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§ 169. Papias.

(I.) The fragments of Papias collected in Routh: Reliquiae, Sacrae, ed. II., Oxf., 1846, vol. I., 3–16. Von Gebhardt and Harnack: Patres Apost., Appendix: Papice Fragmenta, I., 180–196. English translation in Roberts and Donaldson. "Ante-Nicene Library." I., 441–448.

Passages on Papias in Irenaeus:Adv. Haer., v. 33, §§ 3, 4. Euseb. H. E. III. 36, 39; Chron. ad Olymp. 220, ed. Schöne II. 162. Also a few later notices; see Routh and the Leipz. ed. of P. A.. The Vita S. Papiae, by the Jesuit Halloix, Duaei, l633, is filled with a fanciful account of the birth, education, ordination, episcopal and literary labors of the saint, of whom very little is really known.

(II.) Separate articles on Papias, mostly connected with the Gospel question, by Schleiermacher (on his testimonies concerning Matthew and Mark in the "Studien und Kritiken" for l832, p. 735); Th. Zahn (ibid. 1866, No. IV. p. 649 sqq.); G. E. Steitz (in the "Studien und Kritiken" for 1868, No. 1. 63–95, and art. Papias in Herzog’s Encyc." ed. I. vol. XI., 78–86; revised by Leimbach in ed. II. vol. XI. 194–206); James Donaldson (The Apost. Fathers 1874, p. 393–402); Bishop Lightfoot (in the "Contemporary Review" for Aug., 1875, pp. 377–403; a careful examination of the testimonies of Papias concerning the Gospels of Mark and Matthew against the misstatements in "Supernatural Religion"); Leimbach (Das Papiasfragment, 1875) Weiffenbach Das Papiasfragment, 1874 and 1878); Hilgefeld ("Zeitschrift für wissensch. Theol." 1875, 239 sqq.); Ludemann (Zur Erklärunq des Papiasfragments, in the "Jahrbücher für protest. Theol.," 1879, p. 365 sqq.); H. Holtzmann (Papias und Johannes, in Hilgenfeld’s "Zeitschrift für wissensch. Theologie," 1880, pp. 64–77). Comp. also Westcott on the Canon of the N. T., p. 59–68.

Papias, a disciple of John13011301    See notes at the end of this section.301 and friend of Polycarp, was bishop of Hierapolis, in Phrygia, till towards the middle of the second century. According to a later tradition in the "Paschal Chronicle," he suffered martyrdom at Pergamon about the same time with Polycarp at Smyrna. As the death of the latter has recently been put back from 166 to 155, the date of Papias must undergo a similar change; and as his contemporary friend was at least 86 years old, Papias was probably born about a.d. 70, so that he may have known St. John, St. Philip the Evangelist, and other primitive disciples who survived the destruction of Jerusalem.

Papias was a pious, devout and learned student of the Scriptures, and a faithful traditionist, though somewhat credulous and of limited comprehension.13021302    Eusebius, H. E. III. 39, says that he was σφόδρα σμικρὸς τὸν νοῦν, " very, small-minded."and that this appears from his writings; but he was no doubt unfavorably influenced in his judgment by the strong millennarianism of Papias, which he mentions just before; and even if well founded, it would not invalidate his testimony as to mere facts. In another place (III. 36), Eusebius calls him a man of comprehensive learning and knowledge of the Scriptures (ἀνὴρ τὰ πάντα ὅτι μάλιστα λογιώτατος καὶ τῆς γραφῆς εὐδήμων, omni doctrinae genere instructissimus et in scriptura sacra versatus). Learning, piety, and good sense are not always combined. The passage, however, is wanting in some MSS. of Eusebius. See the note of Heinichen, vol. I. 141 sqq.302 He carried the heavenly treasure in an earthen vessel. His associations give him considerable weight. He went to the primitive sources of the Christian faith. "I shall not regret," he says, "to subjoin to my interpretations [of the Lord’s Oracles], whatsoever I have at any time accurately ascertained and treasured up in my memory, as I have received it from the elders (παρὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων) and have recorded it to give additional confirmation to the truth, by my testimony. For I did not, like most men, delight in those who speak much, but in those who teach the truth; nor in those who record the commands of others [or new and strange commands], but in those who record the commands given by the Lord to our faith, and proceeding from truth itself. If then any one who had attended on the elders came, I made it a point to inquire what were the words of the elders; what Andrew, or what Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas, or James, or John, or Matthew, or any other of the disciples of our Lord; and what things Aristion and the elder John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I was of opinion that I could not derive so much benefit from books as from the living and abiding voice."13031303    παρὰ ζώσης φωνῆς καὶ μενούσης Eus. III. 39 (Heinichen, 1. 148).303 He collected with great zeal the oral traditions of the apostles and their disciples respecting the discourses and works of Jesus, and published them in five books under the title: "Explanation of the Lord’s Discourses."13041304    Λογίων κυρισκῶν ἐξήγησις, Explanatio sermonum Domini. The word ἐξήγησις here no doubt means interpretation of some already existing gospel record, since Anastasius of Sinai (d. 599) classes Papias among Biblical exegetes or interpreters. He probably took as his text the canonical Gospels, and gave his own comments on the Lord’s Discourses therein contained, together with additional sayings which he had derived, directly or indirectly, from personal disciples of Christ. Although this work has disappeared for several centuries, it may possibly yet be recovered either in the original, or in a Syriac or Armenian version. The work was still extant in 1218 in the MSS. collection of the church at Nismes, according to Gallandi and Pitra. It is also mentioned thrice in the Catalogue of the Library of the Benedictine Monastery of Christ Church, Canterbury, contained in the Cottonian MS. of the thirteenth or fourteenth centurvy. Donaldson, p. 402. On the meaning of λόγια see Vol. I. 622 sq.304

