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A Fantastic Saying of Jesus in Papias

I have mentioned one of the intriguing traditions found in the now-lost Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord by the early second century proto-orthodox church father Papias (his account of the death of Judas).  Here is another one.

In this one Papias is relating what he has heard that Jesus taught.  As you’ll see, it is not a teaching that is found in the New Testament Gospels, or in fact in any other Gospel source we have.

What is most striking, in some ways, is that Papias claims that he has a clear line of tradition going straight back to Jesus to confirm the reliability of the saying:  he learned this from “elders” (that is, senior Christians) who heard from John the son of Zebedee, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, that this is something Jesus used to say.   So this is not an “eyewitness” account (or, rather, not an “earwitness” account) – it is an account that we get from Papias who got it from others who got it from John who got it from Jesus.  At least that’s what he claims.  As a result, we’re getting it fourth-hand.   But still, that’s pretty good: probably for most sayings of Jesus we are at a further remove than that.

Even so, there seems to be no one today (at least no one I have ever heard of) who thinks that Jesus actually said this.  Certainly most of the church fathers, such as Eusebius, did not believe it.   And the reasons are clear.  It is such a fantastic (in the somewhat negative sense) saying, that, well, it’s hard to believe (or at least it was for people like Eusebius) that Jesus would say any such thing.   The saying is about what the future Kingdom of God would be like, when there is a “new creation” and this world of pain and misery passes away, leading to a utopian kingdom.  And what will that kingdom be like?  This is what Papias claims Jesus said about that:

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Lecture: Jesus and the Historian
Other Accounts of the Death of Judas



  1. Avatar
    smfoster  June 5, 2015

    This saying immediately reminded me of “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Couldn’t it just be a more elaborate, more expansive version of that, showing optimism in the present and future growth of the church?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 6, 2015

      It can certainly be related. But the difference is that in Papias Jesus himself is not related to the vines or branches or boughs or grapes etc.

  2. Avatar
    godspell  June 5, 2015

    It reminds me very much of the Utopian Socialists, particularly Fourier. I agree it seems somehow too–material–for Jesus. Contrary to what some have said, he was never promising ‘pie in the sky when you die’. He said his way was hard, and painful, and full of difficult choices.

    If the author of the Mark gospel would preserve for us that Jesus cried out in agony on the cross and asked why God had forsaken him, why would this kind of thing be left out? It would certainly have appealed to many–you only have to look at the various Preachers of Prosperity today to know that people want to be told comforting lies like this.

    Jesus didn’t tell comforting lies. Let’s give him that much.

  3. Avatar
    Wilusa  June 5, 2015

    For whatever difference it may make, I’m not clear as to exactly which passages come from Irenaeus, and which from Eusebius. And in either case, how much is supposedly a direct quote from Papias.

    On first reading, I thought “And when any of the saints grabs hold of a cluster, another will cry out, ‘I am better, take me; bless the Lord through me.’ ” meant that another “saint” would cry that out! But on a second reading, I understood that it was meant to be another *cluster*.

  4. Avatar
    Alphaeus  June 5, 2015

    While I agree that this saying is most likely a Christian fabrication, I’d also argue that it isn’t far off from Jesus’ eschatology as he probably expressed it. For starters, the saying according to Papias is similar to what we read from ancient Jewish writers describing the world to come, namely the multiplying of food and wine by the thousands: “the vine which they plant thereon shall yield wine in abundance, and as for all the seed which is sown thereon each measure (of it) shall bear a thousand, and each measure of olives shall yield 20 ten presses of oil” (1 En 10:19); “The earth also shall yield its fruit ten-thousandfold and on each vine there shall be a thousand branches, and each branch shall produce a thousand clusters, and each cluster produce a thousand grapes, and each grape produce a cor of wine” (2 Bar 29:5). The messianic banquet will be “filled with grain” and the “vats will overflow with new wine” (Joel 2:24-26). Moreover, the messiah will even “grant to the saints to eat of the tree of life” (T. Levi 18:11; cf. 1 En 25:5-6; Apoc. Mos 28:4).

    Then we have Jesus, who, during his final meal with his disciples, says to them,

    “I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25 // Matt 26:29 // Luke 22:18).

    I’m willing to bet that prior to his final meal (first attested by Paul in 1 Cor 11:23) Jesus regularly ate in a ritual fashion with his disciples as a foretaste of the coming banquet in the Kingdom of God (Matt 8:11 // Luke 13:28-29; cf. Luke 14:15-24). For instance, just as Jesus had the disciples divide their meal at the last supper (Luke 22:17) so too did he divide their meal in the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:41 // Matt 14:19) – plausibly a metaphor for the endless quantity of food the righteous will receive in the kingdom. If such meals were indeed frequent during his ministry it’s no wonder that Jesus’ critics mocked him as “a glutton and a drunkard” (Matt 11:19)!

