his simplicity,

Because his kindness has diminished his grandeur.

He became like me, that I might receive him.

In form he was considered like me, that I might put him on.

And I trembled not when I saw him.

Because he was gracious to me.

Like my nature he became, that I might understand him.

And like my form, that I might not turn away from him.


The ‘veiling’ of the Terrifying God within a ‘flesh like ours’—so we could approach without fear—is the ‘kindness (which) diminished His grandeur’… amazing love…





15. Apoc of Peter (non-Gnostic version,  135AD [OTP]).


This work is generally dated to 135 or just before 135 [HI:ECGLI1:99], based upon thematic relationships with the Bar Kochba rebellion. This is ‘early 2nd century’, obviously, and it contains several obvious usages of Matthew. [Notice that this is not the later, Gnostic work also called the ‘Apocalypse of Peter’ (below)]


Here are the ‘very probable’ usage-of-written-Matthew passages from Kohler:





In AoP




Chapter 1

And when the Lord was seated upon the Mount of Olives, his disciples came to him. And we besought and entreated him severally and implored him, saying to him, 'Declare to us what are the signs of your coming and of the end of the world, that we may perceive and mark the time of your coming and instruct those who come after us, to whom we preach the word of your gospel, and whom we install in your church, that they, when they hear it, may take heed to themselves and mark the time of your coming.' And our Lord answered us saying, 'Take heed that no man deceive you and that you be not doubters and serve other gods. Many shall come in my name saying, "I am the Christ." Believe them not, neither draw near to them. For the coming of the Son of God shall not be plain; but as the lightning that shines from the east to the west, so will I come upon the clouds of heaven with a great host in my majesty; with my cross going before my face will I come in my majesty; shining seven times brighter than the sun will I come in my majesty with all my saints, my angels. And my Father shall set a crown upon my head, that I may judge the quick and the dead and recompense every man according to his works.




As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “ See to it that no one misleads you. 5 “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many .. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘ There He is,’ do not believe him. 24 “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. 25 “Behold, I have told you in advance. 26 “So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. 27 “ For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. ... But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne

Chapter 2

Have you not understood that the fig-tree is the house of Israel? Verily I say to you, when its twigs have sprouted forth in the last days, then shall false Christs come and awake expectation, saying, "I am the Christ who has now come into the world."


For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many

chapter 6

'Then shall they all behold me coming upon an eternal cloud of brightness; and the angels of God who are with me shall sit upon the throne of my glory at the right hand of my heavenly Father; and he shall set a crown upon my head. And when the nations behold it, they shall weep, every nation for itself.

25.31, cf. 24.30

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne … And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.

chapter 16

 And I said to him, 'O my Lord, do you wish that I make here three tabernacles, one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah?'.

17.3; 5.10;


And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him… Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”





16. Sibylline Oracles (no later than 150, [OTP])


There are many Sibyls in antiquity, but there are a couple of texts which have distinctly Christian elements and which can be dated to our period.


Here are some of the notable passages (from [OTP, 1:330]):


  • 2.45-55 refers to Christ and allots a special place to virgins and martyrs.
  • 2.177-83 is based on the parable of the watchful servant (Mt 24:46-51; Lk 12:36-40).
  • 2.190-92 (cf. Mark 13:17): It is possible that both Mark and Sibylline Oracles 2 could have derived this motif independently from Jewish tradition.
  • 2.238-51: For the coming of Christ in glory with his angels cf. Matthew 25:31.
  • 2.31 If.: These verses refer to the intercession of the virgin.
  • 2.264: This verse refers to presbyters and deacons. It is part of a catalog of sins condemned at the judgment (255-83).


Here are the entries judged as ‘probable’ borrowings (specifically) from written Matthew by Kohler:









But you, consider in your heart Christ, the son of the most high, immortal God. He will fulfill the law of God--he will not destroy it--bearing a likeness which corresponds to types…




Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.




Priests will bring gifts to him, bring forward gold, myrrh, and incense




Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.



when a beautiful stone which has been preserved will come from the land of Egypt. Against this the people of the Hebrews will stumble


14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON.” ... And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”


God wants not sacrifice but mercy instead of sacrifice



But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” … But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent


But you crowned him with a crown from the thornbush, and you mixed terrible gall for insult and drink


they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink.


