Scripture among the Apologists: Justin’s Use of John

apostle-johnDiscussions surrounding Justin’s knowledge of the Fourth Gospel typically take place apart from considerations of the Synoptic tradition and catechetical materials.[i] Few have suggested the Apology’s total independence from Johannine thought, primarily due to the intensity of attention which Justin assigns to the logos and his general historical context.[ii] Regarding Justin’s knowledge of the text of John’s Gospel, however, divergent opinions abound. Some, such as Bellinzoni and Bousset, reject any sort of textual relationship between Justin and the Fourth Gospel.[iii] Others, such as Metzger and Skarskaune, locate several specific instances wherein it appears John has influenced Justin, such as the quotation of Psalm 22.16b/18b in Apology 35.5-8, which contains details about the nails in Jesus’ hands (but not feet) only mentioned in John 20:25;[iv] or the Johannine idea that Christ is the only-begotten Son in Apology 64.2.[v] Still others, such as Massaux and Thoma, argue for numerous allusions to the Fourth Gospel throughout the Apology.[vi]

The most important factors surrounding Justin’s knowledge and use of the Fourth Gospel in the Apology involve the potential citation of John 3.3-5 in Apology 61.4-5 and Justin’s treatment of the logos. Explanations for the source of Apology 61.4-5 are not lacking: Mender and Volkmar suggest the passage was developed from Matthew 18.3 and another non-Johannine source.[vii] Helmut Koester argues that Justin references an independent tradition concerning baptism and new birth, found elsewhere and only partially referenced in John 3.[viii] Most convincing are the perspectives of Massaux, Romanides, and Pryor, who all find Apology 61.4-5 literarily dependent upon John 3.3-5.[ix]

Baptism of Jesus MuralEspecially clarifying is Pryor’s treatment of this passage, where he argues that a) the slight verbal variation of this passage from John 3 demonstrates nothing beyond literary practices; b) the absence of certain terms (such as ανωθεν and εξ πνεθματος) is not surprising given the apologetic context in which Justin was writing; c) the needs of genre trump precise textual exegesis; and d) any Matthean features of this passage may easily attributed to Justin’s knowledge of Matthew 18.2 and the currency of that passage in Roman baptismal context.[x] In the words of Rominades, “Rather than postulate a thus far non-existent gospel source, it seems much more consistent with the general condition of our source materials to attribute the patristic variations in question to slips of memory and confusion of Johannine, Matthean and oral catechetical terminology and expressions, due especially to the very strong influence of Matthew because of its central position in catechism and the constant use made of it in teaching by the Church Teachers and Fathers in question.”[xi]

[i] Pryor, 157. Romanides, 115. See also Gustav Volkmar, Uber Justin den Martyrer und sein Verhaltniss zu unsern Evangelien (Zurich: F. Riesling, 1853). Ezra Abbot, The Authorship of the Fourth Gospel: External Evidences (Boston: Geo. H. Ellis, 1880). Wilhelm Bousset, Die Evangeliencitate Justins des Martyrers: In Ihrem Wert Fur Die Evangelienkritik (Gottingen:  Kessinger, 1891). William Sanday, The Criticism of the Fourth Gospel: Eight Lectures on the Morse Foundation (New York: University of Michigan Press, 1905). Philip Schaff, Apostolic Christianity: A.D. 1-100 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1955), 701ff. [ii] For example, it would be rather difficult to assert that Justin, teacher of Tatian, did not know a work which his student would later incorporate as an integral part of his Diatessaron. Furthermore, it remains rather unlikely that the leading city of the Roman Empire did not receive a document such as Fourth Gospel until during or just after the Marcion controversy. On this context, see Romanides, 117-8. [iii] Bellinzoni, 140. Bousset, 118-121. Davey, 117-122. [iv] Skarsaune, “Justin and His Bible”, 67. See also the prophecy of Zechariah 1.10 found in Apology 52.10-12, which uses the reading found only in John 19.37. [v] Metzger, 146-7. See also a possible connection between Apology 32.7-11 and John 1.13-14. [vi] Cf. Apology 6.2 and John 4.24; Apology 32.10 and John 1.14; Apology 32.9, 11 and John 1.13; Apology 33.2 and John 14.29; Apology 35.8 and John 19.23-4; Apology 61.4-5 and John 3.3-5; and Apology 63.15 and John 1.1. Massaux, 46-7. Abbot, 63. See also Walther von Loewenich, Das Johannes-Verstandnis im zweiten Jahrhundert (Giessen: Topelman, 1932), 47. [vii] Siegfried Mender, “Nokodemus”, JBL 77, 4 (1958): 320. Volkmar, 22. Volkmar suggests some reliance on the Gospel of Peter here. [viii] Helmut Koester, “History and Cult in the Gospel of John and in Ignatius of Antioch”, trans. Arthur Bellinzoni, The Bultmann School of Biblical Interpretation: New Directions? (San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1965), 63. A variant on this position indicates that Justin is an independent witness to a pre-Johannine tradition about new birth and baptism. See Georg Richter, “Zum sogenannten Tauftext Joh 3,5”, ed. J. Hainz, Studient zum Johannesevangelium (BU 13; Regensburg: Pustet, 1977), 330-1. [ix] Massaux, 47. Romanides, 116. Pryor, 163f. [x] Pryor, 164-6. [xi] Romanides, 133.


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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