JW:Papias (Greek: Παπίας) was a Greek Apostolic Father, Bishop of Hierapolis (modern Pamukkale, Turkey), and author who lived c. 60–163 AD. It was Papias who wrote the Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord (Greek: Λογίων Κυριακῶν Ἐξήγησις) in five books.
This work, which is lost apart from brief excerpts in the works of Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 180) and Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 320), is an important early source on Christian oral tradition and especially on the origins of the canonical Gospels.
Papias provides the earliest extant account of who wrote the Gospels. Eusebius preserves two (possibly) verbatim excerpts from Papias on the origins of the Gospels, one concerning Mark and then another concerning Matthew.
Bible scholarship is mixed as to whether or not Papias (as opposed to Eusebius, interpreting Irenaeus, interpreting Papias) was likely referring to GMark and GMatthew. As is often the case though with these matters, the better question for the serious Skeptical scholar is not whether Papias referred to GMark/GMatthew but rather, if he did, WHERE did he do so.
The place of Papias (unfortunately, only available in Christian copies/edits of Eusebius) primarily looked at to answer the authorship issue is where Papias says "Matthew" and than "Mark". For those who are predisposed to think that Papias referred to GMark/GMatthew, this is like a man buying a pair of shoes. Hmmm, one left and one right. Perfect. I'll take em. Hmmm, GMark and GMatthew are the earliest Gospels, Papias says Matthew and Mark. Perfect. I'll buy it. For the Skeptic though who is holding out for something more (like evidence) there is another place in Papias to look at:
Fragments of Papias
Note that everything here is consistent with Papias being aware of GMark/GMatthew, but not knowing them as "Gospel of Mark"/"Gospel of Matthew", not considering them authoritative and not referring to them with his identification of Matthew and Mark authors:But I shall not be unwilling to put down, along with my interpretations, whatsoever instructions I received with care at any time from the elders, and stored up with care in my memory, assuring you at the same time of their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those who spoke much, but in those who taught the truth; nor in those who related strange commandments, but in those who rehearsed the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and proceeding from truth itself. If, then, any one 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 things 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.
- 1) He prefers oral tradition.
2) He prefers a chain of known witnesses to Jesus.
3) He does not think books about Jesus are authoritative.
Skeptical Textual Criticism