Eusebius happens to reveal, albeit quite reluctantly, that the "new Israel" view which he embraced was not held by the apostles or by those who were instructed by them. One such student of the apostles was Papias who was taught by the Apostle John, by Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8), and by others. He was an associate of Polycarp. In one section, Eusebius says, "At this time, also, Papias was well known as bishop of the church at Hierapolis, a man well killed in all manner of learning, and well acquainted with the Scriptures." 1
Throughout the Ecclesiastical History, with one exception, and in the writings of all others who spoke of him, Papias is characterized as a very godly man of exceptional learning, faithful to the teachings of the apostles. The one exception occurs when Eusebius mentions that "he [Papias] says there would be a certain millennium after the resurrection, and that there would be a corporeal reign of Christ on this very earth; which things he appears to have imagined, as if they were authorized by the apostolic narrations, not understanding correctly those matters which they propounded mystically in their representations. For he was very limited in his comprehension, as is evident from his discourses; yet he was the cause why most of the ecclesiastical writers, urging the antiquity of the man, were carried away by a similar opinion; as, for instance, Irenaeus, or any other that adopted such sentiments." 2
Several things should be noted about Eusebius' comments. First, Papias presented the teaching of "a certain millennium after the resurrection, and that there would be a corporeal reign of Christ on this very earth...as if they were authorized by the apostolic narrations..." That is to say that Papias affirmed that the apostles taught that this was so. Papias spent many years learning from John and others of the earliest leaders of the Church. Eusebius gives no support for his assertion that Papias, who was universally acknowledged and praised as faithful to the apostolic teaching, "imagined" such substantial departures from the teaching of the apostles.
Second, although Eusebius elsewhere praises Papias for his virtue and learning, here he demeans him as deceived and dull. The only "evidence" that Eusebius has for this derogatory characterization is that Papias believed in a millennial reign of Messiah on the earth. In contradiction to his praises elsewhere, Eusebius demeans Papias here because he wants to undermine such belief.
There is ample evidence in support of the great spiritual understanding of Papias. Among other faithful endeavors which he performed, Papias is credited with having written the Gospel of John at the dictation of the Apostle. The Gospel of John is certainly not an un-spiritual document.
Third, Eusebius admits that "most of the ecclesiastical writers, urging the antiquity of the man, were carried away by a similar opinion." Therefore, according to Eusebius, most of the ecclesiastical writers believed "that there would be a corporeal reign of Christ on this very earth." Eusebius asserts, without any supporting evidence, that the only reason they believed it was "the antiquity" of Papias. During the time of Papias, and before, there were some who held to a variety of different doctrinal errors. "Most of the ecclesiastical writers" were not lead astray by the "antiquity" of these false teachers. Nor were they lead astray by the antiquity of Papias. It was not in Papias' antiquity alone that these believers trusted. Papias lived a consistent life of proven service to the Lord, His apostles, and His Church. That is why most of the ecclesiastical writers trusted his transmission of the apostolic teaching. Eusebius did also, except in this one instance.
1. The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, translated by Christian
Frederick Cruse, op. cit., Bk.3, Ch.36, P.120
2. ibid., Bk.3, Ch.39, P.126
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