Papias, Papias, and more Papias (continuing from our previous study)
Papias was a bishop of Hierapolis, a 3rd generation Christian who compiled oral reports of the life of Jesus. In his book, Bauckham spends a great deal of time on Papias, who naturally assumed that the elders he received his reports from had spoken with the disciples of Jesus directly.
Here’s a quick video on Papias.
Form-critics would argue that any eyewitness origins of the Gospel story would have been swallowed up in various collected stories, yet the testimony of Papias tells us that specific eyewitnesses were “attached” to these traditions, individual sources people could go to in order to verify the stories. In other words, Papias didn’t treat the Gospel accounts like mere collections of stories put together, but specific accounts tracing back to specific people who were they with Jesus, and verified by others who were there also—”not a lengthy chain of oral tradition, but direct personal experience of a teacher” who not only transmitted the experience for someone to record, but was continually doing so to audience after audience.
We talked with our friend how oral tradition is more collective and went through longer stages, whereas oral history is more individually transmitted and immediate, and they agreed with this difference as applied to scripture, how frequent retelling in a trustworthy community could preserve the same story told the same way. Still, they had trouble believing that such a community could produce the story of Jesus as told through the entirety of the Gospels.
Bauckham cites Papias, who himself is considered an Apostolic Father, as believing Mark, the earliest Gospel, to be derived from the accounts of Peter. Peter, who was probably in the habit of reciting the traditions of Jesus, would have sat down with Mark and laid it all out, putting the accounts in a purposeful order. According to Papias, good historiography interwove truth and art. This is an explanation for why Mark does not seem to be written chronologically; the accounts reflect a pattern of storytelling more useful for oral retelling. The style is more beneficial for those who cannot read but must repeat what they hear in order to preserve it.
[Bauckham does have a sense of humor about his obsession with Papias. Toward the end of the book, he titles a header “One More Time—Papias on the Eyewitnesses.” He then tells us that, “remarkably,” “[Papias] still has more light to shed.”]
The next post on names of witnesses.