A Review of Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”; discussion with Historian Adam Francisco, Part 9

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?


12 thoughts on “A Review of Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”; discussion with Historian Adam Francisco, Part 9

  1. Here is what Bart Ehrman has to say about Papias’ statement regarding Aristion and John the Elder:

    Bart December 8, 2016

    In none of the quotations from Papias’s own work does he say he knew Aristion and John the Elder; the fourth century church father Eusebius tells us that Papias says he knew them. You may want to see my discussion of Papias (and Bauckham) in my book Jesus Before the Gospels. But in any event, Papias never specifies that either of these was an actual companion of Jesus.


  2. Dr. Francisco has told me that the claim in his book, “Making the Case for Christianity”, that “the traditional authorship of the Gospels is the consensus of modern NT scholars” must be correctly interpreted to say, “the traditional authorship of the Gospels is the consensus position of modern NT scholars (who do not hold a bias against traditional Christian teaching).” This clarification obviously eliminates the opinions of all liberal Christian, agnostic (Bart Ehrman), and other non-Christian NT scholars, leaving only conservative Christian NT scholars as the “pool” from which to derive a consensus position on the authorship of the Gospels.

    But what about the opinions of Roman Catholic NT scholars? Can we include Roman Catholic scholars within the acceptable “pool” of NT scholars from which Dr. Francisco (and I assume his LCMS co-authors) require to form a consensus position on this crucial issue?

    Below are excerpts from a respected Roman Catholic NT scholar, Dr. David C. Sim, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne.:

    “Eusebius lived some two hundred years after the time of Papias. Moreover, the great church historian himself [Eusebius] was not beyond error. He includes clearly fictitious material in his work. Perhaps the most famous or infamous example of this is his narration of the exchange of letters between Jesus and King Abgar of Edessa (Church History 1:13.1-9) (Brock 1992:212-234). We may add to this that Eusebius was hardly a careful transmitter of the source material he possessed. He was quite prepared to rewrite his sources extensively if it suited his theological or ecclesiological purposes (Barnes 1981:104-141; Franke 1995:72). In the light of these considerations, the veracity of Eusebius’ claim that Papias was a contemporary of Clement, Polycarp and Ignatius cannot be guaranteed.”

    Source: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=13&ved=0ahUKEwjo247nmOXQAhXHwrwKHebmBaA4ChAWCCcwAg&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ajol.info%2Findex.php%2Fhts%2Farticle%2Fdownload%2F148107%2F137612&usg=AFQjCNETm9VyzcUGD4DEU7K8J_BKLZg-Rw&bvm=bv.140915558,d.dGc

    Gary: So simply assuming that Eusebius accurately recorded Papias’ statements and positions is a mistake.


  3. Dr. Sim:

    “After the witness of Irenaeus, the belief that the disciple Matthew had written the Gospel that bears his name went unchallenged in Christian circles for many centuries. It was not until the rise of Biblical criticism in the eighteenth century, when long held church assumptions and traditions were questioned and tested according to the evidence, that the tide began to turn away from the view that the disciple Matthew wrote the first book of the Christian canon. This trend continued in the following centuries, and the dominant view in modern Matthean scholarship is that the author of this Gospel was not the disciple of Jesus.3 These scholars maintain that the internal evidence of the Gospel itself points against apostolic authorship, while the external evidence of the Church Fathers is far from trustworthy.”

    Gary: This Roman Catholic NT scholar states that it is the current consensus of NT scholars that the Apostle Matthew did NOT write the Gospel of Matthew. Will Dr. Francisco and his colleagues now claim that Roman Catholic scholars are biased against the traditional teachings of Christianity???


  4. Dr. Sim:

    “The second issue concerns the testimony [of Papias, allegedly quoted correctly by Eusebius] that Matthew compiled his Gospel in the Hebrew or Aramaic language, which was then later translated by others as best they could. This too seems not to apply to the canonical Gospel. Matthew shows no signs of having been translated from a Semitic original. On the contrary, it is widely accepted that the evangelist used the Greek Gospel of Mark and a Greek recension of Q as the basis for his own account of Jesus’ life and teaching (France 1989:62-64; Nolland 2005:3).”

    Gary: “widely accepted” infers a consensus. Bauckham’s zealous reliance on the testimony of Papias, as recorded by Eusebius, seems to be a minority, if not a fringe, view.


