Scripture among the Apologists: Method II

apostle-paul-preaching-on-mars-hillSimplicity of Attribution: The criteria of attribution simplicity states that when the wording of any reference may be explained on the basis of a known source, attribution to that source remains preferable to claiming oral tradition or unknown sources.[i] This does not mean a rejection of the possibility of attributing a citation to oral tradition or lost sources, but rather that the possibility of literary sources—those extant or known but lost—should be exhausted before attribution to non-extant traditions.[ii] In the words of Bruce Metzger, “It is generally preferable, in estimating doubtful cases, to regard variation from a canonical text as a free quotation from a document known to us than to suppose it to be a quotation from a hitherto unknown document, or the persistence of primitive tradition.”[iii]

Purpose in Writing: The purposes of a particular writing may impact the manner in which two texts are related. This applies both to the text being studied and the texts which may be employed in that writing. For example, it should not be surprising that 1 Corinthians finds extensive use in the early Church, as both that letter and numerous early Christian conflicts addressed questions of church unity. Especially important for properly ascertaining the purposes of literature in this period are “exegetical motifs.” In the words of James Kugel, “An exegetical motif is an explanation of a biblical verse (or phrase or word therein) that becomes the basis for some ancient writer’s expansion or other alteration of what Scripture actually says….” [iv] While an author’s purposes may not directly align with those of the writings they are employing, the interpretive practice of “exegetical motifs” allowed for relatively easy modification of literary materials in accordance with their recasting of existing materials.

To these ends, this paper first examines the context of Justin Martyr and undertakes a survey of his use of Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian sources in the First Apology. Next, this study turns to Theophilus of Antioch’s Ad Autolycum, exploring his context and general enlistment of written sources. Finally, a comparative analysis of Justin and Theophilus is offered, focusing especially on the manner in which these authors employed the Gospel of John in their writings and the implications of this investigation for understanding second century Christianity.

[i] Kostenberger, 144. Jacob J. Prahlow, Discerning Witnesses: First and Second Century Textual Studies in Early Christian Authority (MA Thesis; Winston-Salem: Wake Forest University, 2014), 8. [ii] See Hagner, 250 for a discussion of oral tradition. Also note Eusebius’ recounting of Papias’ perception of oral and written sources in Ecclesiastical History 3.39.4 and 5.20.6. Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine. Translated by G. A. Williamson. Revised and edited by Andrew Louth. London: Penguin Books, 1989. [iii] Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 73 n47. Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher Tuckett, “Reflections on Method: What constitutes the Use of the Writings that later formed the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers?” eds. Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tucket, The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 62. Prahlow, 5. Two factors are at work here: the fact that since many early Christian writings are no longer extant there are likely undetectable quotations present; and the possibility that contemporary sources are different the forms available to ancient authors. This is indeed the major assumption of all scholarship investigating this period, though it has not gone unquestioned by scholars such as Gamble (43). Paul Foster, “The Text of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers”, eds. Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger, The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 282 and Michael Kruger, “Early Christian Attitudes toward the Reproduction of Texts”, eds. Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger, The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 64. Larry Hurtado notes that early Christians read and circulated many other texts besides those eventually making it into the canon and that the textual integrity of writings now considered canonical was not markedly different from these now non-canonical sources. See Larry W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Grant Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 27, 32-3. [iv] James Kugel, Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible As It Was at the Start of the Common Era (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 27.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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