Unfortunately this book, which still existed in the thirteenth century, is lost with the exception of valuable and interesting fragments preserved chiefly by Irenaeus and Eusebius. Among these are his testimonies concerning the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and the Petrine Gospel of Mark, which figure so prominently in all the critical discussions on the origin of the Gospels.13051305    See vol. I. p. 622, 633 sq.305 The episode on the woman taken in adultery which is found in some MSS. of John 7:53–8:11, or after Luke 21:38, has been traced to the same source and was perhaps to illustrate the word of Christ, John 8:15 ("I judge no man"); for Eusebius reports that Papias "set forth another narrative concerning a woman who was maliciously accused before the Lord of many sins, which is contained in the Gospel according to the Hebrews."13061306    The plural (ἐπὶ πολλαῖς ἁμαρτίαις, H. E. III. 39) is no argument against the conjecture. Cod. D reads ἁμαρτίᾳ instead of μοχείᾳin John 8:3.306 If so, we are indebted to him for the preservation of a precious fact which at once illustrates in a most striking manner our Saviour’s absolute purity in dealing with sin, and his tender compassion toward the sinner. Papias was an enthusiastic chiliast, and the famous parable of the fertility of the millennium which he puts in the Lord’s mouth and which Irenaeus accepted in good faith, may have been intended as an explanation of the Lord’s word concerning the fruit of the vine which he shall drink new in his Father’s kingdom, Matt. 26:29.13071307    See above, §158, p. 616. Card. Pitra, in the first vol. of his Spicileg. Solesm., communicates a similar fragment, but this is, as the title and opening words intimate, a translation of Irenaeus, not of Papias. The authoress of "The Pupils of St. John." p. 203, remarks on that description of Papias: "Understood literally, this is of course utterly unlike anything we know of our blessed Lord’s unearthly teaching; yet it does sound like what a literal and narrow mind, listening to mere word of mouth narrative, might make of the parable of the Vine, and of the Sower, or of the Grain of Mustard-seed; and we also see how providential and how merciful it was that the real words of our Lord were so early recorded by two eye-witnesses, and by two scholarly men, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, instead of being left to the versions that good but dull-minded believers might make of them."307 His chiliasm is no proof of a Judaizing tendency, for it was the prevailing view in the second century. He also related two miracles, the resurrection of a dead man which took place at the time of Philip (the Evangelist), as he learned from his daughters, and the drinking of poison without harm by Justus Barsabas.

Papias proves the great value which was attached to the oral traditions of the apostles and their disciples in the second century. He stood on the threshold of a new period when the last witnesses of the apostolic age were fast disappearing, and when it seemed to be of the utmost importance to gather the remaining fragments of inspired wisdom which might throw light on the Lord’s teaching, and guard the church against error.

