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Papias was a church father from 60-130 AD. It is often said that he represents an authentic chain of tradition back to the original apostles as he has connections to either John, or elders related to the apostles.

As such, Papias often becomes a key figure when utilising arguments for the gospels as he affirms Mark as the traditional gospel author (with a Petrine background) and Matthew and so forth.

However, he also makes a seemingly odd statement about what Jesus said about the end times and talking vines:

The Lord used to teach about those times and say: "The days will come when vines will grow, each having ten thousand shoots, and on each shoot ten thousand branches, and on each branch ten thousand twigs, and on each twig ten thousand clusters, and in each cluster ten thousand grapes, and each grape when crushed will yield twenty-five measures of wine. And when one of the saints takes hold of a cluster, another cluster will cry out, "I am better, take me, bless the Lord through me."

We find this odd saying nowhere by Jesus in the gospels and scholars believe it to be similar to 2 Baruch.

Even Eusebius expresses doubt towards Papias’ views of the millennium and Jesus’ authentic saying.

Therefore, does this odd statement from Papias lower his reliability on the gospel tradition given the lack of attestation and unusualness of this Jesus saying?

What implications does this bear for gospel authorship and Papias’ role in describing the textual tradition?

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  • Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25, ESV).
    – Perry Webb
    May 2, 2023 at 9:50
  • That teaching about the vines sounds like a metaphor about the expansion of the early church. Apparently, it was meant for the early church and not meant to become scripture.
    – Perry Webb
    May 2, 2023 at 9:54
  • I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5, ESV)
    – Perry Webb
    May 2, 2023 at 9:57
  • "It is often said that he represents an authentic chain of tradition ..." Who says this specifically regarding he being "an authentic chain of tradition"?
    – guest37
    May 2, 2023 at 11:06

2 Answers 2

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Does Papias’ vine statement impact on his reliability? Not really, no.

Papias tells us his method in his prologue:

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. (Introduction to The exposition of the oracles of the Lord, as quoted in Historia Eclesiastica 3.39.3-4)

Papias' credibility is enhanced because of his method, not in spite of it. He diligently sought the accounts of first-generation Christian teachers in order to know as much as possible of what Jesus taught, which would necessarily include accounts that were not preserved in the 4 Gospels.

As already noted by Perry Webb, John's epilogue gives an explicit disclaimer that he has not recorded much of what Jesus taught (see John 21:25).

Neither Papias nor 2 Baruch are the first to record parables about unbelievably successful crop yields:

Yea, ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of an homer shall yield an ephah. (Isaiah 5:10)

So the general idea long predates the first century.

As far as Gospel authorship is concerned, Papias is a valuable source, particularly with respect to Mark, but:

  • Matthew - It is quite possible to argue that 2nd generation Christians believed Matthew wrote Matthew without appealing to Papias (see this presented as a deductive argument in my work here: Who Wrote Matthew?)
  • Mark - the most critical information Papias provides about Mark is also provided independently by Clement of Alexandria (see Historia Eclesiastica 2.14.6, 2.15.1, 6.14.6-7)
  • Luke & John - if Papias wrote about the origin of these Gospels, his writings on the subject have not survived


Re Eusebius - Eusebius had an ideological axe to grind - he thought Papias unintelligent because Papias believed the millennium described in Revelation 20 was literal (a position held by many Christians past & present), and this motivated Eusebius' cheap insults against Papias (Historia Eclesiastica 3.39.13). However, Eusebius' actions speak louder than his words: he quoted Papias repeatedly as a meaningful historical source (also, Irenaeus of Lyons, who knew the work & life of Papias far better than Eusebius did, held Papias' work in high esteem).

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I do not think this statement has much effect on Papias's reliability one way or the other, though admittedly we lack context as this is only a quotation someone else offered, and they may have been paraphrasing! (one can see it at https://sacred-texts.com/chr/ecf/001/0010871.htm) The statement might be seen as "odd" but various phrases attributed to Jesus in the Bible could be seen as "odd" by some people, so I do not think that is inherently a strike against it. We don't have any evidence that this quote wasn't something Jesus said (it does not seem to contradict anything else in the Bible), so I would say the quote ultimately has no bearing whatsoever on Papias's reliability.

As for Eusebius's criticism of Papias, that seems to be primarily regarding Papias's eschatology, but it does not mean he rejected everything Papias had to say. Eusebius, after all, is the one who has preserved the quotes Papias made about Matthew and Mark to begin with, with no hint of disagreement or criticism. If he thought Papias was completely unreliable, it seems unlikely to me he would make a point to do that.

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