Since the Church father Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, is one of the earliest sources apologists point to for an early date for the gospels, I thought I'd provide this little sneak preview of the pertinent section in the upcoming hard-copy edition of my book Who Was Jesus?
This is only a DRAFT
of this section from my chapter "Jesus Outside of the Bible," so bear with me. Of course, the final will possess all the necessary footnotes. In that chapter there will be some very juicy data regarding the late dating of the gospel of Luke in particular - this particular info also may constitute a "smoking gun
." Just a little appetite whetting...
Church Father Papias
Christian apologetics for the early gospel dates rely on the very slimmest of evidence, including a very late third-hand testimony of a late second-hand testimony that "Mark" had written a narrative, supposedly based on the experiences of Peter as related by the apostle himself. In the fourth century, Church historian Eusebius quoted Bishop Papias of Hierapolis (c. 70?-c. 155? AD/CE) as referring to the "presbyter John" and stating:
This, too, the presbyter used to say. "Mark, who had been Peter's interpreter, wrote down carefully, but not in order, all that he remembered of the Lord's sayings and doings. For he had not heard the Lord or been one of His followers, but later, as I said, one of Peter's. Peter used to adapt his teachings to the occasion, without making a systematic arrangement of the Lord's sayings, so that Mark was quite justified in writing down some things just as he remembered them. For he had one purpose only - to leave out nothing that he had heard, and to make no misstatement about it.
Regarding the bishop of Hierapolis, the Catholic Encyclopedia says, "Of Papias's life nothing is known." In other words, we do not even know who this person is that Eusebius is allegedly quoting regarding these purported earlier texts. According to Eusebius - in disagreement with Irenaeus, who suggested Papias had known the apostle John - Papias had no direct acquaintance with any of the apostles:
…Papias himself in the preface to his work makes it clear that he was never a hearer or eyewitness of the holy apostles, and tells us that he learnt the essentials of the faith from their former pupils.
The assumption that the "presbyter John" with whom Papias apparently had a relationship was the same as the apostle John is evidently incorrect. Papias himself remarked that he received his knowledge second-hand, even about the apostle John, when he stated:
And whenever anyone came who had been a follower of the presbyters, I inquired into the words of the presbyters, what Andrew or Peter had said, or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew, or any other disciple of the Lord, were still saying.
As the bishop indicates, he was in communication with none of the other apostles or direct disciples of the Lord. Indeed, even where Papias is discussing what the apostles said, for the most part he is merely passing along what he had heard from their former followers. What exactly is meant by "former pupils?" Such a statement implies that these individuals were either no longer followers or were deceased. If these individuals Papias is relying on were not even Christ's followers at that time, why should we trust their words? Many of Papias's remarks, according to Eusebius, involved miracles, such as the raising of the dead, which stretch the credulity. Are we supposed merely to take Papias's word on what else he was told by these "former followers?" Moreover, even Eusebius does not think highly of Papias, remarking, "For he seems to have been a man of very small intelligence, to judge from his books."
It should be noted moreover that Papias specifically states the evangelist Mark had not heard Jesus or been one of his followers
; yet, numerous apologists have asserted that Mark was possibly one of the 70/72 disciples of Jesus when he was alive and on Earth.
Regarding Papias's discussion of the "Gospel of Matthew," a purported collection of Jesus's sayings in "Hebrew" or, rather, Aramaic, Tenney remarks:
The testimony of Papias has been frequently rejected, since no trace of an Aramaic original has survived and the language of the Gospel bears no marks of being a Greek translation.
Nevertheless, Papias's remarks about a book of sayings
in Aramaic by Matthew may well refer to a text extant in his time, which was used by the evangelists. Indeed, in some early Christian texts, there appear sayings that parallel those found in the gospels, but, again, these isolated logia could easily be from earlier source texts used by the evangelists as well. In "The Use of the Logia of Matthew in the Gospel of Mark," Charles A. Briggs states:
The Logia of the apostle Matthew, written in the Hebrew language, according to the testimony of Papias, in the citation of Eusebius, was one of the most important sources of the Gospels. Certainly a considerable portion of the Sayings of Jesus given in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke came from this source. It is still in dispute, however, whether the Logia of Matthew was used by the Gospels of Mark and John.
Modern scholars have struck upon a sayings gospel called "Q" for the German term Quelle, meaning "source." In New Testament Documents
, Christian scholar F.F. Bruce naturally posits that Q is in fact based on the Matthaean logia, or sayings found in the Aramaic Gospel of Matthew. It would be reasonable to suggest that such a text or texts were used by both the evangelists and early Christian writers; thus, the existence of sayings in early Christian texts that parallel those found in the canonical gospels does not prove the existence of the latter at the time the former were composed.
Despite all these factors, Papias is one of the only pieces of evidence Christian apologetics can offer as to the dating of the gospels - but his testimony concerning these writings coming from Mark and Matthew is not only second-hand but also too late to possess any value as concerns the earliest of the gospels dates. Moreover, Papias only speaks about a "narrative by Mark," which by no means conclusively refers to the canonical Mark as we have it.