Papias And The Millennium

As a writer whose thoughts have quite often gone towards the millennium and what it will be like [1], it is quite a joy to me that the ancient writer Papias was interested in the Sabbath as well.  To be sure, Paipas’ writings about the Sabbath, recording what he had heard from the Apostle John, were matters that ancient writers made fun of him for.  Even in the ancient world, the idea of a literal 1000 year period ruled over by Jesus Christ where there was a drastic change between the world as it is now and the world under godly rulership was something that was the subject of ridicule to Hellenistic believers who did not think that such a dramatic change was necessary.  We see in the contemporary world that those who are either amillennialists or postmillennialists do not believe that the world as it is now requires such a drastic intervention on the part of God and Jesus Christ to make things the way it ought to be, generally because they view the power of Hellenistic Christianity as being sufficient to gradually change the world into a godly one without needing Jesus’ direct intervention in the matter.

Papias, through John the Apostle, knew better.  Here is what Papias has to say about the millennial blessings on agriculture:  “The days will come in which vines shall grow, having each ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each true twig ten thousand shoots, and on every one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes, and every grape when pressed will give five-and-twenty metretes [a metrete is an ancient unit of measurement equivalent to 37.4 liters or 32.9 quarts] of wine (9).”  Obviously, a picture like this is designed to be particularly enthusiastic.  And for those who would make fun of this image, it is similar to that given by Amos in Amos 9:13-15:  ““Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord“When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.  I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.  I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God.””

While it is unknown what else Papias had to say about the Millennium, he did indicate that the original efforts by God to have angels oversee the administration of the earth came to naught:  “To some of them [angels] He gave dominion over the arrangement of the world, and He commissioned them to exercise their dominion well…but it happened that their arrangement came to nothing (16).”  One gets the feeling that this failure was certainly not terribly surprising, and from Papias’ views of angeology we can infer that just as the arrangement of the world under the authority of corruptible angels came to nothing, so Papias had little faith in the ability of corruptible human beings to exercise their dominion well.  Indeed, this understanding, which John shared, about the corruptibility of angels humanity is what likely accounts to a great extent in the premillennialism that Papias speaks of, and the lack of faith in humanity living and ordering itself voluntarily according to God’s ways is what accounts for a great deal of the pessimism about human rule and government among contemporary premillennialists like myself that mankind will ever get it right to the degree required to have postmillennial optimism as some Calvinists do.

We can get a great deal of insight into Papias’ views of the millennium from the few fragments that we have, although it would undoubtedly be easier to understand them in greater detail if he had his full body of writings.  For example, we can see that Papias was concerned about the literal blessings that would be given to those in the millennium through the blessings of Christ Jesus as ruler.  It is not necessarily fashionable to think about these matters, or to take the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures seriously when they think of millennial blessings in terms of wastelands made into productive agricultural lands, bountiful harvests, enough land for everyone to have their own vine and fig tree, and highways built between historical enemies where people can come to celebrate the festivals of God.  Yet this is the language that the Bible uses, and as the Apostle John took these matters seriously–see Revelation–so too Papias takes them seriously regardless of how unfashionable such matters may seem to us.  Likewise, we get a great deal of insight from Papias’ pessimism and from an understanding that only God is fit to rule over the universe, and that any being that does not have His infinite virtue and incorruptibility will inevitably screw things up as angels and human beings have done.

Should Papias’ view of the millennium influence our own?  As someone who seeks to follow apostolic worship practices as best as they can be known, it is personally gratifying to me that someone who similarly viewed the Apostles as worth knowing about and worth following as Papias did has the same sort of views of the Millennium as we are best able to understand them given the fragmentary nature of his surviving writings.  Those who wish to follow the apostles can do a lot worse than to gain encouragement by the fact that those who were close to the apostles also share the same views on the Millennium as best as we can know them.  That said, even in ancient history those who increasingly disregarded the example and practice of the Apostles were quick to view Papias’ emphasis on millennial matters to be embarrassing or ridiculous, and those who emphasize a believe in progressive revelation extending beyond the apostolic period are not likely to find Papias very convincing as a witness to proper eschatological views.  Whether or not you find Papias’ thoughts on the Millennium to be inspirational or cringeworthy depends in large part on the assumptions that you bring to a study of ancient writings and to the desirability of recovering the faith once given to the apostles, as is the case with so many other matters.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Papias And The Millennium

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    Yes, he carried forth the teachings directly learned from a disciple–then apostle–of Christ Himself, whose first-hand witness of these things in unimpeachable. It then becomes a question of whether those who knew him or read his works now wish to believe the truth or not.

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