Papias of Hierapolis: Made No Mistake

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Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis. Colossians 4:11-13

As I enjoy my exploration of the word “remember” in the Apostolic Fathers, I came upon some interesting reading today. The Fragment of the writings of Papias. But first, who is Papias of Hierapolis? He was likely brought to faith by the ministry of Paul and Epaphras and numberd among “those” in Hierapolis as noted in today’s Scripture.

Irenaeus of Lyons says this of Papias: “Now testimony is borne to these things in writing by Papias, an ancient man, who was a hearer of John, and a friend of Polycarp, in the fourth of his books; for five books were composed by him” (Fragment 1). So Papias was also directly touched by John’s teachings and friends with Polycarp.

We also learn that as times in the late first century A.D. were getting tough, and persecution against Christians was increasing, they were really looking forward to the millenial reign of Christ when “the wolf shall lie, down with the lamb” (Isaiah 11:6 cited in Fragment 4).

Papias received this word from Justus, likely one mentioned in today’s Scripture, who testifyied to this. “Amongst these [Justus] says that there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on this earth” (Fragment 6).

So, for all those out there who hold amillenial views or think the book of Revelation is just figurative, pay close attention. Ancient sources like Papias reinforce biblical references that a future personal reign of Christ will be established on the earth (Revelation 20).

But something else also caught my attention. The early church thought Jesus would return in their lifetime. While they waited, so that generations after them would know about Jesus, we get the backstory on how both Mark’s Gospel and Matthew’s Gospel were written in the late first century.

Other sources, like Eusebius of Caesarea, will corroborate this later. Anyway, notice how the word remember appears twice in past tense. I will italicize it for emphasis.

“A tradition regarding Mark who wrote the Gospel, which he [Papias] has given in the following words]: And the presbyter said this. 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. [This is what is related by Papias regarding Mark; but with regard to Matthew he has made the following statements]: Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could” (Fragment 6).

This is ancient evidence that shows us the generous contribution of Mark to all of church history. He aimed not to give us a chronological account of the sayings and deeds of Jesus, but rather, an accurate account from Peter himself. “Mark made no mistake.” We can trust the reliability of Mark’s Gospel from ancient sources.

It also reveals to us that Matthew’s generous contribution was to help Hebrew readers connect the dots that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and promises. No wonder “fulfilled” appears so many times throughout that Gospel. All that said, from Papias we learn that in hard times, God’s people did two things.

Firstly, they celebrated Jesus as the hope in the present. They wanted everyone to know exactly what He said and did so they could follow Him as faithful disciples. Secondly, as opposition to Christianity was increasing, they looked forward to the future fulfillment of His eternal promises. Someday He will return and reign.

Friends, let’s do the same as we begin our journey to Easter this week called Lent. Let’s be people of hope who study and sayings and deeds of Jesus and follow them. Perhaps read Mark’s Gospel? Give thanks for this trustworthy account. While the world may be unraveling, let’s live in anticipation of the personal reign of Jesus on the earth. Someday.