Satanology of the Apostolic Fathers: Fragments of Papias

Papias was a bishop of Hierapolis who wrote a work known as ‘Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord’, which was probably written around the middle of the second century,1 but which has been lost; only fragments of his work survive,2 as quotations in later Christian writings.3

The portions of writing attributed to Papias are found in Irenaeus (c. 180),4 Eusebius (late third to mid-fourth century),5 Jerome (fourth to fifth century),6 Apollinaris of Laodicaea (fourth century),7 Philip of Side (fifth century),8 Andreas of Caesarea (sixth century),9 Maximus the Confessor (seventh century),10 Anastasius of Sinai (seventh century),11 Codex Vaticanus Alexandrinus 14 (ninth century),12 George Harmartolos, ‘the Sinner’ (ninth century),13 Photius I of Constantinople (ninth century),14 Agapius of Heirapolis (tenth century),15 and Vardan Areveltsi the Vardapet (thirteenth century).16 contains a version of John 7:53-8:11 very similar to the version recorded by Papias, and another quotation attributed to Papias is found in an anonymous comment in a collection of comments on the gospel of John (Catena patrum Graecorum in sanctum Ioannem, date uncertain, first published in 1630).17

Assessing the reliability of these fragments presents numerous difficulties.18 The work originally written by Papias was purportedly a collection of sayings by Jesus which were not recorded in Christian texts, but it is not considered a reliable source.19 Of the extant fragments, only Fragment 1120 and Fragment 2421 (both found in the writings of Andreas of Caesarea),22 contain any satanological or demonological terminology. None of the content of these fragments is found in any of the other fragments of Papias, and since the book Papias is recorded as writing was simply a collection of oral sayings by Jesus, it is unlikely that these comments are original. In Russell’s standard work on early Christian satanology he treats part of Fragment 11 as authentic, in which Papias speaks of angels which had been assigned by God to rule over the earth and had failed to do so,23 but says nothing of satan or demons.

The fragments of Papias provide very little information about Papias’ theology. The most detailed authentic quotations of Papias indicate his eschatology was premillennial, and that he believed in a literal kingdom on earth at the return of Jesus, during which time the earth would be restored to paradisiacal condition. He made no mention of satan or demons, and there is no detailed evidence for his hamartiology, soteriology, theodicy, martyrology, or astheniology. Consequently, no reliable data is available illuminating Papias’ satanology.

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  1. ‘He probably published his magnum opus within a decade or so of A.D. 130.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 556. []
  2. Different editions of the fragments of Papias have been published (not all containing the same fragments), with different numbering schemes; this article uses the list and numbering of  Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999). []
  3. ‘Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, who probably is best known as the author of the five-volume work entitled Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord, appears to have been well respected and widely quoted during the early centuries of the church. Yet today only scattered fragments of his work survive, and then only as quotations embedded in later writings.’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 556. []
  4. Fragment 14. []
  5. Fragments 1, 2, 3, 21, []
  6. Fragments 7, 8, 9. []
  7. Fragment 19. []
  8. Fragment 5. []
  9. Fragments 10, 11, 24. []
  10. Fragments 15, 16. []
  11. Fragments 12, 13. []
  12. Fragment 18. []
  13. Fragment 6. []
  14. Fragments 15, 22. []
  15. Fragment 23. []
  16. Fragments 25, 26.)0 Codex Bezae (fifth century), ((Fragment 4. []
  17. Fragment 20. []
  18. ‘At issue are not only uncertainties such as whether or not a fragment traditionally attributed to Papias actually came from his writings, or whether writers such as Irenaeus and Eusebius were faithful in transmitting what Papias wrote, though one should not minimize the importance of these two points.’, Stephen E. Young, Jesus Tradition in the Apostolic Fathers: Their Explicit Appeals to the Words of Jesus in Light of Orality Studies (Mohr Siebeck, 2011), 285. []
  19. ‘Papias (60–130), bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia, wrote a five-book Exegesis of the Sayings of the Lord which aimed to bring together all the oral traditions, the “living and abiding voice” of Jesus, not reflected in Christian writings. This book is now lost, but it was quoted by Irenaeus in the second century and Eusebius in the fourth. To judge by the quality of the few quotations that remain, the value of this book was negligible.’, Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 181. []
  20. ‘But Papias says, word for word: “Some of them”—obviously meaning those which 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.”’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 577–579. []
  21. ‘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 mankind came here, where he was, he did not permit them to live in natural passions; on the contrary, he led them astray into many evils. But Michael and his legions, who are guardians of the world, were helping mankind, 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 mankind, become complete, and the dragon could resist no more, because the death of Christ exposed him to ridicule and threw him to earth, concerning which Christ said: ‘I was seeing 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 judgment and expectation of a mighty punishment.…’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 589–591. []
  22. Fragment 11, ‘Andrew of Caesarea, On the Apocalypse, chap. 34, serm. 12’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 579; Fragment 24, ‘Andrew of Caesarea, On the Apocalypse, on Rev. 12:7–939’, Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 591. []
  23. ‘Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor about A.D. 130, conflated the ancient story of the Watcher angels with another Jewish apocalyptic tradition that held God had appointed angels to govern the earth and its nations. In late Jewish and early Christian thought, the idea that each person and each nation had its own angel or angels was common. Papias argued that these angels had abused their authority and come to a bad end. Thus the dominion angels and the Watchers were melded into a general category of fallen angels.’, Jeffrey Burton Russell, Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (Cornell University Press, 1987), 46; Shanks likewise attributes this part of the quotation to Papias, ‘It appears, therefore, that Papias’s quote should end at the word “nothing.” The sentence that immediately follows, which is “And the great dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, was cast out; the deceiver of the whole world was called the Devil and Satan, was cast out; the deceiver of the whole world was cast down to the earth along with his angels,” is the text of Revelation 12:9; consequently, it should be recognized as the introductory verse for Andrew’s expository comments in the following section. While Andrew relied on Papias to elaborate about Satan’s pre-fall commission, the fragment alone provides no objective evidence that Papias was aware of the book of Revelation; instead it only associates a text in Papias’ writings regarding Satan’s fall with a passage on this same thine found in Revelation.’, Monte A. Shanks, Papias and the New Testament (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2013), 230. []

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