Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
Christians born in the later decades of the first century were eager to hear directly from the disciples of Jesus what he had said and done. That eagerness is perhaps best expressed by Papias, who was born about A.D. 70 and was bishop of Phrygia in Asia Minor until his death in about 155. Only fragments of his extensive writings have survived (in Eusebius' Church History III.39). In them Papias describes how he sought to learn from those who had been associated with Jesus' disciples, such as Andrew or Peter, or from any other apostles, concerning Jesus' acts. He comments, “For I imagined that what was to be obtained from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.”
Two important factors are evident here: (1) The process of transmitting orally the reports of what Jesus said and did went on even after there were written records, such as the Gospels; and (2) there were those who preferred the oral to the written records. These attitudes are very different from those in our time, in which people in search of what they consider to be truth rather than gossip scorn oral reports as “mere hearsay,” preferring instead documentary accounts of what happened in the past. It is not surprising, therefore, that there would have existed sources that predate and underlie the Gospels, which display the freedom and fluidity we might expect in an oral source.