  5. John4
    John4  June 8, 2015

    Luke 8:8New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) cf. Matt 13:8
    8 Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
    The hundredfold increase, I was once told, would have been unimaginably rich in Jesus’ day. So, yeah, probably this “was a later fabrication put on the lips of Jesus by followers”. The question arises, though, did the author of Q (or his source) *exaggerate* Jesus’s proclaimed harvest? Or, did Q in fact tone down to something a little less fantastic the actual proclamation of Jesus in order to deflect scoffing by the likes of a Eusebius?

    He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  June 9, 2015

      Yes, I think the point is that it would be a fantastically good harvest. But not an impossible one (like the wine in the kingdom in Papias)

  6. Avatar
    shakespeare66  June 9, 2015

    It reminds me of what Jehovah Witnesses sell to prospective members—paradise on earth for all who believe in Jehovah and join our congregation ( I should say book selling community).

  7. Avatar
    Prizm  June 11, 2015

    Funny how heaven is supposedly full of wine… Such a human desire. Maybe jesus *was* a ‘wine bibber’. His dad also had no problem with the Israelites trading their tithe for booze in the old testament.

  8. Avatar
    Theonedue  July 29, 2015

    Hey Bart. I had some questions concerning the historicity of the guard story that I would like you to address. William Lane Craig stated in his article (see ‘The Guard at the Tomb’ by William Lane Craig) that there are two serious problems with the guard story; 1) It predates the narrative in Mark yet he never mentions it. Luke, who wanted to make an orderly account, also omits it. Lastly, John omits it as well which is surprising because the polemic was a huge controversy. 2) It entails that the Pharisees new what the 3rd day meant when the apostles didn’t have a good idea concerning all it signified. Craig’s resolution basically states that Jesus could have talked with the Pharisees about it even though the gospels don’t mention the conversation that took place. I don’t think he would have talked with them again going off of the fact that in one of the gospels Jesus says that he will raise the temple, to which the Pharisees think that he is referring to the Church Temple, yet Jesus just keeps silent. Also, if the apostles didn’t get it, it is unlikely that the Pharisees wouldn’t have either (which begs the question; why didn’t Jesus just say “Okay guys! In 3 Literal days…not being symbolic at all here….my body will biologically rise from death and I will leave the tomb and see you guys! Once again, not being symbolic here….at all….)

    Did the apostles believe that Jesus would rise physically from the dead and that the third day was symbolic? I know one of the Mary’s thought Jesus would rise physically but that it would be at the end of the age (or something like that)

    Also, wouldn’t have been impossible for the apostles to have know about the bribe as Richard Carrier states. J.P Holding says Pharisees could have converted during acts and told the apostles, but that at best has a 50% chance. The biggest problem would be that none of the Pharisees who bribed the guard would tell any one about it and would keep it a secret. There is no reason for them to say “Hey so what really happened is that an angel of the Lord scared the guards and where the first witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection and we didn’t like that so we bribed them”. Just let that get to the Sanhedrin and there would be controversy. Not to mention Joseph would tell that to the Christian’s and there cover would be blown. If the Pharisees ever told any one they would, like the guards, lie and say that the guards awoke and saw the tomb empty and came and told the priests that the apostles stole the body and that the Pharisees told them to let everyone know. That would be the only story told to others, and thus the apostles, so there is no way they could know what really happened (the apostles would assume the guard falsely thought that just because they awoke to an empty tomb, that the apostles stole the body). Thoughts?

    He concludes that although there are reasons to doubt the guard story, there are considerations in it’s favor. What do you think?

    I think it is likely fiction (as well as the polemic). I believe people thought that that late legend was actually happened and went off of it. Justin Martyr is the only reliable source of the polemic, and he’s writing that in 120 or so, so that isn’t much of help.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 29, 2015

      This is a bit too long and complex for me to interact with; what I can say is that the guard story is almost everywhere taken by critical scholars to be an invention of either Matthew or his community to try to “verify” that Jesus’ really was raised from the dead. Maybe if you want to address one issue at a time I can address it rather than the whole panoply?

      • Avatar
        Theonedue  July 29, 2015

        Okay. So the guard story would not qualify as one of the minimal facts correct?

