Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Early Church & the Four Gospels

Where did the early Church say that Gospels came from? Were they believed to be the product of some amorphous, anonymous, community-shaping process? After all, wasn't authorship a much more "fluid" notion in antiquity? Isn't it true that the early Church didn't really care what Jesus actually said--what mattered was the spirit of his teaching, right?
In his new book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006), Richard Bauckham does a masterful job answering these questions by simply highlighting the testimony of the early Church. I'm going to have a lot to say about this in the future, but I thought now would be a good time to bring some of this to the blog.

Papias on the significance of eyewitness testimony: “I shall not hesitate also to put into properly ordered form for you [singular] everything I learned carefully in the past from the elders and noted down well, for the truth of which I vouch. For unlike most people I did not enjoy those who have a great deal to say, but those who teach the truth. Nor did I enjoy those who recall someone else’s commandments, but those who remember the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the truth itself. And if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elder―[that is,] what [according to the elders] Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John the Lord’s disciples, were saying. For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-4).

Papias on the authorship of the Gospels. "This also what the presbyter [John or Aristion] said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things done or said by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord's discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely. . . So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able." And the same writer uses testimonies from the first Epistle of John and from that of Peter likewise. And he relates another story of a woman, who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is contained in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. These things we have thought it necessary to observe in addition to what has already been stated. (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.14-17)

Clement of Alexandia on the Gospels. "The Gospels containing the genealogies [i.e. Matthew and Luke], he says, were written first. The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel." This is the account of Clement. (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.14.5-7).

St. Justin Martyr on the memoirs of the apostles. “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities on in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things” (First Apology, 67).

Irenaeus on the Gospels. "Matthew also issues a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church (ca. 60 A.D.). After their departure (ca. 60's A.D.), Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast (cf. John 19), did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia” (Against Heresies 3.1.1).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It doesn't seem to matter when I tell people who wish to believe the modern heresies rather than the historical recordings of those closest to the Apostles. I guess we just have to pray that their eyes will be opened through Grace. Thank you for these quotes from the early Church Fathers. In my New Testament class other reasons were given as to why Mark was not written first, but it seems much simpler to go back to "the sources" of the early Church Fathers for the truth about which Gospel was written first.