Sunday, September 02, 2007

Some Lesser Known Evidence Relevant To Gospel Authorship (Part 2)

For some background information and an explanation of what this series of posts is about, see here.

The "Elder" Of Papias

Richard Bauckham makes a point that's often overlooked, concerning Papias' well known passage about the origins of the gospel of Mark (cited in Eusebius, Church History, 3:39:15):

"Papias claims to offer, not his own opinion about the origins of the Gospel of Mark, but what 'the Elder used to say.' If this refers (as is very likely) to John the Elder, whom we know from Papias's earlier account to have been a personal disciple of Jesus, then the time at which he was making this statement about Mark could hardly have been later than 100 CE. If Papias reports accurately what he said, then this is evidence from a relatively early date and from someone who was in quite a good position to know in what way Mark's Gospel was related to the oral teaching of Peter." (Jesus And The Eyewitnesses [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006], p. 204)

I've argued elsewhere that John the Elder is the apostle John (here and here). Regardless, Papias cited an earlier source as reporting the same information he was reporting. Papias' comments don't suggest that the traditional view of Mark's gospel originated with him.


I've mentioned, above, a source Papias cites regarding the origins of Mark's gospel. Here I'm citing Papias himself regarding one of the other gospels. I'm not referring to his comments concerning Matthew and Mark, which are well known and have been widely discussed. Rather, I'm referring to the often neglected evidence for Papias' testimony concerning the gospel of John.

The "Earliest Elders" Of Clement Of Alexandria

Clement is often included in discussions of gospel authorship, since he was among the earliest church fathers. Something seldom mentioned, however, is Eusebius' comment that Clement attained information about the gospels from "the earliest elders" (Eusebius, Church History, 6:14:5-7). (I'm citing Eusebius here because he discusses a document of Clement that's no longer extant.) We don't know just what information Clement attained from these elders. Eusebius refers to how Clement attained information about the order in which the gospels were written, but he goes on, in the same context, to cite other issues Clement discussed, including the authorship of the gospels. Whatever information Clement received from these elders, his consulting of such sources is another illustration of the fact that the early Christians were interested in historical information, what had been passed down from previous generations. Sources such as Papias, Irenaeus, and Clement weren't just speculating about which authors seemed appropriate for the gospels, nor were they just following a claim that had recently become popular.


Ptolemy, a heretic who lived around the early to mid second century, refers to the fourth gospel as written by "John, the disciple of the Lord" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1:8:5). Elsewhere, he refers to the gospel as written by "the apostle".


According to Tertullian, Marcion (a heretic who was active around the middle of the second century) used Galatians as an argument against the gospels he rejected (Matthew, Mark, and John), since the apostles behind those gospels allegedly were condemned by Paul. Notice that Marcion's argument assumes the attribution of these gospels to apostles:

"But Marcion has got hold of Paul's epistle to the Galatians, in which he rebukes even the apostles themselves for not walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, and accuses also certain false apostles of perverting the gospel of Christ: and on this ground Marcion strives hard to overthrow the credit of those gospels which are the apostles' own and are published under their names, or even the names of apostolic men, with the intention no doubt of conferring on his own gospel the repute which he takes away from those others." (Against Marcion, 4:3)

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