The Epistle to Diognetus

The document that is known as “The Epistle (or Letter) to Diognetus” is somewhat of a mystery. A majority of scholars believe that it was written some time between 150AD and 225AD. There are many ideas about who wrote the letter, but nobody really knows.

It is known as one of the earliest writings of The Christian Apologists, the defenders of the faith. Section 5 below, is what the church looked like around 200AD, and what the true church looks like even today..


The Epistle to Diognetus

1. Since I see, most excellent Diognetus, that you are extremely interested in learning about the religion of the Christians and are asking very clear and careful questions about them—specifically, what God do they believe in and how do they worship him, so that they all disregard the world and despise death, neither recognizing those who are considered to be gods by the Greeks nor observing the superstition of the Jews; what is the nature of the heartfelt love they have for one another; and why has this new race of men or way of life come into the world we live in now and not before?—I gladly welcome this interest of yours, and I ask God, who empowers us both to speak and to listen, that I may be enabled to speak in such a way that you will derive the greatest possible benefit from listening, and that you may listen in such a way that the speaker will have no regrets.

2. Come, then, clear your mind of all its prejudices and cast aside the custom that deceives you, and become a new man, as it were, from the beginning, as if you were about to hear a new message, even as you yourself admit. See not only with your eyes but also with your intellect what substance or what form those whom you call and regard as gods happen to have. (2) Is not one of them stone, like that which we walk upon, and another bronze, no better than the utensils that have been forged for our use, and another wood, already rotted away, and another silver, which needs a watchman to guard it lest it be stolen, and another iron, corroded by rust, and another pottery, not a bit more attractive than that made for the most unmentionable use? (3) Are not all these made of perishable matter? Are they not forged by iron and fire? Did not the sculptor make one of them, and the coppersmith another, the silversmith another, and the potter yet another? Before they were shaped by the skills of these craftsmen   p 537  into the form they have,1 was it not possible—indeed, is it not even now possible—for each of them to have been given a different form?2 Might not the ordinary utensils now formed out of the same material be made similar to such images as these, if the same craftsmen were available? (4) Again, could not these things which are now worshiped by you be made by men into utensils like the rest? Are they not all deaf and blind, without souls, without feelings, without movement? Do they not all rot, do they not all decay? (5) These are the things you call gods; you serve them, you worship them, and in the end you become like them. (6) This is why you hate the Christians: because they do not consider these objects to be gods. (7) For do not you yourselves, who now regard and worship them as gods,3 in fact much more despise them? Are you not mocking and insulting them much more when you leave unguarded the stone or pottery gods you worship but lock up the silver and gold ones at night and post guards by them during the day, lest they be stolen? (8) And as for the honors that you think you are offering them: if they are aware of them, then you are in fact insulting them; but if they are not aware, then you are showing them up by worshiping them with the blood and fat of victims. (9) Let one of you undergo this treatment, let someone allow these things to be done to him! Why, there is not a single individual who would willingly submit to such punishment, for a human being has feelings and reason; but the stone does submit, for it has no feeling. Therefore you disprove its ability to feel.4 (10) Well, I could say many other things about the fact that Christians are not enslaved to such gods, but if these arguments should seem insufficient to anyone, then I think it is useless to say more.

3. And next I suppose that you are especially anxious to hear why Christians do not worship in the same way as the   p 539  Jews. (2) The Jews indeed, insofar as they abstain from the kind of worship described above, rightly claim to worship the one God of the universe and to think of him as Master; but insofar as they offer this worship to him in the same way as those already described, they are altogether mistaken. (3) For whereas the Greeks provide an example of their stupidity by offering things to senseless and deaf images, the Jews, thinking that they are offering these things to God as if he were in need of them, could rightly consider it folly rather than worship. (4) For he who made the heaven and the earth and all that is in them, and provides us all with what we need, cannot himself need any of the things that he himself provides to those who imagine that they are giving to him. (5) In any case, those who imagine that they are offering sacrifices to him by means of blood and fat and whole burnt offerings and are honoring him with these tokens of respect do not seem to me to be the least bit different from those who show the same respect to deaf images: the latter make offerings to things unable to receive the honor, while the former think they offer it to the One who is in need of nothing.

