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Monday, 26 October 2015

Supernatural Evil in the Apostolic Fathers (7): Papias of Hierapolis

Papias of Hierapolis wrote a five-volume work about the sayings of Jesus around 110-130 A.D.1 Papias' work is lost, but fragments of it survive in quotations by later writers. Papias was 'above all a collector of traditions.'2 Hill refers to Papias' work as the Expositions of the Dominical Logia, and describes its contents as having to do with 'interpretations and oral traditions relating to things Jesus had said in certain written Gospels'.3 However, there is an ongoing scholarly debate as to whether Papias' work was primarily an account of Jesus' sayings or an interpretation thereof. Bauckham, who favours the former view, notes that the operative word in the Greek title of the work (Exēgēsis) can mean either 'account, report' or 'interpretation'.4

Any attempt to reconstruct Papias' theological views will necessarily be tentative for several reasons. First, the vast majority of Papias' work is lost. Second, those fragments which survive must be interpreted in the absence of important contextual information. Third, in some cases it is unclear where the quotation from Papias breaks off. Fourth, the authenticity of some of the fragments is disputed.

There are two fragments which contain information relevant to the subject of supernatural evil. Somewhat confusingly, there are different numbering systems for the fragments of Papias. Following the nomenclature of Holmes, we are concerned with fragments 11 and 24. Both of these fragments are preserved in a commentary on Revelation by Andrew of Caesarea, a bishop whose tenure is of uncertain date but located by most scholars in the late sixth or early seventh century.5

Fragment 11 reads as follows in Holmes' translation:
But Papias says, word for word: ‘Some of them’ – obviously meaning those angels that once were holy – ‘he assigned to rule over the orderly arrangement of the earth, and commissioned them to rule well.’ And next he says: ‘But as it turned out, their administration came to nothing. And the great dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, was cast out; the deceiver of the whole world was cast down to the earth along with his angels.’6
The authenticity of this fragment is undisputed.7 However, what is disputed is which exact words are from Papias and which are from Andrew. It can be seen that the final sentence is a direct quotation of Revelation 12:9. Holmes includes this in the quotation from Papias, as does Bauckham (apparently).8 However, other scholars think the quotation of Revelation 12:9 is Andrew's.9 As Shanks points out, the quotation of Papias occurs within Andrew's comments on Revelation 12:7-8. Hence, a quotation of Revelation 12:9 would be a logical transition to the next portion of the commentary.

Also uncertain is whether the explicit reference to 'angels' is a gloss from Andrew (as Holmes' punctuation implies) or part of the 'word for word' quotation from Papias.10

Whatever the case, most scholars regard the fragment of Papias as having to do with a fall of angels.11 Shanks goes as far as to assert that the fragment comes from "a text in Papias' writings regarding Satan's fall."12 Bauckham argues that four of the extant fragments of Papias (including this one) "seem quite unrelated to Gospel traditions" but "all relate to Genesis 1-3."13 On this basis he proposes that "Papias began his work with an account of the primeval history, giving it a christological interpretation."14 If so, then Papias' lost work would have been an important witness to the Satanological myth which seems to be presupposed throughout the New Testament but is never narrated in full.

It is impossible to be certain as to how Papias related this statement back to Jesus and his sayings, or whether Papias himself related the fall of angels to Satan. What can be said with some confidence, however, is that Papias believed there had been a primeval fall of angels. To conclude otherwise, one would have to argue firstly that the reference to 'holy angels' is a gloss from Andrew rather than part of the fragment, and secondly that Andrew has misunderstood Papias' referent. This would be an unduly skeptical position to take in the absence of evidence, which is probably why no scholar (to this writer's knowledge) has advocated such a position.

