Tag Archives: Papias

Papias …. (and Hebrews)

Two very different posts about Papias have recently appeared online.

On Bart Ehrman’s blog, Papias and the Writers of the New Testament: Guest Post by Stephen Carlson. It follows on from an earlier post and appears to be early advertising for a new book by Stephen Carlson on Papias. Unfortunately Ehrman is not on board with the open access philosophy or movement so he has placed the pre-publication information behind a paywall.

Meanwhile, another article about Papias is now available to the paying public (@ $US45) in The Journal of Theological Studies and one that probably should be read before taking on Carlson’s upcoming book: Did Eusebius Read Papias? by Luke J. Stevens. Here is the abstract:

Although the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius of Caesarea is our principal source of information on Papias of Hierapolis and his lost Exegesis of Dominical Oracles, it is here argued that Eusebius knew the work only at second hand. Several Papian fragments preserved elsewhere demonstrate his ignorance, and his citations of the Exegesis consistently differ in style from those of works certainly known to him at first hand. Apparently, the same intermediary that informed him about both Papias’s Exegesis and Hegesippus’s Hypomnemata was also used in the de Boor Fragments, and this intermediary’s author, perhaps Pierius of Alexandria, has handed down further Papian fragments through other works. Eusebius’s lack of first-hand knowledge prevents us from fully trusting the integrity of his summaries, from giving credence to his charges of chiliasm, and from drawing any conclusions from his silence, especially on what Papias may have said about Luke and John.

And for something completely different, the same journal has another article of interest to anyone studying the figure of Jesus in early Christian literature: The Dynamic Absence of Jesus in Hebrews by Markus Bockmuehl.

Again, the abstract

How does Hebrews negotiate the whereabouts of the risen Jesus, on the dialectical spectrum between physical and indeed metaphysical absence on the one hand, and affirmations of a continuing or intermittent presence on the other? More than perhaps any other New Testament writing, Hebrews concentrates on Jesus’s distance from the world of earthly Christian life and discipleship. And yet the author’s ‘word of encouragement’ (13:22) evidently serves his recipients’ situation more urgently through its emphasis on the Son’s heavenly high priesthood rather than on his immediate presence. The presence of Jesus is here most clearly articulated in relation to his incarnation in the past: unlike elsewhere in the New Testament, no obvious attempt is made to sublimate or compensate for the absence of Jesus by sacramental, mystical, or pneumatological means. Nevertheless, even the pastness of the incarnation remains a powerful and abiding ingredient both in Christ’s ongoing priestly work and in the expectation of his coming. As a result, Jesus’ seeming remoteness in Hebrews remains in important respects compatible with his continuing accessibility and closeness to pilgrim believers.

It sounds somewhat apologetic on the face of it. But still, I suspect it would contain enough substance of value for someone sifting out the apologetics. So anyone not part of a subscribing institution and free to part with another $US45 can read it.


The Ever Convenient Papias

I leave the following quotations from Bart Ehrman for readers to peruse and draw their own conclusions on what they indicate about pots, kettles and scholarly professionalism. My own bolded emphasis, I admit, is designed to lead you.

In Did Jesus Exist? (2013) Bart Ehrman on the reliability of the evidence of Papias . . . .

. . . The great church historian of the fourth century, Eusebius, dismissed Papias by saying that he was “a man of very small intelligence” (Church History 3.39).

Intelligent or not, Papias is an important source for establishing the historical existence of Jesus. He had read some Gospels although there is no reason to think that he knew the ones that made it into the New Testament, as I will show in a moment. But more important, he had other access to the sayings of Jesus. He was personally acquainted with people who had known either the apostles themselves or their companions. The following quotation of his work, from Eusebius, makes the point emphatically:

I also will not hesitate to draw up for you, along with these expositions, an orderly account of all the things I carefully learned and have carefully recalled from the elders; for I have certified their truth…. Whenever someone arrived who had been a companion of one of the elders, I would carefully inquire after their words, what Andrew or Peter had said, or what Philip or what Thomas had said, or James or John or Matthew or any of the other disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord, were saying. For I did not suppose that what came out of books would benefit me as much as that which came from a living and abiding voice.2

Eusebius summarizes what Papias claimed about his sources of knowledge about Jesus, a passage worth citing at length:

This Papias, whom we have just been discussing, acknowledges that he received the words of the apostles from those who had been their followers, and he indicates that he himself had listened to Aristion and the elder John. And so he often recalls them by name, and in his books he sets forth the traditions that they passed along. These remarks should also be of some use to us….

And he sets forth other matters that came to him from the unwritten tradition, including some bizarre parables of the Savior, his teachings, and several other more legendary accounts….

And in his own book he passes along other accounts of the sayings of the Lord from Aristion, whom we have already mentioned, as well as traditions from the elder John. We have referred knowledgeable readers to these and now feel constrained to add to these reports already quoted from him a tradition that he gives about Mark, who wrote the Gospel. These are his words:

And this is what the elder used to say,

“When Mark was the interpreter [or translator] of Peter, he wrote down accurately everything that he recalled of the Lord’s words and deeds—but not in order. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied him; but later, as I indicated, he accompanied Peter, who used to adapt his teachings for the needs at hand, not arranging, as it were, an orderly composition of the Lord’s sayings. And so Mark did nothing wrong by writing some of the matters as he remembered them. For he was intent on just one purpose: to leave out nothing that he heard or to include any falsehood among them.”

So that is what Papias says about Mark. And this is what he says about Matthew:

“And so Matthew composed the sayings in the Hebrew tongue, and each one interpreted [or translated] them to the best of his ability.”

