I just received in the mail the latest issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. And I noticed that it contained my review of Monte Shanks’ recent volume, Papias and the New Testament (Pickwick, 2013). (I can’t keep track of when my book reviews appear!).
Seeing this review reminded me of one of the key debates in discussions of the emerging New Testament canon, namely whether Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis in the early second century, knew the apostle John. This is a key question simply because Papias provides one of the earliest explicit references to the gospels of Mark and Matthew.
So, where did Papias get this information from? And can this information be trusted?
Bart Ehrman, in his latest volume Jesus Before the Gospels, says no. This information cannot be trusted. Why? Because, “Papias is not himself an eyewitness to Jesus’s life and does not know eyewitnesses” (112, emphasis mine).
But is Ehrman correct? Shanks makes the case in his book, a case that has been made by a number of other scholars before him (e.g., Robert Gundry) that in fact Papias got his information from the most reliable of sources, namely the apostle John himself.
And personally I find that case compelling. We cannot repeat all the details in a blog post, but here are some highlights…
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