        If the guard story was fiction, what reason is there to believe that the polemic by the Jews against the Christians (the claim that they stole the body) isn’t fiction as well? Was not the start of the polemic that the apostles stole the body of Jesus buy night as the guards slept? If not, how did the polemic start? Did Pharisees or critics check the tomb? I find this unlikely because in acts none of the critics accuse Peter of stealing the body with the others, nor is there a mention of the empty tomb. I believe it is likely the tomb was full the whole time.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 30, 2015

          No, it is not necessarily a “fact.” It may be that the Jewish polemic is invented as well, although it is better attested in a range of sources. The polemic would have started as a Jewish explanation for the Christian claim that the tomb was empty. No one checked the tomb because the story was not widely circulated early enough. My view is that it is because there was no tomb. That sounds weird, but I explain it (and the evidence for it) at length in my book How Jesus Became God.

          • Avatar
            Theonedue  July 30, 2015

            The only source I have seen was the one Justin Martyr gives in the second century. Are there any first century ones (and if there is could you give tell me who they are from and what the title of the works are)?

            I just don’t see the Christians lying about the guard story. I see how it would have been better than telling them the Markian Tomb story, since they could be accused of plotting.

            As far as a tomb is concerned, do you believe Jesus was buried by Joseph? I know during one of your debates with Craig that you thought he was buried in a common grave, but a while after I read that he quoted one of your statements saying that you believed he was probably buried by Joseph. And (correct me if I am wrong) he also said he was proud of you because you accepted them empty tomb! I think he would be sorely disappointed if he found out you had changed you mind at the last second. ; )

          • Bart
            Bart  July 31, 2015

            The only first century Christian sources are the books of the NT (the first of which, Paul, never mentions an empty tomb). I’m not saying Christians were lying. But the story is almost certainly a fabrication. Otherwise you would find it somewhere besides Matthew. And no, I think the story about Joseph of A. is not historical. You may want to read my discussion of the matter in How Jesus Became God.

      • Avatar
        Adam Beaven  August 12, 2015

        dr ehrman

        28.11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place

        28.12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers 28.13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’

        am i correct in my understanding that in verse 13 the guards told people that when they were on duty they were sleeping?

        matthew writes, ” So they took the money and did as they were directed…”

        how is it possible that none of the gospel writer apart from matthew, address a version of the story which has the guards sleeping?
        if we assume that the “sleeping guard” story was made up and spread, surely this had to be addressed by christian apologists such as the gospel of john which says that its purpose is to make people believe?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 13, 2015

          Matthew alone tells the story about the guard. I don’t think it’s a historical detail.

  9. Avatar
    Theonedue  July 31, 2015


    I do have a question regarding Luke. What do you think of his reliability as a historian? When he talked with the apostles, did he know that stories like the empty tomb account were allegories? Would the apostles have told him what was legend and what they were really eye witnesses of? Richard Carrier thinks that Luke was passing on to Theophilous more of a tradition (fact mixed with legend) to strengthen his faith, rather the pure history.

    Last question. What book of the NT would you say is the most historical and why?

    Thanks again for answering my questions. I enjoyed reading ‘Misquoting Jesus’. I really hope we discover complete copies of the 4 gospels dating from the late 1st century. What a find that would be.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 2, 2015

      I think he was a good historian for his time. By modern standards, he would be downright lousy, but we shouldn’t apply modern criteria to pass judgment on him. I don’t think he talked to apostles but was living after their day. Among the Gospels I think Mark is the most historical. See my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet….

  10. Avatar
    shakespeare66  August 6, 2015

    Jesus did talk about a new kingdom but did not offer a lot of details about it. What reference in the Gospels is there for this new kingdom, and did Paul perpetuate this idea with any detailing of the new kingdom?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 8, 2015

      You’ll find discussions of the kingdom throughout the Synoptics. I talk about some of the key passages in my book Jesus Apocalpytic Prophet of the New Millennium

  11. Avatar
    uziteaches  August 29, 2015


    To me this teaching is not nearly as far fetched as one might think. It has parallels in Jewish teachings from around the same time. Some Sages taught that the Messianic era will be one in which nature will be incredibly abundant (and they used language not that far from what is attributed to Jesus: “In the future the Land of Israel will produce…”) and others said that nature won’t change (using language not far from that attributed to Judas). So both sides of this debate appear in the teachings of the Jewish and are quoted in the Talmud.

    This debate continues into the Middle Ages, with some taking the prophecy about the lion lying with the lamb literally (that is, a change in nature) and other seeing it as a metaphor. (See Maimonides’ discussion of the Messianic era, and those who disagree with him.)

    So if indeed Jesus said what Papias attributes to him, he would simply be conveying a Jewish teaching about ‘the world to come’. I don’t find it far fetched at all.

