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PAPIAS - DID HE KNEW OUR CURRENT GOSPELS?
 
Did the four gospels of Jesus tell the truth?  Christians need them to be fully formed and well circulated and available to critics the the public to be able to trust them.  Anything else leaves us left with mere hearsay. 

Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis, who reigned when Hadrian was emperor of Rome which was from 117-138 AD is usually assumed to have given the first unmistakeable evidences that the gospels existed or were circulated. We do not know what Papias wrote about the gospels for his work is lost. He wrote about gospels all right but there is no reason to believe that he knew our gospels and what Irenaeus and Eusebius have preserved of his writings proves that he did not.

Eusebius has saved the important and relevant parts for us.

Eusebius read Papias' book and was unimpressed except with some of it, “He was a very stupid man if you judge him by his books” (History of the Church, 3:15). It could be that this judgment was down to Eusebius not liking some things that Papias wrote but that does not make everything worthless or mean that Eusebius a notorious liar and forger was right. Eusebius records some of the information given by Papias which he would not have done had he thought it to be unreliable and perhaps he used Papias when he knew from other sources that Papias was right. If Papias was dumb he would not have been bishop. One must remember that Christians have frequently charged anybody who was intelligent enough to see through their nonsensical theology with stupidity. If Papias had been a heretic then he was automatically categorised as stupid.

JP Holding, a Christian internet liar, says that Eusebius only called Papias stupid for believing that scripture said that Jesus would reign on the earth for a thousand years.  Holding says that taking a text at face value is understandable and does not make you stupid.  Holding is lying about how Eusebius had a bigger problem with Papias than just that!  Holding needs to use Papias stupid meanderings to defend Christianity.  It is a plain case of taking advantage of how people will not check out what Eusebius actually wrote.

Some will argue that Papias proves when the gospels existed. Read what FF Bruce wrote about him. He wrote that Papias “preferred oral tradition to written records. ‘I did not suppose,’ said Papias, ‘that what I could get from the books would help me so much as what I could get from a living a abiding voice’” (page 119). In 125 AD, Papias said that he preferred oral tradition to books for it informed better. There could be no clearer indication that he did not have the complete gospels for they would be preferred to every other source by anyone claiming to be Christian. Who could deny that books are better and more reliable than oral stories? Only those who can’t find any coherent and credible books!  What the apostles wrote was more important than what the Church taught for the apostles being commissioned by Christ to teach his message were more reliable. Papias is evidence that the Church had no gospels written by the apostles.

 “In the absence of an adequate context for these words (quoted by Eusebius from a long-lost work of Papias), it is uncertain what Papias meant by ‘the books’ (ta biblia). He knew of at least two gospel writings, but when a Christian of his time spoke of ‘the books’, he usually meant the Old Testament. It is in any case a good thing that, by Papias’ time, written accounts of the deeds and works of Jesus were available, for if the surviving fragments of Papias’s work give any guidance here, the oral tradition which he was able to gather amounted to little more than the last scrapings of the barrel” (page 119, The Canon of Scripture).

Bruce also wrote, “How many gospel writings Papias knew is uncertain” (ibid, page 124).

Papias speaks of a gospel written by Mark. But he complains that this gospel was dreadfully disorganised. It cannot be the Gospel of Mark that we have now he means, for it has been put together with sufficient skill.

Papias declared that Mark was written by a man who followed Peter, who took great care to leave nothing out that Peter taught him about the life of Jesus. But when the Mark Gospel says so little it is clear that the apostle did not want to reveal much. Or, more likely, that Papias is lying about the Peter-Mark connection for Peter would have told Mark more than that. Or that the Gospel of Mark he had, was not our Gospel of Mark which must be a forgery. Peter would have revealed more and Papias had no reason to lie. We are compelled to accept the final possibility. It is very very probable. Papias prefers oral tradition so he must have thought Mark didn’t do much of a job.

Why would Peter have been afraid to relay the story of Jesus raising the widow’s son from the dead, for example? Did it happen at all? This is missing from Mark. What about the Lazarus resurrection miracle that only the John Gospel reports?

Some say that, "If Papias is lying about anything then he must be lying about the gospel really being the Gospel of Mark. We know he would not have lied about Peter telling Mark everything."

Papias could have had a long Mark so our short Mark is a fake. Papias said that the sloppy order in the gospel was down to Mark taking things down as Peter preached. Then why did Peter not help him edit the work? Peter obviously did not care for the gospel and did not believe that it was inspired or should be written and written well. Thus, it is a heresy to depend on anything that could have been written by Mark who must have known of Peter’s feelings and written a gospel supporting apostolic authority in defiance of that authority. Mark is written for non-Jews but Peter was the apostle to the Jews.

Papias mentions a gospel according to Matthew which he says was composed in Hebrew. But our gospel of Matthew holds clues that show it was first written in Greek.

Another embarrassing fact is that he called Matthew the Sayings of the Lord. This is most likely to mean that he had a book with some of the Lord’s teachings in it minus the deeds and the teachings that could only be understood in the light of the deeds. It is nonsense to try and explain this away by saying that Papias had a full gospel and called it the Sayings because he was writing a commentary on the sayings in it. The book would already have been titled.

Papias did not know Luke or Acts because he said that Judas Iscariot died when his body swelled up and was run over by a wagon contradicting Acts. He asserted that this information originated with the apostles (page 124, Handbook to the Controversy with Rome, Volume 1).

So there is no evidence that Papias knew of our gospels. Papias knew that books were more use to Christians than oral tradition so why did he say he preferred the oral tradition as scarce and dodgy as it was? He must have been seriously dissatisfied with the gospels that were around. Tradition, as bad as it was, would have been better. The writings must have been definitively debunked or corrupted and were ludicrous even to his dull mind. We are dependent on Eusebius (260-339AD) for information on Papias and he obviously did not want to tell too much about him! He did not want to show that Papias undermined the New Testament but still he let that slip. He reasoned that bad information to defend the antiquity of the gospels was better than none.

Papias lived in Phrygia not that far from Ephesus and Antioch and Loadicea which had good enough connections with Palestine by ship and trade. These areas were thoroughly evangelised with a well-organised Church that had once been the recipient of the pastoral care of Paul himself. Phrygia was where the western portion of Turkey is today. There is every reason to believe that he would not have been so ignorant as not to know of the gospels we have if they had been in use. There simply were no real gospels for him.

The gospels even if they did exist were not organised so there could have been loads of stories casting Jesus in a bad light or showing that the tomb could have been robbed of his body and thus starting off the resurrection myth that were left out.  The gospels even if they use material from early in the first century AD are still basically second century products.