The anti-Marcionite prologue to John has come down to us in a rather corrupt Latin version. It informs us that the Gospel of John was published while John was still alive, and was written down at John’s dictation by Papias, a man from Hierapolis and one of John’s near disciples. As for Marcion, he had been expelled by John himself. This information, the prologue argues, derives from the five exegetical books of Papias himself: the reference is to his Exegesis of the Dominical Logia, which survived into the Middle Ages in some libraries in Europe, but which is, regrettably, no longer extant.
Some of the information provided by the anti-Marcionite prologue is clearly mistaken. It is overwhelmingly doubtful that John excommunicated Marcion: the chronology is stretched too thin. Moreover, as Bruce (p. 10) points out, Papias for his part may have said that the churches or certain disciples ‘wrote down’ what John said, and was subsequently misquoted as meaning ‘I wrote down‘, since in Greek the latter is formally indistinguishable from ‘they wrote down’. Even so, there is no doubt in this document that John himself was responsible for the Fourth Gospel.
Not only Irenaeus, but Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian as well, provide firm second-century evidence for the belief that the apostle John wrote the Gospel. According to Eusebius (H. E. VI. xiv. 7), Clement wrote: ‘But that John, last of all, conscious that the outward facts had been set forth in the Gospels, was urged on by his disciples, and, divinely moved by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.’ A more enigmatic, and in its details less believable, version of the same development is preserved in the Muratorian Canon, the earliest orthodox list of New Testament books to come down to us, probably from the end of the second century. It tells us not only that John’s fellow-disciples and bishops urged him to write, but that by a dream or prophecy it was revealed to Andrew that John should in fact take up the task, writing in his own name, but that the others should review his work and contribute to it. Most scholars take this to be someone’s deduction from John 21:24.
Some indirect evidence is in certain respects still more impressive. Tatian, a student of Justin Martyr, composed the first ‘harmony’ of the fourfold Gospel: he took the books apart and weaved them together into one continuous narrative. This Diatessaron (as it is called), first prepared in Greek, exerted enormous influence in its Syriac translation. But the crucial point to observe is that it is the Gospel of John that provides the framework into which the other three Gospels are fitted. That could not have been the case had there been questions about the authenticity of the book.
Indeed, by the end of the second century the only people who denied Johannine authorship to the Fourth Gospel were the so-called Alogoi– a substantivized adjective meaning ‘witless ones’, but used by the orthodox as a pun to refer to those who rejected the logos (‘Word’: cf. notes on 1:1) doctrine expounded in the Fourth Gospel, and therefore the Fourth Gospel itself. Further, an elder by the name of Gaius in the Roman church, who was one of the Alogoi, maintained orthodoxy at every point except in his rejection of John’s Gospel and the Apocalypse. At least part of his motivation, however, was his virulent opposition to Montanism, an uncontrolled ‘charismatic’ movement arising in the middle of the second century that was wont to claim that its leader, Montanus, was the mouthpiece of the promised Paraclete. Since all of the Paraclete sayings that refer to the Spirit are found in John’s Gospel (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7–15), Gaius did not need much persuading to side with the Alogoi on this point.
Certainly from the end of the second century on, there is virtual agreement in the church as to the authority, canonicity and authorship of the Gospel of John. An argument from silence in this case proves impressive (because we would otherwise have expected the person in question to make a lot of noise!): ‘it is most significant that Eusebius, who had access to many works which are now lost, speaks without reserve of the fourth Gospel as the unquestioned work of St. John’ (Westcott, 1. lix). The silence is ‘most significant’ precisely because it was Eusebius’ concern to discuss the doubtful cases.