But he is also an important witness to the state of the canon before the middle of the second century. He knew the first two Gospels, and in all probability also the Gospel of John, for he quoted, as Eusebius expressly says, from the first Epistle of John, which is so much like the fourth Gospel in thought and style that they stand or fall as the works of one and the same author.13081308    A mediaeval tradition assigns to Papias an account of the origin, and even a part in the composition, of the Gospel of John as his amanuensis. So a note prefixed to John’s Gospel in a MS. of the ninth century, rediscovered by Pitra and Tischendorf in 1866 in the Vatican library. The note is, in Tischendorf’s opinion, older than Jerome, and is as follows: "Evangelium johannis manifestatum et datum est ecclesiis ab johanne adhuc in corpore constituto, sicut papias nomine hierapolitanus discipulus johannis carus in exotericis [exegeticis], id est in extremis, quinque libras retulit. Discripsit vero evangeliumdictante johanne recte." etc. The last sentence is probably a mistaken translation of the Greek. See Lightfoot in the "Contemp. Rev. ." Oct. 1875, p. 854; Charteris, Canonicity, p. 168. Another testimony is found in a fragment of a Greek commentator Proaemium of the Catena Patrum Graecorum in S. Johannem, ed. by Corderius. Antwerp, 1630, according to which John dictated his Gospel to Papias of Hierapolis. See Papiae Frag. in Gebh. and Harn’s ed. p. 194. This tradition is discredited by the silence of Eusebius, but it shows that in the opinion of the mediaeval church Papias was closely connected with the Gospel of John.308 He is one of the oldest witnesses to the inspiration and credibility of the Apocalypse of John, and commented on a part of it.13091309    Andreas of Caesarea, In Apoc. c. 34, Serm. 12. See v. G. and H. p. 189.309 He made use of the first Epistle of Peter, but is silent as far as we know concerning Paul and Luke. This has been variously explained from accident or ignorance or dislike, but best from the nature of his design to collect only words of the Lord. Hermas and Justin Martyr likewise ignore Paul, and yet knew his writings. That Papias was not hostile to the great apostle may be inferred from his intimacy with Polycarp, who lauds Paul in his Epistle.


The relation of Papias to the Apostle John is still a disputed point. Irenaeus, the oldest witness and himself a pupil of Polycarp, calls Papias Ἰωάννου μὲν άκουστὴς, Πολυκάρπου δὲ ἑταῖρος (Adv. Haer. V. 33, 4). He must evidently mean here the Apostle John. Following him, Jerome and later writers (Maximus Confessor, Andrew of Crete and Anastasius Sinaita) call him a disciple of the Apostle John, and this view has been defended with much learning and acumen by Dr. Zahn (1866), and, independently of him, by Dr. Milligan (on John the Presbyter, in Cowper’s "Journal of Sacred Literature" for Oct., 1867, p. 106 sqq.), on the assumption of the identity of the Apostle John with "Presbyter John;" comp. 2 and 3 John, where the writer calls himself ὁ πρεσβύτερος. Riggenbach (on John the Ap. and John the Presbyter, in the "Jahrbücher für Deutsche Theologie," 1868, pp. 319–334), Hengstenberg, Leimbach, take the same view (also Schaff in History of the Apost. Ch., 1853, p. 421).

On the other hand, Eusebius (H. E. III. 39) infers that Papias distinguishes between John the Apostle and "the Presbyter John" (ὁ πρεσβύτερος Ἰωάννης) so called, and that he was a pupil of the Presbyter only. He bases the distinction on a fragment he quotes from the introduction to the "Explanation of the Lord’s Discourses," where Papias says that he ascertained the primitive traditions: τί Ἀνδρέας ἢ τί Πέτρος εἶπεν [in the past tense], ἢ τί Φίλιππος ἢ τί θωμᾶς ἢ Ἰάκωβος ἢ τί Ἰωάννης [the Apostle] ἢ Ματθαῖος, ἢ τις ἕτερος τῶν τοῦ κυρίου μαθητῶν, ἅ τε Ἀριστίων καὶ ὁ πρεσβύτερος Ἰωάννης, οἱ τοῦ κυρίου [not τῶν ἀποστόλων] μαθηταὶ, λέγουσιν[present tense]. Here two Johns seem to be clearly distinguished; but the Presbyter John, together with an unknown Aristion, is likewise called a disciple of the Lord (not of the Apostles). The distinction is maintained by Steitz, Tischendorf, Keim, Weiffenbach, Lüdemann, Donaldson, Westcott, and Lightfoot. In confirmation of this view, Eusebius states that two graves were shown at Ephesus bearing the name of John (III 39: δύο ἐν Ἐφέσῳ γενέσθαι μνήματα, καὶ ἐκάτερον Ἰωάννου ἐτι νῦν λέγεσθαι). But Jerome, De Vir. ill. c. 9, suggests, that both graves were only memories of the Apostle. Beyond this, nothing whatever is known of this mysterious Presbyter John, and it was a purely critical conjecture of the anti-millennarian Dionysius of Alexandria that he was the author of the Apocalypse (Euseb. VII. 25). The substance of the mediaeval legend of "Prester John" was undoubtedly derived from another source.

In any case, it is certainly possible that Papias, like his friend Polycarp, may have seen and heard the aged apostle who lived to the close of the first or the beginning of the second century. It is therefore unnecessary to charge Irenaeus with an error either of name or memory. It is more likely that Eusebius misunderstood Papias, and is responsible for a fictitious John, who has introduced so much confusion into the question of the authorship of the Johannean Apocalypse.

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