Papias lived c. 60–130 AD. He was the bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia and a contemporary of Polycarp (69–155). Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John. Iranaeus (130–202) was a disciple of Polycarp. We have fragments of Papias from the writings of Iranaeus and Eusebius (c. 260–340).
In Church History chapter 39 Eusebius writes,
1. There are extant five books of Papias, which bear the title Expositions of Oracles of the Lord. Irenaeus makes mention of these as the only works written by him, in the following words: “These things are attested by Papias, an ancient man who was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp, in his fourth book. For five books have been written by him.” These are the words of Irenaeus.Specifically Eusebius quotes Papias as saying,
2. But Papias himself in the preface to his discourses by no means declares that he was himself a hearer and eye-witness of the holy apostles, but he shows by the words which he uses that he received the doctrines of the faith from those who were their friends.
3. He says: “But I shall not hesitate also to put down for you along with my interpretations whatsoever things I have at any time learned carefully from the elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those that speak much, but in those that teach the truth; not in those that relate strange commandments, but in those that deliver the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and springing from the truth itself.
4. If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders,—what Andrew or what 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 disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice.”
5. It is worth while observing here that the name John is twice enumerated by him. The first one he mentions in connection with Peter and James and Matthew and the rest of the apostles, clearly meaning the evangelist; but the other John he mentions after an interval, and places him among others outside of the number of the apostles, putting Aristion before him, and he distinctly calls him a presbyter.
6. This shows that the statement of those is true, who say that there were two persons in Asia that bore the same name, and that there were two tombs in Ephesus, each of which, even to the present day, is called John’s. It is important to notice this. For it is probable that it was the second, if one is not willing to admit that it was the first that saw the Revelation, which is ascribed by name to John.
7. And Papias, of whom we are now speaking, confesses that he received the words of the apostles from those that followed them, but says that he was himself a hearer of Aristion and the presbyter John. At least he mentions them frequently by name, and gives their traditions in his writings. These things we hope, have not been uselessly adduced by us.
8. But it is fitting to subjoin to the words of Papias which have been quoted, other passages from his works in which he relates some other wonderful events which he claims to have received from tradition.
9. That Philip the apostle dwelt at Hierapolis with his daughters has been already stated. But it must be noted here that Papias, their contemporary, says that he heard a wonderful tale from the daughters of Philip. For he relates that in his time one rose from the dead. And he tells another wonderful story of Justus, surnamed Barsabbas: that he drank a deadly poison, and yet, by the grace of the Lord, suffered no harm.
10. The Book of Acts records that the holy apostles after the ascension of the Saviour, put forward this Justus, together with Matthias, and prayed that one might be chosen in place of the traitor Judas, to fill up their number. The account is as follows: “And they put forward two, Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias; and they prayed and said.”
11. The same writer gives also other accounts which he says came to him through unwritten tradition, certain strange parables and teachings of the Saviour, and some other more mythical things.
12. To these belong his statement that there will be a period of some thousand years after the resurrection of the dead, and that the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this very earth. I suppose he got these ideas through a misunderstanding of the apostolic accounts, not perceiving that the things said by them were spoken mystically in figures.
13. For he appears to have been of very limited understanding, as one can see from his discourses. But it was due to him that so many of the Church Fathers after him adopted a like opinion, urging in their own support the antiquity of the man; as for instance Irenæus and any one else that may have proclaimed similar views.
14. Papias gives also in his own work other accounts of the words of the Lord on the authority of Aristion who was mentioned above, and traditions as handed down by the presbyter John; to which we refer those who are fond of learning. But now we must add to the words of his which we have already quoted the tradition which he gives in regard to Mark, the author of the Gospel.
15. “This also the presbyter said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.” These things are related by Papias concerning Mark.
16. But concerning Matthew he writes as follows: “So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able.” And the same writer uses testimonies from the first Epistle of John and from that of Peter likewise. And he relates another story of a woman, who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is contained in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. These things we have thought it necessary to observe in addition to what has been already stated.
But I shall not hesitate also to put down for you along with my interpretations whatsoever things I have at any time learned carefully from the elders and carefully remembered, guaranteeing their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those that speak much, but in those that teach the truth; not in those that relate strange commandments, but in those that deliver the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and springing from the truth itself. If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders,—what Andrew or what 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 disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice.Eusebius then states that Papius is referring to two distinct Johns—the disciple (Apostle) John and John the Presbyter (Elder). Gundry argues otherwise in The Old is Better: New Testament Essays in Support of Traditional Interpretations. Gundry translates the relevant passage thus,
And by way of guaranteeing their truth to you [sg.] I will not hesitate to concatenate for the Expositions [of the Lord's Oracles] both as many things as I once learned well from the elders and [as many things as] I remembered [or 'noted down'] well. For I was not delighting in those who were saying many things, as the majority [of people were delighting in them]. Rather, [I was delighting in] those who were teaching the truth. Nor [was I delighting in] those [who were remembering] the commandments given to the faith by the Lord and deriving from the truth itself. And if somewhere anyone who had followed the elders happened to come, I was examining the words of the elders, what Andrew or what Peter had said, or what Philip or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any other one of the Lord's disciples [had said], and what things Aristion and the elder John, the Lord's disciples, are saying [with reference to the time when Papias was examining these reports]. For I was not assuming that the things from books would benefit me so much as the things from a living and surviving voice.Another modern translation,
But I will not shrink back [from telling] you even as many things as I have already well learned from the elders—and [as many things as] I have ably remembered to arrange systematically by interpretation, while [at the same time] confirming the truth concerning them. For I was not pleased with those who say many things (even though such is popular with the masses), but with those who teach the truth. Nor was I pleased with those who remember the other commandments, but [only] with those who [remember the commandments] from the Lord which have been given in faith and which come from it in truth. But if somewhere someone would come who has heeded the elders, [let it be known that] I [too] have often examined the words of the elders—[namely,] what Andrew or Peter or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples had said, even what Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were presently saying. For I did not entertain [the idea that] the words from books would benefit me nearly as much as those from a living and abiding voice.Now the existence of a second John does not imply that the Apostle John did not write Revelation (if we only consider Papias' words). However if these two references to John are the same John then we do not have another John who could have written Revelation. That is, two Johns is not evidence against a single author for the Gospel and Revelation (and the letters) but one John is evidence for it.
A reason to consider that there is only one John is that Papias is talking about different times.
Papias calls the following elders [presbuteron]:
Next Papias specifies these two as the Lord's disciples
- the elder John,
Bishop Irenaeus writes that John the Apostle survived all the way to the time of Trajan: after whom his notable disciples were Papias, Bishop of Hieropolis, Polycarp of Smyrna, and Ignatius of Antioch. (Chronicles)If Papias had heard them directly this explains why their current sayings are distinguished from the earlier sayings of the disciples. Irenaeus also documents that Papias has heard directly from John.
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. (Against Heresies 5:33)Others also claim that Papias heard John. Jerome writes,
Papias, the pupil of John, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia, wrote only five volumes,... (Illustrious Men)If John was still alive at the time of Papias, and moreover if Papias had listened to John in person, then it seems reasonable, even likely, that he is referring to John the apostle in this passage: both mentions of John refer to the same man.