4. But with regard to their qualms about meats, and superstition concerning the Sabbath, and pride in circumcision, and hypocrisy about fasting and new moons, I doubt that you need to learn from me that they are ridiculous and not worth discussing. (2) For is it not unlawful to accept some of the things created by God for human use as created good but to refuse others as useless and superfluous? (3) And is it not impious to slander God, as though he forbids us to do any good thing on the Sabbath day? (4) And is it not also ridiculous to take pride in the mutilation of the flesh as a sign of election, as though they were especially beloved by God because of this? (5) And as for the way they watch the stars and the moon, so as to observe months and days, and to make distinctions between the changing seasons ordained by God, making some into feasts and others into times of mourning according to their own inclinations, who would regard this as an example of godliness and not much more of a lack of understanding? (6) So then, I think you have been sufficiently instructed to realize that the Christians are right to keep their distance from the thoughtlessness and deception common to both groups and from the fussiness and   p 541  pride of the Jews. But as for the mystery of the Christian’s own religion, do not expect to be able to learn this from man.

5. For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. (2) For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric life-style. (3) This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious men, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do. (4) But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. (5) They live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. (6) They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. (7) They share their food but not their wives. (8) They are “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.” (9) They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. (10) They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. (11) They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted. (12) They are unknown, yet they are condemned; they are put to death, yet they are brought to life. (13) They are poor, yet they make many rich; they are in need of everything, yet they abound in everything. (14) They are dishonored, yet they are glorified in their dishonor; they are slandered, yet they are vindicated. (15) They are cursed, yet they bless; they are insulted, yet they offer respect. (16) When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when they are punished, they rejoice as though brought to life. (17) By the Jews they are assaulted as foreigners, and by the Greeks they are persecuted, yet those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hostility.

6. In a word, what the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world. (2) The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians throughout the cities of the world. (3) The soul dwells in the body, but is not of the body; likewise Christians dwell in the world, but are not of the world. (4) The soul, which is invisible, is confined in the body, which is visible;   p 543  in the same way, Christians are recognized as being in the world, and yet their religion remains invisible. (5) The flesh hates the soul and wages war against it, even though it has suffered no wrong, because it is hindered from indulging in its pleasures; so also the world hates the Christians, even though it has suffered no wrong, because they set themselves against its pleasures. (6) The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and its members, and Christians love those who hate them. (7) The soul is enclosed in the body, but it holds the body together; and though Christians are detained in the world as if in a prison, they in fact hold the world together. (8) The soul, which is immortal, lives in a mortal dwelling; similarly Christians live as strangers amidst perishable things, while waiting for the imperishable in heaven. (9) The soul, when poorly treated with respect to food and drink, becomes all the better; and so Christians when punished daily increase more and more. (10) Such is the important position to which God has appointed them, and it is not right for them to decline it.

