Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Papias, bp. of Hierapolis
Papias (1), bp. of Hierapolis in Phrygia (Eus. H. E. iii. 36) in the first half of 2nd cent. Lightfoot says (Coloss. p. 48), "Papias, or (as it is very frequently written in inscriptions) Pappias, is a common Phrygian name. It is found several times at Hierapolis, not only in inscriptions (Boeckh, 3930, 3912 A, add.), but even on coins (Mionnet, iv. p. 301). This is explained by the fact that it was an epithet of the Hierapolitan Zeus (Boeckh, 3912 A, Παπίᾳ Διῒ σωτῆρι)." The date of Papias used to be regarded as determined by a notice in the Paschal Chronicle, which was thought to record his martyrdom at Pergamus under a.d. 163. But we have no ground for asserting that Papias lived so late as 163, and we shall see reason for at least placing his literary activity considerably earlier in the century.
His name is famous as the writer of a treatise in five books called Expositions of Oracles of the Lord (Λογίων Κυριακῶν ἐξηγήσεις), which title we shall discuss presently. The object of the book seems to have been to throw light on the Gospel history, especially by the help of oral traditions which Papias had collected from those who had met members of the apostolic circle. That Papias lived when it was still possible to meet such persons has given great importance to his testimony, though only some very few fragments of his work remain. Every word of these fragments has been rigidly scrutinized, and, what is less reasonable where so little is known, arguments have been built on the silence of Papias about sundry matters which it is supposed he ought to have mentioned and assumed that he did not. We give at length the first and most important of the fragments, a portion of the preface preserved by Eusebius (iii. 39), from which we can infer the object of the work and the resources which Papias claimed to have available. "And I will not scruple also to give for thee a place along with my interpretations to whatsoever at any time I well learned from the elders and well stored up in memory, guaranteeing its truth. For I did not, like the generality, take pleasure in those who have much to say, but in those who teach the truth; nor in those who relate their strange commandments, but in those who record such as were given from the Lord to the Faith and come from the Truth itself. And if ever any one came who had been a follower of the elders, I would inquire as to the discourses of the elders, what was said by Andrew, or what by Peter, or what by Philip, or what by Thomas or James, or what by John or Matthew or any other of the disciples of the Lord; and the things which Aristion and the elder John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that I could get so much profit from the contents of books as from the utterances of a living and abiding voice."
The singular "for thee" in the opening words implies that the work of Papias was inscribed to some individual. The first sentence of the extract had evidently followed one in which the writer had spoken of the "interpretations" which appear to have been the main subject of his treatise, and for joining his traditions with which he conceives an apology necessary. Thus we see that Papias is not making a first attempt to write the life of our Lord or a history of the apostles, but assumes the previous existence of a written record. Papias enumerates the ultimate sources of his traditions in two classes: Andrew, Peter, and others, of whom he speaks in the past tense; Aristion and John the Elder, of whom he speaks in the present. As the passage is generally understood, Papias only claims a second-hand knowledge of what these had related, but had inquired from any who had conferred with elders, what Andrew, Peter, etc., had said, and what John and Aristion were saying; the last two being the only ones then surviving. But considering that there is a change of pronouns, we are disposed to think that there is an anacoluthon, and that his meaning, however ill expressed, was that he learned, by inquiry from others, things that Andrew, Peter, and others had said, and also stored up in his memory things which Aristion and John said in his own hearing. Eusebius certainly understands Papias to claim to have been a hearer of this John and Aristion. The word "elders" is ordinarily used of men of a former generation, and would be most naturally understood here of men of the first generation of Christians; if it were not that in the second clause the title seems to be refused to Aristion, who is nevertheless described as a disciple (by which we must understand a personal disciple) of our Lord; and as those mentioned in the first group are all apostles, the word "elder," as Papias used it, may have included, besides antiquity, the idea of official dignity. As to whether the John mentioned with Aristion is different from John the apostle previously mentioned, see JOHANNES (444) PRESBYTER.
