PAPIAS (c. 60-130 A.D.) and the Gospels of Matthew and Mark


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There is much in-depth information in this article, which is taken from HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS?: The Synoptic Gospels in the Ancient Church: The Testimony to the Priority of the Gospel of Matthew. We have a brief introduction to papyrus from Tyndale Bible Dictionary. We have a lengthy apologetic article on Papias and the arguments from higher critics by F. David Farnell. This is followed by Papias’ writings from two leading scholars on the Apostolic Fathers, Michael W. Holmes, and J. B. Lightfoot.

NOTE: The footnotes by F. David Farnell have much information in them as well. Click the footnote link, it jumps you there; then, click the footnote link at the footnote, it jumps you back, or simply hit the backspace.

Papias of Hierapolis
Papias of Hierapolis

PAPIAS of Hierapolis was an early church leader of Hierapolis; chronicler of early Christianity. The information we have about Papias (ad 60–130) and his work was given by Eusebius of Caesarea and Irenaeus of Lyons. Irenaeus stated that Papias had heard the apostle John preach and also knew Polycarp. Eusebius mentioned his Explanation of the Sayings of the Lord. In the preface to this work Papias maintains that his primary purpose was to bring forth a truthful record of a collection of the words and deeds of the apostles that were told to him by a presbyter. Irenaeus understood him to be alluding to the apostle John, but Eusebius contended that he referred to two Johns, one who was the apostle and the other who was the companion of Aristion.

Papias claimed that Mark, the Evangelist, who had never heard Christ, was the interpreter of Peter, and that he carefully gave an account of everything he remembered from the preaching of Peter. The statement that Matthew wrote down sayings of Jesus in Hebrew was affirmed by Papias. Irenaeus understood this as a reference to Hebraisms in Matthew’s Gospel, whereas Origen took this to mean that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Hebrew.[1]

David Farnell-2
F. David Farnell B.A., San Diego Christian College, M.Div., Talbot School of Theology, Th.M., Talbot School of Theology, Ph.D., Dallas Theological Seminary


The Gospel of Matthew was the church’s most popular Gospel in the decades up to the time of Irenaeus (ca. A.D. 180).  After an extensive analysis of Matthew’s influence on early Christianity, Massaux relates,

Of all the New Testament Writings, the Gospel of Mt. was the one whose literary influence was the most widespread and the most profound in Christian literature that extended into the last decades of the second century. . . .

Until the end of the second century, the first gospel remained the gospel par excellence   . . . .

The Gospel was, therefore, the normative fact of Christian life.  It created the background for ordinary Christianity.[3]

Moreover, the unanimous and unquestioned consensus of the Church Fathers was that Matthew was the first gospel written, and almost without exception, the early church placed the Gospel of Matthew first in the canon of the New Testament.  Petrie observes, “Until the latter half of the eighteenth century, the apostolic authorship of ‘the Gospel according to Matthew’ seems to have been generally accepted.”[4]


However, the Enlightenment and its spawning of historical-critical methodologies—particularly that aspect of the system called “Source Criticism”—marked the beginning of the end of that viewpoint.[5]  Most New Testament scholars at the turn of the twenty-first century resoundingly reject the unanimous testimony of the early church regarding Matthean priority in favor of the Two- or Four-Source Theory[6] of how the Synoptic Gospels came into existence.[7]  That rejection characterizes not only those of a liberal-theological perspective.  It also extends to include many who probably would classify themselves as conservative evangelicals, men such as Hill, Carson along with Moo and Morris, Martin, and France who explain away the evidence from Papias and church tradition regarding Matthean priority in deference to a theory of modern vintage that requires the priority of Mark.[8] Few conservative evangelicals today dare to challenge the “findings” of Source Criticism.


The theory of Mark’s being written first flies in the face of what is quite clear from the writings in the early church, as Massaux has pointedly demonstrated:

The literary influence of the Gospel of Mk. is practically nil of these writings [i.e., the church writings of the first two centuries up to Irenaeus].  This characteristic of the early tradition constitutes a strange phenomenon.  How can we explain this silence of tradition, if, as is generally believed, Mk. was the first of the canonical gospels?  How can we explain the first Christians hardly resorted to it, so that it appeared almost nonexistent?  Did it not respond, perhaps to the exigencies and concrete needs of the community of the time?  Or have we been wrong to elevate it to the detriment of the Gospel of Mt.?[9]

Someone besides Massaux needs to set the record straight.  The church fathers must have their hearing, apart from a dogmatism that bases itself on a late-blooming theory regarding gospel sequence.  They lived much closer to the composition of the gospels than anyone associated with the Enlightenment.  Also, they were scholars in their own right, so it is a grave mistake to dismiss their testimony so casually as moderns have tended to do.  They bear a unified testimony against critical assumptions of the last two centuries that have supported the priority of Mark and the associated Two- (or Four-) Source Theory.  The discussion of their writings will also evidence the shortcomings of the avenue of Source Criticism that results in the Two-Gospel Theory.[10]


Early in the first half of the second century A.D., Papias was bishop of Hierapolis in the Phrygian region of the province of Asia—a city about 20 miles west of Colosse and 6 miles east of Laodicea.[11]  Nothing much is known of Papias’s life beyond the comment of Irenaeus that he was “one of the ancients” (ἀρχαῖος ἀνήρ, archaios aner).[12]  His writing activity dates between ca. A.D. 95 and 110.[13]  That early dating makes his works crucial, for he is one of only a few witnesses to a very early period of church history.

Papias (along with his friend and contemporary, Polycarp) was a disciple and personal acquaintance of the Apostle John because Irenaeus wrote that Papias was “the hearer of John.”[14]  Unfortunately, Papias’s writings are no longer extant.  Only fragments of his works remain and are largely known through quotations by later Fathers, especially Eusebius.  Papias wrote a series of five treatises entitled Interpretation of the Oracles of the Lord (Λογίων κυριακῶν ἐξηγήσεως, logiōn kuriakōn exēgēseōs) in which he draws information from the remaining, living-eyewitness sources, i.e., the Apostle John himself and another original disciple of Jesus named Ariston, concerning what the apostles had said or done.[15]  In essence, Papias’s assertions had their foundation in direct “eyewitness” (i.e., firsthand) reports.[16]  If Papias wrote ca. A.D. 95-110, then the information that he imparts reaches well back into the first century and is an invaluable source of information regarding the gospels.

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Papias included a brief account in his Expositions regarding the composition of Matthew: “Matthew collected (συνετάξατο, sunetaxato) the oracles (τὰ λόγια, ta logia) in the Hebrew language (Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ, Hebraidi dialektōi) and each interpreted them (ἡρμήνευσεν, hērmēneusen) as best he could.”[17]  (bold publisher) A great deal of conflict, however, has raged around this short statement, especially regarding the meaning and significance of the words “the oracles” (ta logia) and the phrase “in the Hebrew language” (Hebraidi dialektōi).  An understanding of the latter expression has some impact on how one interprets the former.

Ta logia as an independent collection of Jesus’ sayings.  Regarding the meaning of “the oracles” (ta logia), Scholars exhibit several major interpretations.  Some think that it refers to an independent collection of Jesus’ sayings, perhaps Q.[18]  T. W. Manson popularized the view:

In Eusebius we find a quotation from Papias stating that “Matthew composed the oracles (ta logia) in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as he was able.” This obviously cannot refer to the first Gospel, which is essentially a Greek work based on Greek sources, of which Mark is one.  It is, however, possible that what is meant is the document which we now call Q.[19]

Adding support to this conclusion was the fact that ta logia is not the usual way of referring to a “gospel” and would be rather unique, for the normal descriptive term already seen by the time of Papias and evidenced in early manuscripts of the gospels would be το εὐαγγελιον (to euaggelion, “the gospel”).[20]

That explanation of ta logia, however, is dubious for several reasons.  First, Papias does not use ta logia to refer only to sayings but also to the deeds of Jesus.  The title of Papias’ work, Interpretation of the Oracles of the Lord (Λογίων κυριακῶν ἐξηγήσεως, logiōn kuriakōn exēgēseōs) implies that more than Jesus’ words are encompassed in its meaning, for enough is known regarding this work that he did not restrict it in scope to an exposition merely of Jesus’s words.[21]

Second, in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15-16, Papias commented that in composing his gospel, Mark, being Peter’s interpreter, “wrote accurately all that he remembered . . . of the things said or done by the Lord” [emphasis added] and immediately after this spoke of Peter as “not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles (σύνταξιν τῶν κυριακῶν ποιούμενος λογίων, suntaxin tōn kuriakōn poioumenos logiōn), so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them.”  Since Mark’s gospel included deeds as well as words, the expression τῶν. . . λογίων (tōn . . . logiōn, “the oracles”) must include both too.

