Papias: One John or Two? (Part 2): The Majority View

Scholarly consensus supports two separate John in Papias

We have been considering Papias’s reference to John the Elder. For the most part, scholarship holds that Papias spoke of two separate Johns, and it is generally admitted that had Papias intended to speak of the same John twice, then he expressed himself very unnaturally. Indeed, some exclude even this possibility.

To review, Papias’s words are as follows:

And if by chance someone who had been a follower of the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elders—what Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were saying.

Fragment 3.4 = Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.39.4 [Holmes]

Having looked at when Papias made his inquiries, we can now consider the question of whether Papias spoke of the same John twice or whether he differentiated the Apostle from the Elder.

Two Separate Figures

As noted, most scholars hold that Papias spoke of two Johns.

Düsterdieck referred to Papias’ words as “so unambiguous that we regard any reference to the exegetical discussion cited from Eusebius as superfluous.” [1]

Jülicher said that the idea he spoke of the same John twice would require that Papias forgot what he wrote within a minute of writing it. [2]

Johannes Munck similarly explains:

It would be unnatural to describe the same person in this way with an interval of barely more than a line. There seems to be no reason for such an artificial device, when it would have been quite sufficient for Papias to have referred to the apostle together with Aristion.

Johannes Munck, “Presbyters and Disciples of the Lord in Papias,” HTR 52/4 (1959), 238.

The great commentator R. H. Charles speaks of John the Elder as the one “whom Papias so carefully distinguishes from John the Apostle.” [3]

And Barclay claims it “barely conceivable and highly improbable” that Papias speaks of only one John and “includes him among the disciples of the Lord who spoke, and the disciples of the Lord who still speak.”[4]

According to Schoedel, it as “very doubtful” that Papias spoke of the same John twice, [5] and Cullmann states that “there is certainly a distinction here between two Johns.”[6]

According to Hengel, Papias makes them “zwei verschiedene Personen.,” [7] while according to Ratzinger, the Elder is “evidently not the same as the Apostle”[8]


But perhaps these scholars were biased against the traditional view that there was only one famous John, who wrote all the Johannine works?

In the next post, we’ll see that their observations are shared even by many scholars who have defended the traditional Johannine view (that the Apostle John was the same as the Evangelist and that this figure wrote all the Johannine works), including B. F. Westcott, J. B. Lightfoot, and F. F. Bruce.


[1] Friedrich Düsterdieck, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Revelation of John, trans. Henry E. Jacobs, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1887), 70.

[2] Adolf Jülicher, Einleitung in das Neue Testament (5th and 6h ed.; Tübingen and Leipzig: Mohr, 1906) 365–366.

[3]. Robert Henry Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, vol. 1 (ICC; New York: Scribner, 1920), xliii.

[4] William Barclay, Introduction to John and the Acts of the Apostles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 89.

[5] William Schoedel, “Papias,” in ABD 5:141.

[6] Oscar Cullmann, The Johannine Circle, trans. John Bowden (London: SCM, 1976), 69.

[7] Martin Hengel, Die johanneische Frage: Ein Lösungsversuch (WUNT 67; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1993), 79.

[8] Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, trans. Philip J. Whitmore (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 226.

A summary of the discussion found in my book can be found here.

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