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Papias of Hierapolis

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Papias of Hierapolis

Bishop of Hierapolis, Apostolic Father
Died after c. AD 100
Honored in
Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Catholic Churches
Feast February 22[1]

Papias (Greek: Παπίας) was an Apostolic Father, Bishop of Hierapolis (modern Pamukkale, Turkey), and author (c. 100) of the Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord (Greek: Λογίων Κυριακῶν Ἐξήγησις) in five books.

This work, which is lost apart from brief excerpts in later writings, is an important early source on Christian oral tradition and especially on the origins of the canonical Gospels.


Very little is known of Papias apart from what can be inferred from his own writings. He is described as "an ancient man who was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp" by Polycarp's disciple Irenaeus (c. 180).[2]

Eusebius adds that Papias was Bishop of Hierapolis around the time of Ignatius of Antioch.[3] In this office Papias was presumably succeeded by Abercius of Hierapolis.

The name Papias was very common in the region, suggesting that he was probably a native of the area.[4]


The work of Papias is dated by most modern scholars to about 95–120.[5][6]

Later dates were once argued from two references that now appear to be mistaken. One dating Papias' death to around the death of Polycarp in 164 is actually a mistake for Papylas. Another unreliable source in which Papias is said to refer to the reign of Hadrian (117–138) seems to have resulted from confusion between Papias and Quadratus.

Eusebius refers to Papias only in his third book, and thus seems to date him before the opening of his fourth book in 109. Papias himself knows several New Testament books, whose dates are themselves controversial, and was informed by John the Evangelist, the daughters of Philip and many "elders" who had themselves heard the Twelve Apostles. He is also called a companion of the long-lived Polycarp (51–155). For all these reasons, Papias is thought to have written around the turn of the 2nd century.


Papias describes his way of gathering information in his preface:[7]

Papias, then, inquired of travelers passing through Hierapolis what the surviving disciples of Jesus and the elders—those who had personally known the Twelve Apostles—were saying. One of these disciples was Aristion, probably bishop of nearby Smyrna,[8] and another was John the Elder, usually identified (despite Eusebius' protest) with John the Evangelist,[9] residing in nearby Ephesus, of whom Papias was a hearer;[2] Papias frequently cited both.[10] From the daughters of Philip, who settled in Hierapolis, Papias learned still other traditions.[11] All this supplemented what Papias could learn from the written Gospels also available to him, and some years after collecting his information, Papias seems to have finally composed his work.


Despite indications that the work of Papias was still extant in the late Middle Ages,[12] the full text is now lost. Extracts, however, appear in a number of other writings, some of which cite a book number. MacDonald proposes the following tentative reconstruction of the five books, following a presumed Matthaean order.[13]

  1. Preface and John's Preaching
    • preface
    • Gospel origins
    • those called children (Book 1)
  2. Jesus in Galilee
    • the sinful woman
    • Paradise and the Church
    • the deaths of James and John (Book 2)
  3. Jesus in Jerusalem
    • the Millennium
  4. The Passion
    • agricultural bounty in the Kingdom (Book 4)
    • the death of Judas (Book 4)
    • the fall of the angels
  5. After the Resurrection
    • Barsabbas drinking poison
    • the raising of Manaem's mother

Gospel origins

Pasqualotto, St. Mark writes his Gospel at the dictation of St. Peter, 17th century.

Papias provides the earliest extant account of who wrote the Gospels. Eusebius preserves two verbatim excerpts from Papias on the origins of the Gospels, one concerning Mark and then another concerning Matthew.[14]

On Mark, Papias cites John the Elder:

The excerpt regarding Matthew says only:

How to interpret these quotations from Papias has long been a matter of controversy, as the original context for each is missing and the Greek is in several respects ambiguous and seems to employ technical rhetorical terminology. For one thing, it is not even explicit that the writings by Mark and Matthew are the canonical Gospels bearing those names.