A wondrous new-shining star was venerated by the Magi


“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.”... 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 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.


But whenever a bright star most like the sun shines forth from heaven in midday, then indeed the secret word of the Most High will come wearing flesh like mortals


“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.”... 7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 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. [Notice the Johanine image too: Word became Flesh!]



Here are some other passages which reflect historical/synoptic traditions, but which might come from gospels other than Matthew (but these are from Book 8 are to be dated around 175 AD, and not ‘before 150’ like books 1,2, and 6):


  • There will be a resurrection of the dead and most swift racing of the lame, and the deaf will hear and the blind will see, those who cannot speak will speak… [8.205b; this is closer to Mt 11.5 and Lk 7.22 than it is to Is 35.5-6]
  • A lament will rise up from all and gnashing of teeth [8.231]
  • He will stop the winds with a word. He will calm the raging sea by walking on it with feet of peace and with faith. From five loaves and a fish of the sea he will satisfy five thousand men in the desert, and taking all the leftover fragments, he will fill twelve baskets from the hope of the peoples [8.273-78]
  • Beaten, he will be silent, lest anyone recognize who he is, whose son, and whence he came, so that he may speak to the dead; and he will wear the crown of thorns. For, made of thorns, the crown of chosen men is an eternal delight [8.292-295]
  • They gave him gall for food and vinegar to drink [8.303]
  • The veil of the Temple will be rent, and in midday there will be dark monstrous night for three hours [8.305f]
  • Rejoice, holy daughter Sion, who have suffered much. Your king himself comes in, mounted on a foal, appearing gentle to all… [8.324f]





17. Gospel of Peter (first half of 2nd)


“The Gospel of Peter is an apocryphal Christian writing from the mid-second century bearing the name of Peter, extant only as a fragmentary account of the trial, death, burial, resurrection and appearances of Jesus… When was the Gospel of Peter written? It had to have been written before the end of the second century, since it was by then a source of controversy in Rhossus. A further judgment on this question is dependent upon one’s views on the relationship between this writing and the canonical Gospels. Those who believe that the Gospel of Peter evidences a precanonical passion narrative may date it into the mid-first century. As seems more likely, however, the Gospel of Peter borrows from and builds on the canonical Gospels and so must be dated after 100, probably in the first half of the second century.” [DictLNT]


This work shows close familiarity with ALL FOUR of the canonical gospels, with many verbal agreements:


“It presupposes the four NT Gospels…the verbal agreements between Gos.Pet. and the canonical Gospels are too numerous to allow us to uphold so sharp a rejection of their knowledge and use… [NTA:1,218,219]


A summary of some of the narrative elements will show the historical-Jesus (indeed, canonical Gospel) traditions it presupposes. Look at all the Gospel characters in this(!):


“The account begins with the Jews and Herod, their king, refusing to wash their hands, presumably after Pilate had done so (Mt 27:24); later Pilate proclaims, “I am clean of the blood of the Son of God,” blaming the Jews for the execution of this just man (Gos. Pet. 11.46). It was Herod who handed “the Lord” over to death (Gos. Pet. 1.2). When Joseph, “friend of Pilate and the Lord” (Gos. Pet. 2.3; and not a faithful Jew, as in the canonical Gospels), requests the body of Jesus, Pilate must gain permission from Herod (Gos. Pet. 2.4-5). The Jews, the elders and the priests mock and crucify Jesus (Gos. Pet. 3.6—7.25); following his death they recognize their wrongdoing and mourn because of the judgment that would now befall them—namely, the fall of Jerusalem (Gos. Pet. 7.25) … Finally, not least in contrast with the canonical Gospels, the Gospel of Peter presents a fail-safe apologetic for the resurrection of the Lord (Gos. Pet. 8.31—11.49). Pilate provides a centurion and soldiers who together with the Jewish elders close off the tomb and seal it with seven seals, and they all stay through the night in order to safeguard the tomb. Moreover, they all witness the Lord’s exit from the tomb in the company of two angels (unlike the canonical Gospels, which never describe the emergence from the tomb).” [DictLNT]


Here are some of the Matthean elements which Kohler puts into the ‘quite possible’ category (but remember, the Passion accounts are shared with all the 4 gospels, so this list will not be a real indication of HOW indebted GP is to the Four Gospels—just to Matthew):







but none of the Jews washed their hands, neither Herod nor any one of his judges. And as they would not wash, Pilate arose


When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.”


and then the Jews drew the nails from the hands of the Lord and laid him on the earth. And the whole earth shook and there came a great fear.


