Did Papias know of Gospel of Peter?

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Joseph D. L.
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Did Papias know of Gospel of Peter?

Post by Joseph D. L. » Sat Mar 14, 2020 10:46 pm

With the discussion (debate? War?) between Secret Alias and John2 regarding Papias and whether his testimony (or rather, what Irenaeus and Eusebius say his testimony was) about Mark and Matthew is relevant to our canon, I figured I'd throw in my two pennies.

My argument rests on three [currently] observations. The first is what Papias--ahem--"said":

"And the Elder used to say this: 'Mark, having become Peter's interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter, who adapted his teachings as needed but had no intention of giving an ordered account of the Lord's sayings. Consequently Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his one concern not omit anything which he heard or to make any false statement in them.

The one narrative feature that distinguishes Gospel of Peter apart from the canonical Gospels (minus Luke 1:1-4 and John 21:24) is that it was seemingly written in a first person perspective:

But I with the companions was sorrowful; and having been wounded in spirit, we were in hiding, for we were sought after by them as wrongdoers and as wishing to set fire to the sanctuary.


But I, Simon Peter, and my brother Andrew, having taken our nets, went off to the sea.

Even in a Gospel like Matthew, which was written by someone who was a follower and witness to Jesus, doesn't have this feature (instead, Matthew refers to himself in third person).

The tradition Mark being a secretary of sorts for Peter is more applicable to Gospel of Peter than it is to our Mark. Indeed, look what Papias says about it--that Mark, "wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order." Not in order? What is that even supposed to mean? That Mark just copy/pasted a bunch of his notes all higgledy-piggledy? Now look at our Mark. Well, he must be on his way to Munich, 'cause his papers are VERY MUCH IN ORDER. So much in order, it lines up with THREE OTHER TEXTS.

What Papias says about his Mark doesn't make sense with ours, but it does make sense with Gospel of Peter.

My second observation is the parallel of a scene that is only matched between Mark and Gospel of Peter:

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.


And having gone off, they found the sepulcher opened. And having come forward, they bent down there and saw there a certain young man seated in the middle of the sepulcher, comely and clothed with a splendid robe, who said to them: 'Why have you come? Whom do you seek? Not that one who was crucified? He is risen and gone away. But if you do not believe, bend down and see the place where he lay, because he is not here. For he is risen and gone away to there whence he was sent.' Then the women fled frightened.

In both Mark and Gospel of Peter, it is a single young man, dressed in a splendid/white robe, who greets the women who visit Jesus's tomb, and who tells them that Jesus has risen. They are frightened by this and flee.

This scene is not paralleled by the other Synoptics (including Gospel of the Lord) or John. It is two men who are in Jesus's tomb in Luke, Lord, and John , while Matthew only has an angel arrive when the women do to tell them what has happened. Now this could be paralleled with a scene that occurred before this in Gospel of Peter, where two angels walk out of the tomb with Jesus and the cross at the sight of Roman guards. But that would still leave Mark and Gospel of Peter alone when discussing the women arriving to the tomb.

Observation three.

This one is tenuous, but I figured I'd throw it out. Papias seems to be aware only of a writing by Mark and a writing by Matthew:

Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.

Papias never mentions Luke, and despite know "John", never mentions his Gospel either. Indeed, both his Mark and Matthew seem to suffer the same problem of being hard to understand and in an unorganized manner.

But why does this matter? Because Origen and Theodoret make a especial link of Gospel of Peter with that of the Hebrew Gospel:

But some say, basing it on a tradition in the Gospel according to Peter as it is entitled, or “The Book of James,” that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary.


'The Nazaraeans are Jews who know Christ as a righteous man, and use the Gospel called "according to Peter".'

So a relation between Papias's Mark and Hebrew Matthew, and Gospel of Peter and a "Book of James", and the Nazarenes, who are believed to have used a Gospel similar to Gospel of the Hebrews , is ostensibly but not absolutely made.

So that's my two pennies. Papias cannot have been writing about our texts, and knew of the heretical Gospel of Peter, which he believed was authored by Mark.

I also have a conspiracy theory that the Gospel Cerinthus used/wrote was Gospel of Peter. This is combined with Tim Claason's proposal that Mark and Revelation were at one time used in conjunction of one another, and the heresy claim that Cerinthus authored John and Revelation, even though he supposedly used Gospel of the Hebrews. In short, using the church fathers to reconstruct the canon is like finding a needle in a stack of needles.