The fragment quoted enables us to fix within certain limits the date of Papias. He is evidently separated by a whole generation from the apostolic age; he describes himself as living when it was not exceptional to meet persons who had. been hearers of the apostles, and (if we understand him rightly) he had met two who professed to have actually seen our Lord Himself. Eusebius tells that Philip the apostle (some suppose that he ought to have said Philip the deacon) came to reside at Hierapolis with his daughters; and that Papias, on the authority of these daughters, tells a story of Philip raising a man from the dead. Eusebius certainly understood Papias to describe himself as contemporary with those daughters and as having heard the story from them. If these were they whom St. Luke describes as prophesying at Caesarea in 58, and if they were young women then, they might have been still alive at Hierapolis between 100 and 110. But as Papias speaks of his inquiries in the past tense, a considerable time had probably elapsed before he published the results. On the whole, we shall not be far wrong in dating the work c. 130.
Papias evidently lived after the rise of Gnosticism and was not unaffected by the controversies occasioned by it. Strong asceticism was a feature of some of the earliest Gnostic sects; and their commandments, "Touch not, taste not, handle not," may well have been "the strange commandments" to which Papias refers. Lightfoot is probably right in thinking that the sarcasm in the phrase "those who have so very much to say" may have been aimed at the work on the Gospel by Basilides in 24 books, and some similar productions of the Gnostic schools of which the later book Pistis Sophia is a sample.
Of the traditions recorded by Papias, what has given rise to most discussion and has been the foundation of most theories is what he relates about the Gospels of SS. Matthew and Mark, which he is the first to mention by name. Concerning Mark he says, "This also the elder [John] said: Mark having become the interpreter of Peter wrote accurately everything that he remembered of the things that were either said or done by Christ; but however not in order. For he neither heard the Lord nor had been a follower of His; but afterwards, as I said, was a follower of Peter, who framed his teaching according to the needs [of his hearers], but not with the design of giving a connected account of the Lord's discourses [or oracles]. Thus Mark committed no error in thus writing down some things as he remembered them. For he took heed to one thing: not to omit any of the things he had heard, or to set down anything falsely therein." Concerning Matthew, all that remains of what Papias says is, "So then Matthew composed the oracles in Hebrew, and every one interpreted them as he could." For a long time no one doubted that Papias here spoke of our Gospels of SS. Matthew and Mark; and mainly on the authority of these passages was founded the general belief of the Fathers, that St. Matthew's Gospel had been originally written in Hebrew, and St. Mark's founded on the teaching of Peter. But some last-century critics contended that our present Gospels do not answer the descriptions given by Papias. There is a striking resemblance between the two as we have them at present; but Papias's description, it is said, would lead us to think of them as very different. St. Matthew's Gospel, according to Papias, was a Hebrew book, containing an account only of our Lord's discourses; for so Schleiermacher translates τὰ λόγια, which we have rendered "oracles." St. Mark, on the other hand, wrote in Greek and recorded the acts as well as the words of Christ. Again, St. Mark's Gospel, which in its present state has an arrangement as orderly as St. Matthew's, was, according to Papias, not written in order. The conclusion which has been drawn is, that Papias's testimony relates not to our Gospels of SS. Matthew and Mark, but to their unknown originals; and accordingly many constantly speak of "the original Matthew," the "Ur-Marcus," though there is no particle of evidence beyond what may be extracted from this passage of Papias that there ever was any Gospel by SS. Matthew or Mark different from those we have. Renan even undertakes to give an account of the process by which the two very distinct works known to Papias, St. Matthew's collection of discourses, and St. Mark's collection of anecdotes, came into their present similar forms. In the early times, every possessor of anything that purported to be a record of our Lord desired to have the story complete; and would write into the margin of his book matter he met elsewhere, and so the book of St. Mark's anecdotes was enriched by a number of traits from St. Matthew's "discourses" and vice versa.
If this theory were true, we should expect to find in early times a multitude of gospels differing in their order and selection of facts. Why we should have now exactly four versions of the story is hard to explain on this hypothesis. We should expect that, by such mutual assimilation, all would in the end have been reduced to a single gospel. The solitary fact to which Renan appeals in support of his theory in reality refutes it—the fact, i.e., that the pericope of the adulteress (John vii. 53–viii. 11) is absent from some MSS. and differently placed in others. Such an instance is so unusual that critics have generally inferred that this pericope cannot be a genuine part of St. John's Gospel; but if Renan's theory were true, the phenomena present in a small degree in this case ought to
be seen in a multitude of cases. There ought to be many parables and miracles of which we should be uncertain whether they were common to all the evangelists or special to one, and what place in that one they should occupy. Further, according to Renan's hypothesis, St. Mark's design was more comprehensive than St. Matthew's. St. Matthew only related our Lord's discourses; St. Mark, the "things said or done by Christ," i.e. both discourses and anecdotes. St. Mark's Gospel would thus differ from St. Matthew's by excess and St. Matthew's read like an abridgment of St. Mark's. Exactly the opposite is the case.
