Papias: One John or Two? (Part 5)

Further Evidence that Papias spoke of two famous Johns

Some scholars argue that Papias spoke of the same John twice, thus removing any possibility that a second John, the Elder, was associated with the Johannine writings. As we have seen, most scholars reject this proposal.

Ancient Hierapolis (source)

As was seen in Part 4, those who hold that the same John was mentioned twice will often claim that the definite article (the “the”) before the title of “the Elder” is anaphoric, meaning “the aforementioned Elder,” which in turn relies upon an identification of Papias’s “apostles” with the “elders” of whose words he inquired.

This identification of the apostles and elders is doubtful, however.

1. It’s unlikely that the random travelers whom Papias encountered in late first-century Hierapolis had personally heard the words of Peter, Matthew, Thomas et al, but it is likely that they would have been heard the Asian elders who lived in the province.

2. Luthardt (who defended the traditional Zebedean identity of the Evangelist) observed that the words “the disciples of the Lord” which describe Aristion and John would have been redundant in the case of John if John’s title of “elder” had already identified him as a disciple of the Lord.[1]

3. German critic Guericke in the nineteenth century was the first to suggest that Papias’s elders and apostles were the same group. Eusebius understood Papias to mean that he had received the words of the apostles from those who had followed the elders (3.39.7). Irenaeus, another ancient reader of Papias, spoke of the elders as a group in Asia who had seen apostles (98–117) (Haer. 2.22.5).

If there was a second famous John, who lived in Ephesus, why haven’t we heard of him? Or have we?


[1]. Christoph Ernst Luthardt, St. John the Author of the Fourth Gospel, rev. and trans. Caspar Rene Gregory (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1875), 137.

A summary of my book’s discussion on this subject can be found here.

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