And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”


(the scribes and Pharisees and elders) were afraid and came to Pilate entreating him and saying, 'give us soldiers that we may watch his sepulcher for three days, lest his disciples come and steal him away and the people suppose that he is risen from the dead and do us harm'


Now on the next day, the day after the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, ‘ After three days I am to rise again.’ 64 “Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.”


Give us soldiers, that we may guard his sepulcher for three days, lest his disciples come and steal him away, and the people suppose that he is risen from the dead and do us evil.


Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.”


and Pilate gave them Petronius the centurion with soldiers to watch the sepulcher and with them there came elders and scribes to the sepulcher. And all who were there, together with the centurion and the soldiers, rolled thither a great stone and laid it against the entrance to the sepulcher and put on it seven seals, pitched a tent, and kept watch


and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away


And they affixed seven seals, and they pitched a tent there and guarded it.


And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.





18. Apoc of Peter (Gnostic version, late 2nd)


This document is a little late to the party, being dated in the late 2nd century, but I include it to show that even the developed Gnosticism of the late 2nd century still used synoptic/historical traditions of the earthly ministry of Jesus.


Here are the ‘clear’ references to Synoptics, as judged by Kohler:







For evil cannot produce good fruit

Luke 6.43

“ For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit.


For people do not gather figs from thorns or from thorn trees, if they are wise, nor grapes from thistles

Luke 6.44

For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush


Therefore I said, Every one who has, I will be given to him, and he will have plenty


For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance;






Again, all of these writings witness to a ‘historical Jesus tradition’, with references to the basic structures of the gospel narratives: birth/family, baptism by John, miraculous ministry, some teaching content, establishment of disciples-community, Passion/crucifixion, and resurrection.


Some of these are very early, and most are way too early for a 100-150AD date for the ‘invention’ of the core synoptic traditions about the earthly Jesus.





Next, let’s look at any “outsider” writings of the period


Here we are looking basically for any “Pagan” writers in our period, who, even though they might have taken adversarial positions relative to Christianity, were not involved in the intra-Church controversies of the period.


There are two strong, direct witnesses (Celsus and Lucian), and there is a third, less direct, witness in the Roman fictional writers of the first century.


19. Celsus comes first to mind—due to his overt treatment of the subject-- and is the most relevant/helpful for our study.


I have written much on Celsus on the Tank, so I don’t want to repeat that. Suffice it to point out that Celsus’ writing is dated in the 160-170s and it is filled with references to the historical narrative which is present in the 4 canonical gospels.


Celsus, the first pagan literary opponent of Christianity, read all four Gospels and found rich ammunition in them. His accusation against the Christians was that 'some of the faithful, as though coming from a drinking bout, fought one another and al­tered the Gospel after it had first been written down three or four times, indeed many times, and falsified it, so that they could better reject arguments against it.' Here he was arguing that the Christians altered their original 'message' to avoid accusations. The 'three' or 'four times' is a reference to the Gospel-collection, the number of which was not yet clearly recognized everywhere, while the manifold forgeries refer to the 'apocryphal Gospels' written in the second century.. [NT:EG,14f]


Celsus knew of John, the miracles, the Passion, and the resurrection:


“This is further strengthened, btw, by Celsus’ actual approval of Johanine identification of the Logos (probably not the version Celsus held, though) with the Son of God. He certainly interpreted THAT passage as MP!  (“Now if the Logos in your view is the Son of God, we too approve of that”), but this Son of God—as we have seen—cannot become ‘flesh and dwell among us’. This logos cannot be Christ: “Celsus earlier attacked the Christian concept of Christ as logos because of the fact that Christ had been arrested and crucified.” (C. Cels 2.31); [HI:INTGRP, 149] (this is my quote from a piece in this MiddlePlat series).


