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Papias (writing in the first third of the 2nd century) was an overseer of the early Church. He was an associate of Polycarp, who had studied with the apostle John. Eusebius of Caesarea calls him “Bishop of Hierapolis” (modern Pamukkale, Turkey), which is 22 km from Laodicea and near Colossae (see Col. 4:12-13), in the Lycus river valley in Phrygia, Asia Minor, not to be confused with the Hierapolis of Syria.
He wrote extensively about the Christian Oral Tradition. The Interpretations of the Sayings of the Lord (his word for “sayings” is logia) in five books, would have been a prime early authority in the exegesis of the sayings of Jesus, some of which are recorded in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke; however, the book has not survived and is known only through fragments quoted in later writers, with approval in Irenaeus’s Against Heresies and later by Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History, the earliest surviving history of the early Church.
Papias describes his way of gathering information:
I will not hesitate to add also for you to my interpretations what I formerly learned with care from the Presbyters and have carefully stored in memory, giving assurance of its truth. For I did not take pleasure as the many do in those who speak much, but in those who teach what is true, nor in those who relate foreign precepts, but in those who relate the precepts which were given by the Lord to the faith and came down from the Truth itself. And also if any follower of the Presbyters happened to come, I would inquire for the sayings of the Presbyters, what Andrew said, or what Peter said, or what Philip or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and for the things which other of the Lord’s disciples, and for the things which Aristion and the Presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, were saying. For I considered that I should not get so much advantage from matter in books as from the voice which yet lives and remains.
Thus, Papias reports he heard things that came from an unwritten, oral tradition of the Presbyters, a “sayings” or logia tradition that had been passed from Jesus to such of the apostles and disciples as he mentions in the fragmentary quote. The scholar Helmut Koester considers him the earliest surviving witness of this tradition.
Eusebius held Papias in low esteem, perhaps because of his work’s influence in perpetuating, through Irenaeus and others, belief in a millennial reign of Christ upon earth, that would soon usher in a new Golden Age. Eusebius calls Papias ‘a man of small mental capacity who mistook the figurative language of apostolic traditions’. Whether this was so to any degree is difficult to judge without the text available. However, Papias’s millennialism (according to Anastasius of Sinai, along with Clement of Alexandria and Ammonius he understood the Six Days (Hexaemeron) and the account of Paradise as referring mystically to Christ and His Church) was nearer in spirit to the actual Christianity of the sub-apostolic age, especially in western Anatolia (e.g., Montanism), than Eusebius realized.
Traditions Related by Papias
About the origins of the Gospels, Papias (as quoted by Eusebius) Quoting John the Elder wrote:
`And this the Presbyter used to say [this is in the plural implying John the Elder would employ this argument multiple times in defense of Mark’s Gospel]: “Mark, being the recorder of Peter, wrote accurately but not in order whatever he [Peter] remembered of the things either said or done by the Lord; for he [Mark] had neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but later, as I said, Peter, who used to make teachings according to the cheias, [a special kind of anecdote] but not making as it were a systematic composition of the Lord’s sayings; so that Mark did not err at all when he wrote certain things just as he had recalled [them]. For he had but one intention, not to leave out anything he had heard, nor to falsify anything in them”. This is what was related by Papias about Mark. But about Matthew`s this was said: “For Matthew composed the logia [sayings] in Hebrew style; but each recorded them as he was able”` [author incomplete]. This last part is translated into English as every one interpreted them as he was able by Dr. Arthur C. McGiffert and Dr. Ernest C. Richardson.
Citing this text, many argue that Papias claimed that Matthew was written in the Hebrew language, (as it is often translated in English). This claim of the Semitic origins (Aramaic primacy or Hebrew primacy) of the New Testament writings is also testified to by other Church Fathers including Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius, Pantaeneus, Epiphanius, Jerome, Isho’dad, as well as, Clement of Alexandria. Some would argue, however, that Papias’ comment in Greek, “Hebrew dialect” is a common construction in Greek and is seen in many different sources and contexts and seems to consistently refer to a style or subset of a language being spoken; and, this is distinguished from the general Greek term for language or tongue”. Papias’ statement seems to signify a style of language or dialect being used by the “Hebrews”, (or in other words, the style or subset of a language being used by the Hebrew race). In the historical context, the “dialect of the Hebrews”, was most probably a reference to the Hebrew dialect of Aramaic. Due to the testimony of so many other sources, including Papias’ contemporaries, this argument seem likely to overlook the other sources for this same claim. In fact all of the previously listed Church Fathers are quoted in their own writings as testifying to the Semitic origins of, at the very least, the Gospel of Matthew. Other scholars on the language of the New Testament have also argued that at least portions of the New Testament writings were originally penned in a Semitic tongue.
What Is the Synoptic Problem of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and What is the Hypothetical So-Called Q Document?
There is question by liberal scholarship, of course, whether the documents which Papias knew as the Gospels of Matthew and Mark are the same ones that we have today: Matthew is a narrative, rather than a sayings gospel with commentary, and some scholars reject the thesis that it was originally written in Hebrew. (See Did Matthew Write his Gospel First in Hebrew?)
