Papias and oral tradition.

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
Post Reply
User avatar
Ben C. Smith
Posts: 7502
Joined: Wed Apr 08, 2015 2:18 pm
Location: USA

Papias and oral tradition.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed May 24, 2017 3:58 pm

Subject: Ancient notices of the differences between Matthew and Mark?
Kunigunde Kreuzerin wrote:I think Papias made no comparison between Mark and Matthew. My impression is rather that Papias preferred the oral tradition handed down by Aristion and the presbyter.
And in his own writing he [Papias] also hands down other accounts of the aforementioned Aristion of the words of the Lord and the traditions of the presbyter John ...
But whenever someone who had followed the presbyters came along, I would carefully ask about the words of the presbyters, what Andrew or what Peter had said or what Philip or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any other of the disciples of the Lord, and which Aristion and the presbyter John, disciples of the Lord say too. For I did not assume that whatever comes from books is as helpful to me as what comes from a living and lasting voice.
While I have already agreed with you, Kunigunde, on the other thread, affirming that #2 on my list is the option I currently prefer, I wanted to be more specific here as to why I lean in that direction. Perhaps I can get some confirmation or disconfirmation for the idea.

A lot of scholars (as long ago as Lightfoot and as recently as Hengel and Bauckham) have noticed that the order in which Papias names his (first) seven "disciples of the Lord" resembles the order in which three of the disciples are introduced in the first chapter of John:

Papias: Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John, Matthew.

John 1.40-43: 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He finds first his own brother Simon and says to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). 43 The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He finds Philip. And Jesus says to him, “Follow Me.”

Bauckham, at least (and possibly Hengel, too; I cannot remember and do not have The Johannine Question available right now), goes further on pages 20-21 of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and notes that Thomas is introduced later in the gospel, and then that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, are named even later, in the appendix. Matthew fails to make an appearance in the gospel of John, but the other six Papias names in the order in which they appear in the gospel; ergo, this is essentially a Johannine list, and it shows that Papias knows the gospel of John.

But MacDonald has a great response to this in Two Shipwrecked Gospels, where he avers that "the parallels amount to a house of cards" before continuing on page 17, "To be sure, the first three names are in the same order (though Peter in John initially is called Simon), but then the Fourth Gospel mentions Nathaniel (1:45), Nicodemus (3:1), and Thomas (11:16). The names James and John never appear in the Gospel, and in chapter 21, generally considered an epilogue, they are called simply 'the sons of Zebedee' (21:2). Matthew’s name, too, is absent. In other words, there is no list of the Twelve in John, and to make Papias’s list conform to John’s order, one must omit two names from John’s account (Nathaniel and Nicodemus), add three (James, John, and Matthew), and monitor the introduction of characters from the first chapter to the epilogue."

But, whereas Bauckham was arguing that these names mean everything (Papias knows the gospel of John), MacDonald seems to be arguing that these names mean nothing (Papias has no knowledge of anything Johannine, so we can focus on Matthew and Mark alone). I find myself in the middle; I think that these names mean something: more than nothing, but less than everything.

First, there are only seven of them, whereas the other disciple lists tend to have twelve (or eleven after the defection of Judas):

Matthew 10.2-4: 2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.

Mark 3.16-19: 16 And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), 17 and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, “Sons of Thunder”); 18 and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot; 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.

Luke 6.13-16: 13 And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles: 14 Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew; 15 and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; 16 Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

Acts 1.13: 13 When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James.

Papias: Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John, Matthew.

But the Johannine appendix also has a list of seven disciples. It is a different list, but it comes out to seven (assuming there are only two sons of Zebedee):

John 21.2: 2 Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.

That both Papias and John use a list of seven instead of twelve might mean something.

Second, whereas Peter gets top billing in all four canonical gospels, the same cannot be said for Andrew, Philip, and Thomas. In the lists of twelve, Peter always gets first place among the twelve; but Papias has him in second place after Andrew, who is always listed among the first group of four disciples in the other lists, but never in first place. In the lists of twelve, Thomas and Philip always appear among the second group of four disciples, but Papias seems to have promoted them.

