Eusebius in his Historia Ecclesiastica 3.39.15 writes about Papias claiming Mark, an attendant of Peter, had written an account about Jesus:

And the elder would say this: Mark, who had become the interpreter of Peter, wrote accurately, yet not in order, as many things as he remembered of the things either said or done by the Lord. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but later, as I said, Peter, who would make the teachings to the needs, but not making them as an ordering together of the lordly oracles, so that Mark did not sin having thus written certain things as he remembered them. For he made one provision, to leave out nothing of the things that he heard or falsify anything in them.

Και τουθ ο πρεσβυτερος ελεγεν· Μαρκος μεν ερμηνευτης Πετρου γενομενος, οσα εμνημονευσεν ακριβως εγραψεν, ου μεντοι ταξει, τα υπο του κυριου η λεχθεντα η πραχθεντα. ουτε γαρ ηκουσεν του κυριου ουτε παρηκολουθησεν αυτω, υστερον δε, ως εφην, Πετρω, ος προς τας χρειας εποιειτο τας διδασκαλιας, αλλ ουχ ωσπερ συνταξιν των κυριακων ποιουμενος λογιων, ωστε ουδεν ημαρτεν Μαρκος ουτως ενια γραψας ως απεμνημοσευσεν. ενος γαρ εποιησατο προνοιαν, του μηδεν ων ηκουσεν παραλιπειν η ψευσασθαι τι εν αυτοις.

Could the phrase ου μεντοι ταξει refer to the concept of a rhetorical arrangement that is not in order, in that it skips over major sections of the life and ministry of Jesus?

There are two references in the New Testament that are different, yet similar:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word have handed them down to us, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in orderly sequence [καθεξῆς], most excellent Theophilus; so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (Luke 1.1-4)

But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence [καθεξῆς], saying.... (Acts 11.4)

The early second century literary critic Lucian in his book, How to Write History uses ταξει in a broad sense when he writes:

As to the facts themselves, [the historian] should not assemble them at random, but only after much laborious and painstaking investigation. He should for preference be an eyewitness, but, if not, listen to those who tell the more impartial story, those whom one would suppose least likely to subtract from the facts or add to them out of favor or malice. When this happens let him show shrewdness and skill in putting together the more credible story. When he has collected all or most of the facts, let him first make them into a series of notes, a body of material as yet with no beauty or continuity. Then, after arranging them into order [τάξιν], let him give it beauty and enhance it with the charms of expression, figure, and rhythm. (47-48)

Of course, it is possible that Papias is making reference to an early version of Mark's Gospel. If so, it might be similar to how Tertullian in his work Against Marcion writes:

Nothing I have previously written against Marcion is any longer my concern. I am embarking upon a new work to replace an old one. My first edition [primum opusculum], too hurriedly produced, I afterwards withdrew, substituting a fuller [pleniore] treatment. This also, before enough copies [exemplariis] had been made, was stolen from me by a person, at that time a Christian but afterwards an apostate, who chanced to have copied out some extracts very incorrectly [mendosissime], and shewed them to a group of people. Hence the need for correction [emendationis necessitas facta est]. The opportunity provided by this revision has moved me to make some additions. Thus this written work, a third succeeding a second, and instead of third from now on the first, needs to begin by reporting the demise of the work it supersedes, so that no one may be perplexed if in one place or another he comes across varying forms of it [varietas eius]. (1.1.1-2)

The target audience of Mark's Gospel appears to be Cæsar's equites. So, an abridged version of the life and ministry of Jesus might have deliberately been crafted to leave out certain events for rhetorical purposes such as memory retention, etc. For example, in the Fragments attributed to Clement of Alexandria it states (emphasis added):

Mark, the follower of Peter, while Peter publicly preached the Gospel at Rome before some of Cæsar's equites, and adduced many testimonies to Christ, in order that thereby they might be able to commit to memory what was spoken, of what was spoken by Peter, wrote entirely what is called the Gospel according to Mark. As Luke also may be recognised by the style, both to have composed the Acts of the Apostles, and to have translated Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews.

So, what is a survey of the various views that Christians related to the question of what did Papias mean when he wrote how Mark did not write "in order" about what Jesus said or did?