And he set forth another account about a woman who was falsely accused of many sins before the Lord,3 which is also found in the Gospel according to the Hebrews…. [Eusebius, Church History 3.39]

This is such a valuable report because Eusebius is quoting, and then commenting on, the actual words of Papias. Papias explicitly states that he had access to people who knew the apostles of Jesus or at least the companions of the apostles (the “elders”: it is hard to know from his statement if he is calling the companions of the apostles the elders or if the elders were those who knew the companions. Eusebius thinks it is the first option). When these people would come to his city of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, Papias, as leader of the church, would interview them about what they knew about Jesus and his apostles. Many conservative Christian scholars use this statement to prove that what Papias says is historically accurate (especially about Mark and Matthew), but that is going beyond what the evidence gives us.4 Still, on one point there can be no doubt. Papias may pass on some legendary traditions about Jesus, but he is quite specific—and there is no reason to think he is telling a bald-faced lie—that he knows people who knew the apostles (or the apostles’ companions). This is not eyewitness testimony to the life of Jesus, but it is getting very close to that.

Where conservative scholars go astray is in thinking that Papias gives us reliable information about the origins of our Gospels of Matthew and Mark. . . .

Bart D. Ehrman (2013-03-18 17:00:00-07:00). Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (Kindle Locations 1510-1540). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

In Jesus, Interrupted (2009) Bart Ehrman on the unreliability of the evidence of Papias . . . .

read more »

11. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Three Voices . . . Papias


Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 11

Three Voices on the Historical Jesus – No. 1: Papias



  • Papias’ Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord as revealed by Eusebius
  • Papias’ uncertain chain of oral transmission
  • Had Papias read any Gospels?
  • Papias’ “Mark” and “Matthew”: not the canonical Gospels, and not read by Papias
  • Papias quotes nothing from any version of our Gospels
  • The bizarre things Papias does give us as sayings of the Lord
  • By c.125, no written Gospels have reached the bishop of Hieropolis in Asia Minor


* * * * *

Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 98-101)




Ehrman now turns to three Christian writers of the late first and early second centuries who “convey information about the historical Jesus and certainly attest to his existence” in alleged ways which are “independent” of the Gospels. The first is Papias, a Christian bishop in Asia Minor writing around 120-130 CE, for whom we rely on Eusebius two centuries later, since Papias’ one known work is lost.

Despite Eusebius’ judgment that Papias was “a man of very small intelligence,” what is quoted from his Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord is supposed to represent good evidence of an historical Jesus. Ehrman quotes from Eusebius’ quote of Papias introductory words (History of the Church, III, 39.3-4), in which we learn:

that Papias will give an orderly account “of all the things I carefully learned and have carefully recalled from the elders. . . . Whenever someone arrived who had been a companion of one of the elders, I would carefully inquire after their words, what Andrew or Peter had said . . .

Juggling Elders, Companions and Disciples

Of key interest here is the question of what Papias meant by these “elders”. Scholars will admit to an ambiguity, that “elders” may not refer to the disciple followers of Jesus subsequently named (as some older scholars have preferred to read it), but only to earlier Christians who themselves had known those disciples of Jesus. (That is, “inquire after their words” refers back to the preceding “elders,” but not to the men he goes on to name, which are two different groups and layers of tradition.) This would give us a chain of:

disciples → elders → companions of elders → Papias

And indeed, such a chain would make better sense given the amount of time between the disciples’ activity supposedly following Jesus’ death and Papias himself.

that Papias enquired of anything said by “Andrew or Peter or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew” or “any of the other disciples of the Lord.” But then he goes on to refer to things said by “Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord.”

This is exquisitely confusing. read more »

Subjecting Papias to external controls. A first step

This relates to my previous post on Bauckham’s chapter 16. I addressed the issue of “naive readings” of texts, explaining what I mean by that term. I won’t repeat the details here. (Any text can claim to be written by so and so and at a certain time. Scholars know that when it comes to the bulk of apocryphal “new testament” writings.)

So what external evidence do we have for the time when the Papias text was written? read more »

Papias: theologian or historian?

Richard Bauckham places critical importance on the way Papias expresses his preference for a “living voice” over “books”, and argues that here Papias is informing readers that he follows “best historical practice” according to standards of antiquity.

Thanks to my life-long habit of frequenting second hand bookstores I have just come across my old 1965 Penguin paperback of G. A. Williamson translation of Eusebius and notice a small print footnote on these words of Papias: read more »

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 9

9. Papias on Mark and Matthew

In this chapter Bauckham investigates the words of Papias to further test his claim that Peter’s teachings were indeed the direct source of Mark’s gospel. I found this chapter the most “meaty” so far in Bauckham’s book and enjoyed the wide-ranging discussion and up-front way he addressed the arguments of other scholars rather than relegating contrary thoughts to footnote citations. read more »

Loisy on The Gospel of John

Why do I always seem to catch up with the older work last? Here are my notes from Alfred Loisy’s Origins of the New Testament (originally 1936) on the evidence for tradition concerning the Gospel of John.

The Gospel of John was a latecomer and “the elders” in Asia, specifically Ephesus, who were pushing for its acceptance had to compete against the synoptic gospels. To make the new gospel acceptable at such a late date it was necessary to attribute to its author a very long lifespan — from being a young man in the time of Jesus and living up till the time of Trajan (98-117). The Elders were able to say that they had conversed with this very elder John in the early years of the second century. (If he had been 20 at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion he would have been 90 years old in 100 ce.) In reality the apostle John was never in Asia but was confused with John the Elder there.

Loisy arrives at the above scenario from the evidence in Irenaeus, the Gospel of John itself, and the testimony of Papias. read more »