And he refers to many other NT texts:


“His [Celsus] discussion of NT texts will be treated below, but one can say at the outset that Celsus does not bother to give verbal quotations from OT or NT texts with some rare exceptions. He quotes Jesus' words without identifying Matthew (2.24 […] is close to Mt 26:39)... In 6.16 (…) he quotes Mt 19:24 par. He also quotes a Gnostic Christian who knows Gal 6:14 without mentioning Galatians (5.65 […]):… He approaches Paul's words in 1 Cor 3:19 in 6.12 (…) …. …Borret identifies twenty one references to texts from Matthew by Celsus, no references to Mark, eight references to Luke (most of which are parallel to Mt), four references to John, one to 1 Cor 10:20, and one to Col 2:18. Jesus is one of the few NT figures Celsus is willing to call by name.” [HI:INTGRP, 25]



The TOC in [HI:INTGRP, 25] includes many gospels traditions as singled out by Celsus for attack: genealogy of Jesus, virgin birth, magi, sojourn in Egypt, Jesus’ baptism, miracles, disciples,  His physical body, foreknowledge of His Passion, betrayal by the disciples, denial by the disciples, Gethsemane,  the Cross, the empty tomb, the resurrection narratives.



20. The only other relevant direct-mention writer in our period is Lucian the satirist (c.115 to after 180). [The other mentions by Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Pliny, Galen, etc do not have relevant material in them for us.]


Lucian’s satire shows familiarity with the gospels, and Meier can say:


Lucian almost certainly knew the Christian Gospels, and Philostratus probably did as well." [MJ:2.596]


Lucian’s reference to Jesus as ‘that crucified sophist’ (De Morte Per. 11-13), certainly a reference to a ‘historical Jesus’ tradition!


“It was now that he came across the priests and scribes of the Christians, in Palestine, and picked up their queer creed. I can tell you, he pretty soon convinced them of his superiority; prophet, elder, ruler of the Synagogue--he was everything at once; expounded their books, commented on them, wrote books himself. They took him for a God, accepted his laws, and declared him their president. The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day,--the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. Well, the end of it was that Proteus was arrested and thrown into prison. This was the very thing to lend an air to his favourite arts of clap-trap and wonder-working; he was now a made man. The Christians took it all very seriously: he was no sooner in prison, than they began trying every means to get him out again,--but without success. Everything else that could be done for him they most devoutly did. They thought of nothing else. Orphans and ancient widows might be seen hanging about the prison from break of day. Their officials bribed the gaolers to let them sleep inside with him. Elegant dinners were conveyed in; their sacred writings were read; and our old friend Peregrine (as he was still called in those days) became for them "the modern Socrates." In some of the Asiatic cities, too, the Christian communities put themselves to the expense of sending deputations, with offers of sympathy, assistance, and legal advice. The activity of these people, in dealing with any matter that affects their community, is something extraordinary; they spare no trouble, no expense. Peregrine, all this time, was making quite an income on the strength of his bondage; money came pouring in. You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on trust, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.” [taken from]


Here are references to Jesus’ crucifixion, His humanity, and the existence and reading of Christian ‘books’—and the origin of all this in Palestine.


21. Third is the influence of the gospel stories (especially the Last Supper, miracles, and Empty Tomb/Resurrection) on Roman literature from the mid-FIRST century on.


I had—in an earlier series—reproduced the arguments of Bowersock that the gospels actually gave rise to the fictional genre in Roman literature, beginning in the reign of Nero. Bowersock notices both the chronology of this, and the actual textual affinities in some cases! Here are the summary quotes I gave in :