7. For this is, as I said, no earthly discovery that was committed to them, nor some mortal idea that they consider to be worth guarding so carefully, nor have they been entrusted with the administration of merely human mysteries. (2) On the contrary, the omnipotent Creator of all, the invisible God himself, established among men the truth and the holy, incomprehensible word from heaven and fixed it firmly in their hearts, not, as one might imagine, by sending to men some subordinate, or angel or ruler or one of those who manage earthly matters, or one of those entrusted with the administration of things in heaven, but the Designer and Creator of the universe himself, by whom he created the heavens, by whom he enclosed the sea within its proper bounds, whose mysteries all the elements faithfully observe, from whom the sun has received the measure of the daily courses to keep, whom the moon obeys as he commands it to shine by night, whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon, by whom all things have been ordered and determined and placed in subjection, including the heavens and the things in the heavens, the earth and the things in the earth, the sea and the things in the sea, fire, air, abyss, the things in the heights, the things in the depths, the things in between—this one he sent to them! (3) But perhaps he sent   p 545  him, as a man might suppose, to rule by tyranny, fear, and terror? (4) Certainly not! On the contrary, he sent him in gentleness and meekness, as a king might send his son who is a king; he sent him as God; he sent him as a man to men. When he sent him, he did so as one who saves by persuasion, not compulsion, for compulsion is no attribute of God. (5) When he sent him, he did so as one calling, not pursuing; when he sent him, he did so as one loving, not judging. (6) For he will send him as Judge, and who will endure his coming?…5 (7) [Do you not see] how they are thrown to wild beasts to make them deny the Lord, and yet are not conquered? (8) Do you not see that as more of them are punished, the more others increase? (9) These things do not look like the works of man; they are the power of God, they are proofs of his presence.

8. For what man had any knowledge at all of what God was, before he came? (2) Or do you accept the empty and nonsensical statements of those pretentious philosophers, some of whom said that God was fire (the very thing they are headed for, they call God!), and others, water, and still others some other one of the elements created by God. (3) And yet, if any of these statements is worthy of acceptance, then every one of the other created things might just as well be declared to be God. (4) No, these things are merely the illusions and deceit of the magicians. (5) No one has either seen or recognized him, but he has revealed himself. (6) And he revealed himself through faith, which is the only means by which it is permitted to see God. (7) For God, the Master and Creator of the universe, who made all things and arranged them in order, was not only tender-hearted but also very patient. (8) Indeed, so he always was and is and will be, kind, good, without anger, and true, and he alone is good. (9) And after conceiving a great and marvelous plan, he communicated it to his Child alone. (10) Now as long as he kept it a secret and guarded his wise design, he seemed to neglect and be unconcerned about us, (11) but when he revealed it through his beloved Child and made known the things prepared   p 547  from the beginning, he gave us everything at once, both to share in his benefits and to see and understand things which none of us ever would have expected.

9. So then, having already planned everything in his mind together with his Child, he permitted us during the former time to be carried away by undisciplined impulses as we desired, led astray by pleasures and lusts, not at all because he took delight in our sins, but because he was patient; not because he approved of that former season of unrighteousness, but because he was creating the present season of righteousness, in order that we who in the former time were convicted by our own deeds as unworthy of life might now by the goodness of God be made worthy, and, having clearly demonstrated our inability to enter the kingdom of God on our own, might be enabled to do so by God’s power. (2) But when our unrighteousness was fulfilled, and it had been made perfectly clear that its wages—punishment and death—were to be expected, then the season arrived during which God had decided to reveal at last his goodness and power (oh, the surpassing kindness and love of God!). He did not hate us, or reject us, or bear a grudge against us; instead he was patient and forbearing; in his mercy he took upon himself our sins; he himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the guiltless for the guilty, “the just for the unjust,”6 the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. (3) For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? (4) In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? (5) O the sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners! (6) Having demonstrated, therefore, in the former time the powerlessness of our nature to obtain life, and having now revealed the Savior’s power to save even the powerless, he willed that for both these reasons we should believe in his goodness and regard him as nurse, father, teacher, counselor,   p 549  healer, mind, light, honor, glory, strength, life, and not be anxious about food and clothing.7