Third, the parallelism between these two phrases—”the things said or done” (τά … ἢ λεχθέντα ἢ πραχθέντα, τά … ē lechthenta ē prachthenta) and “the oracles of the Lord” (τῶν κυριακῶν … λογίων,  tōn kuriakōn … logiōn)—in immediate juxtaposition demonstrates that the latter expression, i.e. “the oracles of the Lord”  (i.e. tōn kuriakōn … logiōn), can encompass both the deeds as well as the words of Jesus.

From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts

Fourth, immediately after these statements regarding Mark’s gospel, Papias applies the term ta logia to Matthew’s work, thus making it hard to avoid the conclusion that he refers to Matthew’s gospel rather than some hypothetical sayings source like Q.[22]  Therefore, the ta logia is most naturally understood as a synonym for the gospel.[23]

No evidence exists that such a document as “Q” ever existed at Papias’ time or any other time.  The increasing skepticism of a wide spectrum of NT scholars regarding the nature (e.g., make-up and extent) of Q and whether such a document ever really existed in church history make this suggestion highly dubious.[24]

Ta logia as a collection of OT proof texts. 

A second view similar to the first is that ta logia refers to an OT testimonia collection (i.e., a book of OT proof texts) compiled by Matthew from the Hebrew canon for use in Christian apologetics, one that eventually was incorporated into canonical Matthew.  Hunt forcefully argues,

[Λ]όγια has nothing to do with the title of any book, but is a technical term meaning O.T. oracles.  That is to say that λόγια was not the name of a book composed by St. Matthew, or by anyone else, but was a description of the contents of the book; it was composed of lovgia, which had been arranged by St. Matthew.[25]

For Hunt, those who would see the term lovgia as meaning “gospel” most likely “have been hypnotized by tradition” and “for whatever ta; lovgia may have been taken as meaning at a later period, it could not have meant The Gospel according to St. Matthew when originally written; since nobody will maintain that a gospel was ever called τὰ λόγια.”[26]  Similarly, Grant asserts that that τῶν κυριακῶν … λογίων predominately refer to “divine utterances” like those contained in the OT.[27] Therefore, Papias seems to refer to Matthew’s collection of OT prophecies of the Messiah, “a collection of the kind embedded in the Gospel of Matthew.”[28]

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity The Reading Culture of Early Christianity The Reading Culture of Early Christianity

Yet, this view seems unlikely for significant reasons.  First, a similar criticism applies to this view as to the first view above, i.e., in the context of Papias’ writings, ta; lovgia most likely refers to both deeds and sayings of Jesus and not to a hypothesized collection of OT proof-texts.  This view, therefore, supplies an aberrant meaning to Papias’ words.  It also makes Grant’s assumption regarding τῶν κυριακῶν … λογίων as referring to OT oracles tenuous since Papias, in the context of Eusebius’ discussion, refers to Jesus’ sayings and deeds rather than OT sayings, the latter not being in view at all in that context.[29]

Second, the view cannot account for the diversity of text forms in OT quotations in Matthew and for the way he often parallels the LXX rather than the Hebrew OT (e.g., Matt. 1:23; 5:21, 27, 38, 43; 13:14-15; 21:16).[30]

Third, the most likely understanding of the term hJrmhvneusen refers to “translation” of a language, especially in light of his phrase “in the Hebrew language” (Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ), rather than “interpretation” of OT sayings, the latter being the sense required under this view.[31] Furthermore, this Hebrew (i.e., Aramaic) testimonia collection may not need to be “translated” especially since the LXX would have been well-established.

Ta logia as an error by Papias.  Yet, if some scholars find neither of these two views satisfactory regarding ta; lovgia, then they often envision two alternatives in their discussion of its meaning: either Papias was inaccurate and his testimony should be discounted, or Papias was referring to some other composition of Matthew which is not now extant.

Carson, Moo, and Morris prefer the idea that Papias’ statement was partially in error when he asserted a Semitic (i.e. Aramaic) original of Matthew, labeling it as “an intelligent, albeit erroneous, guess.”[32] From their point of view Papias spoke from ignorance, especially if he “had no real knowledge of just how much Greek was spoken in first-century Palestine, especially in Galilee.”[33] At times, they are ambivalent as to who wrote the gospel bearing Matthew’s name, for after discussing the evidence, both pros and cons, for apostolic authorship of the gospel, they conclude “at one level very little hangs on the question of the authorship of this [Matthew’s] gospel.  By and large, neither its meaning nor its authority are greatly changed if one decides that its author was not an apostle.”[34]  For them, apostolic, eyewitness origin ultimately carries little weight for the validity of this gospel.  Martin holds the same perspective.[35]

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Harrison deprecates Papias in a fashion similar to Carson, Moo and Morris, arguing that “Papias, like Jerome, confused the Gospel according to the Hebrews or something like it with an Aramaic Matthew.”[36]  Similarly, Hill comments, “[T]he tradition of Matthean priority rests . . . on a misinterpretation of Papias’ statements, or on Papias’ misunderstanding of the actual matter to which he was referring.”[37]

Significantly, most of these evangelicals who dismiss the testimony of Papias apparently do so because of their acceptance of the historical-critical conclusion that Mark was the first gospel, as expressed in the Two- or Four-Source hypothesis.[38]  For them, current (and dogmatic) source-critical conclusions are sufficient to override strong and ancient historical testimony.[39]  Yet, in reply, apostolic origin of the gospels is vital for a document that purports to be a record of Jesus’ historical ministry on earth.  The anonymity of the Matthean gospel argues strongly for the validity of tradition that attached Matthew’s name to it because such anonymity is inexplicable apart from its direct association with the apostle Matthew.  Matthew was a relatively obscure figure among the Twelve, so no adequate reason exists to explain why the early church would have chosen his name rather than a better-known apostle if he had not indeed written it.

Furthermore, the more reasonable explanation is that Papias, possessing information from highly placed apostolic and eyewitness testimony regarding Matthew, was correct, and that attempts at deprecating Papias border on intellectual presumptuousness.  Petrie describes such a casual dismissal of the evidence: “This is the kind of unintentional belittling guess that easily hardens from ‘may be’ to a firm statement and then becomes a dogmatic basis for further adventures in criticism.”[40]  Since Papias is not relating his own opinion but citing information derived from firsthand reports of the apostle John and the disciple Ariston, a supposition of Papias’ confusion is unlikely.  For as Gundry observes, “Possibilities of confusion decrease the closer we approach the time of writing.  It is especially hard to think that one of the twelve apostles, John himself, fell into such an error.”[41]  Interestingly, Papias uses the imperfect tense (e[legen, elegen‑”he was saying”) to depict how John repeatedly transmitted information to him about Mark’s arrangement of topics.[42]  Theirs was not just a one-time conversation.  Petrie best summarizes Historical Criticism’s attack on Papias’ credibility well:

This testimony is on much firmer ground than the best speculative guesses of the twentieth century, and it must be fairly and fully reckoned with in the quest for Gospel backgrounds.  Failing substantial evidence to contradict it or to turn its meaning, it is not to be dismissed because of its inconvenience for current hypotheses.  If it does not accord with these hypotheses, it is the hypotheses that must be considered anew.  For the one is tangible evidence from a competent, informed, and credible witness; the rest, however attractive or even dazzling they appear, lack its substantiality.[43]


Ta logia as a canonical Greek Matthew.

A fourth view of Papias’ meaning takes ta; lovgia to refer to the canonical Greek version of Matthew’s gospel and exonerates Papias as an accurate reporter, but says his readers misunderstood him.  Reflecting a concept similar to Kürzinger,[44] Gundry asserts that rather than a linguistic sense Papias’ expression “in the Hebrew dialect” ( Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ) has a literary sense, referring to a Semitic style: “In describing Matthew, then, ‘a Hebrew dialect’ means a Hebrew way of presenting Jesus’ messiahship.”[45]  With this approach, the verb ἡρμήνεύσεν had the sense of “explain” rather than “translate.”