We count it a mere blunder to translate λόγια "discourses" as if it were the same as λόγους. In N.T. (Acts vii. 38; Rom. iii. 2; Heb. v. 12; I. Pet. iv. 11) the word has its classical meaning, "oracles," and is applied to the inspired utterances of God in O.T. Nor is there reason to think that when St. Paul, e.g., says that to the Jews were committed the oracles of God, he confined this epithet to those parts of O.T. which contained divine sayings and refused it to those narrative parts from which he so often drew lessons (Rom. iv. 3; I. Cor. x. 1, xi. 8; Gal. iv. 21). Philo quotes as a λόγιον the narrative in Gen. iv. 15, "The Lord set a mark upon Cain," etc., and the words (Deut. x.), "The Lord God is his inheritance." Similarly the Apostolic Fathers. In Clement (I. Cor. 53) τὰ λόγια τοῦ θεοῦ is used as equivalent to τὰς ἱερὰς γραφὰς. (See also c. 19, Polyc. ad Phil. 7.) As Papias's younger contemporary Justin Martyr tells us that the reading of the Gospels had in his time become part of Christian public worship, we may safely pronounce the silent substitution of one Gospel for another a thing inconceivable; and we conclude that, as we learn from Justin that the Gospels had been set on a level with the O.T. in the public reading of the church, so we know from Papias that the ordinary name τὰ λόγια for the O.T. books had in Christian use been extended to the Gospels which were called τὰ κυριακὰ λόγια, the "oracles of our Lord." There is no reason to imagine the work of Papias limited to an exposition of our Lord's discourses; we translate therefore its title Κυριακῶν λογίων ἐξηγήσεις, "Expositions of the Gospels."
The manner in which Papias speaks of St. Mark's Gospel quite agrees with the inspired authority, which the title, as we understand it, implies. Three times in this short fragment he attests St. Mark's perfect accuracy. "Mark wrote down accurately everything that he remembered." "Mark committed no error." "He made it his rule not to omit anything he had heard or to set down any false statement therein." Yet, for some reason, Papias was dissatisfied with St. Mark's arrangement and thought it necessary to apologize for it. No account of the passage is satisfactory which does not explain why, if Papias reverenced St. Mark so much, he was dissatisfied with his order. Here the hypothesis breaks down at once, that Papias only possessed two documents unlike in kind, the one a collection of discourses, the other of anecdotes. Respecting St Mark's accuracy as he did Papias would certainly have accepted his order unless he had some other document to which, in this respect, he attached more value, going over the same ground as St. Mark's but in a different order. If, then, Papias held that St. Mark's Gospel was not written in the right order, what, in his opinion, was the right order? Strauss considers and rejects three answers to this question, as being all irreconcilable at least with the supposition that the Gospel known to Papias as St. Mark's was that which we receive under the name: (1) that the right order was St. John's; (2) that it was St. Matthew's; (3) that Papias meant to deny to St. Mark the merit, not only of the right order, but of any orderly arrangement at all. Lightfoot defended (1) with great ability (Contemp. Rev. Oct. 1875, p. 848). But there remains another answer which we believe the true one—viz. that Papias regarded St. Luke's as the right order. The reason this solution has been generally set aside is that St. Luke's Gospel is not mentioned in any extant fragments of Papias, from which it has been assumed that he was unacquainted with Luke's writings. If we had the whole work of Papias the argument from his silence might be reasonable; but we have no right to assume his silence merely because Eusebius included no statement about St. Luke in the few brief extracts from Papias which he gives. Lightfoot has shewn (Coloss. p. 52) that Eusebius is not wont without some special reason to copy references made by his predecessors to undisputed books of the Canon. Hilgenfeld finds in the preface of Papias echoes of the preface to St. Luke's Gospel which induce him to believe that Papias knew that gospel. To us this argument does not carry conviction, but there is every appearance that Papias was acquainted with the Acts. In one fragment he mentions Justus Barsabas; in another he gives an account of the death of Judas Iscariot which seems plainly intended to reconcile the story in St. Matthew with that in the Acts. One extant fragment appears to have been part of a comment on our Lord's words preserved by St. Luke, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven."