It should not be thought that the differences between John and the Synoptics (§ I, above) were unnoticed by the early church Fathers (cf. Wiles, pp. 13–40). The remark of Clement of Alexandria, to the effect that John composed ‘a spiritual Gospel’, is teasing. It certainly does not mean ‘spiritual’ as opposed to ‘historical’; it may mean ’allegorical’ or ‘symbol-laden’. Irenaeus (Against Heresies ii. 22. 3) appeals to the length of Jesus’ ministry in John’s chronology to combat connections that gnostics drew between Jesus’ passion, which they claimed took place in the twelfth month after his baptism, and the twelfth aeon, important in their cosmology. Eusebius, Epiphanius and Augustine set themselves the task of explaining other difficulties between John and the Synoptics, sometimes resorting to tortuous ingenuity. Origen does not think that the chronologies can be reconciled at the historical level, but argues that material falsehood may be the means, through allegory, of preserving and presenting spiritual truth. Theodore, by contrast, seeks to resolve chronological difficulties by arguing that the Synoptics do not really present a chronology with which to conflict: much of their presentation is piecemeal, and can be fitted into the Johannine schema. If there are differences between John and the Synoptics on the passion, for instance, it must be remembered not only that John was actually present for much of the period (unlike the other disciples, who had fled), but that any complex event remembered by a variety of people is bound to be described in independent but complementary fashion. This proves, in Theodore’s view, that the witnesses were not in collusion, and are therefore all the more credible. Thus, his attempts at resolution operate at the historical level.[D A Carlson An Introduction to the New Testament p. 231]Vinzent on the same passage:
For a very long time, Papias' Fragment 21 (in the J. Kürzinger-edition, one of the first projects in which I was involved as a very young student), has rarely attracted scholarship - I noticed that already when I drew up the annotated bibliography (spanning just Kürzinger's period of his publication and reception to the date of publication of this edition and translation, the latter two done by R.M. Hübner). But it is probably an important document, and it has something to say about Marcion.
The text derives from the "Incipit argumentum secundum Iohannem" of Vat. Reg. lat. 14 (Kürzinger, 124). Now, for days recently, I have struggled again with this text, as given in our two recent editions, that of the mentioned Josef Kürzinger (a.o.), Papias von Hierapolis und die Evangelien des Neuen Testaments (Regensburg, 1983); and the other that appeared almost simultaneously, the one done by Körtner: Ulrich H.J. Körtner, Papias von Hierapolis, Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments 133 (Göttingen, 1983).
The text in both editions is almost identical (the more precise one in Kürzinger is given here):
Evangelium Iohannis manifestatum et datum est ecclesiis ab Iohanne adhuc in corpore constituto, sicut Papias nomine Hierapolitanus, discipulus Iohannis carus, in exotericis id est in extremis quinque libris retulit. Descripsit vero Evangelium dictante Iohanne recte.
Verum Martion hereticus, cum ab eo fuisset improbatus eo quod contraria sentiebat, abiectus est a Iohanne. Is vero scripta vel epistolas ad eum pertulerat a fratribus, qui in Ponto fuerunt.
The German translation of Hübner reads:
Das Evangelium des Johannes ist noch zu seinen Lebzeiten veröffentlicht und den Gemeinden übergeben worden, wie Papias (mit Namen Hierapolitaner), der vertraute Schüler des Johannes in seinen Ausführungen (?), nämlich in den letzten (?) fünf Büchern berichtet hat. Er schrieb das Evangelium nach dem Diktat des Johannes richtig nieder.
Der Häretiker Markion jedoch wurde, nachdem er von ihm wegen seiner gegensätzlichen Meinungen gerügt worden war, von Johannes abgesetzt. Dieser hatte Schriften oder Briefe zu ihm überbracht von den Brüdern, die in Pontus waren.
Körtner translates the same text as follows:
Das Johannesevangelium ist den Gemeinden von Johannes, als er noch am Leben war, offenbart und gegeben worden, wie Papias, genannt der Hierapolitaner, ein lieber Schüler des Johannes, in seinen exoterischen (exegetischen?), das heißt in den allerletzten (äußeren?) fünf Büchern berichtete hat. Er schrieb sogar das Evangelium nach dem Diktat des Johannes fehlerfrei auf. Indessen ist der Ketzer Marcion, der von ihm (= Papias?) verworfen wurde, weil er die Gegensätze wahrnahm, (auch) durch Johannes widerlegt worden. Er (= Marcion?) hat ihm (= Papias?) nämlich Schriften oder Briefe von den Brüdern mitgebracht, die in Pontus lebten.