Moreover, Kürzinger points out that immediately before Papias’ statement regarding Matthew, he describes Mark’s composition of his gospel as reflecting Peter’s testimony.  There Papias calls Mark the “interpreter” (ἡρμήνευτες;”, hermneuts [—Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15]) of Peter.  Kürzinger insists that this cannot mean that Mark was Peter’s “translator,” but must have been the “interpreter” of that preached or spoken by Peter.[46]  Thus, Papias’ statement regarding Matthew must mean that everyone “passed on” or “interpreted” Matthew’s Greek gospel to the world as he was able.

A first response to that analysis notes that although the sense of argumentational style is a possible meaning of διαλἐκτῳ /,[47] it is a more remote and secondary sense.  The most natural understanding of διαλἐκτος (dialektos) is “language,” not “interpretation.”[48]  Also, the term in combination with the noun  JEbrai?di (Hebraidi, lit. “Hebrew” but most likely a reference the Aramaic language) and the verb eJrmhneuvein (hermneuein, “to interpret”) points to the latter’s natural meaning of “translate (a language)” rather than to an alleged Semitic style.

Second, the church fathers understood Papias’ statement as referring to language.  Without exception they held that the apostle Matthew wrote the canonical Matthew and that he wrote it first in a Semitic language.[49]

I AM John 8.58 I AM John 8.58 I AM John 8.58

Third, all six occurrences of the word διαλἐκτος in the NT refer to human languages rather than to a particular style of argument (Acts 1:19; 2:6, 8; 21:40; 22:2; 26:14).[50]  These arguments render the view of Kürzinger and Gundry as very improbable.

A significant observation notes that the common thread of all four viewpoints of Papias’ words discussed so far is an a priori assumption of validity of the Two-Document Hypothesis.  As a result, they all attempt to find a way either to diminish the force of Papias’ words, dismiss his information as inaccurate or wrong, or superimpose a totally foreign understanding.  Survival of the cherished synoptic hypothesis drives them to pursue such tactics as Gundry illustrates in his discussion of Papias’ words:  “[I]t is the currently prevalent and well-substantiated opinion that our Greek Matthew shows many signs of drawing in large part on the Gospel of Mark, also written in Greek.”[51]

Gundry goes one step further in his analysis of Papias’ words.  He takes them to indicate that Matthew deliberately corrected Mark.  Immediately before Papias’ comments about Matthew (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16), Eusebius quotes Papias’ description of the composition of Mark:

“And the Presbyter [John] 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 in wrong in 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.[52]

Since the statements come before Papias’ comments about Matthew’s gospel, Gundry contends that they prove that Mark wrote before Matthew.   In a nutshell, he argues that the sequence and nature of discussion in this section indicate that Matthew should be understood as a deliberate corrective to Mark.  He notes that Papias’ statements that Mark’s gospel was written “not, indeed, in order” and “not making . . . an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles” comes immediately before Papias’ discussion of Matthew and how he “collected” (συνetὰξaτο, sunetavxato) his oracles.  Gundry contends, Matthew did it “for the precise purpose of bringing order out of the chaos in Mark.”[53]

English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II

However, a few observations show Gundry’s contentions to be tenuous.  First, Eusebius is quoting detached statements of Papias regarding Mark and Matthew so that the sequence of the gospels means nothing nor does any alleged dependence among the gospels surface in the order of discussion in the text.[54]

Second, such a theory indicates the absolute paucity of evidence for the Two-Document Hypothesis in ancient tradition.  Its proponents must attempt to make something out of nothing in a desperate attempt at proving their a priori and dogmatic assumption that colors everything they analyze.

Papias’ words (and Eusebius’ citation and discussion) do not constitute any type of proof for Markan priority or literary dependence between Matthew and Mark.  They add absolutely nothing to an understanding of any relationship between Matthew or Mark (or the other gospels for that matter).  Eusebius’ disjointed citation of Papias’ words about Mark coming before that same historian’s citation of Papias’ words about Matthew’s gospel have no relevance to that issue.  Such alleged evidence goes far beyond what the statements indicate and is blatantly non sequitur.  As a matter of fact, Papias’ statements here actually constitute evidence against an assumed literary dependence, for he remarked that Mark depended on Peter for the contents of his gospel!


Ta logia as an early edition of Matthew’s gospel. 

A final view, distinct from the others (and also from their synoptic hypotheses) is that Papias referred to an earlier edition of Matthew written entirely in Hebrew (i.e., Aramaic) that Matthew wrote first.  That was perhaps a proto-Matthew, i.e., a shorter version that eventually came to be incorporated into (not necessarily translated from but contained within) an expanded Greek version, i.e., the canonical Gospel of Matthew.[55]  Thus, Papias indicated that Matthew wrote first (prior to the other gospels) and that in so doing, he produced an initial Aramaic edition.  The Aramaic edition served as a model and/or source for some of the contents of his Greek edition that he most likely produced as a fresh work soon after he wrote the Aramaic one.[56]

Several arguments support this proposal.  First, it permits Papias to speak for himself and allows for an understanding of his words in their natural sense.  Since he was closest to the events and relied on excellent sources, his information must have priority over speculative modern hypotheses.

Second, an expanded Greek version would have been quickly helpful among Matthew’s targeted Jewish audience, especially those hellenized Jews who no longer spoke Hebrew (the Diaspora [Acts 6:1]).  Although Matthew concentrated his efforts at first among Hebraistic Jews who spoke Aramaic, such a gospel would have limited appeal outside of the land of the Jews.  Tradition has it that Matthew eventually left the environs of Jerusalem to minister among non-Aramaic-speaking peoples.[57]  The dominance of Greek in the Hellenistic world would have impelled him to produce another edition.  Because he was a former tax-collector for the Romans, he would most likely have been conversant in Greek as well as Aramaic,[58] thus facilitating the writing of both versions.  Once the Greek Matthew became current in the church, the limited appeal of Aramaic caused that edition to fall into disuse.  Papias’ statement that “each interpreted” Matthew’s gospel [Aramaic version] “as best he could” probably hints at the reason why Matthew would have quickly produced a Greek version:  to facilitate the understanding of his gospel in the universal language of Greek.

The Epistle to the Hebrews The Epistle to the Hebrews The Epistle to the Hebrews

Third, this view accords with the very early and consistent manuscript ascription of the Gospel to Matthew (KATA MAQQAION, KATA MATHTHAION, “According to Matthew”).[59]  The title is not a part of the original text, but no positive evidence exists that the book ever circulated without this title.  Moreover, the ascription has a very early date, approximately A.D. 125.[60]  As Guthrie notes, “the title cannot be dismissed too lightly, for it has the support of ancient tradition and this must be the starting point of the discussion regarding authorship.”[61]  Very early and consistent ascription of the Greek gospel to Matthew would indicate that the transfer of connection from Matthew’s Aramaic version mentioned by Papias to the Greek gospel occurred at a very early stage well into the first century.  Such a very early stage would have placed Greek Matthew into a period when people, such as surviving apostles, eyewitnesses and other who possessed first-hand knowledge regarding the Gospel would have linked the Aramaic and Greek versions together as coming from the hand of Matthew.  Moreover, during this strategic early period the prevention of such linkage could also have occurred if such attempts at linkage were inaccurate.

This early ascription coordinates well with the very early and widespread influence of Greek Matthew in the early church in the period before Irenaeus. Significant Matthean influence can be seen in such early second century works as 1 Clement (ca. A.D. 81-96), Barnabas (ca. A.D. 70-135), the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch (ca. A.D. 98-117), 2 Clement (ca. A.D. 138-142), Polycarp (to the Philippians ca. A.D. 98-117; d. ca. 156 or 167), Aristedes of Athens (fl. A.D. 123), Justin Martyr (d. ca. 165), Tatian (fl. ca. A.D. 160-170) and the Didache (ca. A.D. late first century to mid-second century), to mention only a few.[62] Such influence finds its most reasonable explanation in Matthean authorship of the Greek Gospel as well as the Aramaic version discussed by Papias. Furthermore, this unbroken stream of tradition indicates that Matthew was responsible for both versions of the Gospel that bears his name. While the Aramaic version was helpful for Matthew’s work among Jews, his departure to work with gentiles resulted in his issuance of the Greek version in the lingua franca of the day in order to facilitate the spread the good news regarding Messiah among gentiles.