The second fragment relevant to this study is fragment 24 (again, under Holmes' nomenclature). Holmes translates as follows:
And Papias spoke in the following manner in his treatises: ‘Heaven did not endure his earthly intentions, because it is impossible for light to communicate with darkness. He fell to earth, here to live; and when humankind came here, where he was, he led them astray into many evils. But Michael and his legions, who are guardians of the world, were helping humankind, as Daniel learned; they gave laws and made the prophets wise. And all this was war against the dragon, who was setting stumbling blocks for men. Then their battle extended into heaven, to Christ himself. Yet Christ came; and the law, which was impossible for anyone else, he fulfilled in his body, according to the apostle. He defeated sin and condemned Satan, and through his death he spread abroad his righteousness over all. As this occurred, the victory of Michael and his legions, the guardians of humankind, became complete, and the dragon could resist no more, because the death of Christ exposed him to ridicule and threw him to the earth. Concerning which Christ said, ‘I saw Satan fallen from heaven like a lightning bolt.’ In this sense the teacher understood not his first fall, but the second, which was through the cross, and this did not consist of a spatial fall, as at first, but rather of judgment and expectation of a mighty punishment…15
This fragment is also from Andrew of Caesarea's commentary on Revelation, but it is absent from the Greek text and is extant only in the Armenian version of the commentary. Because of this, the authenticity of the fragment "has been questioned."16 Those who regard this fragment as authentic include Siegert,17 Kürzinger,18 (apparently) Holmes,19 Shanks,20 and Lourié.21 Schoedel seems cautiously optimistic, noting only a 'possibility' that it does not come from Papias.22 Those who do not accept its authenticity include Körtner23 (whose arguments Dehandschutter accepts),24 (apparently) Ehrman,25 and Norelli26 (whose arguments Bauckham accepts).27 The most comprehensive defense of the fragment's authenticity is unfortunately inaccessible to this writer since it is a Russian-language paper by Lourié.28 Based on English-language works of Lourié which refer to this paper,29 it seems the main arguments are (1) that one phrase from the quotation does appear in the Greek version of Andrew's commentary (where, however, it is not attributed to Papias); (2) that all five Armenian manuscripts of Andrew's work "are identical in the part relevant to our Papias quote",30 and (3) that the contents of the fragment do not fit a seventh-century context.

We will proceed with the caveat that any inferences about Papias' theology taken from this fragment rest on an uncertain attribution to him.

A second issue is that, as with fragment 11, it is disputed where the fragment breaks off. While Holmes, Siegert, Kürzinger and Shanks end the Papias fragment with the quotation of Luke 10:18,31 Lourié breaks it off earlier, after 'made the prophets wise'.32 Schoedel merely notes "some question about the length of the quotation" without offering an opinion.33 If Lourié is correct then the fragment provides far less detail about Satan than if the quotation extends to the citation of Luke 10:18. However, given its context in Andrew's work, the subject of the beginning of the quotation can still be none other than Satan.

Hence, if fragment 24 is authentic then it is clear that Papias' work did refer explicitly to a mythological Satan figure. Although (as noted above) Bauckham rejects the authenticity of this fragment, its contents actually support his hypothesis that Papias' work began with a primeval history.

In conclusion, there is strong evidence that Papias believed in a primeval fall of angels. Conclusions about his view of Satan can only be tentative due to the issues discussed above concerning the length and authenticity of these fragments. However, at least this much can be said: there is some evidence that Papias believed in a mythological Satan figure, and there is no evidence that he did not.


