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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter XXIV

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXIV.—The Order of the Gospels.

1. This extract from Clement I have inserted here for the sake of the history and for the benefit of my readers. Let us now point out the undisputed writings of this apostle.

2. And in the first place his Gospel, which is known to all the churches under heaven, must be acknowledged as genuine. 757 That it has with good reason been put by the ancients in the fourth place, after the other three Gospels, may be made evident in the following way.

3. Those great and truly divine men, I mean the apostles of Christ, were purified in their life, and were adorned with every virtue of the soul, but were uncultivated in speech. They were confident indeed in their trust in the divine and wonder-working power which was granted unto them by the Saviour, but they did not know how, nor did they attempt to proclaim the doctrines of their teacher in studied and artistic language, but employing only the demonstration of the divine Spirit, which worked with them, and the wonder-working power of Christ, which was displayed through them, they published the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven throughout the whole world, paying little attention to the composition of written works.

4. And this they did because they were assisted in their ministry by one greater than man. Paul, for instance, who surpassed them all in vigor of expression and in richness of thought, committed to writing no more than the briefest epistles, 758 although he had innumerable mysterious matters to communicate, for he had attained even unto the sights of the third heaven, had been carried to the very paradise of God, and had been deemed worthy to hear unspeakable utterances there. 759

5. And the rest of the followers of our Saviour, the twelve apostles, the seventy disciples, and countless others besides, were not ignorant of these things. Nevertheless, of all the disciples 760 of the Lord, only Matthew and John have left us written memorials, and they, tradition says, were led to write only under the pressure of necessity.

6. For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, 761 and thus p. 153 compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence.

7. And when Mark and Luke had already published their Gospels, 762 they say that John, who had employed all his time in proclaiming the Gospel orally, finally proceeded to write for the following reason. The three Gospels already mentioned having come into the hands of all and into his own too, they say that he accepted them and bore witness to their truthfulness; but that there was lacking in them an account of the deeds done by Christ at the beginning of his ministry. 763

8. And this indeed is true. For it is evident that the three evangelists recorded only the deeds done by the Saviour for one year after the imprisonment of John the Baptist, 764 and indicated this in the beginning of their account.

9. For Matthew, after the forty days’ fast and the temptation which followed it, indicates the chronology of his work when he says: “Now when he heard that John was delivered up he withdrew from Judea into Galilee.” 765

10. Mark likewise says: “Now after that John was delivered up Jesus came into Galilee.” 766 And Luke, before commencing his account of the deeds of Jesus, similarly marks the time, when he says that Herod, “adding to all the evil deeds which he had done, shut up John in prison.” 767

11. They say, therefore, that the apostle John, being asked to do it for this reason, gave in his Gospel an account of the period which had been omitted by the earlier evangelists, and of the deeds done by the Saviour during that period; that is, of those which were done before the imprisonment of the Baptist. And this is indicated by him, they say, in the following words: “This beginning of miracles did Jesus”; 768 and again when he refers to the Baptist, in the midst of the deeds of Jesus, as still baptizing in Ænon near Salim; 769 where he states the matter clearly in the words: “For John was not yet cast into prison.” 770

12. John accordingly, in his Gospel, records the deeds of Christ which were performed before the Baptist was cast into prison, but the other three evangelists mention the events which happened after that time.

13. One who understands this can no longer think that the Gospels are at variance with one another, inasmuch as the Gospel according to John contains the first acts of Christ, while the others give an account of the latter part of his life. And the genealogy of our Saviour according to the flesh John quite naturally omitted, because it had been already given by Matthew and Luke, and began with the doctrine of his divinity, which had, as it were, been reserved for him, as their superior, by the divine Spirit. 771

14. These things may suffice, which we have said concerning the Gospel of John. The cause which led to the composition of the Gospel of Mark has been already stated by us. 772

15. But as for Luke, in the beginning of his Gospel, he states himself the reasons which led him to write it. p. 154 He states that since many others had more rashly undertaken to compose a narrative of the events of which he had acquired perfect knowledge, he himself, feeling the necessity of freeing us from their uncertain opinions, delivered in his own Gospel an accurate account of those events in regard to which he had learned the full truth, being aided by his intimacy and his stay with Paul and by his acquaintance with the rest of the apostles. 773

16. So much for our own account of these things. But in a more fitting place we shall attempt to show by quotations from the ancients, what others have said concerning them.