The word logia (λόγια)—which also appears in the title of Papias' work—is itself problematic. In non-Christian contexts, the usual meaning was oracles, but since the 19th century it has been interpreted as sayings, which sparked numerous theories about a lost "Sayings Gospel", now called Q, resembling the Gospel of Thomas.[15] But the parallelism implies a meaning of things said or done, which suits the canonical Gospels well.[16][17]

The apparent claim (Aramaic primacy) that Matthew wrote in Hebrew—which in Greek could refer to either Hebrew or Aramaic[18]—is echoed by many other ancient authorities.[19] Modern scholars have proposed numerous explanations for this assertion, in light of the prevalent view that canonical Matthew was composed in Greek and not translated from Semitic.[17][20] One theory is that Matthew himself produced firstly a Semitic work and secondly a recension of that work in Greek. Another is that others translated Matthew into Greek rather freely. Another is that Papias simply means "Ἑβραίδι διαλέκτῳ" as a Hebrew style of Greek. Another is that Papias refers to a distinct work now lost, perhaps a sayings collection like Q or the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews. Yet another is that Papias was simply mistaken.

As for Mark, the difficulty has been in understanding the relationship described between Mark and Peter—whether Peter recalled from memory or Mark recalled Peter's preaching, and whether Mark translated this preaching into Greek or Latin or merely expounded on it, and if the former, publicly or just when composing the Gospel; modern scholars have explored a range of possibilities.[21] Eusebius, after quoting Papias, goes on to say that Papias also cited 1 Peter,[22][23] where Peter speaks of "my son Mark",[24] as corroboration. Within the 2nd century, this relation of Peter to Mark's Gospel is alluded to by Justin[25] and expanded on by Clement of Alexandria.[26]

We do not know what else Papias said about these or the other Gospels—he certainly treated John[27]—but some see Papias as the likely unattributed source of at least two later accounts of the Gospel origins. Bauckham argues that the Muratorian Canon (c. 170) has drawn from Papias; the extant fragment, however, preserves only a few final words on Mark and then speaks about Luke and John.[28] Hill argues that Eusebius' earlier account of the origins of the four Gospels[29] is also drawn from Papias.[27][30]


Eusebius concludes from the writings of Papias that he was a chiliast, understanding the Millennium as a literal period in which Christ will reign on Earth, and chastises Papias for his literal interpretation of figurative passages, calling him a man of "little intelligence" whose misunderstanding misled Irenaeus and others.[31]

Irenaeus indeed quotes the fourth book of Papias for an otherwise-unknown saying of Jesus, recounted by John the Evangelist, which Eusebius doubtless has in mind:[32][33]

Parallels have often been noted between this account and Jewish texts of the period such as 2 Baruch.[34][35]

On the other hand, Papias is elsewhere said to have understood mystically the Hexaemeron (six days of Creation) as referring to Christ and the Church.[36]

Pericope Adulterae

Antoine Caron, Christ and the Adultress, 16th century

Eusebius concludes his account of Papias by saying that he relates "another account about a woman who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is found in the Gospel according to the Hebrews".[22] Agapius of Hierapolis (10th century) offers a fuller summary of what Papias said here, calling the woman an adulteress.[37] The parallel is clear to the famous Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53–8:11), a problematic passage absent or relocated in many ancient Gospel manuscripts. The remarkable fact is that the story is known in some form to such an ancient witness as Papias.

What is less clear is to what extent Eusebius and Agapius are reporting the words of Papias versus the form of the pericope known to them from elsewhere.[38] A wide range of versions have come down to us, in fact.[39] Since the passage in John is virtually unknown to the Greek patristic tradition;[40] Eusebius has cited the only parallel he recognized, from the now-lost Gospel according to the Hebrews, which may be the version quoted by Didymus the Blind.[41]

The nearest agreement with "many sins" actually occurs in the Johannine text of Armenian codex Matenadaran 2374 (formerly Ečmiadzin 229); this codex is also remarkable for ascribing the longer ending of Mark to "Ariston the Elder", which is often seen as somehow connected with Papias.[42][43]

