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When Were Matthew and Mark First Seen as Scripture: Guest Post on Papias by Stephen Carlson

Conservative Christian scholars often claim that the Gospels of Matthew and Mark were recognized as “Scripture” already by the early second century, and for evidence they appeal to the words spoken of that mysterious church father “Papias” (writing in 120 CE? 140 CE?).   But when Papias mentioned Matthew and Mark, was he speaking about the books that we now know about?  And if so did he see them as Scripture?

Here is the final guest post by Stephen Carlson on Papias, based on research he has been doing for years for a book on this and related questions.  As you’ll see, he reaches very different, and intriguing conclusions.

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The Logia of Mark and Matthew

In our last post, we considered Irenaeus’s extensive quotation of Papias for a millennial fertility tradition from the “elders” to the effect that Jesus promised that, in the resurrection, the renewed earth will be so fertile that each grape vine will produce an astronomical amount of wine, and each wheat stalk will produce a similar amount of the finest flour. Before that we also looked at Papias’s preface and noted that he said there were two kinds of material in his work, interpretations of dominical oracles and various traditions supplementing them. When this distinction is applied to the fertility tradition that Irenaeus quotes, it appears that the Jesus saying transmitted by Irenaeus is not so much an oracle and that needed an interpretation, but rather a supplementary tradition via someone named John in support of a messianic interpretation of an Old Testament promise given by Isaac to Jacob in Gen 27. This analysis supports the view that Papias’s dominical oracles are Old Testament promises and prophecies about Jesus Christ. In this post we will now look at how this interpretation fits with what Papias said about the writings of Mark and Matthew.

We have to keep in mind that the reason why we have anything at all about what Papias said about Mark and Matthew is that it served the interest of …

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Jeff  June 10, 2019

    Sorry to be off topic here but I have a general question for Bart. I know this may sound like a farce but since psilocybin mushrooms predates recorded history and had long been consumed in spiritual and divinatory ceremonies what are the possibilities of influence within the New Testament? Certainly, at least to me, the John of Revelation appears to match a psychedelic experience as well as Paul on Damascus Road. This is not limited to early Christianity as we have Hebrew accounts of a talking donkey, flaming bush, and such. Thanks.

  2. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  June 10, 2019

    Thank you, Dr. Carlson for an especially informative post.

    1
  3. Avatar
    rivercrowman  June 10, 2019

    Bart, perhaps an addition to your to do list. I’d appreciate a blog post on “Did Paul Write Hebrews in the New Testament?” Thanks very much!

  4. Avatar
    Nexus  June 10, 2019

    If we ignore Markan priority and just look at the text of Matthew, what makes us sure it was composed originally in Greek?

    Is it not possible that there could be a translator that doesn’t make the typical mistakes of other translators? Perhaps someone was native in both languages and an educated translator

    • Avatar
      Stephen Carlson  June 13, 2019

      Markan priority is a pretty big thing to ignore! At any rate, the Greek of Matthew does not read like translation Greek (unlike a lot of the Greek in the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek); there are some word play that works in Greek but not Hebrew or Aramaic; and some of the Old Testament quotations follow the Septuagint.

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      • Avatar
        Nexus  June 18, 2019

        Thank you for your response. I misread you on my first reading. I now see that you say there was a Hebrew Matthew and a Greek Matthew.

        I’ve seen many theologically motivated websites argue for Matthean priority and they always quote Papias. It has caused me cognitive dissonance seeing the similarities between our Matthew and Mark and what Papias was claiming

  5. Avatar
    Pattylt  June 10, 2019

    Would it be inaccurate to sat that at Papias’ time, Jesus was more the Messiah than God? The Son of God but not God as would later develop into trinitarianism? I’m always fascinated with how Jesus became so elevated and the apparent need of Him to become so.

    • Avatar
      Stephen Carlson  June 13, 2019

      I’ll keep the focus on Papias. We don’t really have enough to answer your question. My sense is that Papias is most interested in Jesus as the Messiah who will return in power and establish his kingdom upon the earth.

  6. Robert
    Robert  June 11, 2019

    First of all, thank you VERY much for some really interesting posts sharing the fruit of your still unpublished research!

    One point that I still don’t quite get is why you still make associations between Papias and our current gospel of Matthew, for example, here:

    “And this is largely confirmed by what we see in the gospels attributed to Mark and Matthew. … Our gospel of Matthew on the other hand adds to Mark several fulfillment citations from another source. The fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy is a redactional interest of the author of our Matthew.

    … Although the evidence is scant, I argue that it points to a messianic exegesis of Old Testament promises and prophecies, with additional material from oral traditions. … it also gives a hint about what he thought was inadequate about the writings of … Matthew. … Matthew compiled [messianic promises and prophecies] in Hebrew, apparently unaware about our Gospel of Matthew. Neither work would be helpful in his project of expounding the dominical oracles.”

    Are you thinking perhaps that Papias might have seen what he knew of as Matthew’s Hebrew collection of dominical oracles as somehow related to what eventually became what he and we now know as the Greek gospel of Matthew? If not, why make any references at all to the current gospel of Matthew? Perhaps Schleiermacher’s ghost haunts us still. …

    1
    • Avatar
      Stephen Carlson  June 13, 2019

      My view is that Papias may have heard of some composition by Matthew, but not as a gospel. And Papias probably never read it because it was in Hebrew. If there was such as composition by Matthew, it could explain why his name got attached to a revision of Mark with Old Testament testimonia.

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      • Robert
        Robert  June 13, 2019

        Stephen Carlson: “My view is that Papias may have heard of some composition by Matthew, but not as a gospel. And Papias probably never read it because it was in Hebrew. If there was such as composition by Matthew, it could explain why his name got attached to a revision of Mark with Old Testament testimonia.”