Fourth, though patristic witnesses like Papias uniformly spoke of an Aramaic original for the gospel, they accepted the Greek Matthew as unquestionably authoritative and coming from the apostle Matthew himself.[63] They offered no explanation concerning the change in language.[64]  Most likely, that indicates their regard for the Greek Matthew as authoritative and substantially representative of the Hebrew ta logia.[65]  Besides, all references to the Gospel of Matthew in the early church fathers reflect the Greek Matthew rather than the Hebrew.  They never viewed the Greek Gospel of Matthew as inferior but as equal or better than the other Greek canonical gospels in terms of its authority and influence.

The Matthean authorship of both the Greek and Aramaic versions is strengthened by the unlikelihood of such a transfer occurring between documents that differed significantly in language and in content unless Matthew himself did produce both versions.  The traditions of Matthean authorship for both versions are so significantly early and consistent that authorship by Matthew himself constitutes the most reasonable explanation for both streams of tradition.

Fifth, the universal ascription of the Greek Matthew to the apostle Matthew and the failure of tradition to mention any other possible author except Matthew renders unconvincing any suggestion that the early church forgot the true author of the work.  Only a brief span of 50 to 60 years passed between its composition and the statements of Papias.  A less-prominent apostle such as Matthew would not have been a likely candidate to receive credit for such an important and influential document as the Greek Matthew unless he did indeed write it.  As indicated earlier in this chapter, “of all the New Testament Writings, the Gospel of Mt. was the one whose literary influence was the most widespread and the most profound in Christian literature that extended into the last decades of the second century. . . .  [T]he first gospel remained the gospel par excellence. . . .  The gospel was, therefore, the normative fact of Christian life.  It created the background for ordinary Christianity.”[66]

The only adequate explanation for the gospel’s influence and overwhelming popularity in the early church is its apostolic authorship.  That one of the Twelve wrote it soon after writing his Aramaic ta logia and before Mark and Luke wrote their gospels is far and away the most satisfactory explanation for the facts that remain from early church history.

In light of the evidence, unless someone feels compelled to embrace historical-critical scholarship’s a priori assumption of Markan priority, the testimony of Papias is credible and supportive of Matthean priority and Matthean authorship of the gospel that bears Matthew’s name.


Michael W. Holmes

The Fragments of Papias


Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, who probably is best known as the author of the five-volume work entitled Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord, appears to have been well respected and widely quoted during the early centuries of the church. Yet today only scattered fragments of his work survive, and then only as quotations embedded in later writings. Furthermore, next to nothing is known about this man who by all appearances was one of the leading figures of the postapostolic era.

It is not known when Papias was born or when he died. He appears to have been a contemporary of Polycarp, whose dates (ca. a.d. 70 to 155–160; cf. above, pp. 202, 222–3) provide a general indication of when Papias lived. Circumstantial evidence (such as his name and his rhetorical style) suggests that he was a native of the area where he served as bishop. He probably published his magnum opus within a decade or so of A.D. 130.

Papias provides some of the very earliest testimony about the early church’s stance on the millennium and the authorship of Matthew, Mark, John, and Revelation. For this reason a great deal of interest and attention has been focused on what he has to say. But many of his statements (e.g., that Matthew “composed” the “oracles” in the “Hebrew language”) are more baffling than helpful, and have sparked a great deal of discussion about their meaning and significance, neither of which is obvious or clear.

For all the confusion and uncertainty he engenders, Papias does nevertheless clearly and forcibly remind us that (1) the written Gospels represent only a fraction of the material by and about Jesus in circulation in the last half of the first and first half of the second centuries (cf. John 20:30; 21:25); (2) even after the Gospels were written, oral traditions continued to circulate and to influence the written text; and (3) oral tradition was often more highly valued than written materials in a cultural setting that relied upon and trusted memory far more than is customary today. These points, rather than his comments about authorship, may in fact be Papias’s most valuable contribution toward a reconstruction of the early history of the transmission and reception of the Gospel narratives.

The Fragments

The various collections of fragments that have been published differ with respect to size, numbering and sequence, and principles of selection. The Funk-Bihlmeyer edition, for example, limits itself to quotations from and references to Papias’s lost work, whereas Lightfoot’s more inclusive collection includes any reports about his life and theological opinions that have been preserved. To his collection there have been added for this edition some additional fragments (nos. 21–26) that have subsequently come to light. Thus the following collection of fragments contains virtually everything by or about Papias that has survived and that identifies him by name.

Fragment 4 is unique to Lightfoot’s collection and calls for special comment. Lightfoot included the story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery (= John 7:53–8:11, a later addition to the Gospel) among the items attributed to Papias. He did so on the strength of the similarity of the wording in fragment 3 (a “woman accused of many sins”) and the unusual form of the story as found in certain manuscripts of the New Testament, especially Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis, the earliest (fifth c.) New Testament manuscript to contain the account.

It is unlikely, however, that Papias knew the story in precisely this form, inasmuch as it now appears that there were at least two independent stories about Jesus and a sinful woman in circulation among Christians in the first two centuries of the church, and that the traditional form found in many New Testament manuscripts may well represent a conflation of two independent shorter, earlier versions of the incident. One form, apparently found in the Gospel According to the Hebrews, was also known to Didymus the Blind, a late fourth-century Alexandrian biblical scholar, who provides the following account:

We find, therefore, in certain gospels [the following story]. A woman, it says, was condemned by the Jews for a sin and was being sent to be stoned in the place where that was customary to happen. The saviour, it says, when he saw her and observed that they were ready to stone her, said to those who were about to cast stones, “He who has not sinned, let him take a stone and cast it.” If anyone is conscious in himself not to have sinned, let him take up a stone and smite her. And no one dared. Since they knew in themselves and perceived that they themselves were guilty in some things, they did not dare to strike her.

Notice the most distinctive elements: (1) the woman was already condemned; (2) Jesus is the one who takes the initiative to intervene; and (3) there is no conversation between Jesus and the woman.

Another form is paraphrased in the Didascalia Apostolorum, a Greek document written in Syria, probably near the beginning of the third century. In the course of encouraging bishops to receive repentant sinners back into the congregation, the author writes:

But if you do not receive him who repents, because you are without mercy, you shall sin against the Lord God. For you do not obey our Saviour and our God, to do as even He did with her who had sinned, whom the elders placed before Him, leaving the judgement in His hands, and departed. But He, the searcher of hearts, asked her and said to her: “Have the elders condemned you, my daughter?” She says to him: “Nay, Lord.” And he said unto her: “Go, neither do I condemn you.” (VIII, ii 24)

Again note the distinctive elements: (1) “elders” bring the woman to Jesus; (2) she had not yet been condemned; and (3) Jesus speaks only to the woman.

Which of these forms of the story did Papias know? According to Eusebius (see fragment 3), Papias relates an account about a “woman accused of many sins before the Lord.” That is, the woman was brought to Jesus but was not yet condemned. This suggests that Papias knew the Didascalia form of the story. In fragment 23, however, Papias is credited with a story in which an uncondemned woman is led to Jesus (corroborating Eusebius), but in which Jesus also converses with the Jewish leaders. This combination of features (trial scene, conversation with Jewish leaders) occurs only in the traditional form of the story. Thus the evidence is mixed. With regard to fragment 23 it may be that the author simply assumed that Papias knew the same (and probably only) form of the story that he himself knew, namely the traditional one. In this case his testimony would be of no value. In short, it seems more likely that Papias knew the Didascalia form of the story, but it is not possible to be certain.

In view of this uncertainty regarding which of the various forms of the story Papias knew (or, according to fragment 26, wrote!) it seems best to view fragment 4 as the traditional form of the story, and not necessarily the form known to Papias. The translation of the story given below follows the text of Codex Bezae, inasmuch as it preserves the earliest extant text of the traditional from and agrees with Papias in mentioning a woman caught in “sin” rather than adultery. Within this story, however, the elements that are parallel to the Didascalia form that Papias may have known have been placed in italics, and the elements that appear to be derived from the form known to Didymus and the Gospel According to the Hebrews have been placed inside brackets.

The “Traditions of the Elders”

In his edition Lightfoot included a collection of the “reliques of the elders.” These are traditions preserved in Irenaeus which he variously attributes to “the divine elder,” “one better than we are,” “one of the ancients,” “a certain elder,” “one who was before us,” and so on. Strictly speaking, these fragments belong to the study of Irenaeus rather than the apostolic fathers.

Reasons have been advanced, however, for thinking that some of these “traditions of the elders” were mediated to Irenaeus through Papias. These have been extracted from Lightfoot’s larger collection and are presented below. They remain, however, anonymous fragments whose present wording owes an undeterminable debt to Irenaeus, and must be used with caution.


