9. Papias on Mark and Matthew
Eusebius preserves some information from Papias of Hierapolis regarding the origin of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.14-16):
We must now add to his [Papias’s] statements quoted above about Mark, the author of the Gospel, which has been set forth in these words:
The Elder used to say: Mark, in his capacity as Peter’s interpreter [hermeneutes], wrote down accurately as many things as he [Peter?] recalled from memory — though not in an ordered form [ou mentoi taxei] — of the things either said or done by the Lord. For he [Mark] neither heard the Lord nor accompanied him, but later, as I said, [he heard and accompanied] Peter, who used to give his teachings in the form of chreiai, but had no intention of providing an ordered arrangement [suntaxin] 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.
This, then, is the account given by Papias about Mark. But about Matthew the following was said:
Therefore Matthew put the logia in an ordered arrangement [sunetaxato] in the Hebrew language [hebraidi dialecto], but each person interpreted them as best he could.
This is the earliest surviving claim that Peter’s teaching was behind Mark’s Gospel. During the twentieth century it came to be regarded as historically worthless and it has been suggested that Papias wished to give greater authority to a Gospel ascribed to an unknown Mark by identifying this Mark with Peter’s close associate from 1 Peter 5:13. However, Bauckham believes there are good reasons to look at this passage again:
- Mark uses an inclusio, which was recognized by Luke and John, to indicate that Peter was the primary eyewitness source of his Gospel (chapter 6).
- There is a Petrine perspective in the Gospel of Mark (chapter 7).
- Another passage from Papias was credible and consistent with other evidence (chapter 2).
- This is a saying of the Elder. If this Elder is John the Elder (mentioned in Eusebius just prior to the quoted section above) then we have access to the words of a disciple of Jesus who would have been in a position to know the origin of Mark’s Gospel.
- It is unlikely that Papias invented this idea on the basis of 1 Peter 5:13 for if that were the case it would make more sense for him to ascribe the tradition to Peter as opposed to a middleman like John the Elder.
I don’t think point five holds up because Peter was martyred before Papias was born or very early in Papias’ life, thus making it impossible for Papias to have claimed to have received information about the Gospel of Mark directly from Peter. If he were inventing this idea, some middleman was needed. However, I am not aware of any reason to think Papias invented this idea and the first four points provide enough reasons to thoughtfully consider the words of Papias.
Mark as Peter’s Interpreter
Papias claims that Mark was Peter’s interpreter (hermeneutes). This term indicates that either Mark translated Peter’s words from one language to another or Mark provided an explanation of Peter’s words. In this passage, Papias excuses Mark’s lack of order by pointing out that Mark did nothing more than write down what Peter had said. Therefore, Papias is saying Mark acted as Peter’s translator. This does not mean that Peter could not speak or write Greek, merely that he felt Mark could write better Greek than he could.
Consistent with this view is Papias’ assertion that Mark “made it his one concern not to omit anything he had heard or to falsify anything.” This is a version of a stock formula by which an author claims to have neither omitted nor added anything (e.g., Lucian, Hist. Conscr. 47; Dionysius of Halicarnassus, De Veterum Censura 5; Philo, De Vita Mosis 2.34).
Everything Peter Remembered
Scholars debate the subject of two phrases in this passage: (1) “he recalled from memory [emnemoneusen]” and (2) “he related them from memory [apemnemoneusen]”. Grammatically, the subject could be Mark or Peter. The parallel structure of the two phrases necessitates that the subject is the same person in both phrases. In the first phrase the word order suggests that Peter is the subject. Moreover, since the thrust of the passage is that Mark faithfully recorded Peter’s words, the first phrase must mean that “Mark wrote down what Peter remembered” as opposed to “Mark wrote down what he remembered Peter saying.” The verb in the second phrase, apomnemoneuo, properly means to relate from memory. It makes little sense to think the second phrase means “Mark wrote down some individual items just as he [Mark] related them from memory.” It makes good sense that the second phrase menas “Mark wrote down some individual items just as he [Peter] related them from memory.”