  5. Dr. Sim:

    footnote 3: See the chart of the opinions on the authorship of Matthew’s Gospel in Davies & Allison (1988:10-11). Of the fifty or so scholars listed, only four in the twentieth century supported the view that the disciple Matthew was the author of the Gospel.

    Gary: So 46 out of 50 twentieth century NT scholars on Davies and Allison’s list did NOT support the view that the “traditional authors” wrote the Gospels, since they discount the claim that Matthew the Apostle wrote the Gospel of Matthew. How much more proof does Dr. Francisco need to see that the claim in his book that the consensus of modern scholars favors the traditional authorship of the Gospels is false?


  6. Dr. Sim:

    “Papias is adamant that he heard the words of the elder about Mark and Matthew not from John himself, but from someone else who had heard him speak. This admission puts another link in the chain of transmission; the elder or disciple passed on the information to someone who then conveyed it to Papias in Hierapolis.

    …[NT scholar] Gundry’s attempt to make a direct connection between John the elder and Papias cannot be given any credibility. To build his case, he has to place more credence in the rather dubious testimonies of Irenaeus and Eusebius, both of which state that Papias knew his source directly, than in the explicit witness of Papias himself who concedes that he learnt of the elder’s words through an intermediary. As Gundry well knows, the presence of this mediator has significant repercussions for the reliability of the tradition Papias received.”

    Gary: So who was John the Elder? Bauckham builds his entire case for Papia’s knowledge of the eyewitnesses sources of the Gospels from this mysterious man and from a man named “Aristion”. Is there any evidence that these two men were companions of Jesus and eyewitnesses to the ministry, death, and alleged Resurrection of Jesus? As of yet, I haven’t seen any good evidence for this assumption.


  7. Dr. Sim:

    “There is simply no extant evidence that describes the process by which John the elder (or disciple) received his information about the origins of Mark and Matthew. The church tradition that comes closest to providing an account is found in Eusebius’ Church History 3.24.7. Here Eusebius relates what prompted John to write his Gospel. The disciple had no intention of committing his message to writing until the other three Gospels were widely distributed and came ultimately into his possession. He noticed that they lacked detail about the early part of Jesus’ mission, so he wrote his own Gospel to fill this gap. This account is interesting in so far as it suggests that John learnt about the other Gospels only when they came into his hands and not through any message communicated to him by their authors.

    Eusebius’ source for this story is not known. Despite the claim of some scholars that Eusebius found it in the writings of Papias (e g Hill, 1996:588-611), this is by no means certain. Eusebius does not mention Papias as his source. On the contrary, he introduces the narrative with % (“it is said”), which suggests that it came to him from an anonymous tradition (Sellew 1992:121). The story in fact has the appearance of being late and legendary rather than early and reliable. But even if it is accepted as Papian and even as historical, it provides no support for Gundry’s argument. It actually stands against his view in so far as the early church’s witness conceded that John’s statements about the origins of Mark and Matthew were based on information that was at the very least second hand.”

    Gary: Bauckham assumes that Papias’ reference to John the Elder as a “disciple of Jesus” infers that John the Elder was an eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ ministry, death, and alleged resurrection appearances. Bauckham also assumes that John the Elder knew the history and authors behind the formation of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew and passed this information on to Papias (through at least one intermediary). As Dr. Sim discusses in this quote, these assumptions could very well be false.


  8. NT scholar Bart Ehrman:

    “More than anything, conservative biblical scholars have latched on to Papias because in their opinion he provides direct evidence that the Gospel of Matthew really was written by Matthew, and the Gospel of Mark was really written by Mark. I’ll be dealing with the evidence from Papias on both matters in subsequent posts. What is even more remarkable is that some conservative scholars have actually argued that Papias gives us evidence about Luke and John, even though in none of the surviving fragments does Papias so much as *mention* Luke and John!! Scholars can be amazingly inventive sometimes…..”