Death of Judas

According to a scholium attributed to Apollinaris of Laodicea, Papias also related a tale on the grotesque fate of Judas Iscariot:[44]

Death of John

Two late sources cite the second book of Papias as recording that John and his brother James were killed by the Jews.[47] It seems that Papias presented this as fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus on the martyrdom of these two brothers.[48][49] This is consistent with a tradition attested in several ancient martyrologies.[50]


Papias relates, on the authority of the daughters of Philip, an event concerning Justus Barsabbas, who according to Acts was one of two candidates proposed to join the Twelve Apostles.[51] The summary in Eusebius tells us that he "drank a deadly poison and suffered no harm,"[11] while Philip of Side recounts that he "drank snake venom in the name of Christ when put to the test by unbelievers and was protected from all harm."[52] Another account accompanies this one, of the resurrection of the mother of a certain Manaem.

This account is often seen as connected to a verse from the longer ending of Mark: "They will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them."[53] It was known in antiquity, however, that snake venom is not necessarily harmful when ingested.[54]


Eusebius, despite his own views on Papias, knew that Irenaeus believed Papias to be a reliable witness to original apostolic traditions.[55] Later scholars have been questioning of Papias' reliability. Much discussion of Papias's comments about the Gospel of Mark and Gospel of Matthew is concerned with assessing Papias' reliability as evidence for the origins of these Gospels or with emphasizing the apologetic character of the Gospels in order to discredit their reliability.[56] Casey argued that Papias was indeed reliable, but reliable about a Hebrew collection of sayings by the Apostle Matthew which had nothing to do with the Greek Gospel of Matthew, either incorrectly ascribed to Matthew or written by another Matthias.[57] Concerning the Gospel of Mark, many modern scholars have dismissed Papias' reliability regarding this Gospel due to the purpose of Papias in vindicating the apostolicity of Mark's Gospel.[58][59][60]

See also


  1. ^ A chreia was a brief, useful ("χρεία" means useful) anecdote about a particular character. That is, a chreia was shorter than a narration—often as short as a single sentence—but unlike a maxim, it was attributed to a character. Usually it conformed to one of a few patterns, the most common being "On seeing..." (ιδών or cum vidisset), "On being asked..." (ἐρωτηθείς or interrogatus), and "He said..." (ἔφη or dixit).
  2. ^ Eusebius, "History of the Church" 3.39.14-17, c. 325 CE, Greek text 16: "ταῦτα μὲν οὖν ἱστόρηται τῷ Παπίᾳ περὶ τοῦ Μάρκου· περὶ δὲ τοῦ Ματθαῖου ταῦτ’ εἴρηται· Ματθαῖος μὲν οὖν Ἑβραΐδι διαλέκτῳ τὰ λόγια συνετάξατο, ἡρμήνευσεν δ’ αὐτὰ ὡς ἧν δυνατὸς ἕκαστος. Various English translations published, standard reference translation by Philip Schaff at CCEL: "[C]oncerning Matthew he [Papias] writes as follows: 'So then(963) Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able.'(964)" (Online version includes footnotes 963 and 964 by Schaff).