"Among the most conspicuous features of the fiction of the Roman empire, not only the prose romances but the mythological confections as well, is resurrection after death in the original body. Much of the time the resurrection is explained by theatrical and often bloody deaths that turn out not to have been deaths at all. The Scheintod, as the Germans call it, the "apparent death," allows for all the excitement and tragedy of extinction and resurrection without unduly straining the credulity of the reader. The German scholar Erwin Rohde, whose interpretations of the Greek novel must even now command respect, identified the earliest appearance of apparent death and resurrection in the novel The Wonders beyond Thule by Antonius Diogenes. Rohde was perhaps the first to see that, after the work of Diogenes, Scheintod and resurrection became among the most beloved of themes in the Greek romances.  Since the fiction of Antonius Diogenes seems clearly to belong to that initial burst of creativity that we can trace from the reign of the emperor Nero down to the end of the first century of our era, the appearance of this motif concurrently with the development of the genre itself is not likely to be without significance…the whole concept of resurrection, although attested among other peoples, was altogether alien to Graeco-Roman thoughtPaul went to Athens just a few years before the accession of Nero. From that time forward the Greeks and the Romans acquired a lively interest in anastasis or, as pagan writers sometimes said, anabiosis ('return to life'). Rohde was absolutely correct when he observed that the subject of resurrection, with its attendant rationalizing explanation of apparent death, makes its earliest appearance in ancient fiction in Antonius Diogenes…After Antonius Diogenes the resurrection stories become ever more elaborate and lurid…The widespread use of the resurrection motif in many forms of Roman imperial fictional writing--erotic romance, hagiography, mythological revisionism, and satire--suggests an unusually great interest in this subject, far beyond any interest documented for earlier periods…Yet from the mid-first century onward the empty tomb and all that it implies becomes a conspicuous theme in both Chariton and Xenophon of Ephesis" [HI:FAHNJ:99-116]


"Parallels in form and substance between the writings of the New Testament and the fictional production of the imperial age are too prominent to be either ignored or dismissed as coincidental. Both Celsus, in his attack on the Christians, and Origen, in his defense of them, recognized the similarities, particularly, as we have seen, where apparent miracles--such as the open tomb or resurrection of the dead--were at issue. It is, furthermore, a plain fact of chronology that the distinctive fictional forms of the Roman empire begin, on present evidence, no earlier than the reign of Nero and proliferate conspicuously soon thereafterThe tendency of Christian interpreters to look for the pagan origins of Christian rites, utterances, and images has all too often obscured influences in the reverse direction. This is particularly true for late antiquity, but to some extent also for the earlier imperial period. The story of the eucharist had, by the time of Achilles Tatius, been available in all the canonical gospels as well as Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians…Achilles Tatius therefore invented something new and exciting when he transferred the revelation of wine from Attica to Tyre. The most plausible source for his invention is the Gospel story. It makes far more sense to postulate a direct influence upon the Greek novelist than to suppose that the writer innocently preserved an otherwise unknown tradition of great antiquity that was the source that inspired Jesus himself." [HI:FAHNJ:124-128]


"Petronius's treatment of this motif [cannibalism and eucharist] is not only the most brilliant in extant fiction but also, as we have observed, the earliest. Like so much else in the history of imperial fiction, it dates from the reign of Nero. It was a portent of the impact that the tales of the evangelists were to have on the imagination of writers and readers in the Graeco-Roman world for several centuries to come." [HI:FAHNJ:138]


"But in the course of these six chapters the connection between imperial fiction of various kinds and the Gospel narratives has grown ever stronger. The stories of Jesus inspired the polytheists to create a wholly new genre that we might call romantic scripture." [HI:FAHNJ:143]


Bowersock’s observations offer some fairly strong chronological data that (at least) the more ‘controversial’ of the gospel traditions (e.g. empty tomb/resurrection and Eucharist/Jesus’ Body) were in circulation and functioning as a creative/artistic power in the middle of the FIRST century—fifty to a hundred years EARLIER than the 100-150 AD dates suggested by some of the Mythers…






Here we have two pagan writers who are writing in the 3rd quarter of the 2nd century, and they know all four gospels, most of the historical narrative of Jesus, and that these gospels are subjects of study, exposition, and commentary.


Additionally, we have data to suggest that certain events from the gospel traditions were circulating among the literati by the middle of the first century in Rome(!), in the reign of Nero.


The first set of data could still allow for an early 2nd century authorship of the gospel traditions (c.100-110ad?), but the second would preclude that.




OK… that’s 20+ individuals/writings from 50-175 AD, with most of them being early second century.


