Papias of Hierapolis: Exploring the Legacy of an Early Christian Historian

Throughout history, countless individuals have made significant contributions to the development and understanding of Christianity. One such figure is Papias of Hierapolis, an often-overlooked but influential figure in early Church history. Born in the 1st century AD, Papias played a vital role in preserving the teachings and traditions of the Apostles, offering us valuable insights into the formative years of Christianity. In this blog post, we will delve into the life, background, and key contributions of Papias, shedding light on this remarkable early Christian historian and theologian.


Very little is known about Papias’ early life, as actual records of his birth and upbringing are scarce. However, it is believed that he was born around AD 60 in Hierapolis, a city located in the Roman province of Asia Minor (modern-day Pamukkale, Turkey). Although not one of the Apostles, Papias is highly regarded for having close connections to several prominent figures within the early Christian community.

Key Contributions to Church History

1. Oral Tradition Preservation

One of Papias’ most notable contributions was his commitment to preserving the oral traditions that were passed down from the Apostles. He recognized the importance of firsthand accounts and sought out the companions of the Apostles to hear their testimonies. Papias believed that the teachings of these disciples held great value in understanding the teachings of Jesus, and he is said to have diligently gathered and recorded their accounts.

2. Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord

Papias authored a work called “Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord,” in which he compiled a collection of Jesus’ teachings. While this work does not survive in its entirety, fragments and references from various early Christian writers provide insight into the valuable information it contained. Papias’s work served as an early example of what would later develop into the written Gospels of the New Testament.

3. Defense of Apostolic Authority

In an age when heretical teachings and diversions from authentic Christian doctrine were prevalent, Papias defended the authority of the Apostles in his writings. He argued against the Gnostic sects that claimed secret knowledge or revelations beyond the teachings of the Apostles, emphasizing the need to adhere to the true Apostolic tradition.

4. Influence on Later Church Historians

Papias significantly influenced later Church historians, particularly Eusebius, the renowned Church historian of the 4th century. While Eusebius provides an account of Papias’ life, much of what we know about Papias’ writings comes from Eusebius’ works. Papias’ legacy, therefore, extends beyond his own era and continues to shape our understanding of early Christian thought and practices.


Papias of Hierapolis, despite the limited information available about his life, emerges as a crucial figure in the preservation of early Christian traditions and history. His commitment to gathering and recording the teachings of the Apostles provides valuable insights into the formative years of Christianity. Papias’ works, such as the “Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord,” attest to his dedication to preserving and defending the authentic teachings of Jesus Christ. As we explore the vast landscape of early Church history, it is important to acknowledge and appreciate the contributions of influential figures like Papias, who played a significant role in shaping the foundations of Christian thought and practice.
What impact do you think Papias’ commitment to preserving oral traditions and defending Apostolic authority had on the development and understanding of Christianity? We’d love to hear your thoughts and insights! Please share your comments below.
1. Eusebius of Caesarea. Church History. Translated by Paul L. Maier. Kregel Academic, 1999.
2. Holmes, Michael W. “Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis” in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, edited by Everett Ferguson. Routledge, 2013.
3. Kelly, J. N. D. Early Christian Doctrines. HarperOne, 1978.
4. Lunn-Rockliffe, Sophie. “Papias of Hierapolis” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome, edited by Michael Gagarin. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Please note that some of the works mentioned above are secondary sources that provide insights into Papias and his writings. Direct works by Papias himself have been lost, and our knowledge about him relies on the writings of later Church historians like Eusebius.