Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament 
1. Papias as witness to Gospels. —There is no early evidence as to our Gospels comparable to that of Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, even in the fragmentary and obscure form in which it has reached us through the pages of Eusebius ( Historia Ecclesiastica iii. 39). Eusebius’ own slighting estimate of Papias’ judgment was due largely to distaste for the highly realistic form in which he set forth the common primitive expectation of an imminent reign of Christ on a renewed earth, which Papias held, with the Apocalypse of John ( Revelation 20:4 ff.), would last a thousand years. But, whatever his mental calibre, Papias’ importance lies rather in his endeavour to keep in touch with historical witness, as far as possible first-hand witness, to the true or original meaning of the Lord’s own teaching.
For realizing such an aim Papias had exceptional advantages. There is little doubt that after the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in a.d. 70, if not before, the Roman province or Asia was the chief centre of Christian tradition outside Palestine. The foundation for this had been laid by St. Paul, with Ephesus as base of influence; and hither were attracted not a few of the leading personal disciples of Jesus, including, perhaps, several of the original Apostles. Chief of all, we must reckon John, the son of Zebedee, whose presence at Ephesus for a period of years cannot be explained away by any confusion with another John. The latter’s title, ‘the Elder,’ itself implies the need for distinguishing him from a greater namesake residing in the same neighbourhood.
The statement in certain late writers that John, as well as his brother James, had been ‘done to death by Jews,’ even if correct, would not negative this. But it is very possibly a mistake, since Eusebius, who was on the look out for all facts bearing on the lives of Apostles, says nothing of the kind. It probably arose from the misunderstanding of a passage in which Papias explained the ‘cup’ of Christ in Mark 10:38 f., Matthew 20:22 f., as ‘martyrdom’—which in James’ case was unto death, but in John’s stopped short of that.
Hierapolis, Papias’ home in South Phrygia, was well within the province of Asia and near the main road to Ephesus from the East, while it actually lay on another road running N.W. through Asia to Smyrna and Pergamum. A man so situated, and with a passion for first-hand information as to Christ’s teaching, had special chances of intercourse with such disciples of the first generation (‘elders’ he calls them) as visited or worked in Asia, so far as his youth or early manhood overlapped their later years. But how far was this the case? For an answer to this question we have to rely on the chapter of Eusebius already referred to, and particularly on certain of Papias’ own words there cited.
2. Papias’ book and the situation it presupposes. —Papias wrote a work in five books, entitled ‘Exposition of the Lord’s Oracles ( Logia ).’ Quoting from this, Irenaeus wrote, about a.d. 180: ‘These things Papias, too, who was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp, a man of the old time (ἀρχαῖος ἀνήρ), further witnesses in writing.’ This statement Eusebius, anxious to dissociate John from Papias’ millenarian views, challenges, saying that he does not claim to have heard Apostles, but only associates of theirs. In support of this, he quotes a passage from Papias’ preface which enables us to judge how far his own reading of it is warranted. In studying it, our chief care must be to read it in the light of what we can learn as to the scope of its author’s preface as a whole.
(a) The Lord’s ‘Oracles’ and their record .—We gather that Papias felt constrained to write by the needs of the times in the western part of Asia Minor, where much diversity of view existed as to the standard of Christian faith and practice, owing largely to uncertainty both as to the exact wording of Christ’s sayings and as to their real meaning. Some, it is true, took no pains even to ground their practice in all things on Christ’s own words as spoken to His personal disciples, but deferred to ‘alien precepts’ coming through doubtful media of Divine revelation, rather than direct from this supreme source of truth. But, to Papias, the only sure way of reaching the mind of Christ, the Truth itself, is to start from the Apostolic written collection of ‘the Oracles,’ as he conceived the Gospel according to Matthew to be, the one directly Apostolic document of this character (the Johannine Gospel is in any case of another type). To this method some—probably typical Greek or ‘Gnostic’ Christians, to whom its markedly Jewish and eschatological colour may have been an offence—might object that the accuracy of this Gospel itself was not above question, pointing to the differences between it and the Petrine Gospel by Mark. To meet some such difficulty,* [Note: Other views as to the exact reason for the comparison of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark are possible; but the above seems best to fit in with the passage in Papias’ preface touching his aim and method dealt with below.] which was perhaps meant to lower the authority of both Gospels (since Mark also had Jewish features of the kind in question), Papias cites a tradition derived from a man of the first Christian generation, ‘the Elder’ (? John, see below), as he styles him—
‘And this the Elder used to say: Mark, indeed (μέν), having been Peter’s interpreter, wrote down with accuracy, yet not in order, everything he bore in mind—the things, namely, either said or done by the Christ ( or Lord). For neither did he listen to the Lord nor did he follow Him, but later on, as I said, Peter, who adapted his instructions to the requirements, yet without intending to make a connected account of the Lord’s sayings (σύνταξιν τῶν κυριακῶν τοιοὑμενος λογων or λογίων). Accordingly Mark was in no way in fault in so writing certain things as he recalled them: for of one thing he took precaution, not to omit anything that he had heard or therein to state anything falsely.’