Black, Matthew. “The Use of Rhetorical Terminology in Papias on Mark and Matthew.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 37 (1989) 31–41.

Körtner, Ulrich H. J. Papias von Hierapolis. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des frühen Christentums. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1983.

Kürzinger, Josef. Papias von Hierapolis und die Evangelien des Neuen Testaments. Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet, 1983.

Schoedel, W. R. “Papias” In Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman et al. vol. 5, 140–42. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

—. “Papias.” ANRW 2.27.1:235–70. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 1993.

—. Polycarp. Martyrdom of Polycarp, Fragments of Papias. The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 5. Camden, N. J.: Nelson, 1967.

Walls, A. F. “Papias and Oral Tradition.” Vigiliae Christianae 21 (1967): 137–40.[67]

J. B. Lightfoot




The following extracts contain not only the fragments of Papias’ writings which survive, but also the scanty notices of his life and theological opinions which have come down to us. As therefore all the facts about him are placed before the reader herewith, it will only be necessary to add that Papias was born probably between a.d. 60–70, and published his Exposition of Oracles of the Lord late in life (c. a.d. 130–140). For a full account of the man, and of his evidence to the Canon of the New Testament, the reader is referred to Dr Lightfoot’s Essays on the Work entitled Supernatural Religion, pp. 142–216 (Macmillan and Co. 1889). Reasons are there given (p. 194 sq.) for assigning to Papias the two anonymous fragments quoted by Irenæus, which appear below (pp. 548, 549) among the Reliques of the Elders (Nos. xiii, xvii).

For convenience of reference the actual quotations from Papias are given in larger type than the introductory matter and personal notices.


of the



Irenæus and others record that John the Divine and Apostle survived until the times of Trajan; after which time Papias of Hierapolis and Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, his hearers, became well known.

Eusebius Chronicon (Syncell. 655, 14) for Olymp. 220.


At this time flourished in Asia Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostles, who had received the bishopric of the church in Smyrna at the hands of the eye-witnesses and ministers of the Lord. At which time Papias, who was himself also bishop of the diocese of Hierapolis, became distinguished.

Eusebius Hist. Eccl. iii. 36. 1. 2.


Five books of Papias are extant, which bear the title Expositions of Oracles of the Lord. Of these Irenæus also makes mention as the only works written by him, in the following words: ‘These things Papias, who was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp, an ancient worthy, witnesseth in writing in the fourth of his books. For there are five books composed by him.’ 2So far Irenæus.

Yet Papias himself, in the preface to his discourses, certainly does not declare that he himself was a hearer and eye-witness of the holy Apostles, but he shows, by the language which he uses, that he received the matters of the faith from those who were their friends:—

3But I will not scruple also to give a place for you along with my interpretations to everything that I learnt carefully and remembered carefully in time past from the elders, guaranteeing its truth. For, unlike the many, I did not take pleasure in those who have so very much to say, but in those who teach the truth; nor in those who relate foreign commandments, but in those (who record) such as were given from the Lord to the Faith, and are derived from the Truth itself. 4And again, on any occasion when a person came (in my way) who had been a follower of the Elders, I would inquire about the discourses of the elders—what was said by Andrew, or by Peter, or by Philip, or by Thomas or James, or by John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and what Aristion and the Elder John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that I could get so much profit from the contents of books as from the utterances of a living and abiding voice.

5Here it is worth while to observe that he twice enumerates the name of John. The first he mentions in connexion with Peter and James and Matthew and the rest of the Apostles, evidently meaning the Evangelist, but the other John he mentions after an interval and classes with others outside the number of the Apostles, placing Aristion before him, and he distinctly calls him an Elder. 6So that he hereby makes it quite evident that their statement is true who say that there were two persons of that name in Asia, and that there are two tombs in Ephesus, each of which even now is called (the tomb) of John. And it is important to notice this; for it is probable that it was the second, if one will not admit that it was the first, who saw the Revelation which is ascribed by name to John. 7And Papias, of whom we are now speaking, confesses that he had received the words of the Apostles from those who had followed them, but says that he was himself a hearer of Aristion and the Elder John. At all events he mentions them frequently by name, and besides records their traditions in his writings. So much for these points which I trust have not been uselessly adduced.

8It is worth while however to add to the words of Papias given above other passages from him, in which he records some other wonderful events likewise, as having come down to him by tradition. 9That Philip the Apostle resided in Hierapolis with his daughters has been already stated; but how Papias, their contemporary, relates that he had heard a marvellous tale from the daughters of Philip, must be noted here. For he relates that in his time a man rose from the dead, and again he gives another wonderful story about Justus who was surnamed Barsabas, how that he drank a deadly poison, and yet, by the grace of the Lord, suffered no inconvenience. 10Of this Justus the Book of the Acts records that after the ascension of the Saviour the holy Apostles put him forward with Matthias, and prayed for the (right) choice, in place of the traitor Judas, that should make their number complete. The passage is somewhat as follows; ‘And they put forward two, Joseph, called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias; and they prayed, and said.’ 11The same writer has recorded other notices as having come down to him from oral tradition, certain strange parables of the Saviour and teachings of His, and some other statements of a rather mythical character. 12Among which he says that there will be a period of some ten thousand years after the resurrection, and that the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this earth. These ideas I suppose he got through a misunderstanding of the apostolic accounts, not perceiving that the things recorded there in figures were spoken by them mystically. 13For he evidently was a man of very mean capacity, as one may say judging from his own statements: yet it was owing to him that so many church fathers after him adopted a like opinion, urging in their own support the antiquity of the man, as for instance Irenæus and whoever else they were who declared that they held like views. 14Papias also gives in his own work other accounts of the words of the Lord on the authority of Aristion who has been mentioned above, and traditions of the Elder John. To these we refer the curious, and for our present purpose we will merely add to his words, which have been quoted above, a tradition, which he has related in the following words concerning Mark who wrote the Gospel:—

15And the Elder said this also: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately everything that he remembered, without however recording in order what was either said or done by Christ. For neither did he hear the Lord, nor did he follow Him; but afterwards, as I said, (attended) Peter, who adapted his instructions to the needs (of his hearers) but had no design of giving a connected account of the Lord’s oracles. So then Mark made no mistake, while he thus wrote down some things as he remembered them; for he made it his one care not to omit anything that he heard, or to set down any false statement therein.

Such then is the account given by Papias concerning Mark. 16But concerning Matthew, the following statement is made (by him):

So then Matthew composed the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as he could.

The same writer employed testimonies from the First Epistle of John, and likewise from that of Peter. And he has related another story about a woman accused of many sins before the Lord, which the Gospel according to the Hebrews contains.

Eusebius Hist. Eccl. iii. 39.


And they went every man unto his own house; but Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning He came again unto the temple, [and all the people came unto Him; and He sat down, and taught them]. And the Scribes and the Pharisees bring a woman taken in adultery; and having set her in the midst, they say unto Him, Master, this woman hath been taken in adultery, in the very act. Now in the law Moses commanded [us] to stone such: what then sayest thou? [And this they said, tempting Him, that they might have (whereof) to accuse Him.] But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they continued asking [Him], He lifted up Himself, and said [unto them], He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they, when they heard it, went out one by one, beginning from the eldest: and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the midst. And Jesus lifted up Himself, and said unto her, Woman, where are they? Did no man condemn thee? And she said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn thee: go thy way; from henceforth sin no more.

Pericope Adulterae; see Westcott and Hort The New Testament in the Original Greek I. P. 241, 11. pp. 82 sq, 91; Lightfoot Essays on Supernatural Religion p. 203 sq.


Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, who was a disciple of John the Divine, and a companion of Polycarp, wrote five books of Oracles of the Lord, wherein, when giving a list of the Apostles, after Peter and John, Philip and Thomas and Matthew he included among the disciples of the Lord Aristion and a second John, whom also he called ‘The Elder.’ [He says] that some think that this John is the author of the two short and catholic Epistles, which are published in the name of John; and he gives as the reason that the primitive (fathers) only accept the first epistle. Some too have wrongly considered the Apocalypse also to be his (i.e. the Elder John’s) work. Papias too is in error about the Millennium, and from him Irenæus also. Papias in his second book says that John the Divine and James his brother were killed by the Jews. The aforesaid Papias stated on the authority of the daughters of Philip that Barsabas, who is also called Justus, when challenged by the unbelievers drank serpent’s poison in the name of the Lord, and was shielded from all harm. He makes also other marvellous statements, and particularly about the mother of Manaim who was raised from the dead. As for those who were raised from the dead by Christ, (he states) that they survived till the time of Hadrian.

