Greek church leader of the
post-apostolic period whose Exegeses of the Logia of the Lord, a
5 volume commentary on the sayings of Jesus, provided the earliest record of
information about the composition of the gospels. Papias' work is among the
many texts known to ancient Christians that are now lost. But from the mid-2nd
to the mid-4th c. CE it was used
by church leaders from Palestine to Gaul. Irenaeus
of Lyons (ca. 180 CE)
& Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 320
cite Papias, although Eusebius expressed these reservations about the caliber
of Papias' intellect:
I guess he got these ideas from a
misinterpretation of the apostolic accounts. For he did not understand what
they said mystically & in figurative language. For he obviously was a
man of very little intelligence, as one can tell judging from his sayings.
Nevertheless, it was due to him that so many churchmen after him adopted
a similar opinion, basing their position on the fact that he was a man
of the earliest era. (Eccles. Hist. 3.39.12-13).
About 130 CE Papias
of Hierapolis in SE Asia Minor, just a few miles NE of Colossae &
Laodicea. Other than that, little is known about the personal history of the
man who is responsible for establishing traditions that
Matthew was written first;
Mark records the testimony
Papias mentioned hearing a
John. Irenaeus, who countered gnostic
speculations by claiming an unbroken chain of tradition from the apostles to
the bishops, took this to mean that this bishop (Papias) was personally
familiar with one of the most prominent apostles (John, son of Zebedee):
And Papias, who was John's auditor &
Polycarp's companion, a man of the earliest era, also attests these things
in writing the fourth of his books. For there are five books composed by him
(Against Heresies 5.33.4).
Eusebius (Eccles. Hist. 3.39.2),
however, corrected this impression by pointing out that
- Papias mentions two Johns: one an
apostle, the other an elder (presbyter); and
- Papias claimed his traditions were derived
from the elders (not apostles).
Papias was by his own admission
an avid collector of oral opinions who did not put much value on book
But I won't hesitate to put down for your
benefit too all that I carefully learned and carefully recalled from the
elders, guaranteeing its truth... And if anyone happened to come who
had actually been a follower of the elders, I would inquire about the
sayings of the elders. What did Andrew or Peter say? What about Philip
or Thomas or James? What about John or Matthew or any of the other disciples
of the Lord? And the things that Aristion and John the elder say,
who were also disciples of the Lord? For I thought that things from
books did not benefit me as much as the sayings of a living & abiding
voice (Hist. Eccles. 3.39.3-4).
Clearly, Papias was no scholar.
For he based his opinions on hearsay rather than on the comparison of texts.
Moreover, Papias himself did not claim to be a disciple of "the
elders," but rather a reporter who sought interviews with those who were
their followers. Therefore, Papias' testimony is at best two steps removed
from the apostolic generation, & even more from Jesus himself. This needs
to be kept in mind in evaluating his comments about the composition of the
Papias, it should be noted,
reported his sidelights on Mark first:
[John?] the elder also used to say this: Mark
had been the interpreter (or translator) for Peter. And he wrote down as
much as (Peter) told of the sayings & deeds of Christ --- accurately,
but not in order. For he was not a hearer or follower of the Lord but, as I
said, of Peter, who adapted his teaching as needed and did not arrange the
sayings of the Lord in an orderly manner. And so, Mark made no mistake in
writing some things down as he recalled them. For he had a single concern:
to omit nothing of what he heard & to introduce no false statement (Eccles.
After this detailed emphasis on
Mark's care in preserving Peter's testimony unaltered, Papias'
comment on the composition of Matthew is surprisingly brief and vague:
So, then, Matthew compiled the sayings (logia)
of the Lord in the Hebrew language. But everyone interpreted (or translated)
them as he could (Eccles. Hist. 3.38.16).
testimony expressly excludes Mark from those who interpreted this "Hebrew"
text of Matthew by portraying him as the interpreter who transcribed the oral
teaching of Peter. Therefore, Papias does not provide a
basis for the views of Augustine & later western
Christians who think that Mark edited Matthew. Nor does Papias give any
information about the relative sequence of the canonical Greek
versions of Matthew & Mark.
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