Here we have a defence of the trustworthiness of Mark’s narrative, so far as it goes, save on the score of the arrangement of its material, which, having originally been delivered by Peter in an order determined by the exigencies of Christian instruction (διδασκαλίαι, as distinct from public preaching, κήρυγμα), was reproduced by Mark with simple fidelity. A Gospel so composed made no claim to comparison, as regards the order of the Lord’s sayings (so far as it recorded them), with a Gospel written by one of Peter’s fellow-disciples on a different principle, that of collecting the weighty utterances of the Lord (τὰ λόγια), disposed in orderly grouping. Such, however, was the Gospel composed by the Apostle Matthew, as we may infer that Papias went on to quote ‘the Elder’ as saying in effect.
Probably the sentence beginning ‘But Matthew,’ which the ‘Mark, indeed (μέν), …’ of the extract in Eusebius seems to imply, included a statement that Matthew wrote ‘among the Hebrews,’ i.e. in Palestine. At least this is an element common to Irenaeus (iii. i. 1), and the tradition preserved in Euseb. iii. 24, possibly from Clement of Alexandria, whose account of the Gospels as contained in ‘a tradition of the elders of earlier times’ (τῶν ἀνέκαθεν πρεσβυτέρων) he elsewhere cites (vi. 14). Now in ii. 15 Clement is cited by Euseb. for an expanded form of the Papian tradition as to Mark’s Gospel, with the additional remark that Clement’s account is confirmed by Papias of Hierapolis. Papias, in fact, was the nucleus of that tradition; and so his Matthaean tradition, as given already in iii. 24, is here omitted.
Thus the whole passage was a defence at once of Mark’s Gospel and of Matthew’s, with which Papias from the nature of the case is mainly concerned. Then in the extract which Eusebius immediately subjoins, Papias sums up (οὖν) the net result of his discussion touching the accuracy of ‘the Oracles’ as originally compiled by that Apostle.
‘Matthew, then, for his part, in Hebrew compiled the Oracles; but their interpretation was determined by each man’s ability.’ In this rendering, which keeps as closely as possible to the order of the original,† [Note: Ματθαῖος μὲν οὖν Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ τὰ λόγια συνετάξατο (preferable to συνεγράψατο, Cf. σὑνταξιν above), ἡρμήνευσε δʼ αὐτὰ ὡς ἦν δυνατὸς ἕκαστος. The Logia, then, is Papias’ description of the main contents of Matthew’s Gospel in terms of his special interest in it, not the actual title of any writing ever current under that name.] emphasis no doubt falls on the fact that Matthew’s authoritative collection of the Lord’s Oracles was in Hebrew, or rather Aramaic, and not in Greek. Yet Papias does not seem to have said anything about the manner in which the Greek Matthew, as current in the region where he was writing, came into being, else Eusebius would have gone on to cite information so much to his purpose. Hence we may infer that the point of the citation lies in the words actually given, and that Papias is explaining why various versions of the Oracles (in whole or part) were then current side by side with the recognized Greek Matthew. They went back, that is, to the time when Matthew’s collection of the Oracles existed only in a non-Greek form, various imperfect renderings of which passed into currency before the final Greek version was made. In this way he is able to set aside rival forms of certain sayings to those on which, as standing in the Greek Matthew, he bases his own exposition of the Lord’s teaching.