Philippus of Side (?) Hist. Christ.


After Domitian Nerva reigned one year, who recalled John from the island (i.e. Patmos), and allowed him to dwell in Ephesus. He was at that time the sole survivor of the twelve Apostles, and after writing his Gospel received the honour of martyrdom. For Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, who was an eye-witness of him, in the second book of the Oracles of the Lord says that he was killed by the Jews, and thereby evidently fulfilled, together with his brother, Christ’s prophecy concerning them, and their own confession and undertaking on His behalf. For when the Lord said to them; Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of?, and they readily assented and agreed, He said; My cup shall ye drink, and with the baptism that I am baptized shall ye be baptized. And reasonably so, for it is impossible for God to lie. So too the learned Origen affirms in his interpretation of S. Matthew’s Gospel that John was martyred, declaring that he had learnt the fact from the successors of the Apostles. And indeed the well-informed Eusebius also in his Ecclesiastical History says; ‘Thomas received by lot Parthia, but John, Asia, where also he made his residence and died at Ephesus.’

Georgius Hamartolus Chronicon.


Papias, a hearer of John, (and) bishop of Hierapolis in Asia, wrote only five books, which he entitled An Exposition of Discourses of the Lord. Wherein, when he asserts in his preface that he is not following promiscuous statements, but has the Apostles as his authorities, he says:—

I used to inquire what had been said by Andrew, or by Peter, or by Philip, or by Thomas or James, or by John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and what Aristion and the Elder John, the disciples of the Lord, were saying. For books to read do not profit me so much as the living voice clearly sounding up to the present day in (the persons of) their authors.

From which it is clear that in his list of names itself there is one John who is reckoned among the Apostles, and another the Elder John, whom he enumerates after Aristion. We have mentioned this fact on account of the statement made above, which we have recorded on the authority of very many, that the two later epistles of John are not (the work) of the Apostle, but of the Elder. This (Papias) is said to have promulgated the Jewish tradition of a Millennium, and he is followed by Irenæus, Apollinarius and the others, who say that after the resurrection the Lord will reign in the flesh with the saints.

Jerome de vir. illust. 18.


Further a false rumour has reached me that the books of Josephus and the writings of Papias and Polycarp have been translated by me; but I have neither leisure nor strength to render such works as these with corresponding elegance into another tongue.

Jerome ad Lucinium Epist. 71 (28) c. 5.


Irenæus, a disciple of Papias who was a hearer of John the Evangelist, relates.

Jerome ad Theodoram Epist. 75 (29) c. 3.


With regard however to the inspiration of the book (i.e. the Apocalypse) we hold it superfluous to speak at length; since the blessed Gregory (I mean, the Divine) and Cyril, and men of an older generation as well, Papias, Irenæus, Methodius and Hippolytus, bear testimony to its genuineness.

Andreas of Cæarea preface to the Apocalypse.


But thus says Papias, (I quote him) word for word:—

To some of them, clearly the angels which at first were holy, He gave dominion also over the arrangement of the universe, and He commissioned them to exercise their dominion well.

And he says next:—

But it so befel that their array came to nought; for the great dragon, the old serpent, who is also called Satan and the devil, was cast down, yea, and was cast down to the earth, he and his angels.

Andreas of Cæsarea in apocalypsin c. 34 serm. 12.


Taking their start from Papias the great, of Hierapolis, the disciple of the Apostle who leaned on Christ’s bosom, and Clement, Pantænus the priest of the Alexandrians and Ammonius, the great scholar, those ancient and first expositors who agree with each other in understanding all the work of the six days (as referring) to Christ and His Church.

Anastasius of Sinai Contempl. Anagog. in Hexaëm. i.


So then the more ancient expositors of the churches, I mean Philo, the philosopher, and contemporary of the Apostles, and the famous Papias of Hierapolis, the disciple of John the Evangelist … and their associates, interpreted the sayings about Paradise spiritually, and referred them to the Church of Christ.

Anastasius of Sinai Contempl. Anagog. in Hexaëm. vii.


The blessing thus foretold belongs undoubtedly to the times of the Kingdom, when the righteous shall rise from the dead and reign, when too creation renewed and freed from bondage shall produce a wealth of food of all kinds from the dew of heaven and from the fatness of the earth; as the elders, who saw John the disciple of the Lord, relate, that they had heard from him, how the Lord used to teach concerning those times, and to say,

The days will come, in which vines shall grow, each having ten thousand shoots, and on each shoot ten thousand branches, and on each branch again ten thousand twigs, and on each twig ten thousand clusters, and on each cluster ten thousand grapes, and each grape when pressed shall yield five-and-twenty measures of wine. And when any of the saints shall have taken hold of one of their clusters, another shall cry, I am a better cluster; take me, bless the Lord through me. Likewise also a grain of wheat shall produce ten thousand heads, and every head shall have ten thousand grains, and every grain ten pounds of fine flour, bright and clean, and the other fruits, seeds and the grass shall produce in similar proportions, and all the animals, using these fruits which are products of the soil, shall become in their turn peaceable and harmonious, obedient to man in all subjection.

These things Papias, who was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp, an ancient worthy, witnesseth in writing in the fourth of his books, for there are five books composed by him. And he added, saying,

But these things are credible to them that believe. And when Judas the traitor did not believe, and asked, How shall such growths be accomplished by the Lord? he relates that the Lord said, They shall see, who shall come to these (times).

Irenæus Haer. v. 33. 3, 4.


Those who practised guilelessness towards God they used to call children, as Papias also shows in the first book of the Expositions of the Lord, and Clement of Alexandria in the Paedagogue.

Maximus The Confessor Schol. in libr. Dionys. Areopag. de eccl. hierarch. c. 2.


This he says, darkly indicating, I suppose, Papias of Hierapolis in Asia, who was a bishop at that time and flourished in the days of the holy Evangelist John. For this Papias in the fourth book of his Dominical Expositions mentioned viands among the sources of delights in the resurrection.… And Irenæus of Lyons says the same thing in his fifth book against heresies, and produces in support of his statements the aforesaid Papias.

Maximus The Confessor Schol. in libr. Dionys. Areopag. de eccl. hierarch. c. 7.


Nor again (does Stephanus follow) Papias, the bishop and martyr of Hierapolis, nor Irenæus, the holy bishop of Lyons, when they say that the kingdom of heaven will consist in enjoyment of certain material foods.

Photius Bibliotheca 232, on Stephanus Gobarus.


Apollinarius. ‘Judas did not die by hanging, but lived on, having been cut down before he was suffocated. And the Acts of the Apostles show this, that falling headlong he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. This fact is related more clearly by Papias, the disciple of John, in the fourth (book) of the Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord as follows:—

Judas walked about in this world a terrible example of impiety; his flesh swollen to such an extent that, where a waggon can pass with ease, he was not able to pass, no, not even the mass of his head merely. They say that his eyelids swelled to such an extent that he could not see the light at all, while as for his eyes they were not visible even by a physician looking through an instrument, so far had they sunk from the surface.…’

Complied from Cramer Catena ad Acta SS. Apost. (1838) p. 12 sq. and other sources.


Here beginneth the argument to the Gospel according to John.

The Gospel of John was made known and given to the Churches by John, while he yet remained in the body; as (one) Papias by name, of Hierapolis, a beloved disciple of John, has related in his five exoteric (read exegetical) books; but he wrote down the Gospel at the dictation of John, correctly.

A Vatican ms of the ninth century.


For, last of these, John, surnamed the Son of Thunder, when he was now a very old man, as Irenæus and Eusebius and a succession of trustworthy historians have handed down to us, about the time when terrible heresies had cropped up, dictated the Gospel to his own disciple, the virtuous Papias of Hierapolis, to fill up what was lacking in those who before him had proclaimed the word to the nations throughout all the earth.

Catena Patr. Graec. in S. Joan. published by B. Corder.[68]


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[1] Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 987.

[2] This appeared in the Master’s Seminary Journal, vol 10/1 (Spring 1999) 53-86 as a Festschrift for Robert L. Thomas.

[3] Édouard Massaux, The Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Christian Literature Before Saint Irenaeus, trans. by Norman J. Belval and Suzanne Hecht, Arthur J. Bellinzoni, ed., 3 vols. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University, 1993), 3:186-87.