Let’s chart these (I will include the dates for the Christian writers, which we will see in Part2):



Well, here’s the overall summary of this part (before we get to the Christian Fathers):


  1. The debate over the use of written gospels in the Fathers is NOT about whether the traditions of the earthly life of Jesus were in existence at the time of the Fathers’ writing—it is only about whether that tradition was in oral form or written form at the time the Father used that tradition.
  2. Therefore, the scholarly discussions over the existence of written gospels can NOT be used to support a position that the Fathers (or their opponents, for that matter) invented the narratives of Jesus in the 100-150AD time frame.
  3. This means that the existence of traditions IN the writings of the Fathers/opponents/etc in the 100-150 (or early) time frame confirms the existence of those traditions BEFORE their own writings. That is, the traditions are earlier than the Fathers/others.
  4. All positions in the ‘literary dependence’ spectrum (Maxxaux, Kohler, Koster) agree that the Fathers drew up tradition (in some media-form, oral or written) about the earthly life of Jesus—and that they did not ‘make it up’ as they went along.
  5. There is an unbroken line of non-orthodox writers (of the Gnostic/docetic strains, generally) from the middle of the FIRST century, on through the end of the 2nd century, who provide strong evidence that certain events in the earthly life of Jesus were well-known, incontestable (meaning that they HAD to be re-interpreted in order to ‘claim Jesus’ for their systems), and theologically ‘difficult’ from within a decade or two of the Crucifixion.
  6. Before the first century even ends, we have references to Jesus’ virgin birth, parents, locale in Judea, baptism, Spirit-as-dove descent, miracles, His coming for ‘lost sheep’, crucifixion, resurrection (Simon and Cerinthus).
  7. By the middle of the second century, we have many, many references to all the 4 gospels, by the non-orthodox crowd.
  8. The literature called the ‘Jewish-Christian gospels’ also shows early knowledge of, adoption of, veneration of, and usages of—Matthean and other gospel traditions about the earthly life of Jesus.
  9. The apocryphal and hybrid Christian writings of the time frame are not from the Fathers, but basically take pro-Christian positions. Some were later rejected, but all of these are early and show the influence of the synoptic traditions (often written) on their content. They form strong witnesses to the existence of historical traditions about Jesus’ life, since the relevant material is NOT used in a polemical manner again some ‘opponent’. As such, it endorses and uses these traditions, in making its argument or in moving toward its authorial goal(s).
  10. The hymns in the Odes of Solomon are especially significant then they likely are late first century, and yet show close relationship to even John’s gospel!
  11. The pattern becomes obvious: there never has been (according to all the literature of the period!) a Jesus-who-is-not-Christ, nor a Christ-without-Jesus. The figure who walked around Palestine was inseparably (and ‘mysteriously’) “both” at the same time…
  12. Although they are writing slightly after our period (by a decade or two), both Celsus and Lucian show in-depth knowledge of the 4 gospels.
  13. The classical scholar Bowersock makes a good case that the Roman ‘romance history’ writers of the first century (2nd half) and on were influenced radically by several events/narratives from the Gospel-proclamation. This influence would have occurred at the beginning or during the reign of Nero, making the dissemination of these historical narratives of the earthly Jesus be earlier than this. And this constitutes some evidence for the historical stories to be circulating (in Rome!) within a decade or two of Jesus crucifixion.




Now, strictly speaking, we should not even NEED the Apostolic Fathers now! This data is very strong, very varied, and comes from a wide range of sources.


This data alone is more than enough to demonstrate that the narratives of the earthly life of Jesus were not invented in the 100-150AD time frame, and –in light of some of the earlier data points—could not have been invented in during the last quarter of the FIRST century either! They must have been circulating and ‘non-negotiable’ (historically speaking) among the orthodox, their ‘cousins’ and their opponents long before then, to create this ‘pattern’ of re-use in the literature of the period.


[Note, however, that this in itself does NOT refute the ‘Christ-Myther’ position. It only refutes versions of that which depend upon late ‘invention’ of the historical narratives about the earthly Jesus. In other words, this data does NOT address the (possible) Myther position that the whole gospel/historical story was made up in the 30’s and 40’s. If they were invented then (and could take root and conquer the world…), then the pattern of data we have chronicled here would/could still have occurred, theoretically.


To address the ‘it was invented earlier than mid-1st century’ Myther position, requires a different approach (although the Myther, of course, cannot use ANY literary data to support that position—since it PRE-DATES any of the extant literature…smile).]


OK, on to the Fathers (when I can—I have the data together, but don’t know how soon I can ‘mashup’ them together)… noquotes2.html





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