While it is likely that Papias based on the Elder’s testimony his own assertion that Matthew himself wrote his collection of the Lord’s Oracles, it seems precarious to lean much weight on the statement. Against this there are various objections. Thus the Preface to Luke’s Gospel seems to exclude any such Apostolic record, and its disappearance would be hard to explain.
( b ) Papias’ relation to ‘the Elders,’ the prime witnesses to the meaning of the Oracles .—So much for the true text of such Oracles of the Lord as he chooses for comment. But what guarantee can he offer that his own exegesis of their meaning is preferable to that of other Christian teachers about him, abler perhaps than himself? This is the question to which the chief citation made by Eusebius is a reply. Its substance is as follows. He is far from piquing himself on his own insight or ingenuity in evolving, at no slight length, plausible views as to the meaning of such Oracles as may seem obscure even to a careful reader. His one object being to reach the true meaning of Him who was the Truth incarnate, he has no false shame in supporting his own ‘interpretation’ by such authoritative traditions as he had collected in years gone by—traditions derived from the men of the first Christian generation, particularly personal disciples of the Master Himself. His zeal in collecting such authentic oral comments, even at second-hand, was due, he explains, to the feeling that the vivâ voce method of continuous transmission was more helpful, for reaching the true sense of the Lord’s Oracles, than any books bearing on their elucidation. But before proceeding to draw further inferences from ‘Papias’ preface, so far as cited by Eusebius, we will quote the passage ( Historia Ecclesiastica iii. 39) to which we owe our knowledge of it—
‘But I will not scruple to set down for thee everything, too, that once on a time I learned right well from the Elders and right well bore in mind—in juxtaposition with the (= my own) interpretations, so confirming their truth. For I used not to delight, like the many, in those wont to have so much to say (by way of comment), but in those wont to teach things that are true; nor yet in those accustomed to bear in mind the precepts of other masters (τὰς ἀλλοτρία; ἐντολάς), but in those (wont to bear in mind) such as have been given once for all from the Lord to faith and reach (us) from the Truth itself as source (ἀπʼ αὐτῆς παραγινομένας [ al . οις] τῆς ἀληθείας). But if haply one also who had been a companion of the Elders came (my way), I used to make careful inquiry into the discourses of the Elders—what had been said by Andrew, or what by Peter, or what by Philip, or what by Thomas or by James, or what by John or Matthew, or by any other of the Lord’s disciples, and what things Aristion and the Elder John, disciples of the Lord, have to say (λέγουσιν). For I did not conceive that the contents of (the) books [of comment] assisted me as much as vivâ voce communications preserved continuously (τὰ παρὰ ζώσης φωνῆς καὶ μενούσης).’
The exact exegesis of this famous passage is still an open question. Much depends on the relation of the clause, ‘But if haply one also who had been a companion of the Elders (= the worthies of the first generation, e.g. “disciples of the Lord,” as also above) came my way,’ to what immediately precedes. If it expresses a less direct contact with the Elders, then Papias virtually claims himself to have heard some Apostles or personal disciples of Christ. But if, as seems preferable, it expresses a more direct relation, Eusebius’ reading of the passage will hold, and Papias implicitly resigns all claim to have heard any Apostle, and so John in particular. In favour of the former alternative may be urged Eusebius’ obvious desire to dissociate Papias from the Apostles, as also the positive statement of not a few later readers of Papias, who must have known of Eusebius’ challenge, and so been the more careful in their own reading of Papias’ meaning (with the full context before them). In particular, one might cite the witness of Apollinaris, bishop of Papias’ own Hierapolis,* [Note: Thus he, unlike most others, does not need to describe Papias as ‘bishop of Hierapolis.’] within half a century of the date of his predecessor’s writing, when he calls him ‘Papias, the disciple of John.’ Besides, was Eusebius entitled to assume that Irenaeus, in calling Papias ‘a hearer of John and a comrade of Polycarp,’—whom Irenaeus elsewhere explicitly makes a disciple of Apostles and of John in particular,—was drawing on this passage at all, seeing that it does not itself suggest the second of the two descriptions here given? Nevertheless Eusebius’ exegesis of the passage, viz. that Papias had heard ‘from the Elders’ only indirectly, though in certain cases at only one remove, best suits the extract as a whole. Nor does Papias’ date depend very much on acceptance of the one view rather than the other. In either case he may well have been rather older than Polycarp (whose birth was as early as a.d. 69), though, unlike him, he was won to Christ’s Gospel only after the death of His last Apostle. Yet even at that date two of His personal disciples, Aristion and the Elder John, were still living, most likely in Ephesus or its neighbourhood, somewhere about a.d. 100.
