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Who was Papias of Hierapolis?

Papias of Hierapolis

Little is known about the life and death of Papias (c. AD 60–130) other than he was the bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor (now modern Turkey), and he recorded details regarding Jesus and the apostles in five books entitled Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord. Unfortunately, Papias’s books are now lost except for some excerpts found in the second- and third-century writings of Eusebius of Caesarea and Irenaeus of Lyons.

Papias of Hierapolis wrote for the stated purpose of presenting an accurate record of the teaching and works of the apostles, as reported to him by “John the Elder.” Irenaeus assumes this to be the Apostle John, while Eusebius assumes Papias is speaking of a lesser-known John.

It is from Papias that we learn that Mark’s gospel is based on the preaching of Peter. Papias also says that Matthew originally composed his gospel in Hebrew (which at the time could refer either to Hebrew as we know it or to Aramaic, a Semitic language spoken in Israel at the time of Christ). Once again, Irenaeus and Eusebius interpret Papias differently. Irenaeus takes Papias to mean that Matthew used a lot of Hebraisms; that is, his gospel, although it may have been composed in Greek, was written in a Hebrew style. Eusebius interprets Papias to mean that the Gospel of Matthew was originally composed in Hebrew and later translated into Koine Greek.

Papias also states that Judas Iscariot did not die from the actual hanging but from his fall when he was cut down and burst open upon hitting the ground. In this way Papias harmonizes Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:8.

Generally speaking, Irenaeus views Papias favorably, while Eusebius seems to be more critical of him. Some have suggested this is because Papias was a chiliast, which in today’s theological terminology might most closely resemble a premillennialist. Irenaeus was a fellow chiliast, but Eusebius was not.

Over the years, the reliability of Papias has been questioned by modern scholarship. It is interesting to note, however, that, although Irenaeus and Eusebius disagree on some of the finer points of interpretation in Papias, neither one disputes the essential teaching about Christ as preached by the apostles. This gives further evidence that, from the earliest days of Christianity, the risen Jesus was worshiped as God in the flesh.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022