But if Papias knew St. Luke's Gospel, his language with respect to St. Mark's is at once explained. St. Luke's preface declares his intention to write in order, γραψαὶ καθεξῆς; but his order is neither St. Mark's nor St. Matthew's. On this difference we conceive Papias undertook to throw light by his traditional anecdotes. His account is that Mark was but the interpreter of Peter, whose teaching he accurately reported; that Peter had not undertaken at any time to give an orderly account of our Lord's words and deeds, but had merely related some of them from time to time as the immediate needs suggested; that Mark therefore faithfully reported what he had heard, and if his order was not always accurate it was because it had been no part of his plan to aim at accuracy in this respect. With regard to St. Matthew's Gospel, his solution seems to be that the church had not then the Gospel as St. Matthew had written it; that the Greek Matthew was but an unauthorized translation from a Hebrew original which individuals had translated, each for himself as he could. Thus, so far from it being
true that Papias did not use our present Gospels, we believe that he was the first to harmonize them, and to proclaim the principle that no apparent disagreement between them affects their substantial truth. Remembering the solicitude Papias here displays to clear the Gospels from all suspicion of error, and the recognition of inspired authority implied in the title λόγια, we cannot admit the inference which has been drawn from the last sentence of the fragment, that Papias attached little value to the Gospels as compared with the viva voce traditions he could himself attest; and we endorse Lightfoot's explanation, that it was the Gnostic apocryphal writings which Papias found useless in his attempts to illustrate the Gospel narrative accepted by the church.
As we have seen, the extant fragments of Papias do not mention the Gospels of SS. Luke or John by name. Eusebius says, however, that Papias uses testimonies from St. John's first epistle. There is therefore very strong presumption that Papias was acquainted with the Gospel, a presumption strengthened by the fact that the list of the apostles in the fragment of the preface contains names in the order in which they occur in St. John's Gospel, placing Andrew before Peter, and includes some such as Thomas and Philip, who outside that Gospel have little prominence in the Gospel record, and that it gives to our Lord the Johannine title, the Truth. Irenaeus (v. 36) has preserved a fragment containing an express recognition of St. John's Gospel; and though Irenaeus only gives it as a saying of the elders, Lightfoot (Contemp. Rev., u.s.) has given convincing reasons for thinking that Papias is his authority, a conclusion which Harnack accepts as highly probable. An argument prefixed to a Vatican (9th cent.) MS. of St. John's Gospel quotes a saying of Papias about that Gospel and speaks of Papias as having been John's amanuensis. On the latter statement, see Lightfoot, u.s. p. 854; but the evidence seems good enough to induce us to believe that the work of Papias contained some notices of St. John's Gospel which Eusebius has not thought it worth while to mention. Papias belonged to Asia Minor, where the Fourth Gospel according to all tradition was written, and where its authority was earliest recognized; and he is described by Irenaeus as a companion of Polycarp, of whose use of St. John's Gospel we cannot doubt. Eusebius does not mention that Papias used the Apocalypse; but we learn that he did from other trustworthy authorities, and on the subject of Chiliasm Papias held views most distasteful to Eusebius. We learn from Irenaeus (v. 33) that Papias, in his fourth book, told, on the authority of "the Elder" [John], how our Lord had said that "the days will come when there shall be vines having 10,000 stems, and on each stem 10,000 branches, and on each branch 10,000 shoots, and on each shoot 10,000 clusters, and in each cluster 10,000 grapes, and each grape when pressed shall give 25 measures of wine. And when any of the saints shall take hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, I am a better cluster, take me, and bless the Lord through me." The story tells of similar predictions concerning other productions of the earth, and relates how the traitor Judas expressed his unbelief and was rebuked by our Lord. The ultimate original of this story of Papias was a Jewish apocryphal book made known by Ceriani, Monumenta Sac. et Profan., in 1866. See the Apocalypse of Baruch, c. 29, in Fritzsche, Libri Apoc. Vet. Test. p. 666. To this, and possibly other similar stories, Eusebius no doubt refers when he says that Papias had related certain strange parables and teachings of the Saviour and other things of a fabulous character. Amongst these Eusebius quotes the doctrine that after the resurrection the kingdom of Christ would be exhibited for a thousand years in a sensible form on. this earth; and he considers that things spoken mystically by the apostles had wrongly been understood literally by Papias, who "was a man of very poor understanding as his writings shew." The common text of Eusebius elsewhere (iii. 26) calls him a very learned man, deeply versed in the Holy Scriptures; but the weight of evidence is against the genuineness of the clause containing this encomium, which probably expresses later church opinion.