(c) Date of Papias’ writing .—Against the above result nothing can be said on the score of the date of Papias’ book. Not only does Irenaeus regard it as the work of ‘a primitive worthy’ (ἀρχαῖος ἀνήρ), but Eusebius himself classes Papias with Polycarp, Ignatius, Clement (in this order), and others of the next generation after the Apostles (iii. 36 init. , 37 init. , and ad fin .), all of whom he regarded as flourishing under Trajan (a.d. 98–117). Accordingly he deals with Papias before going on to describe events at the end of Trajan’s reign (iv. 2), and the accession of Hadrian in 117, in connexion with whom he refers to the Apology of Quadratus. There is no external evidence, therefore, apart from a confusion long ago cleared up by Light-foot, to lead us to assign to Papias’ Exposition a date later than about a.d. 115. Many scholars, indeed, point to the sentence, ‘Touching those raised from the dead by the Christ, that they lived until Hadrian,’ following immediately on some Papian matter in an epitome (Cod. Barocc. 142), as though it also were based on Papias, so that his work must be at least as late as Hadrian’s reign. But the epitome is really based on Eusebius (with a few touches added directly from Papias in this connexion), and here passes on from Papias in Euseb. iii. 39 to Quadratus as cited in iv. 2, as the very form of the sentence, ‘Touching … that they lived …,’ suggests.
With this agrees also the internal evidence, as it seems to emerge from a comparison of the erroneous tendencies implied by his work, on the one hand, and, on the other, the Epistles of Ignatius and Polycarp, which fall about a.d. 115. The affinities with Polycarp, whom Irenaeus makes Papias’ comrade at one time, are specially striking—
‘Let us therefore so serve Him [Christ] with fear and all due reverence, even as He Himself gave injunctions, and the Apostles who brought us the Gospel, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of our Lord.… For every one who shall not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is antichrist [cf. 1 John 4:2 f.]; and whosoever shall not confess the testimony of the Cross, is of the devil; and whosoever shall perversely interpret the Oracles of the Lord (μεθοδεὐῃ τὰ λόγια τοῦ κυρίου) to his own lusts, and say that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, that man is the firstborn of Satan. Wherefore let us leave behind the vanity of the many [“vain and empty talk and the error of the many,” ch. 2] and false teachings, and turn unto the message which was delivered unto us from the beginning.…’ (chs. 6–7). Here we get the idea of safety in close adherence to the injunctions (ἑντολαί) of Christ and His Apostles, or ‘the message which was delivered’ by them ‘from the beginning,’ in contrast to ‘false teachings’ by which ‘the many’ were apt, in love of empty talk, to be led into error, especially through perverse interpretations of ‘the Oracles of the Lord.’ The motive of such misinterpretation was Docetic denial of the reality of Christ’s human body and of the significance of bodily self-control in the Christian, since ‘there is neither resurrection nor judgment.’ This comes out more clearly in Ignatius, for instance in the warning, ‘Keep your flesh as a temple of God,’ in his letter to Philadelphia, which lay less than 50 miles from Hierapolis, on the main road to the coast. This letter affords marked parallels to the situation implied in Papias’ preface. Its central idea is that Christ Himself is the Christian’s standard, his law of thought and conduct (κατὰ χριστομαθίαν, ch. viii.; cf. ‘having Christ as law,’ χριστόνομος, ad Rom . inscr.), and that all exegesis, even of the Scriptures, is to be tested by this criterion. Only Ignatius and Papias apply the supreme test differently. The former appeals straight to the notorious central facts of Christ’s life and of Christian experience: ‘His Cross and Death and Resurrection, and the faith that is through Him’ (ch. 8). Papias essays the detailed task of supplying a standard exegesis of the Lord’s own Great Sayings, in virtue of his special contact with authentic Apostolic tradition in Asia. The difference turns not only on the fact that the two men represent different types of Christian attitude, but also on their respective local traditions and opportunities; and it does not point to any real difference in date between their writings.