  1. ^ Butler, Alban; Burns, Paul, eds. (1998). Butler's Lives of the Saints 2. p. 220.  
  2. ^ a b Irenaeus, 5.33Adv. Haer..4. The original Greek is preserved apud Eusebius, 3.39Hist. Eccl..1.
  3. ^ Eusebius, 3.36Hist. Eccl..2.
  4. ^ Huttner, Ulrich (2013). Early Christianity in the Lycus Valley. p. 216.  
  5. ^ Norelli, Enrico (2005). Papia di Hierapolis, Esposizione degli Oracoli del Signore: I frammenti. pp. 38–54.  
  6. ^ Yarbrough, Robert W. (Jun 1983). "The Date of Papias: A Reassessment". Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 26 (2): 181–191. 
  7. ^ Eusebius, 3.39Hist. Eccl..3–4. Translation from  
  8. ^ 7.46Apostolic Constitutions.8.
  9. ^  
  10. ^ Eusebius, 3.39Hist. Eccl..7, 14.
  11. ^ a b Eusebius, 3.39Hist. Eccl..9.
  12. ^ Harnack, Adolf (1893). Geschichte der Altchristlichen Litteratur bis Eusebius 1. p. 69.  See translation by Stephen C. Carlson.
  13. ^ MacDonald, Dennis R. (2012). Two Shipwrecked Gospels: The Logoi of Jesus and Papias’s Exposition of Logia about the Lord. pp. 9–42.  
  14. ^ Eusebius, 3.39Hist. Eccl..15–16. Translations from Bauckham (2006) p. 203.
  15. ^ Lührmann, Dieter (1995). "Q: Sayings of Jesus or Logia?". In Piper, Ronald Allen. The Gospel Behind the Gospels: Current Studies on Q. pp. 97–116.  
  16. ^ Bauckham (2006), pp. 214 & 225.
  17. ^ a b Thomas, Robert L.; Farnell, F. David (1998). "The Synoptic Gospels in the Ancient Church". In Thomas, Robert L.; Farnell, F. David. The Jesus Crisis: The Inroads of Historical Criticism Into Evangelical Scholarship. pp. 39–46.  
  18. ^ Bauckham (2006), p. 223.
  19. ^ E.g., Irenaeus, 3.1.1Adv. Haer.; Ephrem, App. I, 1Comm. in Diatess. Tatiani; Eusebius, 5.10Hist. Eccl..3.
  20. ^  
  21. ^ Bauckham (2006), pp. 205–217.
  22. ^ a b Eusebius, 3.39Hist. Eccl..16.
  23. ^ Eusebius, 2.15Hist. Eccl..2.
  24. ^ 1 Pet 5:13.
  25. ^ Justin Martyr, 106.3Dial..
  26. ^ Clement of Alexandria, Hypotyposeis 8, apud Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 2.15.1–2, 6.14.5–7; Clement of Alexandria, Adumbr. in Ep. can. in 1 Pet. 5:13, apud Cassiodorus, In Epistola Petri Prima Catholica 1.3.
  27. ^ a b Hill, Charles E. (1998). "What Papias Said about John (and Luke): A ‘New’ Papian Fragment". Journal of Theological Studies 49 (2): 582–629.  
  28. ^ Bauckham (2006), pp. 425–433.
  29. ^ Eusebius, 3.24Hist. Eccl..5–13.
  30. ^ Hill, Charles E. (2010). "‘The Orthodox Gospel’: The Reception of John in the Great Church Prior to Irenaeus". In Rasimus, Tuomas. The Legacy of John: Second-Century Reception of the Fourth Gospel. Supplements to Novum Testamentum 132. pp. 285–294.  
  31. ^ Eusebius, 3.39Hist. Eccl..11–13.
  32. ^ Irenaeus, 5.33Adv. Haer..3–4.
  33. ^ Holmes, Michael W. (2006). The Apostolic Fathers in English. p. 315 (Fragment 14).   Another translation is given online by T. C. Schmidt, and another translation by Ben C. Smith.
  34. ^ Cf. 2 Baruch 29:5: The earth also shall yield its fruit ten-thousandfold and on each vine there shall be a thousand branches.…
  35. ^ Norelli (2005), pp. 176–203.
  36. ^ Holmes (2006), p. 314 (Fragments 12–13). Cf. Schmidt's translation, Smith's translation.
  37. ^ Holmes (2006), p. 318 (Fragment 23). Cf. Schmidt's translation.
  38. ^ Holmes (2006), pp. 303–305.
  39. ^ Petersen, William L. (1997). "Ουδε εγω σε [κατα]κρινω: John 8:11, the Protevangelium Iacobi and the History of the Pericope Adulterae". In Petersen, William L.; Vos, Johan S.; De Jonge, Henk J. Sayings of Jesus: Canonical and Non-Canonical: Essays in Honour of Tjitze Baarda. Supplements to Novum Testamentum 89. pp. 191–221.  
  40. ^  
  41. ^ MacDonald (2012), pp. 18–22.
  42. ^  