10. If this faith is what you too long for, then first of all you must acquire8 full knowledge of the Father. (2) For God loved men, for whose sake he made the world, to whom he subjected everything on earth, to whom he gave reason, to whom he gave mind; them alone he permitted to look up to heaven,9 them he created in his own image, to them he sent his one and only Son, to them he promised the kingdom in heaven, which he will give to those who have loved him. (3) And when you have acquired this knowledge, with what joy do you think you will be filled, or how will you love him who so loved you first? (4) By loving him you will be an imitator of his goodness. And do not be surprised that a person can become an imitator of God; he can, if God is willing. (5) For happiness is not a matter of lording it over one’s neighbors, or desiring to have more than weaker men, or possessing wealth and using force against one’s inferiors. No one is able to imitate God in these matters; on the contrary, these things are alien to his greatness. (6) But whoever takes upon himself his neighbor’s burden, whoever wishes to benefit another who is worse off in something in which he himself is better off, whoever provides to those in need things that he has received from God, and thus becomes a god to those who receive them, this one is an imitator of God. (7) Then you will see that though your lot is on earth, God lives10 in heaven, then you will begin to declare the mysteries of God, then you will both love and admire those who are punished because they refuse to deny God, then you will condemn the deceit and the error of the world, when you realize what the true life in heaven is, when you despise the apparent death here on earth, when you fear the real death, which is reserved for those who will be condemned to the eternal fire which will punish to the very end those delivered to it. (8) Then you will admire those   p 551  who for righteousness’ sake endure the transitory fire, and you will consider them blessed, when you comprehend that other fire….11

11. I am not talking about strange things, nor am I engaged in irrational speculation, but having been a disciple of apostles, I am now becoming a teacher of the Gentiles. To those who are becoming disciples of the truth I try to minister in a worthy manner the teachings that have been handed down. (2) Indeed, does anyone who has been rightly taught and has come to love the Word not seek to learn exactly the things openly made known by the Word to disciples? To them the Word appeared and revealed these things, speaking quite plainly as he did so; though not understood by unbelievers, he explained them to disciples who, being regarded as faithful by him, learned the mysteries of the Father. (3) This is why he sent the Word, namely, that he might appear to the world; though dishonored by the chosen people, he was preached by apostles and believed in by Gentiles. (4) This is he who was from the beginning, who appeared as new yet proved to be old, and is always young as he is born in the hearts of saints. (5) This is the Eternal One, who today is accounted a Son, through whom the church is enriched and grace is unfolded and multiplied among the saints, grace which gives understanding, reveals mysteries, announces seasons, rejoices over the faithful, is given to those who seek—those, that is, by whom the pledges of faith are not broken nor the boundaries set by the fathers transgressed. (6) Then the reverence of the law is praised in song, and the grace of the prophets is recognized, and the faith of the Gospels is established, and the tradition of the apostles is preserved, and the joy12 of the church exults. (7) If you do not grieve this grace, you will understand what the Word has to say, through whomever he chooses, whenever he wishes. (8) For we are simply sharing with you whatever we have been prompted to speak with such difficulty by the will   p 553  of the commanding Word, being motivated as well by a love for the things that have been revealed to us.

12. When you have read these truths and listened13 attentively to them, you will know what God bestows on those who love him as they should, who become a paradise of delight, raising up in themselves a flourishing tree bearing all kinds of fruit, who are adorned14 with various fruits. (2) For in this garden a tree of knowledge and a tree of life have been planted. But the tree of knowledge does not kill; on the contrary, disobedience kills. (3) For it is not without significance that the Scriptures record that God in the beginning planted a tree of knowledge and a tree of life in the midst of Paradise, thereby revealing that life is through knowledge. Because our first parents did not use it purely, they were left naked15 by the deceit of the serpent. (4) For there is neither life without knowledge, nor sound knowledge without true life; therefore each tree stands planted near the other. (5) Discerning the significance of this, the apostle blamed the knowledge which is exercised apart from the truth of the commandment which leads to life and said, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”16 (6) For the one who thinks he knows anything without the true knowledge that is confirmed by the life knows nothing; he is deceived by the serpent, because he did not love life. But the one who reverently has gained knowledge and seeks life plants in hope, anticipating fruit. (7) Let your heart be knowledge, and your life the true teaching,17 fully comprehended. (8) If this is the tree you cultivate, and whose fruit you pick, then you will always be harvesting the things that God desires, things that the serpent cannot touch and deceit cannot infect. Nor is Eve corrupted; instead, a virgin is trusted.18 (9) Furthermore, salvation is made   p 555  known, and apostles are instructed,19 and the Passover of the Lord goes forward, and the congregations are gathered together, and all things are arranged in order,20 and the Word rejoices as he teaches the saints, the Word through whom the Father is glorified. To him be glory forever. Amen.