The milder tone used by Papias towards the errors in question (which are largely similar, as we see from Polycarp, who is a link between Ignatius and Papias), as compared with both Ignatius and Polycarp, is against, the notion of a considerably later date for his Exposition . Indeed, it is hard, in the absence of any reference by Eusebius to Papias as engaged, like Ignatius, in refuting any deadly heresy, to believe that Papias was writing after Ignatius’ polemic had sharpened, as it must have done, the Asian Churches’ sense of the gravity of Docetism in Christianity. Its prevalence may, indeed, have led Papias to lay special emphasis on the realistic aspect of the millennium—a feature in which he was followed by Irenaeus and others, to Eusebius’ keen regret. But his attitude to gnosis seems less severe than we should expect after a.d. 115.* [Note: Papias’ very archaic use of οἱ πρεσβύτεροι, for the men of the first generation, particularly Christ’s personal disciples, is another indication of early date. In Irenaeus this phrase always describes those of the second generation at least.]
3. Gospels known to Papias. —We have seen that Papias knew our Matthew and Mark. Eusebius tells us that he also used proof texts from 1 John, probably, e.g. , the anti-Docetic 1 John 4:2 f. cited by Polycarp as above; and this certainly suggests knowledge of the Fourth Gospel, of which there seem also to be traces in the fragments of Papias’ Exposition as known to us (cf. also Westcott, Canon (1889), p. 71, n. [Note: note.] 2). Even the order in which he refers to Apostles by name in his preface is that of John 1:37 ff., while his reference to Christ as the Truth, and, as such, the Fountainhead of Divine precepts. (ἐντολαί), points the same way. Probably, however, he used the Johannine Gospel only as a secondary source of exegesis for the standard Matthaean collection of ‘the Oracles’—as, in fact, a ‘book,’ and so less ‘helpful’ than direct oral tradition. In the Argumentum to John’s Gospel in a 9th cent. MS., we read: ‘The Gospel of John was revealed and given to the Churches.…, even as Papias of Hierapolis, a dear disciple of John, has related in his five books.’ His knowledge of Luke’s Gospel is probable both in itself (cf. Lightfoot, Essays on Supernatural Religion , p. 186) and in relation to a seeming knowledge of Acts, shown by his traditional amplification of the end of Judas as given in Acts 1:18 f., which he apparently tried to harmonize with Matthew’s account. But no doubt he preferred to cite Mt. where he could, as being to him a work of direct Apostolic authorship, while Luke’s Gospel was not even, like Mark’s, only one remove from an Apostle’s witness.
Some not only see in the phraseology of Papias’ apology for Mark’s Gospel traces of the influence of Luke 1:1-4, but also infer that Papias is there meeting the criticism of a party in Asia who held to Luke’s Gospel, if not exclusively (like Marcion later), yet in so preferential a way as to make it, and not our Matthew, the standard by which to criticise Mark’s work (so Dom Chapman in Revue Bénédictine , July 1905). This is more than dubious.