  43. ^ Kelhoffer, James A. (2000). Miracle and Mission: The Authentication of Missionaries and Their Message in the Longer Ending of Mark. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 2/112. pp. 20–24.  
  44. ^ Holmes (2006), p. 316 (Fragment 18). Cf. Schmidt's translation, Smith's translation.
  45. ^ Matt 27:5.
  46. ^ Acts 1:18.
  47. ^ Holmes (2006), p. 312 (Fragments 5–6). For Philip of Side, cf. Schmidt's translation, Smith's translation; for George Hamartolus, cf. Schmidt's translation, Smith's translation.
  48. ^ Mk 10:35–40; Mt 20:20–23.
  49. ^ MacDonald (2012), pp. 23–24.
  50. ^  
  51. ^ Acts 1:21–26.
  52. ^ Holmes (2006), p. 312 (Fragment 5). Cf. Schmidt's translation, Smith's translation.
  53. ^ Mark 16:18.
  54. ^ Kelhoffer (2000), pp. 433–442.
  55. ^ Orchard, Bernard; Riley, Harold (1987). The Order of the Synoptics: Why Three Synoptic Gospels?. p. 172.   "…has three divisions: (1) Sections l–8a are concerned with Eusebius's attempt to use Papias's preface to his five books of… Thirdly, Eusebius knew that Irenaeus believed Papias to be a reliable witness to the original apostolic tradition."
  56. ^   "Much discussion of Papias's comments about Mark and Matthew, preoccupied either with showing their reliability as evidence for the origins of these Gospels or with emphasizing their apologetic character in order to discredit their reliability…."
  57. ^   "It was later Church Fathers who confused Matthew's collections of sayings of Jesus with our Greek Gospel of Matthew. I suggest that a second source of the confusion lay with the real author of this Gospel. One possibility is that he was also called Matthias or Matthew. These were common enough Jewish names, and different forms were similar enough."
  58. ^ Park, Yoon-Man (2009). Mark's Memory Resources and the Controversy Stories (Mark 2:1-3:6): An Application of the Frame Theory of Cognitive Science to the Markan Oral-Aural Narrative. p. 50.   "Before using this source as evidence it is necessary to discuss the much debated issue of the reliability of Papias's testimony. Many modern scholars have dismissed the reliability of the tradition from Papias primarily because they believe it was formulated to vindicate the apostolicity of Mark's Gospel. Yet what is to be noted is that Papias's claim to apostolicity for the second Gospel is indirectly made through Peter… of Peter did, instead of fabricating the relationship between Mark and Peter?"
  59. ^ Black, C. Clifton (1994). Mark: Images of an Apostolic Interpreter. p. 86.   "quoted Papias and took him so seriously, if his theology was such an embarrassment. The answer may be that Papias… None of this, naturally, is tantamount to an assessment of Papias's reliability, on which we are not yet prepared to pass."
  60. ^   "The reason this matters for our purposes here is that one of the few surviving quotations from Papias's work provides a reference to…. But unfortunately, there are problems with taking Papias's statement at face value and assuming that in Mark's Gospel we have a historically reliable account of the activities of Peter. To begin with, some elements of Papias's statement simply aren't plausible."

External links

  • – Complete Fragments of Papias with new discoveries listed
  • Biblical Audio – 2012 Papias translation and audio version (based on fragments)
  • Christian Classics Etheral Liberary – Fragments of Papias
  • Early Christian Writings – Fragments of Papias
  • Patristics In English Project – Fragments of Papias
  • Catholic Encyclopedia – St. Papias (including an explanation of why logia is not to be rendered as "sayings", but as "oracles")
  • Hieropolis/Pamukkale
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