Körtner remarked already (Ibid. 253, note 133), that it is unklear, "to whom to refer the last argument of the fragment", and it "remains extremely dubious why the [earlier] editors of the fragments of Papias left out the last sentences or, as in K. Bihlmeyer they were set in brackets. 'In the final sentence„He“ (Is) seemes to refer to Marcion as subject' (J.A. Kleist, ACW 6, p. 210, note 46). R. Annad, SJTh 9, 1956, S. 60 reads: '... VERUM. MARCION HERETICUS ... ABIECTUS EST: AB IOHANNE ...' The dark words 'ab eo' and 'ad eum', then in both cases mean Papias. On this more reluctant is W.R. Schoedel, The Apostolic Fathers V, S. 122.“
When we study this text, we notice that not only the end of it is dark. To date, the opening of the sentence with "descripsit vero" is unclear as well, because it is not obvious who the subject of this verb is. When we read the text, as printed (and as read in Pitra and the manuscript), one would need to take John as the subject, of whom it was said before that he had published and distributed his Gospel - but the text adds "dictante Iohanne" which excludes him from being the subject of "descripsit". If not John, do we have to take Papias as its subject? However, the previous sentence is given in passive form and Papias only appears in the subordinate clause, so that the descripsit-sentence is somehow unconnected. Even more so is what follows and introduces Marcion, the heretic. What has Marcion to do with the previous argument? And what has the writing down or the description to do with the fact that John rejects Marcion? And again, what in this context is the meaning of "contraria"?
To start with the easier, the latter task. It seems to me that in the context of Marcion "contraria" are not simply opposing views or ideas, but the "Antitheses" of Marcion that he put before his Gospel in the published version. If this were so, then John had read Marcion’s Antitheses together with his Gospel and, as a result of the former, rejected him (eo quod contraria sentiebat). If this were so – according to this text, of course – we might be able to solve the riddles of the first part. Already in the year, 1938 Robert Eisler suggested a slightly different interpunction.
Robert Eisler, The Enigma of the Fourth Gospel(London, 1938), 156:
Evangelium Iohannis manifestatum et datum est ecclesiis ab Iohanne adhuc in corpore constituto sicut Papias nomine hierapolitanus, discipulus Iohannis carus in exegeticis quinque libris retulit. Descripsit vero evangelium, dictante Iohanne recte verum Marcion hereticus. Cum ab eo fuisset improbatus, eo quod contraria sentiebat, abiectus est ab Iohanne. Is vero scripta vel epistolas ad eum pertulerat a fratribus, qui in Ponto fuerunt.
Here my own translation:
The Gospel of John, even during his lifetime, was published and distributed to the churches, as Papias, called the Hierpolitan, the beloved disciple of John, has reported in his explications (?), namely the last (?) five books. But Marcion, the heretic, described/wrote down the/a Gospel, while John dictated correctly the true one. Since he [Marcion] has been disapproved by him [John], for him [John] having got to know the Antitheses of him [Marcion], John rebuked him. He [Marcion], indeed, had brought him writings or letters from the brethren who were in Pontus.
"Descripsit" is, unfortunately, an ambiguous term. It can mean "describe", and if so here, then Marcion described the Gospel (of John), if, however, it means "wrote down", then we would need to understand that Marcion wrote down a Gospel – there are several indications that the second variant seems the correct one here: Whereas in the case of the Gospel of John the specification is given, there is no such detailing for Marcion’s text (hence, it is not to be referred to John), while it is added that John "dictated correctly the true one [Gospel]". If one opts for the first variant, then Marcion had criticized the Gospel of John as he did the others of being plagiarisms (aemulationes), pointing apparently to Luke and Matthew. If we follow the second variant, then the text differentiates between the written down Gospel of Marcion and the true, correctly dictated one of John without telling us who, in fact, wrote it down. We only know that John himself had published and distributed it. Or shall one combine the two varants, as Eisler did who believed that Marcion was the scribe of John who wrote down what John dictated correctly, but then usshered his "contraria" which made John rebuke him. The latter version, however, seems to me to go beyond the text, as the writing down in itself is not negatively connotated in the text, only the voicing of the "contraria". That it seems to be about the opposition between the correctly dictated text of John, the true Gospel, and Marcion’s own Gospel, qualifying all others as untrue by the added Antitheses is indicated by the following clause, which underlines, again, that Marcion gave John writings or letters from the Brothers in Pontus, hence Marcion’s and Marcionite works. Whichever way one may read this Incipit, the text defends John who dictated, published and distributed his own Gospel as the true and correct one, while the Antitheses of Marcion and with these their author are being rejected. At the same time, supported by Papias, John’s product is highlighted as an authentic Gospel. The hint at the correct dictation may counter-argue Marcion’s accusation of plagiarism.
That we have to do, indeed, with information by Papias is supported by the way Papias describes the working of Mark and Matthew. In both cases, Papias is concerned with correctness and order, so with Mark, he criticizes him of incorrectly writing down, what Peter has preached, and with regards to Matthew he insists that Matthew had followed the right (corrected?) order. Papias endorses that John dictated correctly, but that Marcion in his Antitheses must have criticized him and challenged the truth of it.