Book Review: The Fragments Of Papias

The Fragments Of Papias, by Papias of Hierapolis

Once upon a time there was a bishop in Asia Minor who was personally familiar with people who had known the Apostles as well as the Apostle John himself, and he was a collector of their stories about the Apostles and Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately, although his writings are largely lost–and were lost even in the 4th century AD if Eusebius can be believed–and only fragments of them survive as were recorded in the writings of Eusebius and Irenaeus.  The fact that sources this close to the apostles are very rare [1] means that even the fragments and scraps of the writing of people from the late first and early second century of Christianity are worth preserving, and such is the case here.  I, for one, find Papias to be an interesting fellow, for although he is not an elevated intellectual, he was someone who took the faith once delivered seriously and has some notable things to say about early doctrines of Christianity as well as the identity of the Gospel writers, which alone makes him worth remembering for contemporary Christians even if he is one of the more obscure figures of the age.

This book is a small one of about twenty pages containing ten fragments of Papias’ writing that has been preserved in the writings of other ancient writers whose works have survived.  The fragments are introduced by someone who doesn’t take Papias’ views of the millennium seriously (apparently it was thought uncool even in the early centuries of Christianity that Jesus Christ would literally reign for a thousand years, something that Papias apparently got from John), and the works themselves note some of the discussions that Paipas entered into based on his own collection of early oral traditions about the identity of various people like the writers of the Gospels and some of the people in the Gospels (like the large amount of Marys one finds there).  Papias is viewed as an authority on everything from the authors of various New Testament volumes to the subject of angeology, all of which suggests that while Papias is not well known now that he is an essential witness to the days of early Christianity.  We would well wish for more intact and complete works of his to have survived so that we may better understand the stories we was able to collect from John and from the various companions of the apostles.

Indeed, the authoritative aspect of Papias is interesting to note.  See, for example, this comment:  “With regards to the inspiration of the book (Revelation), we deem it superfluous to add another word; for the blessed Gregory Theologus and Cyril, and even men of still older date, Papias, Irenaeus, Methodius, and Hippolytus, bore entirely satisfactory testimony to it (17).”  Papias appears to have been something of a trump card for early writers to play when someone made a statement that could be contradicted by someone who was an associate of an Apostle.  Indeed, Papias appears to be precisely the sort of person who (like perhaps Polycarp and Clement) were clearly of an early enough period that they were personally familiar with the Apostles and did their best to maintain the doctrinal positions of the early Church of God.  It is sadly not very unreasonable to expect that the very apostolic simplicity of Papias likely became deeply unfashionable once Greek philosophy was seen as more important than original Christianity, by which time the writings of Papias were known only in fragments that had caught the interest of slightly later writers who used him to bolster their own views.

[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 Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, Church of God, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Book Review: The Fragments Of Papias

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Apostolic Fathers Series | Edge Induced Cohesion

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