I think that what is going on is a matter of emphasis, at least. Besides the lists of twelve disciples already given above (Matthew 10.2-4 = Mark 3.16-19 = Luke 6.13-16 = Acts 1.13), here are the only passages in the synoptic gospels which mention Andrew, Philip, or Thomas:


Matthew 4.18: 18 And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.

Mark 1.16: 16 And as He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen.


Mark 1.29: 29 And immediately after they had come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.


Mark 13.3-4: 3 And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?"

Nothing for Philip. Nothing for Thomas. Notice that the only speaking part Andrew gets is in concert with three other disciples (and Andrew is named last of the four, despite being separated from his brother Peter in doing so) in Mark 13.3-4. Luke has nothing about any of these three beyond his disciple list(s). Matthew is not much better.

Even the main noncanonical gospels do not feature these three very often:

Thomas 0: 0 These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.

Thomas 13: 13 Jesus said to his disciples, "Compare me to someone and tell me whom I am like." Simon Peter said to him, "You are like a righteous angel." Matthew said to him, "You are like a wise philosopher." Thomas said to him, "Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying whom you are like." Jesus said, "I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring which I have measured out." And he took him and withdrew and told him three things. When Thomas returned to his companions, they asked him, "What did Jesus say to you?" Thomas said to them, "If I tell you one of the things which he told me, you will pick up stones and throw them at me; a fire will come out of the stones and burn you up."

Peter 14.60: But I, Simon Peter, and my brother Andrew, having taken our nets, went off to the sea. And there was with us Levi of Alphaeus whom the Lord....

Philip 98: 98 Philip the apostle said, "Joseph the carpenter planted a garden because he needed wood for his trade. It was he who made the cross from the trees which he planted. His own offspring hung on that which he planted. His offspring was Jesus, and the planting was the cross." But the Tree of Life is in the middle of the Garden. However, it is from the olive tree that we got the chrism, and from the chrism, the resurrection.

But John is different:

John 1.40-51: 40 One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He found first his own brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah " (which translated means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas " (which is translated Peter). 43 The next day He purposed to go forth into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, "Follow Me." 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." 46 And Nathanael said to him, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" 48 Nathanael said to Him, "How do You know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." 49 Nathanael answered Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel." 50 Jesus answered and said to him, "Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these." 51 And He said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

John 6.8: One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?"

John 12.20-22: 20 Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; 21 these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip comes and tells Andrew; Andrew and Philip come and tell Jesus.

John 11.16: 16 Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him."

John 14.5: 5 Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?"

John 20.24-29: 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” 26 After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus comes, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then He says to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus says to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

John 21.2: 2 There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples.

All three of these disciples are mentioned multiple times and receive individualized speaking parts. These three disciples simply seem more important to the gospel of John than to the other gospels; and, if the order of Papias' list means anything, they are more important to Papias, too. Rather than proving that Papias knows John, I think it simply shows that Papias shares an interest in the same personnel as John; they share a common tradition or emphasis of some kind. The use of the number seven seems symbolic, and another text known to hail from Asia Minor, the Apocalypse of John (no matter its authorial connections to the gospel, or lack thereof) lists things in sevens like a madman: seven trumpets, seven angels, seven thunders, seven bowls, seven seals, and so on. This might be one of those Asian traits.

Papias' list, in fact, appears to me to lie in between the synoptic and Johannine traditions, but shading toward the latter: it combines disciples important to John (Andrew, Philip, Thomas) with disciples more important to the synoptics (James, John, Matthew), along with the disciple most important to both (Peter), but it features the Johannine disciples before the synoptic disciples. Maybe Papias has tapped into the tradition at a point before the gospel of John was written, while the emphases and distinctions are still in the process of forming and shifting away from a strictly synoptic perspective. (And this can be the case even if the gospel has already been written by Papias' time, since he is inquiring about words already spoken by various figures in the past.)

To summarize, Papias' list of seven disciples seems to me to imply less than that Papias absolutely had to have known the gospel of John but more than that the similarities between his list and John's favorite people are meaningless. The overlap seems to fall into an area that fits developing oral traditions quite nicely, at least to my mind. What do you think?


Post Reply