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Yeshua in Context » Eyewitnesses, Formation of the Gospels » Papias: Mark, Matthew, John #1

Papias: Mark, Matthew, John #1

Just some notes related to my absorption of Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, in this case about chapter 9, “Papias on Mark and Matthew.”

Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 330) famously quotes Papias (c. 110) regarding some background to Mark and Matthew. Note that Papias is not correct simply because his comments are old, closer to the time the evangelists wrote. There are many ambiguities in what Papias says and Bauckham critically evaluates the statements rather than talking them as gospel. The main issues include:
(1) How can Mark’s gospel be from eyewitness testimony (Peter’s) and be so different from another eyewitness source (the fourth gospel, thought by Bauckham to be the work of John the elder)?
(2) In what way can we make sense of and find support for the idea that Peter is largely behind Mark’s gospel?
(3) How can we explain the refined literary features in Mark (which likely developed through writing and not orally) if it is simply a record of Peter’s oral teaching?
(4) What does the “Hebrew” compilation of sayings said by Papias to be recorded by Matthew have to do with our Greek gospel of Matthew?
(5) Is Papias saying something implicitly about John’s gospel?
(6) Do we see signs that Eusebius disagreed with Papias, used him only selectively, and further confused us by omitting content from Papias that would have made the saying far easier to understand?

It’s all a bit complicated to say the least. Bauckham’s evaluation is a workable theory. I will cite the words of Papias as they occur in Eusebius and as they appear in translation in Bauckham’s book:

The Elder used to say: Mark, in his capacity as Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately as many things as he [Peter?] recalled from memory — though not in an ordered form — of the things either said or done by the Lord. For he [Mark] neither heard the Lord not accompanied him, but later, as I said, [he heard and accompanied] Peter, who used to give his teachings in the form of chreia, but had no intention of providing an ordered arrangement of the logia of the Lord. Consequently Mark did nothing wrong when he wrote down some individual items just as he [Peter] related them from memory. For he made it his one concern not to omit anything he had heard or to falsify anything. . . .

. . . Therefore Matthew put the logia in an ordered arrangement in the Hebrew language, but each person interpreted them as best he could.

Chreia – Short units about a persons words and deeds. In Greek rhetoric, the chreia form was a basic unit of biographical or historical writing. A comparable term might be “literary anecdote.”
Logia – Sayings.

Bauckham’s theory about all of this is very workable (my summary may not accurately reflect Bauckham’s thoughts at every point, but I did try in the list below not to diverge much from what he actually says):

(1) Eusebius did not agree with Papias about Mark lacking order, but wanted only to quote Papias as evidence that Mark is based on Peter’s eyewitness accounts.

(2) Papias was substantially wrong about Mark lacking order and being nothing more than a written account of Peter’s oral teaching.

(3) Papias had second-hand contact with the teaching of John the Elder (as Papias claims in another citation).

(4) Papias regarded John the Elder, a disciple of Yeshua though not mentioned in the gospels, as the author of the fourth gospel, the Gospel of John (as does Bauckham).

(5) Papias preferred the way John is written (because of (6) below) and sought to explain how the order in John is so different than in Mark.

(6) John (the fourth gospel) more closely follows some features of refined style for biographies than Mark and gives his account a careful and seamless chronological framework.

(7) Papias was aware that the Greek Matthew used in his church was substantially different than some other “Matthews” floating around (The Gospel of the Nazarenes and The Gospel of the Ebionites) and seeks to explain the differences.

(8) It is unclear how Papias viewed the relationship of the alleged Hebrew Matthew (which we do not possess) to the Greek Matthew (theories are legion but we really know nothing about a Hebrew Matthew except that the Matthew we all know is not translated from a Hebrew original).

(9) The Greek Matthew is easily explained as a gospel by an unknown author who used Mark as a source and had other material at his disposal as well (if the author of Matthew were the apostle Matthew we would have to wonder why he follows Mark rather than giving his own account).

(10) Although Papias may have been wrong about Mark being simply a written version of Peter’s teaching, there is a basis with substantial evidence for a more general claim: that Peter’s teaching is a major source for Mark.

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Filed under: Eyewitnesses, Formation of the Gospels

2 Responses to "Papias: Mark, Matthew, John #1"

  1. Jeff Marx says:

    Is it possible that the so-called “Q” sayings source is one of the documents being referred to here? Perhaps there are precursors to our current Gospels which have since been lost. You have to figure that the persecutions and the fall of Jerusalem resulted in loss of some documents.
    I know that the names attached to each Gospel is later (though I do not know how late) and do not appear in the works themselves.

  2. yeshuain says:


    Awesome to hear from you. I think you have a blessing arriving any day, right?

    Yes, it has been suggested that the Hebrew Matthew Papias referred to is actually Q and perhaps compiled by the apostle Matthew. The evidence is slim, but it is a possibility.

    I happen to doubt the existence of Q (as a growing fan of Mark Goodacre’s books).

    Anyway, good catch and glad to see how on the ball you are in your gospel studies. Would that more pastors read and thought about these kinds of topics!

    Derek Leman

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