Papias, Origen, and Eusebius: The Criticisms and Defense of the Gospel of John

In: Vigiliae Christianae
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The question of whether or not Papias recorded anything about John’s Gospel has garnered a lot of attention in the scholarly realms of New Testament and Patristics alike. Most notably, Charles E. Hill has recently argued that a portion of Eusebius’ testimony (HE 3.24.5-13) on the origins of the Gospel of John derives from the record of Papias. Aspects of Hill’s proposal are largely convincing, particularly the links he draws between Eusebius’ testimony and other writers who knew the Papian tradition. However, Hill has overestimated the influence of Papias on Eusebius’ account and missed a crucial, albeit subtle, correction by Eusebius against his hero, Origen. This article suggests that the argument for Gospel compatibility found in 3.24.8b-13 is Eusebius’ own direct response to the criticisms raised by Origen that the divergent chronology of the Gospel of John demonstrates its historical unreliability.

  • 1)

    C.E. Hill, “What Papias Said about John (and Luke): A ‘New’ Papian Fragment,” Journal of Theological Studies 49 (1998) 582-629. Hill’s argument develops the earlier notice of V. Bartlet, “Papias’ ‘Exposition’: Its Date and Contents,” in H.G. Wood (ed.), Amicitiae Corolla. A Volume of Essays Presented to James Rendel Harris, D. Litt. On the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday (London 1933) 15-44.

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  • 5)

    See Hill, “What Papias Said,” 588-592.

  • 7)

    See Hill, “What Papias Said,” 592-596. Hill lists the following examples: (i) authorial humility, (ii) distillation of apostolic preaching, (iii) Apostolic “memoirs” (ὑποµνήµατα), (iv) order of events in the Gospels (τάξις), and (v) canonical ratification.

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  • 10)

    Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 433.

  • 11)

    E.g. Eusebius, HE 3.24.8b-10, 12-13.

  • 12)

    Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 433.

  • 20)

    S. Laeuchli, “The Polarity of the Gospels in the Exegesis of Origen,” Church History 21 (1952) 215.

  • 21)

    Hill, “What Papias Said,” 596-606.

  • 26)

    Bauckham, “Papias and Polycrates,” 55.

  • 29)

    Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 433; cf. Bartlet, “Papias’ ‘Exposition’,” 27, n. 1.

  • 30)

    Hill, “What Papias Said,” 593-4, 599 and “Orthodox Gospel,” 288.

  • 31)

    Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 433.

  • 37)

    Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 434-5.

  • 38)

    See Hill, “What Papias Said,” 592, 596.

  • 41)

    Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 436.

  • 42)

    Id. 435. See also Bartlet, “Papias’ ‘Exposition’,” 27; Hengel, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Collection and Origin of the Canonical Gospels, trans. J. Bowden. (London 2000), 45; 238, n. 192; cf. H. von Campenhausen, Formation of the Christian Bible, trans. J.A. Baker (London 1972) 130-134.

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  • 45)

    E. Schwartz, ‘Über den Tod der Söhne Zebedaei. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Johannesevangeliums,’ Abhandlungen d. Göttinger Gesellschaft der Wiss., N. F. VII, 5 (1904) 3-53 cited from E. Schwartz, Gesammelte Schriften (Berlin, 1963) V, 48-123. The pagination cited maintains that of his original article.

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  • 47)

    Schwartz, “Über den Tod,” 44-45. See also J.D. Smith, Jr., “Gaius and the Controversy over the Johannine Literature.” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1979) 190-196.

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  • 48)

    ET in Harris, “Presbyter Gaius,” 48. Harris also notes (47-48) that two Latin translations by Dudley Loftus of bar Salibi’s Commentary on John (MSS. Bodleian Fell 6 and 7) read: “Gaius haereticus reprehendat Johannem . . . ” However, see Allen Brent, Hippolytus and the Roman Church in the Third Century: Communities in Tension before the Emergence of a Monarch-Bishop. Vigiliae Christianae Supplement 31 (Leiden 1995) 145. Brent notes that there is “clear evidence” that the inclusion of the name “Gaius” in Loftus’ translation was based on the scribal correction of a nameless heretic in MS. Add. 7184. Indeed, the only early Syriac MS that contains Gaius’ name in the original text found in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris: Cod. Paris. syr. 67, fol. 270, ro, col. 2; translated into English by Smith, “Gaius,” 591. Yet, this MS may very well be based on the edited MS that includes Gaius’ name as well.

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  • 49)

    Harris, “Presbyter Gaius,” 49.

  • 50)

    Also noted by Hill, Johannine Corpus, 192-194.

  • 53)

    Robinson, “Authorship,” 481.

  • 55)

    Brent, Hippolytus, 134.

  • 57)

    E. Schwartz, “Johannes und Kerinthos,” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kïrche 15 (1914) 210-219.

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  • 58)

    Brent, Hippolytus, 140-144.

  • 64)

    English translation in Williams, Panarion, 47.

  • 66)

    Hill, Johannine Corpus, 190.

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