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    Good question, and on-topic. May the -1 voter offer constructive criticism. See meta question to enshrine the "on-topic"-ness of questions related to the "first-edition" manuscript creation process and the appropriate tag for it (whether it is manuscript or should be something else). Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 19:47
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    Another translation of Eusebius's Church History Book III Chapter 39 translates one of the key sentence about "ordering" this way "but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord's discourses": "connected account" instead of "ordering together". Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 20:05

1 Answer 1


Papias is quoting a first-century Christian Elder in defending the Gospel of Mark against critics. Apparently, already by this time, some were criticizing the Gospel of Mark because it was not considered "orderly".

Orderly compared to what?

The Elder's statement implies a standard against which Mark was being compared. Commonly suggested candidates include:

  • The Gospel of Matthew (the document that overlaps with the Gospel of Mark in content more than any other)
  • The Gospel of Luke
  • Various hypothetical documents have been proposed, including Proto-Mark, Deutero-Mark, another gospel or proto-gospel (note that there is no manuscript or Patristic evidence for these documents--they have been theorized largely in efforts to solve the Synoptic Problem)

Indeed if we compare Mark to either Matthew or Luke, we find that they do not present events consistently in the same order (I suggest reasons for these disagreements in order in my video here).


What is an orderly account?

When we see "in order" with Western eyes, we think "chronological order". While this is a possible meaning, it is not a necessary meaning.

  • As noted in the OP's quote from Lucian, an orderly account can simply mean an account that is organized for rhetorical or artistic effect.
  • A document can be ordered by topic (such as the Gospel of Matthew or a modern encyclopedia)
  • A document can be ordered by geography (such as the Gospel of Luke or a modern atlas)
  • A document can be ordered poetically, such as in a chiasmus, a technique common in ancient Jewish writings.


How was the Gospel of Mark organized?

Mark presents numerous stories placed together in sequence--in the literature, these stories are called "pericopes". Various theories exist for how Mark chose to order the pericopes, including:

  • Structuring the entire book as a chiasmus
  • Following a blend of the order of the material in Matthew & Luke (as argued by William Farmer)
  • Following the order in which Peter (and/or others) taught the gospel message (e.g. Acts 10:37-42)


My own conclusions

My own work on the Synoptic Problem (here and here) leads me to conclude:

  • No hypothetical documents, such as Q, proto-Mark, or Deutero-Mark, are necessary in order to solve the Synoptic Problem
  • The Gospel of Matthew was written first and was the principal text of the Christian movement
  • The Gospel of Luke was written second
  • The Gospel of Mark was written third, much of it was put together from memory, and the material generally alternates between following the order of Matthew & the order of Luke
  • The Elder & Papias are likely addressing the differences between Matthew's order (more well-known) and Mark's order (less well-known), and explaining that the order in Mark is not inappropriate even though it is not consistently the same as Matthew's order. Mark had a different focus & structure in mind. Neither is strictly chronological.
  • HTTR, you write: "No hypothetical documents, such as Q, proto-Mark, or Deutero-Mark, are necessary in order to solve the Synoptic Problem." If that is true, then the concept of Occam's razor makes me think that Papias has in mind pretty much the same version of the Gospel of Mark that we have today.
    – Jess
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 1:19
  • HTTR, some have argued that Papias, as a native of Hierapolis might have used the same line of reasoning in making references to rhetorical interests as his contemporaries. For example, see this article: proquest.com/openview/b62fb6eee178db51e12e1cfa10ee2f5d/… And: earlychristianwritings.com/papias.html
    – Jess
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 1:28
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    @Jess re Papias has in mind pretty much the same version of the Gospel of Mark that we have today - I believe that as well. Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 1:37
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    Good answer. A related question: do you think Papias had the shorter or the longer Mark? Was Mark shortened or lengthened compared to the original? Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 16:54
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    @GratefulDisciple ah, this is a fascinating subject! I actually made a video on my channel sharing my views on the ending of the Gospel of Mark. I think it more likely than not that Papias had the longer ending of Mark (he was from Hieropolis, rather than Alexandria or Rome). The last 12 verses of Mark are found so widely & so early that although they may not be original, I conclude they must have been written well-within the 1st century. Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 17:24

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