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Re: Did Papias know of Gospel of Peter?

Post by Joseph D. L. » Sun Mar 15, 2020 12:35 am

Was Papias a Cerinthian?

To some of them [angels] He gave dominion over the arrangement of the world, and He commissioned them to exercise their dominion well. And he says, immediately after this: but it happened that their arrangement came to nothing.


Cerinthians, also known as Merinthians. These are a type of Jew derived from Cerinthus and Merinthus, and boast of circumcision, but say that the world was made by angels and that Jesus was named Christ as an advancements.


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Re: Did Papias know of Gospel of Peter?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sun Mar 15, 2020 6:39 am

Joseph D. L. wrote:
Sat Mar 14, 2020 10:46 pm
Not in order? What is that even supposed to mean? That Mark just copy/pasted a bunch of his notes all higgledy-piggledy? Now look at our Mark. Well, he must be on his way to Munich, 'cause his papers are VERY MUCH IN ORDER. So much in order, it lines up with THREE OTHER TEXTS.

What Papias says about his Mark doesn't make sense with ours, but it does make sense with Gospel of Peter.
How is the gospel of Peter out of order, then?

Mark and the synoptics are out of order compared to the Johannine chronology. Furthermore, these differences in order have the advantage of having definitely been noticed by the patristic authors. Sometimes heavy theological points even hung in the balance (as is the case with the Quartodeciman controversy).
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Re: Did Papias know of Gospel of Peter?

Post by Joseph D. L. » Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:01 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Sun Mar 15, 2020 6:39 am
Joseph D. L. wrote:
Sat Mar 14, 2020 10:46 pm
Not in order? What is that even supposed to mean? That Mark just copy/pasted a bunch of his notes all higgledy-piggledy? Now look at our Mark. Well, he must be on his way to Munich, 'cause his papers are VERY MUCH IN ORDER. So much in order, it lines up with THREE OTHER TEXTS.

What Papias says about his Mark doesn't make sense with ours, but it does make sense with Gospel of Peter.
How is the gospel of Peter out of order, then?
I'm not implying that it is. There are added scenes in it that don't appear in our Gospels. That's about it.

I have no idea what Papias means by his Mark being out of order.

Since Papias is the first to give the tradition of Mark writing down what Peter had told him, it makes the first person passages in Gospel of Peter all the more appropriate.

I'm not saying that Gospel of Peter was the writing of either a Mark or a Peter, only that Papias took it to be as such because of the first person narration.
Mark and the synoptics are out of order compared to the Johannine chronology.


Which is all well and good, but did Papias know of John? It's believed that he knew of Revelation, and maybe 1 John, along with Hebrews and 2 Peter, but not John or Luke. For Papias to say that Mark is out of order, either it has to be so disorganized for it to be noticeable, or it is out of order when compared to another Gospel. Papias only knows of a Mark and a Hebrew Matthew, and he makes a similar note of both being hard to understand.
Furthermore, these differences in order have the advantage of having definitely been noticed by the patristic authors. Sometimes heavy theological points even hung in the balance (as is the case with the Quartodeciman controversy).

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Re: Did Papias know of Gospel of Peter?

Post by Joseph D. L. » Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:07 pm

Just went through Gospel of Peter again while writing a comment to Ben. I noticed this:

And having rolled a large stone, all who were there, together with the centurion and the soldiers, placed it against the door of the burial place. And they marked it with seven wax seals; and having pitched a tent there, they safeguarded it.

Revelation 5:1-5:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”


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Re: Did Papias know of Gospel of Peter?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:22 pm

Joseph D. L. wrote:
Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:01 pm
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Sun Mar 15, 2020 6:39 am
Joseph D. L. wrote:
Sat Mar 14, 2020 10:46 pm
Not in order? What is that even supposed to mean? That Mark just copy/pasted a bunch of his notes all higgledy-piggledy? Now look at our Mark. Well, he must be on his way to Munich, 'cause his papers are VERY MUCH IN ORDER. So much in order, it lines up with THREE OTHER TEXTS.

