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The Chiliasm of Papias

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  • The Chiliasm of Papias

    There are three problems I see when reading the early church fathers in a premillennial way, as I showed in the Dispensationalism - Ancient and Modern thread.

    1 - Any reference to a thousand years is understood as referring to Revelation 20.

    2 - The temple is usually understood as the literal temple in the earthly Jerusalem.

    3 - The kingdom in millennialism is understood as an earthly millennial kingdom.

    These are mistakes not only made by modern readers but by some ancient ones just as well, such as the church father Eusebius. The non-spiritual understanding was a problem in the first century (1 Cor 2:13-16) as well. This will be shown by examining the chiliasm of Papias. In the Wikipedia article on millennialism, many church fathers are identified as premillennial. In his Church History, Eusebius makes this statement.

    The same writer (that is to say, Papias of Hierapolis) gives also other accounts which he says came to him through unwritten tradition, certain strange parables and teachings of the Saviour, and some other more mythical things. To these belong his statement that there will be a period of some thousand years after the resurrection of the dead, and that the kingdom of Christ will be set up in the material form on this very earth. I suppose he got these ideas through a misunderstanding of the apostolic accounts, not perceiving that the things said by them were spoken mystically in figures. For he appears to have been of very limited understanding, as one can see from his discourses. But it was due to him that so many of the Church Fathers after him adopted a like opinion, urging in their own support the antiquity of the man; as for instance Irenaeus and anyone else that may have proclaimed similar views. Book 3:39:11-13
    Who else besides Papias and Irenaeus did Eusebius declare guilty of premillennialism?

    2. “But Cerinthus also, by means of revelations which he pretends were written by a great apostle, brings before us marvelous things which he falsely claims were shown him by angels; and he says that after the resurrection the kingdom of Christ will be set up on earth, and that the flesh dwelling in Jerusalem will again be subject to desires and pleasures. And being an enemy of the Scriptures of God, he asserts, with the purpose of deceiving men, that there is to be a period of a thousand years for marriage festivals.” 3. And Dionysius, who was bishop of the parish of Alexandria in our day, in the second book of his work On the Promises, where he says some things concerning the Apocalypse of John which he draws from tradition, mentions this same man in the following words: 4. But (they say that) Cerinthus, who founded the sect which was called, after him, the Cerinthian, desiring reputable authority for his fiction, prefixed the name. For the doctrine which he taught was this: that the kingdom of Christ will be an earthly one. Book III.29
    Eusebius clearly shows that Cerinthus was a heretic, while the disciple of John the apostle had misread scripture, at least in Eusebius' opinion. He believes Irenaeus, the definer of orthodoxy, had followed in this error. The teachings of Papias seem to be the same as Cerinthus, or at least very similar. Some in the early church actually believed Cerinthus had written the book of Revelation. If Irenaeus held the same belief as Cerinthus, then he must have praised the first-century heretic, right?

    1. Cerinthus, again, a man who was educated in the wisdom of the Egyptians, taught that the world was not made by the primary God, but by a certain Power far separated from him, and at a distance from that Principality who is supreme over the universe, and ignorant of him who is above all. He represented Jesus as having not been born of a virgin, but as being the son of Joseph and Mary according to the ordinary course of human generation, while he nevertheless was more righteous, prudent, and wise than other men. Moreover, after his baptism, Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove from the Supreme Ruler, and that then he proclaimed the unknown Father, and performed miracles. But at last Christ departed from Jesus, and that then Jesus suffered and rose again, while Christ remained impassible, inasmuch as he was a spiritual being.
    2. Those who are called Ebionites agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law. As to the prophetical writings, they endeavour to expound them in a somewhat singular manner: they practise circumcision, persevere in the observance of those customs which are enjoined by the law, and are so Judaic in their style of life, that they even adore Jerusalem as if it were the house of God. I.26

    ...There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, "Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within." And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, "Dost thou know me? ""I do know thee, the first-born of Satan." Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, "A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself." There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles. III.3.4 compare III.2.1 and III.11.1
    Irenaeus had no love for Cerinthus. So if Papias believed in chiliasm, then Irenaeus must have said similar things about him.

    4. And these things are bone witness to in writing by Papias, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp, in his fourth book; for there were five books compiled (suntetagme/na) by him. And he says in addition, "Now these things are credible to believers." And he says that, "when the traitor Judas did not give credit to them, and put the question, `How then can things about to bring forth so abundantly be wrought by the Lord? 'the Lord declared, `They who shall come to these [times] shall see.'" When prophesying of these times, therefore, Esaias says: "The wolf also shall feed with the lamb, and the leopard shall take his rest with the kid; the calf also, and the bull, and the lion shall eat together; and a little boy shall lead them. The ox and the bear shall feed together, and their young ones shall agree together; and the lion shall eat straw as well as the ox. And the infant boy shall thrust his hand into the asp's den, into the nest also of the adder's brood; and they shall do no harm, nor have power to hurt anything in my holy mountain." And again he says, in recapitulation, "Wolves and lambs shall then browse together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and the serpent earth as if it were bread; and they shall neither hurt nor annoy anything in my holy mountain, saith the Lord." I am quite aware that some persons endeavour to refer these words to the case of savage men, both of different nations and various habits, who come to believe, and when they have believed, act in harmony with the righteous. But although this is [true] now with regard to some men coming from various nations to the harmony of the faith, nevertheless in the resurrection of the just [the words shall also apply] to those animals mentioned. For God is non in all things. And it is right that when the creation is restored, all the animals should obey and be in subjection to man, and revert to the food originally given by God (for they had been originally subjected in obedience to Adam), that is, the productions of the earth. But some other occasion, and not the present, is [to be sought] for showing that the lion shall [then] feed on straw. And this indicates the large size and rich quality of the fruits. For if that animal, the lion, feeds upon straw [at that period], of what a quality must the wheat itself be whose straw shall serve as suitable food for lions? V.33.4
    Irenaeus clearly has a great deal of respect for Papias, unlike Cerinthus. If Cerinthus taught the same things as Papias how could that be? Irenaeus says that these things are true now, but in his opinion, they will take a more literal form now in the resurrection of the just, and continuing into the New Creation. He doesn’t take a thousand years literally.

    It is clear that Eusebius has made a mistake in understanding Papias and Irenaeus. Neither is limited to literal time periods in the Bible, while Cerinthus appears to be a literalist.
    Last edited by eschaton; 10-19-2020, 02:15 PM.
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