Papias

c.60-c.130. Bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia. Said to be “a man of primitive age, a hearer of John [the apostle], a companion of Polycarp” (Irenaeus). Fragments survive, chiefly in Irenaeus and Eusebius, of the Exposition of Dominical Oracles in five books (c.110), for which he collected unwritten traditions (without setting oral tradition above apostolic writings in principle) from the circles of “the elders [presbyters],” associates of the apostles, including Aristion and “the elder John” in Asia and the daughters of Philip the apostle (or evangelist?) in Hierapolis. Such traditions transmitted historical reminiscence (much-discussed accounts of the origins of the gospels of Mark and Matthew, and of John's gospel activity and martyrdom), miracle stories, noncanonical pericopae (a variant on John 7:53-8:11 found in the Gospel according to the Hebrews by Eusebius and perhaps Papias too), but chiefly beliefs of primitive Judeo-Christianity, including the millenarian enjoyment of a miraculously fruitful earth, the fall of angels commissioned to govern the world, and interpretations of early Genesis in terms of Christ and the church.

Eusebius, despising Papias's millenarianism, disparages his material and intelligence and argues (his Church History here contradicting his earlier Chronicle) that Papias heard only “the elder John,” whom he distinguished from the apostle. Papias's Exposition influenced later writers like Victorinus of Pettau to an extent probably no longer demonstrable.

For texts and translations, see Apostlic Fathers. Further literature in J. Quasten, Patrology 1 (1950), and in ET by W.R. Schoedel (1967).


PAPIAS pā’ pĭ əs (Παπίας). A bishop of the 1st and 2nd cent. Papias was bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia Pacatiana, a town a few m. N of Laodicea and about one hundred m. E of Ephesus. A little later in the 2nd cent., Claudius Apollinaris the apologete was bishop of the see. Papias prob. was born in the decade a.d. 60-70. His writings are the major ground of interest in him, for he said that he made a point of interrogating people who had known the Lord’s disciples. He thought he could profit more “from the utterances of a living and surviving voice” than from books. He wrote an Interpretation of the Sayings of the Lord in five books. Although it was listed in the library catalogue of Stams, a Cistercian monastery in the Tyrol as late as 1341, it has now disappeared. There are only quotations from it and references to it by other writers. Eusebius has the most interesting quotations, but Irenaeus and Andrew of Caesarea (late 6th cent.), among others, also quoted him directly.

The Interpretation can be dated about 120-130. It states that “Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not indeed in order, of the things said or done by the Lord.” Of Matthew, Papias said that he “collected the sayings in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as he was able” (Euseb. Hist. III. xxxix. 15, 16). Irenaeus quoted Papias as saying that the Apostle John related what Christ taught, that after the resurrection of the righteous there would be an earthly kingdom when vines and wheat would be more prolific than ever, and animals would be peaceable and obedient to man (Iren. Her., V. xxxiii. 3).

In this connection Irenaeus described Papias as a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp (ibid., V. xxxiii, 4). Papias spoke of the Apostle John whom he described as a presbyter, and two lines below referred again to “the presbyter John” (Euseb. Hist. III, xxxix, 4). Eusebius interpreted this to be a reference to two separate “Johns” and he frequently has found support among modern scholars.

Eusebius had a low opinion of Papias’ mind and called him one of little intelligence (Hist. III, xxxix, 13). The connection indicates that this may be due, in part at least, to their divergent views on the millennial period. It is true, however, that Papias could have written more lucidly.

Bibliography

J. A. Kleist, Ancient Christian Writers, vol. 6 (1948). See also Apostolic Fathers.