From Papias’ Exposition of Oracles of the Lord, written about AD 125–140, we obtain information which explicitly comments on the writing of the Gospels. Sadly, almost all of this work is no longer extant, with extracted fragments being all which remain. Yet, it is perhaps difficult to overemphasize the importance of the brief data which are still in existence.
Papias explains that Mark, as Peter’s interpreter, accurately wrote his Gospel based on the teaching of this apostle, although not necessarily in chronological order. Then we are briefly told that Matthew wrote his account in Hebrew, with interested readers providing their own translations (III).
While anything which Papias may have said concerning the Gospels of Luke and John is not extant, a later manuscript summarizes Papias’ testimony that John composed his Gospel while he was an elderly man (XIX). Incidently, Papias does testify that he received such material from those who learned directly from the Lord’s apostles themselves (III).
To return to the significant issue of whether these early citations of Jesus’ words are from a sayings tradition (either written or oral) or from the canonical Gospels themselves, at least two things need to be mentioned. Initially, while none of the quotations of Jesus are specifically said to be taken from the Gospels, this conclusion could still be successfully argued on several fronts.
The Didacheexcerpt from Acts (4) also does not identify the source, yet it is unlikely that it comes from any sayings source both because of its nature and in that it lacks those characteristics. Further, the citations from Paul (see below) are from his epistles, even though the specific books are not mentioned. Lastly, the passages from Papias about the authorship of Matthew, Mark, and John do not cite sayings from Jesus but definitely do acknowledge the Gospel sources.^26