    Uzi Weingarten

  12. talmoore
    talmoore  October 14, 2015

    Funny, because a wild saying like this is EXACTLY the kind of thing I can imagine the actual historical Jesus actually saying. The reason being that the Hebrew prophets themselves had a tendency to extreme exaggeration, and it wouldn’t suprise me in the least if this tendency rubbed off on Jesus. When you really consider the thankless job of an ancient prophet, their proclivity to hyperbole makes perfect sense. If your prophecies are full of bland and banal stuff, your audience is not likely to listen and consider it, which is the end of your career as a prophet. This is an incentive for prophets to exaggerate wildly for the attention. So imagine Jesus wandering the countryside telling people about the coming Kingdom of God. If they ask him to describe what it would be like, can we honestly think that Jesus would say something like “A lot like now but a bit cooler”? No. Jesus is going to say “Let tell you how freaking great the Kingdom of God is going to be. The figs are going to be the size of human heads!” Which prophet is telling you something you want to listen to? The first or the second?

    • Avatar
      Hormiga  May 8, 2016

      > “Let tell you how freaking great the Kingdom of God is going to be. The figs are going to be the size of human heads!” Which prophet is telling you something you want to listen to? The first or the second?

      I am sooo tempted to relate this to the current US presidential campaign, but will refrain.

  13. Avatar
    Hormiga  May 8, 2016

    Sorry to come into this late, but I just found the thread.

    Although I realize that “ten thousand” is a myriad and that just means “a whole lot” in many languages and cultures, I thought it would be amusing to take it literally and do the arithmetic.

    > The days are coming when vines will come forth, each with ten thousand boughs; | 1e4 boughs

    > and on a single bough will be ten thousand branches. | 1e8 branches

    > And indeed, on a single branch will be ten thousand shoots | 1e12 shoots

    > and on every shoot ten thousand clusters; | 1e16 clusters

    > and in every cluster will be ten thousand grapes, | 1e20 grapes

    http://cetulare.ucanr.edu/files/82015.pdf indicates that an average grape weighs around 5 grams, 5e-3 kg, so if they bore regular grapes, each vine would yield 5e17 kg of grapes, 500 trillion tonnes.

    > and every grape, when pressed, will yield twenty-five measures of wine.

    I don’t know what a “measure” is, but assume it’s a standard glass of wine, around 150 ml. 25×0.15 l = 3.75 liters, so those definitely weren’t 5-gram grapes. Backing up to the 1e20 grapes, that gives 3.75e20 liters of wine, 3.75e14 cubic meters, 375,000 cubic kilometers. That’s a biblically huge amount of wine, around 16 or 17 times the volume of the Great Lakes. All from one grape vine.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 9, 2016

      Wow. On the other hand, when it comes to wine, but it’s about quality, not quantity! 🙂

  14. Avatar
    biomystic  May 21, 2016

    Jewish Christianity was always about the “New Age” as it is an Aquarian Age religious belief system that struggled in past Ages, past Signs, to keep from being crushed by ancient people’s belief in the Strong Man ruler following the natural world examples of alpha males rule all. Without understanding how ancient astro-theology guided ancient religious conception you won’t understand the spiritual relationship between Saturn (EL Elyon) and the Messiah as found in the Sign of the Baptist, the “Man” Sign of the Merkabah, which is Aquarius. Jesus is full of Aquarian attributes and he demands we Christians put on the Sign of the Baptist, the Sign of Aquarius, by having ourselves baptized in His name. Musa starts the Aquarian connection with his name derived from the Egyptian word for “water” that was written in hieroglyphic with the same Sign of Aquarius we use today. Water god power and power over water are major themes in the Bible and the “Son of Man” is the earthly Messiah who follows the heavenly Messiah which is the Sign of Aquarius, the “Man” Sign where God is evolving the Humanitarian Archetype as Model for all humanity to follow.

  15. Lev
    Lev  April 15, 2018

    Hi Bart,

    I came across the following in a New York Times article about the fading memory of the Holocaust that I thought may interest you in regards to Papias:

    “Worldwide, the estimated number of living Holocaust survivors has fallen to 400,000, according to the Claims Conference, many of them in their 80s and 90s. And Holocaust remembrance advocates and educators, who agree that no book, film or traditional exhibition can compare to the voice of a survivor, dread the day when none are left to tell their stories.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/12/us/holocaust-education.html

    What struck me was that 73 years after the end of WW2, we have people “who agree that no book, film or traditional exhibition can compare to the voice of a survivor”, which is so similar to Papias’ statement “I did not think that information from the books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice.”

    Most historians place Papias’ work around 70 years after Jesus, which is roughly the same time span these survivors have to the events they continue to recall today. Perhaps Papias was speaking to eyewitnesses of Jesus after all?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2018

      Papias doesn’t *claim* to be speaking to eyewitnesses, but to people three steps removed from eyewitnesses.

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