Apologetics: Early Testimonies about the New Testament Gospels

by Timothy Paul Jones

In an earlier blog post, I explored the evidence that the four New Testament Gospels were linked with the names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John from the time they first began to circulate in the churches. In this post, I want to dig a bit deeper into specific first- and second-century testimonies about the authorship of the Gospels.

Papias of Hierapolis and the Authorship of the New Testament Gospels

The first testimony comes from Papias, a pastor in the southwestern portion of the area known today as Turkey. Papias was probably born in the middle of the first century, around the time of Paul’s second missionary journey. In the late first or early second century, Papias became the leading pastor of a church in the city of Hierapolis. Philip, a deacon from the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:5; 8:4-8), spent the last years of his life in Hierapolis. It was apparently from Philip’s daughters—the ones mentioned in Acts 21:8-9—and from associates of the apostolic eyewitnesses[i] that Papias received his information:[ii]

I won’t hesitate to arrange alongside my interpretations whatever things I learned and remembered well from the elders, confirming the truth on their behalf. … The elder said this: Mark, who became Peter’s interpreter, wrote accurately as much as he remembered—though not in ordered form—of the Lord’s sayings and doings. For [Mark] neither heard the Lord nor followed after him, but later (as I said) he followed after Peter, who was giving his teachings in short anecdotes and thus did not bring forth an ordered arrangement of the Lord’s sayings; so, Mark did not miss the point when he wrote in this way, as he remembered. For he had one purpose: To omit nothing of what he had heard and to present no false testimony in these matters. … And Matthew, in the Hebrew dialect, placed the sayings in orderly arrangement.[iii]

Although Papias recorded these traditions in the early second century,[iv] he received them well before the end of the first century.[v] If Papias of Hierapolis was familiar with Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels before the end of the first century, both Gospels must have been completed in the first century, while eyewitnesses of the events were still alive…

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