[4] C. Steward Petrie, “The Authorship of ‘The Gospel According to Matthew’: A Reconsideration of the External Evidence,” New Testament Studies 14 (1967-1968): 15.  Stonehouse, a leading advocate of Markan priority, admitted, “[T]he tradition concerning the apostolic authorship of Matthew is as strong, clear, and consistent and . . . the arguments advanced against its reliability are by no means decisive . . . the apostolic authorship of Matthew is as strongly attested as any fact of ancient church history” (Ned B. Stonehouse, The Origins of the Synoptic Gospels [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963], 46-47, cf. 76-77).

[5] Bernard Orchard and Harold Riley, The Order of the Synoptics, Why Three Synoptic Gospels? (Macon, Ga.: Mercer, 1987), 111.

[6] The Two-Source Theory contends that Mark was written first, then Matthew and Luke wrote in dependence on Mark and a document called “Q,” which contained material common to Matthew and Luke but not found in Mark.  The Four-Source Theory adds documents called “M”—used by Matthew in addition to the others—and “L”—used by Luke in addition to the others.

[7] See Bernard Orchard and Thomas R. W. Longstaff, J. J. Griesbach: Synoptic and text-critical studies 1776-1976 (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1978), 134; William R. Farmer, The Synoptic Problem (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University, 1976), 48-49; Burnett Hillman Streeter, The Four Gospels, A Study of Origins (Macmillan and Co., 1924), 151-98.  Orchard and Longstaff cite Griesbach as an example of one who criticized the early fathers.  Farmer cites the lack of evidence supporting the Two- (or Four-Source) Theory.

[8] David Hill, The Gospel of Matthew, in The New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 28; D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 70-71; R. T. France, Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 34-38; Ralph P. Martin, New Testament Foundations, vol. 1 of The Four Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 139-60, 225.

[9] Massaux, Gospel of Saint Matthew, 3:188.

[10] The Two-Gospel Theory holds that Matthew was written first, then Luke wrote depending on Matthew, and finally Mark wrote in dependence on Matthew and Luke.

[11] See Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.36.1-2.

[12] Irenaeus Against Heresies 5.33.3-4; cf. Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.1-2.

[13] Yarbrough gives five convincing arguments supporting this date: First, Papias’s position in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History (Book 3) places him with young Polycarp, Ignatius and even Clement, i.e. those who were the immediate successors to the apostles.  Moreover, in Book 3 Eusebius catalogues no matters latter than Trajan’s reign (97-117), and Book 4 opens with the twelfth year of Trajan (ca. 109), indicating that Eusebius viewed Papias as flourishing before A.D. 109.  Second, Eusebius’s Chronicon places the aged Apostle John, Papias, Polycarp and Ignatius (in that order) in the same entry with the year “100” placed next to this entry as part of his running table of dates [see Helm, Die Chronik des Hieronymus, 7:193-194]; Third, Irenaeus called Papias “one of the ancients” (ajrcai’o” ajnhvr‑Irenaeus Against Heresies 5.33.3-4; cf. Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.1-2).  Since Irenaeus most likely had personal contact with Polycarp, who was a companion of Papias (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 5.20.4-8; Irenaeus Against Heresies 5.33.4; cf. Eusebius Ecclesiastical History  3.39.1), he is not liable to be mistaken in his opinion of Papias’s connections with earliest apostolic origins.  Fourth, Irenaeus confirms that Papias was a hearer of John (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.1).  Fifth, neither Eusebius nor Irenaeus identifies Papias as an anto-gnostic witness, thus placing Papias much earlier than such gnostics as Valentinus, Basilides and Marcion. whose teachings both Irenaeus and Eusebius were trying to refute.  See Yarbrough, “The Date of Papias,” 186-187.  For a more complete review of the strong evidence linking Papias to the date of ca. 95-110, see Robert W. Yarbrough, “The Date of Papias: A Reassessment,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 26 (June 1983): 181-91; Robert H. Gundry, Matthew, A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 611-13.

[14] See Irenaeus Against Heresies 5.33.4; also quoted by Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.1.  Regarding Eusebius’ skeptical attitude about whether Papias ever heard the apostle John (Ecclesiastical History 3.39.1-2) see William R. Schoedel, Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Fragments of Papias, vol. 5 of The Apostolic Fathers, Robert M. Grant, ed. (Camden, N. J.: Thomas Nelson, 1967), 89-92; Rudolf Helm, Eusebius Werke, vol. VII of Die Chronik des Hieronymus, in Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der Ersten Jahrunderte (Akademie-Verlag: Berlin, 1956): 193-94; 412-13.  For persuasive evidence that Papias did have direct contact with the apostle, see Robert H. Gundry, Matthew, A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church under Persecution, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 611-613.  Eusebius’ skepticism may have stemmed from his anti-chiliastic view as opposed to that of Papias (and Irenaeus) who strongly affirmed a physical reality of the millennium (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.12-13).  Or, it may have resulted from Papias’ alleged preference for oral tradition rather than authorized books as his sources (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.4; cf. also Robert M. Grant, ed., “An Introduction,” in vol. 1 of The Apostolic Fathers, A New Translation and Commentary [New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1964], 86).

[15] Eusebius denied that Papias was a direct hearer of the Apostle John by inferring that another John, John the Elder who was different from John the Apostle, lived in Ephesus at the time (Ecclesiastical History 3.39.5-6).  A close reading of Papias’s words, however, reveals that he neither affirmed nor denied that he was hearer or eyewitness of the apostles.  He does not mention it in the passage.  Petrie argues, “[T]here is nothing to justify the careless confidence with which Eusebius contradicts Irenaeus” (C. Stewart Petrie, “Authorship of ‘The Gospel According to Matthew’,” 15-32 [esp. 17-18]). Furthermore, even if Papias was not a personal disciple of John, as Lightfoot contended, “still his age and country place him in more or less close connection with the traditions of the Apostles; and it is this fact which gives importance to his position and teaching” (J. B. Lightfoot, Essays on the Work Entitled Supernatural Religion [London: Macmillan and Co., 1889], 142).

[16] Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15-16.  Papias’s statement regarding John the disciple and the Elder John probably referred to one and the same person, i.e. John the Apostle (Petrie, “Authorship,” 18-24; Gundry, Matthew, 611-13).

[17] Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16.  All quotes of Papias and Eusebius in Part 1 of this chapter are taken from the Loeb Classical Library Series.  See Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History, with an English translation by Kirsopp Lake, 2 vols. (London: William Heinemann, 1926).

[18] According to most, the designation “Q” stands for the first letter of the German word for “source,” Quelle.  That position, however, is debated.  See the discussion in John J. Schmitt, “In Search of the Origin of the Siglum Q,” Journal of Biblical Literature 100 (1981): 609-11.

[19] T. W. Manson, The Teaching of Jesus (London: SCM Press, 1957), 18-20; cf. also idem, The Sayings of Jesus (London: SCM Press, 1949), 18-19; idem, “The Gospel of Matthew,” in Studies in the Gospels and Epistles, Matthew Black, ed. (Manchester: Manchester University, 1962), 82-83.

[20] Lampe cites only two examples of this phrase referring to “the gospels” contained in the Chronicon Paschale (seventh century A.D.) (see “lovgion, tov” in G. W. H. Lampe, A Patristric Greek Lexicon (Oxford: At the Clarendon, 1961), 806.

[21] Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.1.

[22] Kittel argues that Papias’ use of the term lovgia (logia) cannot be confined to mere sayings or collections of sayings, but more likely has reference to the whole gospel, i.e., words and deeds of Jesus: “[I]t is just as clear and indisputable that in the light of the usage of the LXX, NT and early Church the more comprehensive meaning is also possible” Gerhard Kittel, “lovgion,” TDNT, 4:141.

[23] See Lightfoot, Essays on Supernatural Religion, 172-76.

[24] See Stewart Petrie, “Q is Only What You Make It,” Novum Testamentum 3 (1959): 28-33.  Petrie points out that the wide variety and conflicting hypotheses concerning the nature and extent of Q have cast great suspicion on the validity of the hypothesis for its existence.  Farrar, though holding to the idea that Matthew and Luke utilized Mark, nonetheless, argues that against the existence of Q (A. M. Farrar, “On Dispensing with Q,” in Studies in the Gospels, Essays in Memory of R. H. Lightfoot, D. E. Nineham, ed. [Oxford: Blackwell, 1955]: 55-88).  After an extensive analysis, Linnemann, a former post-Bultmannian who at one time was a staunch advocate of the Two-Source Hypothesis, concludes that any idea of Q is a “fantasy, is “based in error,” and “proves untenable” (Eta Linnemann, “Gospel of Q,” Bible Review XI [August 1995]: 19-23, 42-43).

