1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Papias

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PAPIAS, of Hierapolis in Phrygia, one of the " Apostolic Fathers " (q.v.). His Exposition of the Lord's Oracles, the prime early authority as to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark (see Gospels), is known only through fragments in later writers, chiefly Eusebius of Caesarea (H. E. iii. 39). The latter had a bias against Papias on account of the influence which his work had in perpetuating, through Irenaeus and others, belief in a millennial reign of Christ upon earth. He calls him a man of small mental capacity, who took the figurative language of apostolic traditions for literal fact. This may have been so to some degree; but Papias (whose name itself denotes that he was of the native Phrygian stock, and who shared the enthusiastic religious temper characteristic of Phrygia, see Montanism) was nearer in spirit to the actual Christianity of the sub-apostolic age, especially in western Asia, than Eusebius realized. In Papias's circle the exceptional in connexion with Christianity seemed quite normal. Eusebius quotes from him the resurrection of a dead person[1] in the experience of "Philip the Apostle"—who had resided in Hierapolis, and from whose daughters Papias derived the story — and also the drinking of poison (when put to the test by the unbelievers," says Philip of Side, by " Justus, surnamed Barsabbas") without ill effect.[2] Papias also believed a revolting story as to the supernatural swelling of the body of Judas Iscariot. But if he was credulous of marvels, he was careful to insist on good evidence for what he accepted as Christ's own teaching, in the face of current unauthorized views. Papias was also a pioneer in the habit, later so general, of taking the work of the Six Days {Hexaemeron) and the account of Paradise as referring mystically to Christ and His Church (so says Anastasius of Sinai).

About his date, which is important in connexion with his witness, there is some doubt. Setting aside the exploded tradition that he was martyred along with Polycarp (c. A.D. 155); we have the witness of Irenaeus that he was "a companion ((Tcupos) of Polycarp," who was born not later than A.D. 69. We may waive his other statement that Papias was "a hearer of John," owing to the possibility of a false inference in this case. But the fact that Irenaeus thought of him as Polycarp 's contemporary and " a man of the old time " (apxalos av-qp), together with the affinity between the religious tendencies described in Papias's Preface (as quoted by Eusebius) and those reflected in the Epistles of Polycarp and Ignatius, 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 (A.D. 117-138), suggests that he wrote[3] about A.D. 115. It has been usual, however, to assign to his work a date c. 130-140, or even later. No fact is known inconsistent with c. 60-135 as the period of Papias's life. Eusebius (iii. 36) calls him " bishop " of Hierapolis, but whether with good ground is uncertain.

Papias uses the term " the Elders, " or Fathers of the Christian community, to describe the original witnesses to Christ's teaching, i.e. his personal disciples in particular. It was their traditions as to the purport of that teaching which he was concerned to preserve. But to Irenaeus the term came to mean the primitive custodians of tradition derived from these, such as Papias and his contemporaries, whose traditions Papias committed to writing. Not a few such traditions Irenaeus has embodied in his work Agaifist Heresies, so preserving in some cases the substance of Papias's Exposition (see Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, 1891, for these, as for all texts bearing on Papias).

See articles in the Dict. of Christian Biog., Dict. of Christ and the Gospels, and Hauck's Realencyklopddie, xiv., in all of which further references will be found.

(J. V. B.)

  1. "The mother of Manaim " (cf. Acts xiii. i), according to the citation in Philip of Side.
  2. Perhaps this is the basis of a clause in the secondary ending to Marks Gospel (xvi. 18).
  3. See further Dict. of Christ and the Gospels, s.v. The supposition that Philip of Side implies a date under Hadrian is a mistake. For the later date, see J. B. Lightfoot, Essays on " Supernatural Religion " (1889), pp. 142-216.