In a word, if our reading of the situation which Papias had in view in writing be correct, his attitude to our Gospels is just what we should expect from other sources that it would be, if he were writing in Asia about a.d. 115–120. At that time, not the form but the substance of Christ’s teaching, whether oral or written, was still the prime matter. The Canon, or ‘rule’ of faith, consisted of the Lord’s words , however obtained, if only it were in purity (cf. Polyc. ad Philippians 2 , ‘remembering what things the Lord said when teaching’). These constituted ‘the Gospel’ that lay behind the Gospels, and secured their general use, particularly in public worship—out of which canonical authority itself gradually grew (see B. Weiss, Manual of Introd. to the NT , i. 32 ff.). This must be borne in mind in estimating the use of all New Testament books in early Christian writers, and makes the task of identifying Evangelic quotations so delicate an art (cf. Sanday, The Gospels in the Second Century , and The NT in the Apostolic Fathers , Oxford, 1905). But once it is allowed for, Papias becomes a valuable positive witness to our Canonical Gospels, as distinct from other Gospel writings which, no doubt, existed at that time in considerable numbers. Whether he used any apocryphal Gospel is quite doubtful. Eusebius’ statement that ‘he has set forth another story also about a woman informed against to the Lord on the score of many sins, which the Gospel according to the Hebrews includes,’ by no means proves that Papias got his version of the story from the Gospel in question (cf. Baeon in Expositor , 1905, pp. 161–177).
4. General reflexions. —Although we are unable to conceive in detail the exact character of Papias’ Exposition of Oracles of the Lord , even our meagre knowledge of it, especially when taken in connexion with other Christian writings of the period, helps us not a little to realize the way in which our Gospels, and Gospels generally, were viewed and handled early in the 2nd century. Both it and the Oxyrhynehus Gospel—fragments of which have been found by Grenfell and Hunt—teach us not only that Christ’s sayings were the most prized part of the Gospel tradition, but also how strong were the tendencies at work making for ehange in their meaning and even wording. They were heard or read in environments of thought far other than those for which they were first spoken; and just because they were taken so seriously and practically as Divine ‘oracles,’ as religious laws of life, their historical or original meaning was apt to be lost as soon as they passed beyond Palestine, and the fresh meanings or glosses put upon them tended insensibly to replace the Master’s ipsissima verba . Here the instances afforded by the Oxyrhynchus Gospel of how in all good faith such a process of transformation took place, are most suggestive. They show how needful something like a standard exegesis, based on knowledge of the original historical sense, was becoming to the genuine transmission of Christ’s own teaching, if it was not to be sublimated away in terms of Greek idealism and Oriental mysticism. Such a consummation was averted only by strenuous insistence on the part of the local Church leaders, that every care was to be taken to keep in touch with the historic meaning of the Lord’s earthly teaching, as certified by Gospels historically known to be of Apostolie or quasi -Apostolic authorship, and expounded in the first instance by the aid of continuous local tradition going back to similar sources. Thus was the mass of Gospels once current in the 2nd cent.—and varying as between Syria and Rome, Asia Minor and Egypt—gradually sifted out; until by the close of the century, and a good deal earlier in some places, our four authentie Gospels emerged as the Church’s standard, or Canon, of the Lord’s own teaching and its true significance.
Literature.—The Fragments of Papias, and Patristic references to his book collected in Lightfoot’s Apostolic Fathers , in one vol. (Macmillan, 1891), and (with a commentary) in Funk, Patres Apostolici (Tubingen, 1901), i. 346 ff.; Discussions by Weiffenbach, Das Papiasfragment, u.s.w.; Lightfoot, Essays on Supernatural Religion , pp. 142–216; Sanday, Gospels in the Second Century ; Westcott, Canon of the NT ; Salmon in Dict. of Christian Biography ; Zahn, Gesch. d. NT Kanons , i. 849 ff., Forschungen , vi. 109 ff.; Harnack, Chronologie , i. 658 ff.; Leimbach in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] xiv. 642 ff.; Abbott, EBi [Note: Bi Encyclopaedia Biblica.] ii. 1809 ff., also The Oracles ascribed to Matthew by Papias of Hierapolis (1894), and A. Wright’s review in Some NT Problems (1898), p. 265; R. W. Dale, Living Christ and the Four Gospels 14 [Note: 4 designates the particular edition of the work referred] , ii. 277–306.
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Bishop of Hierapolis, in Phrygia, who flourished in the middle of the 2nd century, and wrote a book entitled "Exposition of the Lord's Sayings," fragments of which have been preserved by Eusebius and others; he was, it is said, the companion of Polycarp.