What Papias says about his Mark doesn't make sense with ours, but it does make sense with Gospel of Peter.
How is the gospel of Peter out of order, then?
I'm not implying that it is. There are added scenes in it that don't appear in our Gospels. That's about it.
Then, if neither Peter nor Mark is necessarily "out of order," how does Peter fit the bill for what Papias is talking about better than Mark?
Since Papias is the first to give the tradition of Mark writing down what Peter had told him, it makes the first person passages in Gospel of Peter all the more appropriate.

I'm not saying that Gospel of Peter was the writing of either a Mark or a Peter, only that Papias took it to be as such because of the first person narration.
If Papias had a gospel of Peter written in the first person, then Mark would be completely superfluous, would he not? I do not understand the reasoning. Nothing in Papias implies that Peter himself wrote or dictated anything. Mark wrote, and from memory at that.
Which is all well and good, but did Papias know of John?
My own view is: no, Papias did not know the gospel of John. Papias knew the Asiatic tradition which eventually made its way into John. He tells us explicitly whence he is getting his information, and it is not from a written gospel text: it is from passersby (of the missionary variety, most likely) in Hierapolis.
For Papias to say that Mark is out of order, either it has to be so disorganized for it to be noticeable, or it is out of order when compared to another Gospel.
I agree... sort of. Mark is out of order compared to the gospel stories and traditions as they were being passed along in Asia Minor.
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Re: Did Papias know of Gospel of Peter?

Post by Joseph D. L. » Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:48 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:22 pm
Joseph D. L. wrote:
Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:01 pm
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Sun Mar 15, 2020 6:39 am
Joseph D. L. wrote:
Sat Mar 14, 2020 10:46 pm
Not in order? What is that even supposed to mean? That Mark just copy/pasted a bunch of his notes all higgledy-piggledy? Now look at our Mark. Well, he must be on his way to Munich, 'cause his papers are VERY MUCH IN ORDER. So much in order, it lines up with THREE OTHER TEXTS.

What Papias says about his Mark doesn't make sense with ours, but it does make sense with Gospel of Peter.
How is the gospel of Peter out of order, then?
I'm not implying that it is. There are added scenes in it that don't appear in our Gospels. That's about it.
Then, if neither Peter nor Mark is necessarily "out of order," how does Peter fit the bill for what Papias is talking about better than Mark?
I explained it. Because he saw the first person narration of Gospel of Peter.
Since Papias is the first to give the tradition of Mark writing down what Peter had told him, it makes the first person passages in Gospel of Peter all the more appropriate.

I'm not saying that Gospel of Peter was the writing of either a Mark or a Peter, only that Papias took it to be as such because of the first person narration.
If Papias had a gospel of Peter written in the first person, then Mark would be completely superfluous, would he not? I do not understand the reasoning.
Mark would then be an orthodox revision of it, similar to Matthew, Luke and John.

Superfluous? Depends what you mean by that. If Gospel of Peter was the Gospel used by the Cerinthians and Montonists then the need to revise Mark becomes all the more necessary.
Which is all well and good, but did Papias know of John?
My own view is: no, Papias did not know the gospel of John. Papias knew the Asiatic tradition which eventually made its way into John. He tells us explicitly whence he is getting his information, and it is not from a written gospel text: it is from passersby in Hierapolis.
This I can get behind. My own view is similar to yours, that John or Johannine traditions thrived in Phyrgia and Syria.

Can you give a quote that says it was the passerby, or the Christians of Hierapolis? Papias, from what I'm seeing, only gets his information from John. That Papias only knew of Markand Matthew based on what John or others told him I find really hard to believe.
For Papias to say that Mark is out of order, either it has to be so disorganized for it to be noticeable, or it is out of order when compared to another Gospel.
I agree... sort of. Mark is out of order compared to the gospel stories as they were being told in Asia Minor.
But again, Papias only knows of two Gospels, both of which are in disarray. And as you said, Papias only knew the traditions and not the texts themselves. So how can he make such an assessment? Lastly, Gospel of Peter was used predominately in the Asiatic regions according to Serapion and Theodoret, Rhossus and Egypt being known locations. (And yes, I know Egypt isn't in Asia.)

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Re: Did Papias know of Gospel of Peter?