    Gary: Ehrman wrote a series of interesting posts on his blog regarding Papias, beginning here:



  9. Why do (mostly evangelical) conservative Christian scholars rely so heavily on the testimony of Papias regarding some of his claims about what the apostles or the elders allegedly said, but don’t believe him on others? Did the Apostle John really say the following, as Papias says he did:

    “Thus the elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, remembered hearing him say how the Lord used to teach about those times, saying:

    “The days are coming when vines will come forth, each with ten thousand boughs; and on a single bough will be ten thousand branches. And indeed, on a single branch will be ten thousand shoots and on every shoot ten thousand clusters; and in every cluster will be ten thousand grapes, and every grape, when pressed, will yield twenty-five measures of wine.

    And when any of the saints grabs hold of a cluster, another will cry out, ‘I am better, take me; bless the Lord through me.’ So too a grain of wheat will produce ten thousand heads and every head will have ten thousand grains and every grain will yield ten pounds of pure, exceptionally fine flour. So too the remaining fruits and seeds and vegetation will produce in similar proportions. And all the animals who eat this food drawn from the earth will come to be at peace and harmony with one another, yielding in complete submission to humans.”


  10. Papias also claimed that he received the following information about Judas Iscariot from reliable sources. Do conservative Christian scholars believe the historicity of this statement?? If not, why believe the accuracy of Papias’ statements regarding the authorship of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew but not his accuracy regarding the fate of Judas Iscariot? :

    “But Judas went about in this world as a great model of impiety. He became so bloated in the flesh that he could not pass through a place that was easily wide enough for a wagon – not even his swollen head could fit. They say that his eyelids swelled to such an extent that he could not see the light at all; and a doctor could not see his eyes even with an optical device, so deeply sunken they were in the surrounding flesh. And his genitals became more disgusting and larger than anyone’s; simply by relieving himself, to his wanton shame, he emitted pus and worms that flowed through his entire body.

    And they say that after he suffered numerous torments and punishments, he died on his own land, and that land has been, until now, desolate and uninhabited because of the stench. Indeed, even to this day no one can pass by the place without holding their nose. This was how great an outpouring he made from his flesh on the ground.”

    Here is Bart Ehrman’s commentary on the practice of conservative Christian scholars “cherry-picking” the statements of Papias when it suits their purposes:

    “No one thinks this is what happened to Judas. Which means that the two traditions of Papias that can be critically examined are clearly recognized as legendary, not historical. Why then would anyone trust that Papias is reliable about something else he says – e.g., about Matthew and Mark? Papias has been trusted in these sayings, for example by conservative New Testament scholars, because these scholar want to trust him in these sayings, and for no other reason. They want to trust him because he tells them what they want to hear. And when he tells them something they don’t want to hear (in the other traditions he preserves) they choose not to trust him. This is not critical scholarship. It is uncritical scholarship. Or perhaps we should call it what it is, credulous scholarship.”


  11. And here is how we know that Papias’ reference to the Apostle Matthew writing a Gospel in Hebrew is either false, or, Papias was describing a different Gospel than the Gospel of Matthew which we have in our Bibles today:

    “And Matthew was not written in Hebrew, despite the widespread tradition/legend in the early church that it was (starting with Papias?). Matthew must have been composed in Greek. There are lots of reasons for thinking so, but I’ll just give you two. Mark’s Gospel was the source for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mark must have been written in Greek originally (linguists have shown this). In any event, Matthew and Luke must have used a Greek version as the source for (so many of) their stories, because in many, many places they agree, word-for-word- with Mark precisely in the Greek. If one or both of them was composing in Aramaic, or were copying stories from an Aramaic source and copying it by translating it themselves in Greek, they couldn’t be word-for-word the same (take any two English translations of a French or Russian novel, say Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina, and see if you repeatedly have entire sentences that are word-for-word the same!). The second reason is closely related: Matthew and Luke agree in passages, in Greek, that are not from Mark but must come from the Q source, itself originally written in Greek (since if it was written in Aramaic, again, they couldn’t agree verbatim in giving it).” —Bart Ehrman

    Source: https://ehrmanblog.org/papias-on-matthew-and-mark/


  12. Here is another quote from Papias. Does he sound like a reliable source of information as Bauckham wants us to believe?:

    “The aforesaid Papias reported as having received it from the daughters of Philip that Barsabas who is Justus, tested by the unbelievers, drank the venom of a viper in the name of the Christ and was protected unharmed. He also reports other wonders and especially that about the mother of Manaemus, her resurrection from the dead. Concerning those resurrected by Christ from the dead, that they lived until Hadrian. [6]”


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