17. But of the writings of John, not only his Gospel, but also the former of his epistles, has been accepted without dispute both now and in ancient times. 774 But the other two are disputed. 775

18. In regard to the Apocalypse, the opinions of most men are still divided. 776 But at the proper time this question p. 155 likewise shall be decided from the testimony of the ancients. 777



The testimony of antiquity,—both orthodox and heretical,—to the authenticity of John’s Gospel is universal, with the exception of a single unimportant sect of the second century, the Alogi, who denied the Johannine authorship on account of the Logos doctrine, which they rejected, and very absurdly ascribed the Gospel to the Gnostic Cerinthus; though its absolute opposition to Cerinthus’ views is so apparent that Irenæus (III. 11. 1) even supposed John to have written the Gospel against Cerinthus. The writings of the second century are full of the spirit of John’s Gospel, and exhibit frequent parallels in language too close to be mistaken; while from the last quarter of the second century on it is universally and expressly ascribed to John (Theophilus of Antioch and the Muratorian Fragment being the first to name him as its author). The Church never entertained a doubt of its authenticity until the end of the seventeenth century, when it was first questioned by the English Deists; but its genuineness was vindicated, and only scattering and occasional attacks were made upon it until the rise of the Tübingen school, since which time its authenticity has been one of the most fiercely contested points in apostolic history. Its opponents have been obliged gradually to throw back the date of its origin, until now no sensible critic thinks of assigning it to a time later than the early part of the second century, which is a great gain over the position of Baur and his immediate followers, who threw it into the latter half of the century. See Schaff’s Ch. Hist. I. 701–724 for a full defense of its authenticity and a comprehensive account of the controversy; also p. 406–411 for the literature of the subject. For the most complete summary of the external evidence, see Ezra Abbott’s The Authorship of the Fourth Gospel, 1880. Among recent works, compare Weiss’ Leben Jesu, I. 84–124, and his N. T. Einleitung, 586–620, for a defense of the Gospel, and upon the other side Holtzmann’s Einleitung, 413–460, and Weizsäcker’s Apost. Zeitalter, p. 531–558.


Overbeck remarks that Eusebius in this passage is the first to tell us that Paul wrote no more than what we have in the canon. But this is a mistake, for Origen (quoted by Eusebius in VI. 25, below) states it just as distinctly as Eusebius does. The truth is, neither of them says it directly, and yet it is clear enough when this passage is taken in connection with chapter 3, that it is what Eusebius meant, and the same idea underlies the statement of the Muratorian Fragment. Of course this does not prove that Paul wrote only the epistles which we have (which is indeed contrary to fact), but it shows what the idea of the early Church was.


See 2 Cor. xii. 2-4.


The majority of the mss., followed by Burton, Schwegler, and Laemmer, read διατριβῶν instead of μαθητῶν; and Burton therefore translates, sed tamen ex his omnibus sole Matthæus et Joannes nobis reliquerunt commentarios de vita et sermonibus Domini, “but of all these only Matthew and John have left us commentaries on the life and conversations of the Lord.” Two important mss., however, read μαθητῶν, and this is confirmed by Rufinus and adopted by Heinichen, Closs, and Crusè.


That Matthew wrote a gospel in Hebrew, although denied by many, is at present the prevailing opinion among scholars, and may be accepted as a fact both on account of its intrinsic probability and of the testimony of the Fathers, which begins with the statement of Papias, quoted by Eusebius in chap. 39, below, is confirmed by Irenæus (III. 1. 1, quoted below, V. 8, §2),—whether independently of Papias or not, we cannot say,—by Pantænus (but see below, Bk. V. chap. 10), by Origen (see below, VI. 25), by Jerome (de vir. ill. 3),—who says that a copy of it still existed in the library at Cæsarea,—and by Epiphanius (Hær. XXIX. 9). The question as to the relation of this Hebrew original to our present Greek Matthew is much more difficult. That our Greek Matthew is a mere translation of the original Hebrew was once a prevailing theory, but is now completely abandoned. That Matthew himself wrote both is a common conservative position, but is denied by most critical scholars, many of whom deny him the composition even of the Hebrew original. Upon the theory that the original Hebrew Matthew was identical with the “Gospel according to the Hebrews,” see chap. 27, note 8. Upon the synoptic problem, see above, II. 15, note 4; and see the works mentioned there for a discussion of this original Matthew, and in addition the recent works by Gla, Original-Sprache des Matt. Evang., 1887, and Resch, Agrapha, Leipzig, 1889.

