Papias' LOGIA

"... Jesus spoke Aramaic. This creates a prima facie case for there having been Aramaic sources at some stage of the tradition, and for considering whether there is evidence of them in the Q material."
M. Casey, "An Aramaic Approach to Q" (CUP, 2002, p.22)


Papias (ca 60-130) was quoted by the church historian Eusebius as saying: "Matthew arranged in order the sayings [logia] in the Hebrew [=Aramaic?] language, and each one interpreted/translated as he was able". [1] This statement has been ridiculed by Kloppenborg, who called it "legendary at best". [2] Is it a coincidence that the statement does not fit in with Kloppenborg's synoptic theory? I doubt it. He concluded that Q must have originated as a Greek document. This has rightly led him to see a historically attested Hebrew/Aramaic collection of Jesus' sayings as a threat to his conclusion, and this explains the vigour of his reaction. But his conclusion was ultimately based on what we have seen to be a false premise, namely that the author of Luke's gospel wrote independently of Matthew's gospel.


Let's consider in turn each part of Papias' statement.
  1. "Matthew"

    According to Mark's gospel, Matthew was one of the original twelve apostles (Mk 3:18). Later Christians took this Matthew as the author of the gospel now known by his name. This identification is nowadays seen to be erroneous because one of the original apostles would not have been heavily reliant on the gospel of Mark, for Mark was not an eyewitness. But the same objection does not apply to this Matthew as the editor of the logia.

    However there is another possibility. Considerable poetic skill would have been required to produce a worthy written record. It may be that none of the original apostles had such skill, and so someone else had to be co-opted into the 'twelve' to carry out this important task. The scenario in Acts 1:21-26 may be a distorted record of the co-option of "Matthias" [3] to edit and record Jesus' sayings.
  2. "arranged"

    In other words "edited"?!
  3. "in order"

    This probably indicates an orderly arrangement.
    The reconstruction of the sayings of Jesus has a superbly ordered arrangement, with all the sayings arranged in pairs and set out in four sections. Additionally there are many keyword connections between adjacent sayings.
  4. "the sayings [logia]"

    "logia" is the Greek word here translated as "sayings". It is sometimes rendered "oracles". The Greek word most naturally refers to sayings rather than to a gospel such as Matthew which has a narrative structure.
  5. "in the Hebrew [=Aramaic?] language"

    Papias was writing in Greek, and for Greek speakers the term "Hebrew" could refer to either Hebrew or Aramaic. [4] The reconstruction has no Greek or other alien features which would militate against a Semitic background, so there is no reason why Papias could not have been referring to it.
  6. "each one interpreted/translated as he was able"

    This could well refer to Mark, Matthew and Luke having to translate each logia saying from Aramaic into Greek for their respective gospels because there was no Greek translation of the logia. The reconstruction is, of course, based on these three gospels. The implied absence of a formal translation into Greek helps to explain the evidence of occasional translation errors by Matthew and Luke.

    In the diagram below, the arrows indicate the flow of information (copying/amending an earlier source), crossing the green line represents translation, and the two big triangles represent symbolically for the followers of Jesus the demise in the importance of Aramaic and the rise in the importance of Greek during the last two-thirds of the first century.

Aramaic/Greek diagram


If the reconstruction and the above analysis are correct, then the logia presented here, when translated back into Aramaic, will be almost identical to the logia to which Papias referred.


1. R.E.Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997) 158
2. J.S.Kloppenborg Verbin, Excavating Q : The History and Setting of the Sayings Gospel (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000) 80
3. In Greek the names "Matthew" and "Matthias" differ only in the vowels used in the last syllable. They are probably variants of the same Aramaic name. This in turn would have been derived ultimately from the Hebrew 'Mattattah' (Ezrah 10:33), meaning "gift of Yahweh".
4. A.Millard,   Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000) 141