In the fourth century, Church historian Eusebius quoted early Church father and bishop Papias of Hierapolis (c. The assumption that the "presbyter John" with whom Papias apparently had a relationship was the same as the apostle John is evidently incorrect….
…Many of Papias's remarks, according to Eusebius, involved miracles, such as the raising of the dead, which stretch the credulity.
Unfortunately the heresiologist reveals little about the content of the work, except that it differed significantly from the canonical gospels.
In fact, prior to the end of the second century, there is no clear evidence of the existence of the canonical gospels as we have them. In other words, we do not even know who this person is whom Eusebius is allegedly quoting regarding these purported earlier texts.
Christian apologetics for the early gospel dates rely on the slimmest of evidence, including a very late third-hand testimony of a late second-hand testimony that "Mark" had written a narrative, supposedly based on the experiences of Peter as related by the apostle himself. According to Eusebius—in disagreement with Irenaeus, who suggested Papias had known the apostle John—Papias had no direct acquaintance with any of the apostles: …Papias himself in the preface to his work makes it clear that he was never a hearer or eyewitness of the holy apostles, and tells us that he learnt the essentials of the faith from their former pupils.
If so, a date of composition in the middle of the second century (between 140 and 180 C. On the basis of literary and conceptual affinities between this text and the exiguous fragments of Valentinus, some scholars have suggested that the Gnostic teacher himself was the author.
That remains a distinct possibility, although it cannot be definitively established.
The richly subtle and sophisticated style and organization of the text, designed to invite readers in an inoffensive way to a certain view of Jesus' salvific role (Attridge 1988), may argue for a later date.
A Valentinian work entitled the "Gospel of Truth" is attested in the Adversus Haereses (3.11.9) of Irenaeus.
Nevertheless, fundamentalist Christian apologists such as Norman Geisler make misleading assertions such as that "many of the original manuscripts date from within twenty to thirty years of the events in Jesus' life, that is, from contemporaries and eyewitnesses." Scrutinizing the evidence forensically, however, it is impossible honestly to make such a conclusion.
Moreover, even the latest of the accepted gospel dates are not based on evidence from the historical, literary or archaeological record, and over the centuries a more "radical" school of thought has placed the creation or emergence of the canonical gospels as we have them at a much later date, more towards the end of the second century.
Are we supposed merely to take Papias's word on what else he was told by these "former followers?
" Moreover, even Eusebius does not think highly of Papias, remarking, "For he seems to have been a man of very small intelligence, to judge from his books." …
As one glaring example of this detachment, it is claimed that Matthew was recording events he himself had witnessed, but the gospel attributed to him begins before he had been called by Jesus and speaks of Matthew in the third person….