  • 1 Hill, C.E. (2006). Papias of Hierapolis. The Expository Times, 117(8), 309-315. Here 309.
  • 2 ibid.
  • 3 op. cit., p. 310.
  • 4 Bauckham, R. (2014). Did Papias write history or exegesis? Journal of Theological Studies, 65(2), 463-488. Here 463.
  • 5 "Although in the past scholars have placed Andrew's episcopal tenure as early as the fifth century and as late as the ninth century, today most locate him in the second half of the sixth century or early seventh." (Constantinou, E.S. (2013). Guiding to a Blessed End: Andrew of Caesarea and His Apocalypse Commentary in the Ancient Church. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, p. 47.
  • 6 Holmes, M.W. (2007). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p. 749.
  • 7 Dehandschutter, B. (1988). [Review of the books Papias von Hierapolis und die Evangelien des Neuen Testaments by J. Kürzinger and Papias von Hierapolis by U.H.J. Körtner]. Vigiliae Christianae, 42(4), 401-406. Here 405.
  • 8 He describes the fragment as a "statement about the fallen angels, with allusion to 'the ancient serpent'" (Bauckham, op. cit., p. 474.)
  • 9 Ehrman, B. (2003). (Ed. & trans.). The Apostolic Fathers (Vol. 2). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 111; Shanks, M.A. (2013). Papias and the New Testament. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, pp. 229-230.
  • 10 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 111, shares Holmes view. Constantinou, however, evidently takes the reference to angels to be Papias', translating thus: "And Papias says in these words: 'To some of them, that is, the divine angels of old, he gave [authority] to rule over the earth and commanded [them] to rule well.' And then says the following: 'And it happened that their arrangement came to nothing.'" (op. cit., p. 246).
  • 11 "Andrew preserved a fragment of Papias regarding the fall of some of the angels" (Constantinou, op. cit., p. 304); Schoedel summarizes the content of the fragment thus: "Wicked angels misrule nature" (Schoedel, W.R. (1993). Papias. In W. Haase (Ed.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II.27.I (pp. 235-270). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, p. 239); Bauckham summarizes it as a "statement about the fallen angels" (op. cit., p. 474).
  • 12 Shanks, op. cit., p. 230. He does not explain his reasoning, but perhaps the inference is that Andrew considered Papias' words relevant to Rev. 12:7-8 because Papias himself had already made the link between the primeval fall of angels and this text from Revelation.
  • 13 Bauckham, op. cit., p. 474.
  • 14 ibid.
  • 15 Holmes, op. cit., p. 763.
  • 16 Hill, op. cit., p. 311.
  • 17 Siegert, F. (1981). Unbeachtete Papiaszitate bei armenischen Schriftstdllern. New Testament Studies, 27(5), 605-614.
  • 18 Kürzinger, J. (1983). Papias von Hierapolis und die Evangelien des Neuen Testaments. Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet.
  • 19 Holmes, op. cit.. Holmes does not discuss the fragment's authenticity but his inclusion of it implies that he regards it as authentic.
  • 20 Shanks, op. cit., p. 249.
  • 21 Lourié, B. (2012). An Unknown Danielic Pseudepigraphon from an Armenian Fragment of Papias. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, 21(4), 323-339.
  • 22 Schoedel, op. cit., p. 260.
  • 23 Körtner, U.H.J. (1983). Papias von Hierapolis: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des frühren Christentums. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
  • 24 Dehandschutter, op. cit., p. 404.
  • 25 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 89, notifies the reader that he is not including the Armenian or Arabic fragments in his text. He refers the reader to Kürzinger without commenting on their authenticity himself.
  • 26 Norelli, E. (2005). Papia di Hierapolis: Esposizione degli oracoli del Signore, i frammenti. Introduzione, testo, traduzione e note. Milan: Paoline, pp. 406-407.
  • 27 Bauckham, R. (2008). [Review of the book Papia di Hierapolis: Esposizione degli oracoli del signore. I frammenti. Introduzione, testo, traduzione e note, by E. Norelli]. Journal of Theological Studies, 59(1), 333-337.
  • 28 See reference in Lourié, op. cit. A translated title of this essay, published in 2008, is: "A Quotation from Papias within the Armenian Version of the Commentary on Apocalypse of St Andrew of Caesarea: Translation and Study in the History of the Exegesis".
  • 29 Lourié, op. cit.
  • 30 Lourié, B. (2013). A Danielic Pseudepigraphon paraphrased by Papias. In R. Bauckham, J.R. Davila & A. Panayotov (Eds.), Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (Vol. 1) (pp. 435-441). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 436.
  • 31 So Shanks, op. cit., p. 249.
  • 32 Lourié, 2013, op. cit., p. 441.
  • 33 Schoedel, op. cit., p. 260.

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