Eusebius - Book 3– A Problem?


An enquirer has found a problem with what he called our ‘Griesbach and Orchard 2GH theory.’  He said the passage we used from book 3 of:  The History of the Christian Church by Eusebius, (EH III 39 15), was ambiguous. It didn’t provide support for: The Clementine Gospel Tradition. (TCGT).

ANSWER: Our enquirer’s problem is based on a misunderstanding.

Firstly: The Clementine Gospel Tradition (TCGT) is not the same as that propagated by Griesbach.

Secondly:  TCGT does not use the EH III 39 15 passage for support.

Thirdly: The passage supporting the TCGT position is in book 2.

The passage in book 3 does concern Mark’s relationship with Peter, so something needs to be said about it and to suggest how the misunderstanding has arisen.

The Clementine Gospel Tradition took many years to emerge. Its founding principle was initiated by Henry Owen in 1764 and propagated by Griesbach in the 18th Century. One aspect was defended by Abbotts Carpenter and Butler in the 20th Century, and the principle was promoted by William Farmer. Then in 1987, Harold Riley and Bernard Orchard developed Orchard’s: ‘The Two Gospel Hypothesis’ (2GH).

During those years there were many disputes regarding historical passages. One of these is the subject of this article. This dispute was based on the presumption held by both sides, that the passage concerned the composition of Mark’s Gospel.

As will be explained, this passage is now seen as concerning an earlier period. So it has no direct bearing on the correctness, or not, of: The Clementine Gospel Tradition.

To understand this, we need to read excerpts from books 2 and 3.

Below, we have used the 1980 edition of: The Kirsopp Lake translation of: ‘The Ecclesiastical History’ by Eusebius. Alternative translations are available in: The Christian Classical Ethereal Library on the internet and from:

From book 2. (EH II 15 1 – 16 1)

Thus when the divine word made its home amongst them the power of Simon was extinguished and perished immediately, together with the fellow himself.

But a great light of religion shone on the minds of the hearers of Peter, so that they were not satisfied with a single hearing or with the unwritten teaching of the divine proclamation, but with every kind of exhortation besought Mark, whose Gospel is extant, seeing that he was Peter’s follower, to leave them a written statement of the teaching given them verbally, nor did they cease until they had persuaded him, and so became the cause of the Scripture called the Gospel according to Mark. And they say that the Apostle, knowing by the revelation of the spirit to him what had been done, was pleased at their zeal, and ratified the scripture for study in the churches. Clement quotes the story in the sixth book of the Hypolyposes, and the bishop of Hierapolis, named Papias, confirms this. He also says that Peter mentions Mark in his first Epistle, and that he composed this in Rome itself, which they say that he himself indicates, referring to the city metaphorically as Babylon, in the words, “the elect one in Babylon greets you, and Marcus my son.”

16. They say that this Mark was the first to be sent to preach in Egypt the Gospel which he had also put into writing, and was the first to establish churches in Alexandria itself.

From book 3. (EH III 39. 14b, 15 and 16a).

… We are now obliged to append to the words already quoted from him a tradition about the Mark who wrote the Gospel, which he expounds as follows. “And the Presbyter used to say this, ‘Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed him, but later on, as I said, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.’”   This is related by Papias about Mark, and about Matthew this was said, “Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best he could”.


At the opening of the passage in book 3, Eusebius says he is adding to what he has already written.  He is referring to what he had quoted from Papias in his book 2 regarding the composition of Mark’s Gospel. It would have been pointless to repeat the account. So Eusebius reports what Papias said about an earlier relationship, between Peter and Mark.

We learn that Peter usually delivered his orations in the form of anecdotes adapted to his audience, without chronological or literary order. Mark accurately recorded some of these orations.

Mark’s achievement of accuracy is compared to Matthew recording Hebrew orations (presumably given by Peter) which were not easy to read. It appears that Mark could use Greek short-hand, an aide not available in the Hebrew/Aramaic language. The mention of Hebrew oracles points to Palestine as the location of this activity. An ability to use Greek short-hand would have contribute to the reasons Peter engaged him as his secretary.

It is interesting that when Eusebius provides his sources for book 2, he quotes from Clement [of Alexandria] with Papias providing confirmation. But for book 3, Eusebius quoted from Papias, because Papias had known Presbyter John. (EH III 39. 6-7).  Clement had not been born when Peter had been preaching in Palestine.

 7)  Eusebius obviously considered Presbyter John to have been a reliable witness. Whether he was John the Apostle or another John is disputed.

In: The Order of the Synoptics (1987), Bernard Orchard was developing his two Gospel Hypothesis (2GH) theory. Orchard still presumed, as did others, that the passage in book 3 referred back to the making of Mark’s Gospel (which was mentioned on the previous line. So he included the ambiguous passage when attempting to show that it didn’t undermine his 2GH theory. This presumption, as shown above, was a mistake.

The passage in book 3, to which our enquirer has referred, is not used as a support for The Clementine Gospel Tradition.

But, as TCGT owes much to Orchard’s researches with 2GH, it is easy to see how an enquirer could have misunderstood our TCGT position.

This version 22nd October 2014 [G323].