The Date Of Papias: A Reassessment -- By: Robert W. Yarbrough

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 26:2 (Jun 1983)
Article: The Date Of Papias: A Reassessment
Author: Robert W. Yarbrough

The Date Of Papias: A Reassessment

Robert W. Yarbrough*

Papias was a church leader in the western Asia Minor city of Hierapolis sometime before the middle of the second century. His five-part Interpretation of the Oracles of the Lord (Logiōn Kyriakōn Exēgēseōs) is unfortunately not extant, but parts of it have been preserved, especially by Eusebius.1 The portions of Papias’ writings that have come down to us are significant for at least two reasons. First, although his exact date is disputed, by anyone’s reckoning he wrote sometime between A.D. 80 and 160.2 This makes him one of a scant handful of witnesses to a period notorious for its paucity of literary remains. Second, according to Eusebius Papias knew of writings by Matthew and Mark.3 He quoted 1 Peter and 1 John.4 He claimed to be acquainted with men who had direct access to Jesus’ own times and teachings.5 There is a strong tradition that he knew the apostle John, and he may have had contact with other apostles as well.6 Thus Papias is important as an early witness to portions of the NT canon and their authors and to the life and development of the post-apostolic, or even late apostolic, Church.

The significance of Papias’ testimony, however, depends on when he wrote. It is one thing for a writer to claim (as Papias does) direct access to dominical tradition in the year 100 and quite another to make a similar claim a third of a century or more later. The further removed temporally Papias is from the facts he relays, the less credible his testimony becomes. Moreover, regardless of when he wrote, the temporal location of his work must be established in order to interpret properly his writings in their historical context. A responsible assessment of Papias, therefore, begins with an accurate date for when he wrote.

A distinguished line of scholars agrees that Papias composed his treatises ca. 130 or later. This consensus spans the past century and crosses the boundaries of several schools of criticism. J. B. Lightfoot dated Papias’ literary activity at 130

*Robert Yarbrough is a doctoral candidate in New Testament at King’s College in Aberdeen, Scotland.

or a little later,7 while his colleague B. F. Westcott opted for the years 140–150.8 A generat...

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