        Very interesting. So the author of our Greek Matthew would have added messianic testamonia to the gospel of Mark as well as additional sayings of Jesus, ie, logia in both the Burkittian and the Schleiermacherian senses of the term. But none of these additional logia added to our Greek Matthew would have any known relationship to what Papias knew of the logia ‘Matthew’ had reportedly composed in Hebrew.

        Two more questions, if I may:

        1. Would you like to speculate that perhaps some of messianic testamonia attributed to Matthew in Papias’ time overlapped with some of the OT fulfillment citations added to Mark’s gospel in the creation of the gospel that also came to be attributed to Matthew?

        2. Where do you stand currently with respect to Farrer, Goodacre et al vs the two-document theory, ie, Matthew’s and Luke’s independent use of Mark and Q?

        1
        • Avatar
          Stephen Carlson  June 15, 2019

          I think you’ve got what I’m saying. As for your questions:

          1. There is no real affirmative evidence for it, but it’s not implausible either. (Sorry can’t be more helpful).

          2. I’m with Goodacre.

          1
          • Robert
            Robert  June 15, 2019

            Stephen Carlson: “2. I’m with Goodacre.”

            Aha!

            Does you preference for the Farrerarian/Goodacrean solution to the synoptic problem influence your preference for a Burkittian vs Schleiermachian interpretation of Papias? Or have you looked at the Papian question completely independently of the synoptic problem?

            1
          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  June 16, 2019

            “I’m with Goodacre.”

            Have you seen the Venn Diagrams on Goodacre’s and Nongbri’s blogs?

            2
          • Avatar
            Stephen Carlson  June 17, 2019

            @Robert: Although nothing can be “completely” independent, the main basis for my conclusion is a lexical study of what the term logia actually meant, especially among those who have read Papias, in connection with what has actually survived of Papias. Besides, major Q proponents, including James M. Robinson of the Critical Edition of Q, have largely abandoned Schleiermacher’s reading of the passage.

            @Pattycake1974: Yes, really cool.

          • Robert
            Robert  June 17, 2019

            Stephen Carlson: “@Robert: Although nothing can be “completely” independent, the main basis for my conclusion is a lexical study of what the term logia actually meant, especially among those who have read Papias, in connection with what has actually survived of Papias. Besides, major Q proponents, including James M. Robinson of the Critical Edition of Q, have largely abandoned Schleiermacher’s reading of the passage.”

            We’ve already agreed that Grayson and Robinson do not read logia in Papias correctly, considering it to encompass words and deeds, as in Mark’s account. And, besides, Schleiermacher’s reading of Papias does not include a sayings source used independently by Matthew and Luke, so it really should not matter whether or not Q-proponents claim to be the legitimate heirs to Schleiermacher. I am NOT arguing that our solution to the synoptic problem should dictate how we read Papias. Quite the contrary. But my reading of Papias/Eusebius does however make good use of the connective particle that depicts Matthew’s composition, whatever it consisted of, as secondary and supplementary to Mark’s account:

            “These things are related by Papias [as originally said by Papias] concerning Mark. But concerning Matthew he said [Papias himself, not the elder] as follows:

            “So then (οὖν) Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language (Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ τὰ λόγια συνετάξατο), and every one interpreted them as he was able.”

            My primary point is that Papias/Eusebius may be read, perhaps should best be read, as most likely supporting Markan priority. Those who use the ‘Hebrew dialect’ to necessarily support Matthean priority are not paying attention to the order and sense of the extant text of Papias/Eusebius.

            One can read “every one interpreted them as he was able” within the two-source theory or as Luke interpreting Matthew.

            Agreed? Or do you require more explanation?

          • Robert
            Robert  June 18, 2019

            Oops. Correction to what I posted earlier (as if anyone cares):

            “These things are related (ιστορηται) by Papias [relating what was originally said by the elder] concerning Mark. But concerning Matthew he says [perhaps Papias himself, not necessarily the elder] as follows:

            “So then (οὖν) Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language (Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ τὰ λόγια συνετάξατο), and every one interpreted them as he was able.”

            Many people want to isolate the two traditions about Mark and Matthew as if they are unrelated, allowing the elder to be seen as a witness to Matthean priority, assuming that by writing in Hebrew he must have been writing first. But Eusebius mentions the elder’s comments about Mark’s written account first and Matthew’s logia, whatever they were, in whatever language they were written, are seen by the elder or Papias or Eusebius as providing what was lacking in Peter’s preaching and thereby also lacking in Mark’s text.

            Thus Papias does NOT support Matthean priority and may even best be read as presuming Markan priority and understanding Matthew as responsible for what was added to Mark’s narrative.

  7. Avatar
    brenmcg  June 11, 2019

    Didnt eusebius have access to papias’s work? Isnt it unlikely misunderstood papias use of logia?

    • Avatar
      Stephen Carlson  June 13, 2019

      It’s not a major misunderstanding. I don’t think that Eusebius would have even noticed that Papias had a more narrow understanding of scripture than Eusebius.

  8. Avatar
    Epikouros  June 11, 2019

    Bart, are you familiar with _The Quest for Mark’s Sources_ by Thomas P Nelligan? I’m reading it now. Very interesting. (My apologies if you’ve commented on this before and I missed it.)

    • Bart
      Bart  June 12, 2019

      Nope, I”m afraid not. It’s amazing what I don’t know….

      1
  9. Avatar
    lobe  June 18, 2019

    These posts have been awesome, some of my favorites on the blog (Sorry Bart! lol) I’ve long been interested in the works of Papias. Thanks for sharing your expertise, Dr. Carlson!

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