The very natural reason which Eusebius gives for the composition of Matthew’s Gospel—viz. that, when on the point of going to other nations, he committed it to writing, and thus compensated them for the loss of his presence—occurs in none of the earlier reports of the composition of the Gospel which we now possess. It was probably a fact which he took from common tradition, as he remarks in the previous sentence that tradition says “they undertook it from necessity.”


Upon the date and authorship of the Gospel of Luke, see above, chap. 4, notes 12 and 15. Upon Mark, see Bk. II. chap. 15, note 4.


No writer before Eusebius’ time, so far as is known, assigned the reason given by him for the composition of John’s Gospel. Jerome, de vir. ill. chap. 9, repeats the view, combining with it the anti-heretical purpose. The indefinite expression, “they say,” shows that Eusebius was recording tradition commonly received in his time, and does not involve the authority of any particular writer. This object—viz. the supplementing and filling out of the accounts of the Synoptists—is assumed as the real object by some modern scholars; but it is untenable, for though the book serves this purpose to a great extent, the author’s real aim was much higher,—viz. the establishment of belief in the Messiahship and divinity of Christ (John xx. 31 sqq.),—and he chose his materials accordingly. The Muratorian Fragment says, “The Fourth Gospel is that of John, one of the disciples. When his fellow-disciples and bishops entreated him, he said, ‘Fast ye now with me for the space of three days, and let us recount to each other whatever may be revealed to us.’ On the same night it was revealed to Andrew, one of the apostles, that John should narrate all things in his own name as they called them to mind.” Irenæus (III. 11. 1) supposes John to have written his Gospel as a polemic against Cerinthus. Clement of Alexandria, in his Hypotyposes (quoted by Eusebius, VI. 14), says that John wrote a spiritual Gospel, as a supplement to the other Gospels, which had sufficiently described the external facts. The opinion of Eusebius is very superficial. Upon examination of the Gospels it will be seen that, of the events which John relates independently of the synoptists, but a small portion occurred before the imprisonment of John the Baptist. John’s Gospel certainly does incidentally supplement the Synoptists in a remarkable manner, but not in any such intentional and artificial way as Eusebius supposes. Compare Weiss’ Einleitung, p. 602 sqq., and Schaff’s Ch. Hist. II. p. 680 sqq.


The Synoptic Gospels certainly give the impression that Christ’s public ministry lasted but a single year; and were it not for the additional light which John throws upon the subject, the one year ministry would be universally accepted, as it was by many of the early Fathers,—e.g. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Lactantius, &c. John, however, expressly mentions three, perhaps four, passovers, so that Christ’s ministry lasted either two or three years. Upon comparison of the Synoptists with John, it will be seen that the events which they record are not all comprised within a single year, as Eusebius thought, but that they are scattered over the whole period of his ministry, although confined to his work in Galilee up to the time of his last journey to Judea, six months before his crucifixion. The distinction between John and the Synoptists, as to the events recorded, is therefore rather that of place than of time: but the distinction is not absolute.


Matt. iv. 12.


Mark i. 14.


Luke iii. 20.


John ii. 11. The arguments of Eusebius, whether original or borrowed from his predecessors, are certainly very ingenious, and he makes out apparently quite a strong case for his opinion; but a careful harmony of the four Gospels shows that it is untenable.


John iii. 23.


John 3.24.


Eusebius approaches here the opinion of Clement of Alexandria, mentioned in note 7, above, who considered John’s Gospel a spiritual supplement to the others,—a position which the Gospel certainly fills most admirably.


See Bk. II. chap. 15.


See Luke i. 1-4. Eusebius puts the case more strongly than Luke himself. Luke does not say that others had rashly undertaken the composition of their narratives, nor does he say that he himself writes in order to free his readers from the uncertain suppositions of others; but at the same time the interpretation which Eusebius gives is, though not an exact, yet certainly a natural one, and we have no right to accuse him, as has been done, of intentional falsification of the text of the Gospel. Eusebius also augments Luke’s statement by the mention of the source from which the latter gained his knowledge, viz., “from his intimacy and stay with Paul, and from his acquaintance with the rest of the apostles.” If Eusebius intended to convey the impression that Luke said this, he is of course inexcusable, but we have no reason to suppose this to be the case. It is simply the explanation on the part of Eusebius of an indefinite statement of Luke’s by a fact which was universally assumed as true. That he was adding to Luke’s own account probably never occurred to him. He does not pretend to quote Luke’s exact words.


