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Papias - Bishop of Hieropolis and writer in the early church

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Very little is known about the life of Papias. All the information about him is given in the writings of Eusebius and Irenaeus. He lived from about AD 60 to 150.

Irenaeus stated that Papias was a pupil of the apostle John, and that he was a friend of Polycarp. Papias became bishop of Hierapolis. He may have also known Philip, whose tomb has been discovered in Hierapolis. According to church tradition, Papias was martyred in Pergamum about the same time as his friend Polycarp. He was one of the earliest writers in the Church.

He wrote one work containing five separate books titled ‘Explanation of the Lord's discourses’. This is now lost, but portions are quoted in writings by Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3.39). In his preface, Papias stated that his main purpose was to make a truthful record a collection of the words and actions of the apostles which he received from a presbyter or elder.

Irenaeus believed that this presbyter was the Apostle John, but Eusebius claimed that Papias was referring to two different Johns, one was the apostle, and the other was a companion of Ariston, often referred to as John the elder. This has led to an ongoing debate about the authorship of John’s Gospel.

“If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings, - what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord's disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter (elder) John, the disciples of the Lord, say.” (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39).

Papias described Mark as the gospel-writer who had never heard Christ, but who was the interpreter of Peter, and gave an account of everything he remembered from the preaching of Peter.

"The Elder (John the apostle or John the elder) said this also: Mark, who became Peter's interpreter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said or done by the Lord. For he (Mark) had neither heard the Lord nor been one of his followers, but afterwards, as I said, he had followed Peter, who used to adapt his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but not as though he were drawing up a collected arrangement of the Lord's sayings. So Mark made no mistake in thus recording some things just as he remembered them. For he was careful of this one thing, to omit none of the things he had heard and to make no untrue statements in them". (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15).

He also stated that Matthew recorded the sayings of Jesus in Hebrew or Aramaic, which Origen understood to mean that the whole Gospel of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew.

“Matthew put together the oracles (of the Lord) in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could” (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3:39:16).

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