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Apostolic Fathers Every Christian Should Know: Papias

This is the fifth of six articles by Kenneth Berding focused on Apostolic Fathers every Christian should know. The Apostolic Fathers are the authors of the earliest Christian writings after the period of the Apostles. The writings span the end of the first century until the middle of the second. So far, Kenneth Berding (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) professor of New Testament at Biola University, has written on Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, and the Didache. In this post, he discusses seven things you should know about Papias.

1. Papias lived in Hierapolis, a small town near Colossae and Laodicea.

2. He was obsessed with talking to people who carried around in their memories the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. These included the Apostle John, another disciple of the Lord named Aristion, and a couple of the daughters of Philip.

3. He wrote down what he learned in the five-volume set: Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord. Most of his writings don’t exist anymore, but short excerpts from Papias are quoted by many later authorsThe most interesting and valuable quotations from Papias are found in Eusebius’s Church History.

4. There has been a lot of discussion about whether the John that Papias mentions as one of his sources is John the Apostle or a purported John the Elder. That is, was there one John or two? Those who hold that there were two Johns basically end up giving preference to Eusebius’s fourth-century interpretation (Church History 39) over Irenaeus’s statement at the end of the second century (Against Heresies 5.33.3-4) in which Irenaeus asserts that Papias (and Polycarp as well) knew John (by which Irenaeus apparently meant John the Apostle; note his earlier reference to John as “the disciple of the Lord”). There’s more to say, but in my opinion, Papias’s “John” was John the Apostle. Papias claimed that when Mark wrote down his gospel, he did so as Peter’s interpreter. Click To Tweet

5. Papias claimed that when Mark wrote down his gospel, he did so as Peter’s interpreter.

6. Papias claimed that the gospel of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew, though scholars have vigorously argued both about what Papias actually knew and what he meant by this statement.

7. Papias was a millenarian. In other words, he thought that a literal millennium would take place on earth at the end of the age.

For more information about the Apostolic Fathers, see Kenneth Berding’s easy-to-read narrative introduction (story form), The Apostolic Fathers: A Narrative Introduction

Kenneth Berding

Kenneth Berding (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is professor of New Testament at Biola University. He is the author of several books including Polycarp and Paul, What Are Spiritual Gifts? Rethinking the Conventional ViewSing and Learn New Testament Greek and The Apostolic Fathers: A Narrative Introduction. He has published articles in such journals as the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vigiliae Christianae, New Testament Studies, and Journal of Early Christian Studies. He is the director of Bible Fluency: Sing It, See It, Study It. Before coming to Biola, Dr. Berding was a church planter in the Middle East and taught at Nyack College just north of New York City.

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