Here are three articles that offer insights into the mindset of modern-day scholarship:
- Beware As Most Skeptics are Seeking to Feed their Doubt Not Their Faith
- Skepticism, Ambiguity, and Uncertainty Versus Ascertained Certainty and Faith
- Selective Skepticism When It Comes to God and the Bible
The Synoptic Gospels In Early Christianity: Why Is the Preferred Choice the Testimony to the Priority of the Gospel of Matthew?
Papias also related a number of traditions that Eusebius had characterized as “some strange parables and teachings of the savior, and some other more mythical accounts.” For example, Eusebius indicated that Papias heard stories about Justus, surnamed Barsabas, who drank poison but suffered no harm and another story via a daughter of Philip the Evangelist concerning the resurrection of a corpse.
Eusebius states that Papias “reproduces a story about a woman falsely accused before the Lord of many sins.” J. B. Lightfoot identified this story with the Pericope Adulterae, and included it in his collection of fragments of Papias’ work. However, Michael W. Holmes has pointed out that it is not certain “that Papias knew the story in precisely this form, inasmuch as it now appears that at least two independent stories about Jesus and a sinful woman circulated among Christians in the first two centuries of the church, so that the traditional form found in many New Testament manuscripts may well represent a conflation of two independent shorter, earlier versions of the incident.”
According to a scholium attributed to Apollinaris of Laodicea, Papias also related a tradition on the death of Judas Iscariot, which was clearly not true:
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 head long he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. This fact is related more clearly by Papias, the disciple of John, and the fourth book of the Expositions 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 hay wagon 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 have they sunk from the surface.
His genitals appeared entirely disfigured, nauseous and large. When he carried himself about discharge and worms flowed from his entire body through his private areas only, on account of his outrages. After many agonies and punishments, he died in his own place. And on account of this the place is desolate and uninhabited even now. And to this day no one is able to go by that place, except if they block their noses with their hands. Such judgment was spread through his body and upon the earth.
Matthew 27:5 BDC: says that Judas hanged himself, while Luke at Acts 1:18 says that “falling headlong he [Judas] burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.” So, which is it?
Concerning the date of his writing, there is Irenaeus’ statement, later in the 2nd century, that Papias was “a hearer of John, and companion of Polycarp, a man of old time.” (Adversus Haereses V 33.4) If Polycarp was, in fact, born not later than AD 69, then there may be no reason to depend on a further, but disputed tradition, that Papias shared in the martyrdom of Polycarp (ca AD 155). In sum, the fact that Irenaeus thought of Papias as Polycarp’s contemporary and “a man of the old time,” together with the affinity between the religious tendencies described in the fragment from Papias’s Preface quoted by Eusebius and those reflected in the Epistles of Ignatius and of Polycarp, all point to his having flourished in the first quarter of the 2nd century.
Indeed, Eusebius, who deals with him along with Clement and Ignatius (rather than Polycarp) under the reign of Trajan, and before referring at all to Hadrian’s reign, suggests that he wrote “as early as 110 and probably no later than the early 130s, with several scholars opting for the earlier end of the spectrum”. No known fact is inconsistent with c. 60-135 as the period of Papias’s life. It should be noted that, though he was probably writing as an old man in Hierapolis, the inquiries he made took place a long time beforehand, and some of his eyewitnesses could well have met Jesus or the Apostles, or both. Eusebius (3.36) calls him “bishop” of Hierapolis, but whether with good ground is uncertain. In this putative capacity as bishop, Papias was supposedly succeeded by Abercius of Hieropolis.
Attribution: This article incorporates text from the public domain: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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 Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers in English, page 309 (Baker Academic, 2006).
 Ancient Christian Gospels (Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 1990), pp. 32f
 Historia Ecclesiastica 3.39.13.
 See Funk, fragments 6 and 7; translated by Michael W. Holmes in The Apostolic Fathers in English (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), p. 314.
 Eusebius, Church History, Book 3, Chapter 39.15-16
 Eusebius, Church History, Book 3, Chapter 39.16, translated by Dr. Arthur C. McGiffert and Dr. Ernest C. Richardson, Nicene and Post-Nicene Library of the Christian Fathers, WM. B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING COMPANY, GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN, 1890
 For a more detailed discussion of this passage, see Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), pp. 158ff, on which the material in this paragraph is based.
 However, G.A. Williamson’s translation for Penguin Classics (New York, 1965, pp. 151f) puts this passage in these words: “some otherwise unknown parables and teachings of the Saviour, and other things of a more allegorical character.” / It remains unknown whether or not these were earlier versions of the Jesus story. Papias only informs his reader of their existence, nothing else.
 Hist. Eccl. 3.39.
 Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers, p. 304. This observation was first made by Bart D. Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” New Testament Studies 34 (1988) 24-44.
 A catena compiled by Cramer vol 3 p12 (translation from chronicon.net)
 C.E. Hill (2006), p.309