The testimony to the first Epistle of John goes hand in hand with that to the fourth Gospel (cf. note 1, above). But we can find still clearer trace of the Epistle in the early part of the second century than of the Gospel (e.g. in Polycarp’s Epistle, where traces of the Gospel are wanting; and so, too, in Papias, according to chap. 39, below). The writings of the second century are full of the spirit of the Epistle as well as of the Gospel and exhibit frequent parallels in language too close to be mistaken. The first express testimony as to its authorship occurs in the Muratorian Fragment. The first systematic attack upon the Epistle was made by Bretschneider, in 1820, in connection with the attack upon the Gospel. The Tübingen school likewise rejected both. Before Bretschneider there had been a few critics (e.g. Lange, 1797) who had rejected the Epistle while accepting the Gospel, and since then a few have accepted the Epistle while rejecting the Gospel; but these are exceptional cases. The Gospel and Epistle have almost universally, and quite rightly, been regarded as the work of the same author, and may be said to stand or fall together. Cf. the works cited in note 1, and also Westcott’s Epistles of St. John. (On the use of πρότερα instead of πρώτη, see p. 388, note.)


The Muratorian Fragment expressly ascribes two epistles to John. Citations from the second Epistle appear first in Irenæus, though he does not distinguish it from the first. Clement of Alexandria (Strom. II. 15) quotes from 1 John under the formula “John says in his larger Epistle,” showing that he knew of a second. The lack of citations from the second and third Epistles is easily explained by their brevity and the minor importance of their doctrinal contents. The second and third Epistles belong to the seven Antilegomena. Origen cites the first Epistle often, the second and third never, and of the latter he says “not all agree that they are genuine” (quoted by Eusebius, VI. 25), and apparently he himself did not consider them of apostolic origin (cf. Weiss’ Einleitung, p. 87). Origen’s treatment of the Catholic Epistles was implicitly followed by his pupil Dionysius and by succeeding generations. Eusebius himself does not express his own judgment in the matter, but simply records the state of tradition which was a mere repetition of Origen’s position in regard to them. Jerome (de vir. ill. 9 and 18) says that most writers ascribe them to the presbyter John—an opinion which evidently arose upon the basis of the author’s self-designation in 2 John. 1:1, 3 John. 1:1, and some modern critics (among them Reuss and Wieseler) have done the same. Eusebius himself in the next chapter implies that such an opinion existed in his day, though he does not express his own view on the matter. He placed them, however, among the Antilegomena. (On the presbyter John, see below chap. 39, note 4.) That the two epistles fell originally into the class of Antilegomena was due doubtless to the peculiar self-designation mentioned, which seemed to distinguish the author from the apostle, and also to their private and doctrinally unimportant character. But in spite of the slight external testimony to the epistles the conclusion of Weiss seems correct, that “inasmuch as the second and third clearly betray the same author, and inasmuch as the second is related to the first in such a manner that they must either be by the same author or the former be regarded as an entirely aimless imitation of the latter, so everything favors the ascription of them both to the author of the first, viz. to the apostle.” (ibid. p. 469.)


