Papias of Hierapolis

Papias of Hierapolis (c. AD 60-130) was the bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia (present day Turkey) during the early part of the second century. A disciple of the apostle John and a companion of Polycarp, Papias is recognized as one of the Apostolic Fathers, a group of early church leaders directly connected with the apostles. Papias’ only known writing, the five-volume Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord, survives only in fragments cited by later writings of Eusebius and Irenaeus.

Origins of the Gospels

From Papias we learn details of the origins of the gospels of Matthew and Mark. He describes Mark as the interpreter of Peter, and (in apparent defense of Mark against perceived deficiencies), credits him with preserving accurately all that Peter taught about the words and deeds of Jesus, while acknowledging that he did so “without order”. Papias describes the gospel of Matthew as an “ordered arrangement” written originally in the Hebrew (Aramaic) language, which was later translated and circulated in Greek.

Papias further refers to a story of a woman accused before the Lord of many sins, which is recorded in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. This story is generally understood to parallel the story of the woman caught in adultery recorded in John 7:53-8:11, testifying to the early authenticity of a much debated passage.

Papias also records several miracles of Jesus which are not recorded in the gospels, and describes Judas as having been cut down from his hanging, and later becoming bloated and crushed to death (Matthew 27:5, Acts 1:18).

Controversies

Papias promoted an early form of premillennialism (chiliasm), teaching that Jesus would return at the resurrection of the dead to commence a literal 1000 year reign on earth. Irenaeus would use Papias teaching to defend his own chiliast teachings, whereby Eusebius, being critical of the book of Revelation and of Papias in general, is dismissive of this view.

Eusebius further questioned Papias’ association with the disciple John, noting that Papias refers to a list of disciples which included John, and separately to John the presbyter. From this distinction, Eusebius concluded that Papias drew on the teachings of two individuals named John; John the disciple, author of the Gospel which bears his name, and John the elder, who is referenced in the second and third Epistles of John and is credited with the authorship of the Book of Revelation.

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