Chapter 9: Papias on Mark and Matthew
I can describe my experience reading this chapter with one word: maddening! It is maddening to me how the conservative Christian author of this book has supported his claim that the Gospels contain eyewitness testimony by presenting the flimsiest of evidence consisting mostly of assumptions and outright guesses.
The paragraph below from pages 227-228 summarizes Bauckham’s claims in this chapter:
“In summary then, we find that Papias was contrasting the lack of order in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew with the order to be found in the Gospel of John. He took for granted that all three Gospels originated from eyewitness testimony, but whereas the Gospel of John was actually written by an eyewitness, the Gospels of Mark and Matthew (in the form available to Papias) were at one stage of transmission removed from the direct report of the eyewitness in question himself. In Mark’s case, Peter’s oral testimony was translated and recorded by Mark, and this accounts for its lack of order, that is, the lack of literary arrangement, which in the case of a Gospel Papias, concerned as he was with best historiographic practice, expected to be chronological. Mark himself was not to be criticized but rather praised for limiting himself to recording Peter’s testimony, no more and no less, and refraining from giving the material an order that, not being an eyewitness himself, he was not capable of supplying. Mark’s Gospel, then, in Papias’ view was really an incomplete historical work; Mark had established the first stage of an historian’s task, that of recording the eyewitness source, but was not able to complete the work by putting the material in order. Given this limitation, Papias valued Mark’s Gospel because of its scrupulously accurate record of the chreiai (vignettes/scenes) as Peter related them. Matthew’s Gospel, in the Greek form that Papias knew, also, when similarly set against the standard of John’s Gospel , lacked order, but the reason for this was different. The original Hebrew or Aramaic work written by the eyewitness himself must have had the accurate order Matthew would have been able to give it, but Papias thought this order had been disrupted by those who exercised considerable freedom in their rendering of the Gospel in Greek. These evaluations of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew make excellent sense once we realize that Papias valued above all the Gospel of John, which was directly written by an eyewitness and offered a much more precise chronological sequence of events. It was by comparison with John that Papias had to see the Gospels of Mark and Matthew as lacking order, but, not wishing to dismiss these Gospels, Papias set out to explain why they lacked order but were nevertheless of great value because of their closeness to eyewitness testimony.”
Gary: Holy crap.
Let’s pick this amazing (chutzpa) paragraph apart. First, on what evidence does Bauckham claim that Papias even knew of the existence of the Gospel of John, let alone regarded it as more reliable chronologically than the Gospels of Matthew and Mark?
“There should be no doubt that Papias knew John’s Gospel.” p. 225
Gary: Bauckham makes this bold statement but then in the footnotes acknowledges that there are good scholars who don’t agree with this claim, including Koertner (Papias, p. 197). How can any scholar with any sense of integrity make such a cock-sure statement in the body of his text, but then in small print, at the bottom of the page, meekly admit that there are scholars who DO doubt that Papias knew of John’s Gospel?
Smells of careless over-exuberance, at best, dishonesty, at worst.
“…Papias’ list of seven disciples of Jesus is a distinctively Johannine list, following the order in which six of them appear in John’s Gospel (Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John). From that Johannine sequence only Nathaniel is omitted, because doubtless Papias wished to keep the list to the symbolic number seven and wished to include the non-Johannine disciple, Matthew, on account of his importance as the author of a Gospel.” p.226
Gary: Holy Mind Reading, Batman!
Mr. Bauckham believes that he is capable of accurately divining the rationale of a man living nineteen hundred years ago in selecting a list of names. “Doubtless Papias wished to keep the list to the symbolic number seven????” Wow! My goodness. Just how far are you willing to stretch the evidence in your, obviously, desperate attempt to confirm your foregone conclusion, Mr. Bauckham?
“In addition, we may note that Irenaeus ascribes to “the elders” a passage including a passage from John 14:2, a passage Irenaeus probably derived from Papias.” p. 226
Gary: Once again, an assumption. No evidence for this claim provided other than a footnote to a work by scholar J.B. Lightfoot.
“(There is also an Armenian reference to Papias, which seems to depend on a comment he made on John 19:39, though the reliability of this evidence may not be entirely secure.)” p. 226
Gary: So not good evidence, just a possible inference.
And that’s it, folks! Based on this meager “evidence” Bauckham builds the case that the non-eyewitness authors of Mark and Matthew derive their Gospels from eyewitness sources, but did not correctly chronologically order their Gospels, and, the Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness and provides the correct chronological order for the events in the life and death of Jesus.
But wait a minute! What does that say about the chronological order in the Gospel of Luke? The author of Luke assures his readers in the opening verses of his Gospel that he was very careful to give an accurate rendering of the eyewitness testimony which he had received. Yet, the chronology in the Gospel of Luke more closely parallels the chronology of Mark and Matthew, not that of John! Are we therefore to believe that all three Synoptic Gospels are chronologically out of order???
And let’s look at Bauckham’s claim that the Greek statement by Papias is best translated to mean that John Mark did not simply write down stories which he remembered Peter telling at some time in the past. No, Bauckham believes that John Mark sat and translated into Greek while Peter essentially dictated the individual stories to John Mark, in Aramaic. Therefore Mark’s Gospel is Peter’s very words, only translated into Greek. But if that is true, note this comment by Papias,
“He (John Mark) did not omit (nor did he add to) anything he had heard (from Peter).”
Interesting. So if Bauckham is correct, John Mark was simply Peter’s Greek translating transcriptionist. The Gospel of Mark is eyewitness testimony. We can believe that everything said in the Gospel of Mark came directly from Simon Peter’s mouth; a man who was an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus, the chief apostle of Jesus’ disciples, and eyewitness to Jesus’ multiple post-resurrection appearances and his Ascension into heaven.
But wait! The (original) Gospel of Mark says not one word about the Virgin Birth or Jesus’ birth in King David’s hometown of Bethlehem; never mentions any post-resurrection appearances, nor an Ascension. Are we really to believe that John Mark wrote down all of Peter’s “dictation sessions”…but Peter left out these critical events in the Christian Story?
But, oh, yeah, I forgot. These events were not part of Mark’s “theme”…or, he ran out of papyrus/parchment…or, some other excuse to keep this ancient tale alive. (common Christian harmonizations for this discrepancy.) Good grief.
If John Mark really did write down the words of the chief disciple of Jesus, why didn’t he just say so? If his purpose in writing this book was the furtherance of the Good News of eternal salvation by belief and obedience to Jesus, why play hide and seek about the eyewitness source of his information? Why hide the identity of his source with literary techniques such as an “inclusio”? How many more people over the last 2,000 years would have been spared an eternity of suffering in Hell if John Mark had just told us that Peter, an eyewitness, was the source of his information!
And think about this, Readers: If the Christian god really is the all-knowing, all-powerful, loving, just, Creator God, why in the world did he leave us so few clues to find the truth about Jesus? Why does Mr. Bauckham need to twist himself into an exhausted pretzel, parsing the meaning of Greek verbs and hunting for hidden literary techniques, in four anonymous books that supposedly this god gave mankind as “Good News”; vital information meant to save mankind from eternal doom and suffering?
Doesn’t the evidence, or more accurately, the lack thereof, much more strongly suggest the probability that these books were not “inspired” by a god, but simply supernatural-based stories by men; men who sincerely believed in the veracity of what they wrote, but men who were sincerely wrong?