One of the Earliest, Most Eloquent Defenses of the Christian Faith

A Beautiful, Stirring and Articulate Defense of Christians, and their Relationship to the World

Robert M. Grant describes the epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 2, p. 201):

A late 2d century apology addressed to a certain Diognetus who is otherwise unknown. Diognetus was a tutor of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, who admired him for his freedom from superstition and sound educational advice (Meditations 1.6), but he is not likely to be the recipient, or even the assumed recipient, of this apology from around A.D. 200. The work itself survived (with other writings ascribed to Justin) only in a 13th century manuscript, formerly at Strasbourg but burned during the invasion of 1870.

There are two schools of thought as to the the dating of this manuscript, one which favors a date approximately 130 AD and the other which favors a date approximately 200 AD or even later in the third century. I am not sure if there is evidence to resolve the question.

This work, perhaps the earliest of its kind, is an apology or defense of the faith for the Christians. The anonymous author of this Epistle gives himself the title (Mathetes) “a disciple of the Apostles”. Some believe that Mathetes was possibly a student St. Paul, or of one of his associates.

The letter is composed of 12 chapters, and begins with Chapter 1 – The Occasion of the Letter, a sort of introduction. It then continues to recap The Vanity of Idols in Chapter 2, and how empty and meaningless such worship is. Chapter 3 reviews the “Superstitions of the Jews” – and the practice of blood sacrifices, and burnt offerings. Chapter 4 discusses Other Observances of the Jews.

Chapters 5 and 6 are what I would like to share in their entirety here. Chapter 5 covers “The Manner of Christians”, while Chapter 6 describes “The Relation of Christians to the World”. Here are these two eloquent chapters in their entirety (translation by J.B. Lightfoot):

>> Read below, or listen to a reading of Chapters 5 and 6:

CHAPTER 5 – The Manner of Christians
5:1 For Christians are not distinguished from the
rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in
customs.
5:2 For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their
own, neither do they use some different language, nor
practice an extraordinary kind of life.
5:3 Nor again do they possess any invention
discovered by any intelligence or study of ingenious
men, nor are they masters of any human dogma as some
are.
5:4 But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and
barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the
native customs in dress and food and the other
arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their
own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvelous,
and confessedly contradicts expectation.
5:5 They dwell in their own countries, but only as
sojourners
; they bear their share in all things as
citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers.
Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and
every fatherland is foreign.
5:6 They marry like all other men and they beget
children; but they do not cast away their offspring.

5:7 They have their meals in common, but not their
wives.

5:8 They find themselves in the flesh, and yet they
live not after the flesh.

5:9 Their existence is on earth, but their
citizenship is in heaven.

5:10 They obey the established laws, and they
surpass the laws in their own lives.
5:11 They love all men, and they are persecuted by
all.

5:12 They are ignored, and yet they are condemned.
They are put to death, and yet they are endued with
life.
5:13 They are in beggary, and yet they make many
rich. They are in want of all things, and yet they
abound in all things.

5:14 They are dishonored, and yet they are
glorified in their dishonor. They are evil spoken of,
and yet they are vindicated.
5:15 They are reviled, and they bless; they are
insulted, and they respect.

5:16 Doing good they are punished as evil-doers;
being punished they rejoice, as if they were thereby
quickened by life.
5:17 War is waged against them as aliens by the
Jews, and persecution is carried on against them by
the Greeks, and yet those that hate them cannot tell
the reason of their hostility.

CHAPTER 6 – The Relation of Christians to the World
6:1 In a word, what the soul is in a body, this the
Christians are in the world.

6:2 The soul is spread through all the members of
the body, and Christians through the divers cities of
the world.

6:3 The soul hath its abode in the body, and yet it
is not of the body. So Christians have their abode in
the world, and yet they are not of the world.

6:4 The soul which is invisible is guarded in the
body which is visible: so Christians are recognized as
being in the world, and yet their religion remains
invisible.
6:5 The flesh hates the soul and wages war with
it,
though it receives no wrong, because it is
forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hates
Christians,
though it receives no wrong from them,
because they set themselves against its pleasures.

6:6 The soul loveth the flesh which hates it, and
the members: so Christians love those that hate them.

6:7 The soul is enclosed in the body, and yet itself
holds the body together; so Christians are kept in
the world as in a prison-house, and yet they
themselves hold the world together.

6:8 The soul though itself immortal dwelleth in a
mortal tabernacle; so Christians sojourn amidst
perishable things, while they look for the
imperishability which is in the heavens.

6:9 The soul when hardly treated in the matter of
meats and drinks is improved; and so Christians when
punished increase more and more daily.

6:10 So great is the office for which God hath
appointed them, and which it is not lawful for them to
decline.

Sources:

Early Christian Writings:

https://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/diognetus-roberts.html

https://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/diognetus-lightfoot.html

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_Diognetus