Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Justin Martyr, the Memoirs, and the Gospel

By Samuel Green


Justin Martyr (AD 100 - c. 165) was an early Christian apologist. His writings give us an important glimpse into early Christianity. Bart Ehrman refers to Justin Martyr and makes the following claims about the Gospels.

When the Gospels of the New Testament are alluded to and quoted by authors of the early second century, they are never entitled, never named. Even Justin Martyr, writing around 150-160 CE, quotes verses from the Gospels, but does not indicate what the Gospels were named. For Justin, these books are simply known, collectively, as the "Memoirs of the Apostles." It was about a century after the Gospels had been originally put in circulation that they were definitively named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This comes, for the first time, in the writings of the church father and heresiologist Irenaeus, around 180-85 CE. (Bart Ehrman, Forged: Writing in the name of God, HarperCollins: New York, 2012, p. 225)

Bart Ehrman teaches that,
1. the books about Jesus were known simply as "memoirs".
2. these memoirs were not individually named.
3. the Gospels were given names around the end of the second century.

What Ehrman teaches has been widely accepted and repeated by atheists and Muslims, and used by them as a way of discrediting the Bible. But it is true what Ehrman teaches? Let us read Justin Martyr ourselves.

Reading Justin Martyr

First Apology, 66

For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, "This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;" and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My blood;" and gave it to them alone. (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66)

In the above quote we see Justin Martyr identify the "memoirs of the apostles" as books called "Gospels". Justin calls the books about Jesus, Gospels, not just memoirs.

First Apology, 67

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 67)

Here we see the early Christians reading the memoirs/Gospels along with the other scriptures when they meet on Sunday.

Dialogue with Trypho, 103

For in the memoirs which I say were drawn up by His apostles and those who followed them, [it is recorded] that His sweat fell down like drops of blood while He was praying, and saying, 'If it be possible, let this cup pass.' (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 103)

Here Justin says that the memoirs/Gospels were made by the Apostles and their companions, and he quotes verses found in Luke 22:42-44.

Dialogue with Trypho, 106

And when it is said that He changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and when it is written in his memoirs that this so happened, as well as that He changed the names of other two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means sons of thunder. (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 106)

In this quote Justin speaks of Jesus changing the name of the Apostle Peter, and that this event is recorded in Peter’s memoirs/Gospel. That is, Justin associated the name of Peter with one of the Gospels.

What is Peter's gospel? We read about Jesus changing Peter's name in Mark 3:16-17, and the early church father, Papias, records that Mark was the scribe for Peter.1 Therefore, Peter's Gospel is the Gospel according to Mark.

In summary, Justin Martyr called the memoirs of the Apostles, Gospels. He says they were made by the Apostles and their companions. He associates the name of Peter to one of the Gospels. He quotes from them in a way that we can immediately recognize; and finally he says that Christians read the Gospels along with the Old Testament scripture.


When we read Justin Martyr ourselves we see that what Ehrman teaches is false: Justin Martyr called the memoirs of the Apostles, Gospels; and he assigns the name of Peter to one of them. Therefore, it is not Irenaeus who first assigns names to the Gospels. We see Justin Martyr using names around 30 years before Irenaeus.


1 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3:39:15

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