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sun Mar 15, 2020 3:47 pm

Joseph D. L. wrote:
Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:48 pm
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Sun Mar 15, 2020 2:22 pm
If Papias had a gospel of Peter written in the first person, then Mark would be completely superfluous, would he not? I do not understand the reasoning.
.... Superfluous? Depends what you mean by that.
I mean: why would Papias tell us that Mark wrote down Peter's preaching from memory to create a gospel that is written in the first person as if by Peter himself (the gospel of Peter)? To introduce Mark (the person, not the gospel) is superfluous and even downright weird in that scenario: is Papias suggesting that Mark wrote as if he were Peter?
My own view is similar to yours, that John or Johannine traditions thrived in Phyrgia and Syria.
Can you give a quote that says it was the passerby, or the Christians of Hierapolis?

Eusebius, History of the Church 3.39.4: 4 And if anyone should chance to come along who had followed the elders, I was inquiring as to the words of the elders, what Andrew or what Peter, or what Philip or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any other of the disciples of the Lord said, which things both Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not suppose that things from books would profit me as much as things from a living and remaining voice."

I see no evidence that Papias got his information directly from John the Elder. He may have, but it is not in the text.
But again, Papias only knows of two Gospels, both of which are in disarray. And as you said, Papias only knew the traditions and not the texts themselves. So how can he make such an assessment?
Because the order is theologically important. For example, no one would need a gospel text to know that the Roman church and the Asian churches had different calendrical systems for celebrating Jesus' death, the Asian one compatible with the Johannine chronology and the Roman one not.
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Re: Did Papias know of Gospel of Peter?

Post by Joseph D. L. » Sun Mar 15, 2020 5:27 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Sun Mar 15, 2020 3:47 pm
I mean: why would Papias tell us that Mark wrote down Peter's preaching from memory to create a gospel that is written in the first person as if by Peter himself (the gospel of Peter)? To introduce Mark (the person, not the gospel) is superfluous and even downright weird in that scenario: is Papias suggesting that Mark wrote as if he were Peter?
Isn't there one tradition [not in Papias of course] that Mark took notes from what Peter recited to him? I can't remember.

Again, I'm not suggesting that either a Mark or a Peter wrote this. It's only important if Papias thought that.
My own view is similar to yours, that John or Johannine traditions thrived in Phyrgia and Syria.
Can you give a quote that says it was the passerby, or the Christians of Hierapolis?

Eusebius, History of the Church 3.39.4: 4 And if anyone should chance to come along who had followed the elders, I was inquiring as to the words of the elders, what Andrew or what Peter, or what Philip or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any other of the disciples of the Lord said, which things both Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not suppose that things from books would profit me as much as things from a living and remaining voice."

I see no evidence that Papias got his information directly from John the Elder. He may have, but it is not in the text.

As the elders who saw John the disciple of the Lord remembered that they had heard from him how the Lord taught in regard to those times, and said]: The days will come in which vines shall grow, having each ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and in every one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five-and-twenty metretes of wine. And when any one of the saints shall lay hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, 'I am a better cluster, take me; bless the Lord through me.' In like manner, [He said] that a grain of wheat would produce ten thousand ears, and that every ear would have ten thousand grains, and every grain would yield ten pounds of clear, pure, fine flour; and that apples, and seeds, and grass would produce in similar proportions; and that all animals, feeding then only on the productions of the earth, would become peaceable and harmonious, and be in perfect subjection to man. [Testimony is borne to these things in writing by Papias, an ancient man, who was a hearer of John and a friend of Polycarp, in the fourth of his books; for five books were composed by him. And he added, saying, Now these things are credible to believers. And Judas the traitor, says he, not believing, and asking, 'How shall such growths be accomplished by the Lord.' the Lord said, 'They shall see who shall come to them.' These, then, are the times mentioned by the prophet Isaiah: 'And the wolf shall lie, down with the lamb,' etc. Isaiah 11:6 ff..]