1 the form they have: so A; Harmer (following Böhl) emends to this form.

2 possible … form: so A and most editors; Harmer (following Lachmann) reads possible for each of them to have been changed in form to represent something else.

3 who … gods: so Harmer (following Lachmann’s emendation). Others, adopting a different emendation, read who think and suppose that you are praising them.

4 Therefore … feel: or possibly Do you not, therefore, disprove its ability to feel?

5 There is an obvious break in the text at this point. According to a marginal note added by the copyist, the break already existed in the document from which he was copying. The following words in brackets were supplied by Henri Estienne (Stephanus), the first editor of the MS.

6 Cf. 1 Pet. 3:18.

7 and not be … clothing: Harmer and Meecham drop this phrase from the text, regarding it as a later insertion based on Matt. 6:25, 28, 31.

8 then … acquire: so Harmer and others, following Gebhardt’s conjecture (katalabe). If the reading of the MS (kai labes, “and if you first acquire”) is adopted, then apparently there would be another gap in the text at this point.

9 heaven: so Harmer (following Lachmann); the MS reads him.

10 lives: or possibly rules.

11 The text breaks off here, as a marginal note in the MS indicates. The missing portion, however, was probably not very long, inasmuch as the author has essentially answered the questions raised in the opening lines of the epistle. Cf. p. 530–31 above.

12 joy: so Harmer, following Lachmann’s emendation (chara). The MS (followed by many editors) reads grace (charis).

13 read … listened: in antiquity it was apparently the custom to read aloud, even when alone; cf. Acts 8:30; 2 Macc. 15:39: “the style of the story delights the ears of those who read the work.”

14 raising up … adorned: or alternatively with Lightfoot a flourishing tree bearing all kinds of fruit, growing up in themselves and adorned.

15 left naked: or perhaps stripped of it.

16 1 Cor. 8:1.

17 teaching: or possibly reason or word.

18 a virgin is trusted: or possibly (with Lightfoot and others) she is believed on as a virgin.

19 instructed: or given understanding, or perhaps interpreted.

20 congregations … order: Both text and meaning are uncertain. The MS reads “candles (kēroi) are gathered together and is arranged in order (meta kosmou).” The problem is that the second verb is singular and does not agree with the plural subject, candles. Some translators and editors simply change the singular verb ending (-etai) to plural (-ontai), “are arranged.” Others make the same change to the verb and also change the subject to “seasons” (kairoi). Goodspeed and Lake make these same two changes but give a different sense to the last phrase in the sentence: instead of “arranged in order,” they translate meta kosmou as “harmonized with the world.” The translation given above reflects Lightfoot’s adoption of two suggestions by Bunsen: (1) he changes kēroi to klēroi which Lightfoot rendered as “congregations”; and (2) rather than making the second verb plural, he supplies a second subject (panta, “all things”) that is grammatically suitable for the verb as it is found in the MS.

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Author: orland

.. i was born into an average family in the mid-west of the United States of America. my parents were divorced when i was young. ... i have been fortunate to have experienced many things that only the rich get to see. i once stayed in the Presidential Suite of the Lai Lai Sheraton Hotel, in Taipei, Taiwan. this suite composed the top two floors of the Lai Lai, where my private room overlooked the city of Taipai. ... and i have spent time in the Federal Prison System of this country as well. ... i had a construction company on the road to 'success and prosperity' and fell pray to the lures of the American Christianity Syndrome. but thank the good LORD, He allowed it all to crash around me. ... now i am quite happy to be poor, relying only on Him ....

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