Sunday, May 28, 2023

Quadratus As A Supplement To Papias

Papias is one of the early church figures often made out to have been more influential than he actually was, often blamed for originating or popularizing ideas that are opposed by the people doing the blaming. Others will blame Paul, Irenaeus, Eusebius, or whoever else. But Papias is one of the individuals most often brought up. Supposedly, he originated the traditional gospel authorship attributions or is said to have had a major role in popularizing the attributions or the gospels themselves, for example. In addition to being blamed for allegedly originating or popularizing supposedly bad things, he's often dismissed as too unintelligent to be reliable, too discredited by false claims that he made, and so on.

I've written a lot in response to such criticisms of Papias: whether he was a disciple of John the son of Zebedee, whether he had that relationship with some other John instead, Papias' influence on gospel authorship attributions, his alleged gullibility, his material on Judas' death, etc. There are many other posts in our archives on such issues, such as the ones included here, in my collection of links addressing skeptical myths about the church fathers. What I want to do in the remainder of this post is discuss another line of evidence that can be cited against objections like the ones mentioned above.

Multiple passages in Eusebius refer to a man named Quadratus, and there's been disagreement about whether the passages I'll be drawing from are referring to one man or two. In some ways, it would strengthen my argument if two men were involved. But I'll refer to one man from this point onward for the sake of simplicity.

There are some significant parallels between Quadratus and Papias. They were both prominent Christians who lived in the late first and early second centuries. They both produced literature that survived for centuries beyond their time, but is no longer extant. We're dependent on Eusebius and other sources of later generations for fragments of both men's writings and much of the information we have about the men. In their surviving fragments, both men commented on Jesus and what was reported about him by eyewitnesses who had lived down to their own day. Both men provide us with some significant information about the status of the gospels at the time. Both suggest that the gospels were widely distributed, that they were viewed highly by the Christians of their day, that the gospels were thought to be consistent with one another, and that they were thought to be of a historical genre. For the relevant details pertaining to Quadratus, you can read my posts about him over the years, like this one and the one here. Since there are so many parallels between Quadratus and Papias, we can sometimes cite Quadratus for corroboration of Papias.

In addition to the parallels, there are some differences between the men, and those differences sometimes prevent critics from issuing the same objections against Quadratus that they bring against Papias. To my knowledge, there are no beliefs or comments attributed to Quadratus that are comparable to the ones attributed to Papias that get criticized the most (e.g., his comments on the death of Judas that are considered dubious, his comments on traditions related to premillennialism). And while Eusebius was critical of the intelligence of Papias (Church History 3:39:13), the assessment of Quadratus provided by Eusebius is more positive: "The work [of Quadratus] is still in the hands of a great many of the brethren, as also in our own, and furnishes clear proofs of the man's understanding and of his apostolic orthodoxy." (4:3:1) All of the controversies surrounding Papias with regard to whether he referred to one eyewitness of Jesus named John or two and what relationship he had with the John of his day are likewise avoided with Quadratus.

I'm not suggesting that we abandon the evidence from Papias and only cite Quadratus. We should cite both. But when interacting with people who hold the most negative views of Papias, it can be useful to shift the focus to Quadratus. He's a good illustration of the fact that raising the usual objections to Papias doesn't adequately address the larger issues involved.

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