26 Besides Papias’ reference to the Gospel of John, allusions to this Gospel may be found in Clement’s Corinthians(43), as well as Ignatius’ Ephesians(5, 17). Later, the status of John is widely recognized by Justin Martyr (about AD 150), Tatian’s Fourfold Gospel (about AD 170), and in the Muratorian Canon(about AD 180).
And it should be noted that our original goal was not so much to prove the source for the sayings, but to show that the Gospels were accepted as authoritative well before the end of the second century. This would certainly appear to be evident from this data, especially in that Papias also relates the importance of these Gospels—three times he explains that Mark made no errors in recording his material about Jesus (III). Such was evidently important to him.
But, additionally, even ifmost of the citations of Jesus’ words are from a sayings source,^27 the earliest post-apostolic authors clearly refer to these statements as inspired and authoritative, on a par with that of the Old Testament. So once again, the chief point here is that the early Gnostic Gospels of the mid to late second century did not appear in a milieu where “anything goes.” Rather, the sources for Jesus’ life (see below) and teachings were clearly established and accepted. That the canonical Gospels are the texts which incorporate these teachings also says something about their authority.
So the facts certainly appear to indicate that the canonical Gospels were widely recognized as being authoritative well before the late second century. In addition to 1 Timothy 5:18, six major Christian sources refer to the teachings of Jesus alternatively as the Gospel, the words of Christ and Scripture between AD 95 and