The Apocalypse is one of the best authenticated books of the New Testament. It was used by Papias and others of the earliest Fathers, and already by Justin Martyr was expressly ascribed to the apostle John. (Compare also the epistle of the Churches of Lyons and Vienne, Eusebius, V. 1.) Tradition, so far as we have it, is unanimous (with the exception of the Alogi, an insignificant heretical sect of the second century, who attributed the Apocalypse as well as the Gospel to Cerinthus. Caius is not an exception: see below, chap. 28, note 4) in ascribing the Apocalypse to the apostle John, until Dionysius of Alexandria, who subjected the book to severe literary criticism (see below, Bk. VII. chap. 25), and upon the assumption of the genuineness of the Gospel and the first Epistle, doubted its authenticity on account of its divergence from these writings both in spirit and in style. He says (VII. 25, §2) that some others before him had denied the Johannine authorship and ascribed the book to Cerinthus, but the way in which he speaks of them shows that there cannot have been a ruling tradition to that effect. He may have referred simply to the Alogi, or he may have included others of whom we do not know. He himself rejects this hypothesis, and supposes the books to have been written by some John, not the apostle (by what John he does not decide), and does not deny the inspiration and prophetic character of the book. Dionysius was led to exercise criticism upon the Apocalypse (which was as well supported by tradition as any book of the New Testament) from dogmatic reasons. The supposed sensuous and materialistic conceptions of the Apocalypse were offensive to the spiritualizing tendencies of the Alexandrian school, and the offensiveness increased with time. Although Dionysius held the work as inspired and authoritative, yet his position would lead logically to the exclusion of the Apocalypse from the canon, just as Hermas had been already excluded, although Origen held it to be inspired and authoritative in the same sense in which Dionysius held the Apocalypse to be,—i.e. as composed by an apostle’s pupil, not by an apostle. Apocalyptic literature did not belong properly to the New Testament, but rather to the prophetic portion of the Old Testament; but the number of the Old Testament prophets was already complete (according to the Muratorian Fragment), and therefore no prophetic writing (e.g. Hermas) could find a place there; nor, on the other hand, could it be made a part of the New Testament, for it was not apostolic. The same was true of the Apocalypse of Peter, and the only thing which kept the Apocalypse of John in the canon was its supposed apostolic authorship. It was received as a part of the New Testament not because it was apocalyptic, but because it was apostolic, and thus the criticism of Dionysius would lead logically to its rejection from the canon. John’s Apocalypse is the only New Testament book cited by Justin as γραφή (so also by the Epistle of Vienne and Lyons, Eusebius, V. 1), and this because of its prophetic character. It must have been (according to their opinion) either a true prophecy (and therefore inspired by the Holy Spirit) or a forgery. Its authenticity being accepted, the former alternative necessarily followed, and it was placed upon a line with the Old Testament prophets, i.e. with the γραφή. After Dionysius’ time doubts of its authenticity became quite widespread in the Eastern Church, and among the doubters was Eusebius, who evidently wished to ascribe it to the mysterious presbyter John, whose existence he supposed to be established by Papias in a passage quoted in chap. 39, §4, below (compare the note on the passage). Eusebius’ treatment of the book is hesitating. He evidently himself discredited its apostolic authority, but at the same time he realized (as a historian more keenly than Dionysius the theologian) the great weight of external testimony to its authenticity, and therefore he gives his readers the liberty (in the next chapter) of putting it either with the Homologoumena or with the νόθοι. It legitimately belonged among the Homologoumena, but Dionysius’ attitude toward it doubtless led Eusebius to think that it might at some time in the future be thrown out of the canon, and of course his own objections to its contents and his doubts as to its apostolicity caused him to contemplate such a possibility not without pleasure (see the next chapter, note 1). In chapter 18, above, he speaks of it as the “so-called” Apocalypse of John, but in other places he repeats many testimonies in favor of its authenticity (see the next note), and only in chapter 39 does he state clearly his own opinion in the matter, which even there he does not press as a fixed conviction. The reason for the doubts of the book’s genuineness on the part of Eusebius and so many others lay evidently most of all in objections to the contents of the book, which seemed to favor chiliasm, and had been greatly abused for the advancement of the crassest chiliastic views. Many, like Dionysius of Alexandria were no doubt influenced also by the idea that it was impossible that the Gospel and the Apocalypse could be the works of one author, and they preferred to sacrifice the latter rather than the former. The book has found objectors in almost every age of the Church, but has continued to hold its place in the canon (its position was never disturbed in the Western Church, and only for some two or three centuries after Eusebius in parts of the Eastern Church) as an authentic work of the apostle John. The Tübingen school exalted the Apocalypse to the honorable position of one of the five genuine monuments of the apostolic age, and from it as a basis conducted their attacks upon the other Johannine writings. The more modern critical school is doubtful about it as well as the rest of the Johannine literature, and the latest theory makes the Apocalypse a Jewish document in a Christianized form (see above, chap. 18, note 1). Compare especially Holtzmann’s Einleitung, p. 411–413, and Weiss’ Einleitung, p. 93.


See Bk. VII. chap. 25, where Eusebius quotes a lengthy discussion of the Apocalypse by Dionysius of Alexandria. He also cites opinions favorable to the authenticity of the Apocalypse from Justin (in IV. 18, below), Theophilus (IV. 24), Irenæus (V. 8), and Origen (VI. 25), but such scattered testimonies can hardly be regarded as the fulfillment of the definite promise which he makes in this passage.

Next: Chapter XXV

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