Fragments of Papias

The Fragments of Papias are bound to fascinate the modern reader!  Papias lived roughly from the end of the first to the middle of the second century and recorded the thoughts of those who had personally known the disciples.  Only fragments of his five-volume work remain, and not many of these.  What does remain, however, is enthralling.

Papias explains in Fragment I that, “If…anyone who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings, what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord’s disciples: which thing Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say.  For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.”

We find this odd observation in Fragment III: “Judas walked about in this world a sad example of impiety; for his body having swollen to such an extent that he could not pass where a chariot could pass easily, he was crushed by the chariot, so that his bowels gushed out.”

There’s a Trinitarian statement in Fragment V: “…and that, moreover, they ascend through the Spirit to the Son, and through the Son to the Father…”  And Eusebius passes on Papias’ idea of a personal millennial reign of Christ on the earth but interestingly groups this among Papias’ claims that were “of a more fabulous nature.”

Here, too, we find (at the end of Fragment VI) the earliest reference to Mark as the interpreter of Peter: “Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered.  It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ.  For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him.  But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings.  Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them.  For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.”  Note, too, Papias’ defense of the style and arrangement of Mark’s gospel.

To be sure, what we have in the Fragments of Papias are second and third-hand reports, but they are precious indeed and have had an impact on how we understand the original disciples as well as the transmission of Scripture.

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