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Papias (Παπίας) (working in the first half of the 2nd century) was one of the early leaders of the Church, canonized as a saint. Eusebius of Caesarea calls him "Bishop of Hierapolis" (modern Pamukkale, Turkey) which is 22km from Laodicea and near Colossae (see Col. 4:13), in the Lycus river valley in Phrygia, Asia Minor, not to be confused with the Hierapolis of Syria.

His Interpretations of the Sayings of the Lord (his word for "sayings" is logia) in five books, would have been a prime early authority in the exegesis of the sayings of Jesus, some of which are recorded in the Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of Luke, but the book has utterly disappeared, known only through fragments quoted in later writers, with neutral approval in Irenaeus's Against Heresies and later with scorn by Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History, the earliest surviving history of the early Church.

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Papias describes his way of gathering information:

I will not hesitate to add also for you to my interpretations what I formerly learned with care from the Presbyters and have carefully stored in memory, giving assurance of its truth. For I did not take pleasure as the many do in those who speak much, but in those who teach what is true, nor in those who relate foreign precepts, but in those who relate the precepts which were given by the Lord to the faith and came down from the Truth itself. And also if any follower of the Presbyters happened to come, I would inquire for the sayings of the Presbyters, what Andrew said, or what Peter said, or what Philip or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any other of the Lord's disciples, and for the things which other of the Lord's disciples, and for the things which Aristion and the Presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, were saying. For I considered that I should not get so much advantage from matter in books as from the voice which yet lives and remains.

Thus Papias reports he heard things that came from an unwritten, oral tradition of the Presbyters, a "sayings" or logia tradition that had been passed from Jesus to such of the apostles and disciples as he mentions in the fragmentary quote. The scholar Helmut Koester considers him the earliest surviving witness of this tradition.

Eusebius held Papias in low esteem, perhaps because of his work's influence in perpetuating, through Irenaeus and others, belief in a millennial reign of Christ upon earth, that would soon usher in a new Golden Age. Eusebius calls Papias "a man of small mental capacity" who mistook the figurative language of apostolic traditions. Whether this was so to any degree is difficult to judge without the text available. However, Papias's millennialism (according to Anastasius of Sinai, along with Clement of Alexandria and Ammonius he understood the Six Days (Hexaemeron) and the account of Paradise as referring mystically to Christ and His Church) was nearer in spirit to the actual Christianity of the sub-apostolic age, especially in western Anatolia (e.g., Montanism), than Eusebius realized.

Traditions related by Papias

About the origins of the Gospels, Papias (as quoted by Eusebius) wrote this:

Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements. Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.

There is question whether the documents which Papias knew as the Gospels of Matthew and Mark are the same ones that we have today: Matthew is a narrative, rather than a sayings gospel with commentary, and some scholars reject the thesis that it was originally written in Hebrew. (See the Gospel according to the Hebrews.)

Papias also related a number of traditions that Eusebius had characterized as "some strange parables and teachings of the savior, and some other more mythical accounts." For example, Eusebius indicated that Papias heard stories about Justus, surnamed Barsabas, who drank poison but suffered no harm and another story via a daughter of Philip the Evangelist concerning the resurrection of a corpse.

Eusebius states that Papias "reproduces a story about a woman falsely accused before the Lord of many sins." J. B. Lightfoot identified this story with the Pericope Adulterae, and included it in his collection of fragments of Papias' work. However, Michael W. Holmes has pointed out that it is not certain "that Papias knew the story in precisely this form, inasmuch as it now appears that at least two independent stories about Jesus and a sinful woman circulated among Christians in the first two centuries of the church, so that the traditional form found in many New Testament manuscripts may well represent a conflation of two independent shorter, earlier versions of the incident."

According to a scholium attributed to Apollinaris of Laodicea, Papias also related a tradition on the death of Judas Iscariot, in which Judas became so swollen ( Obese, fat, over weight) he could not pass where a chariot could easily and was crushed by a chariot, so that his bowels gushed out.

Papias' dates

About his date, which is important in connection with his credibility, there is Irenaeus' statement, later in the 2nd century, that Papias was "a hearer of John, and companion of Polycarp, a man of old time." (Adversus Haereses V 33.4) If Polycarp was in fact born not later than AD 69, then there may be no reason to depend on a further, but disputed tradition, that Papias shared in the martyrdom of Polycarp (ca AD 155). In sum, the fact that Irenaeus thought of Papias as Polycarp's contemporary and "a man of the old time," together with the affinity between the religious tendencies described in the fragment from Papias's Preface quoted by Eusebius and those reflected in the Epistles of Ignatius and of Polycarp, all point to his having flourished in the first quarter of the 2nd century.

Indeed, Eusebius, who deals with him along with Clement and Ignatius (rather than Polycarp) under the reign of Trajan, and before referring at all to Hadrian's reign, suggests that he wrote "as early as 110 and probably no later than the early 130s, with several scholars opting for the earlier end of the spectrum. No known fact is inconsistent with c. 60-135 as the period of Papias's life. Eusebius (3.36) calls him "bishop" of Hierapolis, but whether with good ground is uncertain. In this putative capacity as bishop, Papias was supposedly succeeded by Abercius of Hieropolis.

English translations of the surviving fragments of his writings can be found in links at the Ante-Nicene Fathers.


  • Eusebius of Caesarea, 1959. The Ecclesiastical History translated by Kirsopp Lake, (Harvard: Loeb Classical Library)
  • (James A. Kleis), 1948. The Didache: The Epistle of Barnabas, The Epistles and the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, The Fragments of Papias, The Epistle to Diognetus (in series "Ancient Christian Writers"; reprinted)
  • Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers : Volume II. Epistle of Barnabas. Papias and Quadratus. Epistle to Diognetus. The Shepherd of Hermas (Loeb Classical Library, reprinted)
  • Hill, CE, (2006), Papias of Hierapolis, The Expository Times; Vol. 117, No. 8; p.309-315

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