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Fragments of Papias

At a Glance
Gospel
Genre:
(3/5) ***
Reliability of Dating:
(2/5) **
Length of Text:
Greek
Original Language:
Ancient Translations:
Modern Translations:

Estimated Range of Dating: 110-140 A.D.

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Information on Papias

I consider the fragment X of the Roberts-Donaldson collection of fragments to be completely suspect as the alleged words of Papias.

Schoedel writes about Papias (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 5, p. 140):

According to Irenaeus, our earliest witness, Papias was "a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp, a man of primitive times," who wrote a volume in "five books" (haer. 5.33.4; quoted by Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 3.39.1). Eusebius already doubted the reality of a connection between Papias and the apostle John on the grounds that Papias himself in the preface to his book distinguished the apostle John from John the presbyter and seems to have had significant contact only with John the presbyter and a certain Aristion (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-7). Eusebius' skepticism was no doubt prompted by his distaste - perhaps a recently acquired distaste (Grant 1974) - for Papias' chiliasm and his feeling that such a theology qualified Papias for the distinction of being "a man of exceedingly small intelligence" (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.13). Nevertheless Eusebius' analysis of the preface is probably correct; and his further point that Papias' chiliasm put him to the same camp as the Revelation of John is surely relevant. It is notable that Eusebius, in spite of his desire to discredit Papias, still places him as early as the reign of Trajan (A.D. 98-117); and although later dates (e.g., A.D. 130-140) have often been suggested by modern scholars, Bartlet's date for Papias' literary activity of about A.D. 100 has recently gained support (Schoedel 1967: 91-92; Kortner 1983: 89-94, 167-72, 225-26).

Schoedel writes about the comments of Papias (op. cit., v. 5, pp. 141-142):

What the fragments have to tell us about Mark and Matthew is information that Papias himself traces to "the presbyter" (Eus. Hist. Eccl. 3.39.15-16). Eusebius separates the statements about Mark and Matthew, but they may have originally followed one another and certainly seem closely related. Perhaps the simplest reading of the statement on Mark is that Mark served as Peter's interpreter (possibly in the role of methurgaman, or oral translator) and wrote down what he heard Peter say of the words and deeds of Jesus and that his writing is defective in "order," though not in accuracy or fullness of recollection, because Peter naturally referred to the Lord's logia in a random manner. Some have suspected that Papias did not have in mind the gospel of Mark that we know, but the arguments are tenuous. On another point, Kurzinger has attempted to show that Papias was speaking not of translation from the native language of Peter but of presentation of the reports of Peter (an interpretation which he applies also to Papias' statement about Matthew); but this seems to push a rhetorical approach to Papias' terminology too far (Schoedel 1967: 107; Kortner 1983: 203-4). On the other hand, an interpretation in rhetorical terms is somewhat more likely when it comes to the suggestion that Papias meant to say that Peter spoke "in chria-style" rather than "as needs (chriai) dictated." But the point that is debated more than any other is what Papias had in mind when he said that Mark did not write "in order." It is perhaps most likely that Papias was measuring Mark by Matthew (who is said by Papias to have made "an ordered arrangement" of the materials) - or perhaps more generally by Papias' own conception of what ought to be included in such an account - and that he had in mind completeness of information as well as "order" in the narrow sense of the term. In any event, Papias is defending Mark in spite of perceived deficiencies.

Papias attests the role that oral tradition continued to play in the first half of the second century. Papias himself preferred "the living voice" to what could be found in books. Nevertheless, Papias seems to have known the Gospels, and he provides the earliest tradition concerning the authorship of the Gospel of Mark. The testimony of Papias concerning Matthew is more problematic. Eusebius says that Papias also "made use of testimonies from the first letter of John and likewise from that of Peter" (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.17).

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Kirby, Peter. "Fragments of Papias." Early Christian Writings. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/papias.html>.