[25] B. P. W. Stather Hunt, Primitive Gospel Sources (London: James Clarke & Co., 1951), 184; cf. also Rendel Harris, Testimonies, 2 vols. (Cambridge: University Press, 1920), 1:118-123, 130-131, 2:1-11, and F. C. Grant, The Gospels: Their Origin and Their Growth (New York: Harper, 1957): 65, 144.

[26] Hunt, Primitive Gospel Sources, 184.

[27] Grant, Gospels, Their Origin and Growth, 65, 144; cf. Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.1, 14.

[28] Grant, Gospels, Their Origin and Growth, 65.

[29] Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.1, 14.

[30] Gundry notes, “Of the twenty formal quotations peculiar to Mt, seven are Septuagintal.  Seven are non-Septuagintal.  In six there is a mixture of Septuagintal and non-Septuagintal” (Robert H. Gundry, The Use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew’s Gospel [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1967], 149).

[31] Martin, New Testament Foundations, 1:239.

[32] Carson et al., Introduction to the New Testament, 70.

[33] Ibid., 71.

[34] Ibid., 74; cf. D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” vol. 8 of Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Frank E. Gaebelein, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 19.

[35] Martin, New Testament Foundations, 1:240.

[36] Everett F. Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 169.

[37] Hill, Gospel of Matthew, 29.

[38] E.g., Carson, Moo and Morris, Introduction to the New Testament, 61-85 (esp. 68-69); Martin, New Testament Foundations, 1:139-60; 224-43; Hill, Matthew, 29-34.

[39] E.g., Carson, “Matthew,” 13.

[40] Petrie, “Authorship of ‘The Gospel According to Matthew,'” 29.

[41] Gundry, Matthew, A Commentary, 618.

[42] Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15.

[43] Petrie, “The Authorship of Matthew,” 32.  Strangely, Hagner, a Markan prioritist, agrees:  “[I]t seems better to take this early piece of evidence seriously rather than to dismiss it as being dead wrong.  Papias had reason for saying what he did . . . we do well to attempt to make sense of his testimony” (Donald A. Hanger, Matthew 1-13, vol. 33A of Word Biblical Commentary, David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker, eds. (Waco, Tx.: Word, 1993), xlvi.

[44] Josef Kürzinger, “Das Papiaszeugnis und die Erstgestalt des Matthäusevangeliums,” Biblische Zeitschrift 4 (1960): 19-38; cf. idem, “Irenäus und sein Zeugnis zur Sprache des Matthäusevangeliums,” New Testament Studies 10 (1963), 108-15.

[45] Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary, 619-20.

[46] Cf. Kürzinger, “Das Papiaszeugnis,” 22-23, 27-30.

[47] E.g., cf. Liddell and Scott, A Greek English Lexicon, rev. and augmented by Henry Stuart Jones, with a 1968 Supplement (Oxford: At the Clarendon, 1940), 401.

[48] E.g., BAGD, 185; James P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Clarendon Press of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1988), 1:389 (33.1).

[49] E.g., Irenaeus Against Heresies 3.1.1 (quoted in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 5.8.2); Tertullian (Against Marcion 4.2); Pantaenus, cited by Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 5.10.3); Origen (quoted by Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History 6.25.3-6); Eusebius himself (Ecclesiastical History 3.24.5-6); and Jerome Preface to the Commentary on Saint Matthew; Lives of Illustrious Men 2.3.

[50] Gundry argues that these NT occurrences of diavlekto” (dialektos, “language” or “dialect”) are articular (and thus definite) so that human language is clearly in mind in these passages.  In contrast, Papias’s reference does not have the article (i.e. JEbrai?di dialevktw/, Hebraidi dialekti, “Hebrew dialect”).  He concludes that Papias’s reference should be considered indefinite (“a Hebrew way of presenting Jesus’ messiahship” or Semitic style of argument) rather than definite (“the Semitic language”).  See Gundry, Matthew, 629-20.  Yet, in reply, the article is not necessary for Papias to mean “language.” The force of JEbrai?di (“Hebrew”) with dialevktw/ is sufficient to make the term definite without the article.   For instances where the article is not necessary to make a noun definite, consult Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 245-54.

[51] Gundry, Matthew:  A Commentary, 618.

[52] Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15.

[53] Gundry, Matthew:  A Commentary, 614.

[54] Gundry contends that the ou\≥n in Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16 refers back “to the statement about Mark” and therefore ties the thought about Mark and Matthew together.  As a result,” ou\≥n contains an immmensely important implication for synoptic studies . . . Matthew’s reason for writing is in view . . .  Matthew wrote his gospel for the precise purpose of bringing order out of the chaos in Mark.” Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary, 614.  However, contrary to Gundry, his contention of a link through ou\≥n is dubious.  The ou\≥n grammatically draws an inferential conclusion to the discussion about Mark, going back by 3.39.14.  Furthermore, peri; de; occurs after the ou\≥n and functions to introduce a new, unrelated information concerning Matthew’s gospel (cf.  Paul’s introduction of new subject matter in 1 Cor. 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12), thus demonstrating that these two thoughts of Papias about Mark and Matthew most likely are not linked together nor in any way indicative of Gundry’s contention for Matthew as a corrective of Mark.

[55] The canonical Greek Version shows no signs of being translated from Aramaic.  For example, in certain places it transliterates Aramaic into Greek before giving a Greek translation—e.g., Matt. 1:23, ∆Emmanouh/l, o¢ e˙stin meqermhneuo/menon meq∆ hJmw◊n oJ qeo/ß (Emmanoul, ho estin methermneuomenon meth’ hmn ho theos—”Immanuel, which is interpreted ‘God with us'”); Matt. 27:33, Golgoqa◊, o¢ e˙stin Krani÷ou To/poß lego/menoß (Golgotha, ho estin Kraniou Topos legomenos, “Golgotha, which is called ‘the Place of the Skull'”); cf. also Matt. 27:46.  Also, the Greek Matthew provides explanations of local customs among the Jews that would have been unnecessary for an Aramaic-speaking audience (e.g., Matt. 27:15).  Though the Greek Matthew is not a translation, Matthew may have produced an expanded version of the life of Christ that incorporated much of the original Aramaic without being a direct translation of it.  Such an entirely reworked version would have suited the needs of the Diaspora Jews and others.

[56] Louis Berkhof, New Testament Introduction (Grand Rapids:  Eerdman-Sevensma, 1915), 64-71; Henry Clarence Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1943), 137.

[57] Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.24.5-6; Hippolytus On the Twelve Apostles 7; cf. D. A. Hagner, “Matthew,” in vol. 3 of ISBE, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1986), 280.

[58] Matt. 9:9-14; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32; cf. Gundry, Use of the Old Testament, 183; Edgar J. Goodspeed, Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (Philadelphia: John C. Winston, 1959), 42-47.

[59] Davies and Allison try to explain away the title in light of their assumption of that Mark wrote first and the Matthean gospel could not have been written by an apostle.  Their case lacks persuasiveness in light of consistent manuscript evidence, however (cf. W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, The Gospel According to Matthew, International Critical Commentary [Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988], 1:58).

[60] Ropes reasons, “Probably as early in the second century as the year 125, someone, in some place, or some group of persons, assembled for the use and convenience of the churches the only four Greek books describing the life and teachings of Jesus Christ which were then believed to be of great antiquity and worthy of a place in such a collection” (J. H. Ropes, The Synoptic Gospels, 2nd Impression with New Preface [Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University, 1960], 103).

[61] Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 2nd Edition (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1990), 156-57.

[62] The reader is once again directed to Massaux’s excellent cataloguing of Matthew’s extensive influence in Christian literature during this early period (consult Massaux, The Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Books 1-3. For the composition dates of some of these works, consult Robert M. Grant, gen. ed. The Apostolic Fathers. A New Translation and Commentary (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1964): 1:38, 46-48, 64, 71; 3:42-43, 76-77; 5:4.

[63] See note 48 for a list of fathers who supported this.

[64] Jerome who wrote, “who afterwards translated it into Greek is not certainly known,” is a possible exception (Jerome Lives of Illustrious Men 2.3).

[65] Hiebert, Introduction to the New Testament, 1:53.

[66] Massaux, Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 3:186-187.

[67] Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, Updated ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 556–560.

[68] Joseph Barber Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), 513–535.

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