[Papias, who is now mentioned by us, affirms that he received the sayings of the apostles from those who accompanied them, and he moreover asserts that he heard in person Aristion and the presbyter John. Accordingly he mentions them frequently by name, and in his writings gives their traditions. Our notice of these circumstances may not be without its use. It may also be worth while to add to the statements of Papias already given, other passages of his in which he relates some miraculous deeds, stating that he acquired the knowledge of them from tradition. The residence of the Apostle Philip with his daughters in Hierapolis has been mentioned above. We must now point out how Papias, who lived at the same time, relates that he had received a wonderful narrative from the daughters of Philip. For he relates that a dead man was raised to life in his day. He also mentions another miracle relating to Justus, surnamed Barsabas, how he swallowed a deadly poison, and received no harm, on account of the grace of the Lord. The same person, moreover, has set down other things as coming to him from unwritten tradition, among these some strange parables and instructions of the Saviour, and some other things of a more fabulous nature. Amongst these he says that there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on this earth. He moreover hands down, in his own writing, other narratives given by the previously mentioned Aristion of the Lord's sayings, and the traditions of the presbyter John. For information on these points, we can merely refer our readers to the books themselves; but now, to the extracts already made, we shall add, as being a matter of primary importance, a tradition regarding Mark who wrote the Gospel, which he [Papias] has given in the following words]: And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took special care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements. [This is what is related by Papias regarding Mark; but with regard to Matthew he has made the following statements]: Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could. [The same person uses proofs from the First Epistle of John, and from the Epistle of Peter in like manner. And he also gives another story of a woman who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is to be found in the Gospel according to the Hebrews.]

Of course all of this can be made up. But then we'd just be talking in circles.
But again, Papias only knows of two Gospels, both of which are in disarray. And as you said, Papias only knew the traditions and not the texts themselves. So how can he make such an assessment?
Because the order is theologically important. For example, no one would need a gospel text to know that the Roman church and the Asian churches had different calendrical systems for celebrating Jesus' death, the Asian one compatible with the Johannine chronology and the Roman one not.
Gospel of Peter is weird in this regard. Here's what it says.

And he gave him over to the people before the first day of their feast of the Unleavened Bread.

But then says:

In addition to all these things we were fasting; and we were sitting mourning and weeping night and day until the Sabbath.

Night and day until the Sabbath? How many days passed between the start of the feast of unleavened bread and the Sabbath?

But early when the Sabbath was dawning, a crowd came from Jerusalem and the surrounding area in order that they might see the sealed tomb.

But in the night in which the Lord's day dawned, when the soldiers were safeguarding it two by two in every watch, there was a loud voice in heaven;

So we have:

1) the day before the feast of unleavened bread when Jesus is crucified and dies.

2) an unspecified amount of days where the disciples fasted and mourned.

3) the Sabbath

4) the Lord's day; the day Jesus rises and the women discover it

But then to add further confusion into the mix, it finishes off with:

Now it was the final day of the Unleavened Bread; and many went out returning to their home since the feast was over. [59] But we twelve disciples of the Lord were weeping and sorrowful; and each one, sorrowful because of what had come to pass, departed to his home.

By this time Jesus had already risen, yet from the wording (and the context) Jesus had yet to show himself to his disciples.

The episode takes the course of the entire Passover week to finish.

The Quartodecimanism is that John has Jesus's death on the day before Passover begins, and the Synoptics have it on the first day of Passover.

This makes Gospel of Peter and John similar, because both specify the day before Passover that Jesus is put to death.

But then you add the parallel between Gospel of Peter and Mark about the women finding a single young man who tells them Jesus has risen, and they flee, not telling anyone because the disciples, wholes days later, still don't know.

You might be asking:



I will tell you what I'm blathering about, man.

That Gospel of Peter is linked to the Asiatic traditions of John. That Papias only knows of the eastern traditions. And that the Gospel he refers to as Mark is not our Mark because of certain features described therein. But Papias does not know of John, so any comparisons between his Mark and John is off the table. That's not happening. So when Papias said, "And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ.", it is not because he knows of a Gospel John or that his Mark is of the western tradition. That is an assumption based on our canon, not what Papias knows. Indeed, it's not known if Papias even knew of a western tradition, and that he is placed in the company of Polycarp and John makes that all the less likely.

Could Gospel of Peter just be a compilation of texts? Sure. Could the first person narrative (especially his reporting what he wasn't present for) be fraudulent? Absolutely. All of this could be a figment of my imagination. But Papias's Mark would still not be our Mark and the mystery would just continue.

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Re: Did Papias know of Gospel of Peter?

Post by Joseph D. L. » Sun Mar 15, 2020 5:31 pm

I also put forward the made up figure of 'John Mark' as an attempt to explain this tradition via proxy.

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