Eusebius tells nothing as to Papias's use of St. Paul's Epistles, and, though the silence of Eusebius alone would not go far, Papias may have found no occasion to mention them in a work on the gospel history. In looking for traditions of our Lord's life, Papias would naturally inquire after the testimony of those who had seen Him in the flesh. The very gratuitous inference from the assumed fact that Papias does not quote St. Paul, that he must have been Ebionite and anti-Pauline, is negatived by the fact that, as Eusebius testifies, he used St. Peter's Epistle, a work the teaching of which, as all critics allow, is completely Pauline. If the silence of Eusebius as to the use by Papias of St. John's Gospel and St. Paul's Epistles affords any presumption, it is that Papias gave no indication that his opinion about the undisputed books differed from that which, in the time of Eusebius, was received as unquestioned truth. For Eusebius thought meanly of Papias and, if he had known him to have held wrong opinions about the Canon, would have been likely to have mentioned it in disparagement of his authority in support of Chiliasm.
Eusebius says that Papias tells a story of a woman accused before our Lord of many sins, a story also to be found in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. There is a reasonable probability that this story may be that of the woman taken in adultery, now found in the common text of St. John's Gospel. Eusebius does not say that Papias took this story from the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and the presumption is that Papias gave it as known to him by oral tradition and not from a written source. If so, Papias need have had no direct knowledge of the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Papias has a story about Justus Barsabas having taken a cup of poison without injury. If Papias's copy of St. Mark contained the disputed verses at the end, this story might appropriately have been told to illustrate the verse, "If they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them," a promise instances of the fulfilment of which are very rare, whether in history or legend. A story of the kind is told
of the apostle John, but is probably later than Papias, or we should have been likely to have heard of it here.
Georgius Hamartolus quotes Papias as saying, in his second book, that the apostle John had been killed by the Jews. That there is some blunder is clear; but Lightfoot has made it very probable from comparison with a passage in Origen that a real saying of Papias is quoted, but with the omission of a line or two. Papias, in commenting on Matt. xx. 22, may very well have said, as does Origen, that John had been condemned by the Roman emperor to exile at Patmos and that James had been killed by the Jews.
In JOANNES PRESBYTER we quote several authorities (including Irenaeus) who speak of Papias as a disciple of John the Evangelist. He is called by Anastasius of Sinai ὁ πάνυ and ὁ πολύς, and passed in the church as an authority of the highest rank. Jerome (Ep. ad Lucinium, 71 Vallars.) contradicts a report that he had translated the writings of Papias and Polycarp, declaring that he had neither leisure nor ability for such a task. He does not, in his writings, shew any signs that he knew more of the work of Papias than he could have learned from Eusebius. The latest trace of the existence of the work of Papias is that an inventory, a.d. 1218, of the possessions of the cathedral of Nismes (Menard. Hist. civil. ecclés. et littér. de la ville de Nismes) contains the entry "Item inveni in claustro—librum Papie librum de verbis Domini." No trace of this MS. has been recovered. The fragments of Papias have been assembled in various collections, e.g. Grabe (Spicilegium), Galland and Routh (Rel. Sac.), but can best be read in Gebhardt and Harnack's Apost. Fathers, pt. ii.; a trans. is in the vol. of Apost. Fathers in Ante-Nicene Lib. (T. & T. Clark). Dissertations on Papias are very numerous; we may mention important articles in the Theol. Studien und Kritiken by Schleiermacher, 1832, Zahn, 1867, Steitz, 1868; an essay by Weiffenbach (Giessen, 1876), a reply by Leimbach (Gotha, 1878), and a rejoinder by Weiffenbach, Jahrbuch f. Prot. Theol. 1877; Hilgenfeld in his Journal, 1875, 1877, 1879; Lightfoot, Contemp. Rev. 1867, 1875 ; Harnack, Chronologie.
Others of the name of Papias are—a martyr with Victorinus (Assemani, Act. Mart. Or. et Occ. ii. 60); a martyr with Onesimus at Rome, Feb. 16; a physician at Laodicea (Fabric. Bibl. Gr. vii. 154); and a grammarian Papias in the 11th cent., a note of whose on the Maries of the Gospel was published by Grabe among the fragments of Papias of Hierapolis and accepted as such until Lightfoot established the true authorship.