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Patristic Traditions on the Gospel Writers: Irenaeus of Lyons

Although a four Gospel canon probably preceded the late second century theologian Irenaeus of Lyons, he was the first to explicitly rise to its defense. Here are his traditions on the evangelists. Recalling Papias, how does he understand that Matthew wrote among the Hebrews in “their own dialect” and, when he refers to Mark handing down Peter’s preaching in writing after the exodos of Peter and Paul, does he mean their “departure” from Rome or a euphemism for their “death”? When Irenaeus identifies Luke as the companion of Paul, is it because he combines the “we” of Acts with 2 Timothy 4:11 to suggest that Luke alone was with Paul in Rome (see Against Heresies 3.14.1)? Where did Irenaeus get the idea that John the disciple (= Apostle?) leaned on the Lord’s breast (see John 13:23) and resided in Ephesus (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39 on the confusion over whether there were one or two Christian leaders named John with memorials in Ephesus)?

Ita Mattheus in Hebraeis ipsorum lingua scrip­turam edidit Evan­gelii cum Petrus et Paulus Romae evange­lizarent et fun­da­rent Eccle­siam. Post vero ex­cessum Mar­cus disci­pulus et inter­pres Petri et ipse quae a Petro annun­tiata erant per scripta nobis tradidit, et Lucas autem secta­tor Pauli quod ab illo prae­dica­batur Evangelium in libro condidit. Postea et Johannes disci­pulus Domini qui et supra pectus ejus recum­bebat et ipse edidit Evangelium Ephesi Asiae com­morans. (Irenaeus, Adversus Haeresis 3.1.1)

ὁ μὲν δὴ Ματθαῖος ἐν τοῖς Ἑβραίοις τῇ ἰδίᾳ αὐτῶν διαλέκτῳ καὶ γραφὴν ἐξήνεγκεν εὐαγγέ­λιου τοῦ Πέτρου καὶ τοῦ Παύλου ἐν Ρώμῃ εὐαγγελι­ζομένων καὶ θεμε­λιούντων τὴν ἐκ­κλη­σίαν· μετὰ δὲ τὴν τούτων ἔξοδεν Μάρκος, ὁ μαθητὴς καὶ ἑρμη­νευτὴς Πέτρου, καὶ αὐτὸς τὰ ὑπὸ Πέτρου κηρυσσό­μενα ἐγ­γράφως ἡμῖν παρα­δέδωκεν· καὶ Λουκᾶς δέ, ὁ ἀκόλο­υθος Παύλου, τὸ ὑπ’ ἐκείνου κηρυσσό­μενον εὐαγγέ­λιον ἐν βίβλῳ κατ­έθετο. ἔπειτα Ἰωάννης, ὁ μα­θητὴς τοῦ κυρίου, ὁ καὶ ἐπὶ τὸ στῆθος αὐτοῦ ἀνα­πεσών, καὶ αὐτὸς ἐξ­έδωκεν τὸ εὐαγγέ­λιον, ἐν Ἐφέσῳ τῆς Ἀσίας διατρίβων. (Greek text quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.8.2-4)

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. (Alexander Roberts, William Rambaut)

Indeed Matthew, among the Hebrews in their own dialect, also bore forth a writing of the gospel, Peter and Paul evangelizing in Rome and founding the church.  But after the exodus of these men Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also delivered to us in writing the things preached by Peter, and Luke also, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by that man.  Afterward John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned upon his breast, himself also published the gospel, passing his time in Ephesus of Asia. (Ben C. Smith)

So Matthew, among the Hebrews in their own dialect, brought forth a writing of the gospel when Peter and Paul in Rome were evan­geli­zing and founding the church; but after their depar­ture Mark, the disciple and inter­preter of Peter, he too handed what was preached by Peter down to us in writing, and Luke, the fol­lower of Paul, set forth in a book the gospel that was preached by him.  Then John, the disciple of the Lord and also the one who leaned against his chest, also pub­lished the gospel when re­siding in Ephesus of Asia. (Stephen Carlson)

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