Papias of Hierapolis

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Papias (Greek: Παπίας), Bishop of Hierapolis[1] (modern Pamukkale, Turkey[2]), A.D. 70–155, was a 2nd century bishop of the early Church, who published an "Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord"[3] (Greek κυριακῶν λογίων ἐξηγήσις — Kyriakôn logiôn exêgêsis) in five volumes. This work is lost but survives in fragments quoted by Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202) and Eusebius of Caesarea (d. 339).


Little is known of his life. Papias has the credit of association with Polycarp, in the friendship of St. John himself, and of “others who had seen the Lord.” He is said to have been bishop of Hierapolis, in Phrygia, and to have died about the same time that Polycarp suffered; but even this is questioned. Eusebius speaks of Papias as a man most learned in all things, and well acquainted with the Scriptures. In another passage he describes him as of small capacity.

His interpretations would have been a prime early authority in the exegesis of the sayings of Jesus, some of which are recorded in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, however the book has not survived and is known only through fragments quoted by later writers; Irenaeus of Lyons's (d. 202) Against Heresies and later by Eusebius of Caesarea (d. 339) in Ecclesiastical History, the earliest surviving history of the early Church.

One of these fragments, quoted by Eusebius in his History of the Church (Book III, chapter 39), reads:

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.[4]

Dating Papias

There is a statement by Irenaeus that Papias was "a hearer of John, and companion of Polycarp, a man of old time." (Adversus Haereses V 33.4) If Polycarp was in fact born not later than AD 69, then there may be no reason to depend on a further, but disputed tradition, that Papias shared in the martyrdom of Polycarp (ca AD 155). It is possible that Irenaeus thought of Papias as Polycarp's contemporary and "a man of the old time," together with the affinity between the religious tendencies described in the fragment from Papias's Preface quoted by Eusebius and those reflected in the Epistles of Ignatius and of Polycarp, all point to his having flourished in the first quarter of the 2nd century.

Eusebius suggests that he wrote "as early as 110 and probably no later than the early 130s, with several scholars opting for the earlier end of the spectrum".

No known fact is inconsistent with c. 60-135 as the period of Papias's life. It should be noted that, though he was probably writing as an old man in Hierapolis, the enquiries he made took place a long time beforehand, and some of his eyewitnesses could well have met Jesus or the Apostles, or both. Eusebius calls him "bishop" of Hierapolis, but whether with good ground is uncertain. In this putative capacity as bishop, Papias was supposedly succeeded by Abercius of Hieropolis.

English translations of the surviving fragments of his writings can be found in links at the Ante-Nicene Fathers.[5]

Succession box:
Papias of Hierapolis
Preceded by:
Bishop of Hierapolis
??- c. 155
Succeeded by:
Abercius of Hieropolis
Help with box


  1. Eusebius of Caesarea calls him "Bishop of Hierapolis"
  2. Pamukkale is 22km from Laodicea and near Colossae (see Col. 4:13), in the Lycus river valley in Phrygia, Asia Minor and is not to be confused with Hierapolis of Syria.
  4. New Advent: Church History (Book III)
  5. New Advent: Church History (Book III)

External links