The noun apomnemoneumata, meaning “memoirs” or “reminiscences”, derives from the verb apomnemoneuo. This noun was used in the titles of literary works which were usually memoirs written by an eyewitness about a famous person. Justin Martyr calls the Gospel of Mark Peter’s apomnemoneumata (Dialogue 106.3).
The next phrase to be studied is that Peter “used to give his teachings in the form of chreiai, but had no intention of providing an ordered arrangement [suntaxin] of the logia of the Lord.” In this context, logia probably means short reports about the Lord because “the logia of the Lord” must parallel the phrase “the things either said or done by the Lord.”
The phrase “in the form of chreiai” (pros tas chreias) used to be translated as “according to needs” but this translation has largely been abandoned. It is now taken to mean the rhetorical form defined as “a concise and pointed account of something said or done, attributed to some particular person” (Aelius Theon, Progymnasmata 3.2-3). This definition fits with the actual contents of Mark. An English equivalent may be the term “anecdote.”
Mark’s Lack of Order
Bauckham believes that Papias’ comment about Mark’s lack of order primarily points to Mark’s lack of chronological order. The reason Papias gives for Mark’s lack of order is that Mark was not an eyewitness. A non-eyewitness could have ordered Peter’s sayings topically, but not chronologically.
Mark, Matthew, and John
About the Gospel of Matthew, Papias says, “Therefore Matthew put the logia in an ordered arrangement [sunetaxato] in the Hebrew language [hebraidi dialecto], but each person [hekastos] interpreted [hermeneusen] them as best he could.” “The occurrence of both hebraidi dialecto and hermeneusen in the same sentence strongly suggests that Papias is talking about translation from one language to another, not style and transmission [i.e., a Semitic style of composition]” (p. 223). Thus, Papias is saying that multiple people had translated Matthew’s original text and changed it in a way that disrupted the original’s ordered arrangement.
In his comments on Mark, Papias hinted that he believed correct chronological order had to be derived from an eyewitness. In order to know that Matthew and Mark were out of chronological order he must have had access to another Gospel, written by an eyewitness, that provided chronological order. The Gospel of John is just such a Gospel.
Is Mark’s Gospel Really “Not in Order”?
Mark contains many discrete narrative units that are linked together loosely. However, they are not placed together randomly. There are some topical collections (e.g., the controversy stories in 2:1-3:6) and there is a general chronological framework (e.g., the Gospel begins with the ministry of John the Baptist and ends with the passion narrative and resurrection). Thus Papias is not correct that Mark did nothing more than record what he heard from Peter. But we must remember that Papias is comparing Mark’s Gospel to his own ideals of historiographic composition. Papias was probably looking for a continuous narrative like those of Tacitus or Plutarch. Mark’s structure is characteristic of oral composition and Papias, with his literary preoccupations, would not have recognized the oral methods of stucturing a narrative. Therefore it is easy to understand how Papias has exaggerated Mark’s lack of order.
Mark as Peter’s Gospel
Justin Martyr described the Gospel of Mark as the memoirs of Peter (Dialogue 106.3) and Papias notes Peter’s influence on Mark. Bauckham notes two other references that may provide independent testimony to Peter’s influence on Mark. He realizes the speculative nature of this section.
The first reference is in the Gospel of Thomas 13 where Thomas shows appreciation for Jesus’ ineffable nature, while Peter and Matthew are depicted as lacking insight. The use of Peter is explicable since he was the most prominent apostolic figure among the orthodox Christians from whom the Gospel of Thomas wanted to distinguish itself. But why Matthew, an obscure apostle? It may be because Matthew’s Gospel was being denigrated. It is noteworthy that in saying 13 Matthew says Jesus is like a wise philosopher, which is a description that could be given to the Matthean Jesus. If this is so, then the reference to Peter could be a reference to the Gospel of Mark.
The second reference occurs in Stromateis 7.106.4 by Clement of Alexandria. Clement states that the Egyptian Gnostic teacher Basilides claimed to have been taught by Glaucia, “the interpreter of Peter.” This closely parallels Papias’ statement that Mark was the interpreter of Peter. Basilides may have been paralleing the tradition about Mark’s Gospel in order to bulster his own claims.