Epistle to Diognetus

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The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus (Greek: Πρὸς Διόγνητον Ἐπιστολή) is an example of Christian apologetics, writings defending Christianity from its accusers. The Greek writer and recipient are not otherwise known; estimates of dating based on the language and other textual evidence have ranged from AD 130[1] (which would make it one of the earliest examples of apologetic literature), to the late 2nd century, with the latter often preferred in modern scholarship.[2]

Author and audience[edit]

"Mathetes" is not a proper name; it simply means "a disciple." The writer may be a Johannine Christian, although the name "Jesus" and the expression the "Christ" are not present in the text. The author prefers, rather, to refer to the "son" as "the Word."[3]

Diognetus was the name of a tutor of the emperor Marcus Aurelius,[4] who admired him for his freedom from superstition and sound educational advice,[5] it is unlikely, however, that this is the "Diognetus" that the text has in mind.


The Epistle survived only in one manuscript which was located in Strasbourg and was destroyed in a fire during the Franco-Prussian War in the year 1870.[6] This manuscript was initially discovered in a 13th-century codex that included writings ascribed to Justin Martyr.[6] Fortunately it had already been printed, the first time in 1592, when it was generally ascribed to Justin Martyr because of the context of its manuscript; in all copies, about two lines of the text are missing in the middle. The 13th-century manuscript was obviously damaged in that place and the copies were made only after that damage had already been done. A number of transcriptions of this manuscript survive today.


The Epistle is in twelve chapters:

  • Chapter I.-Occasion of the Epistle.
  • Chapter II.-The Vanity of Idols.
  • Chapter III.-Superstitions of the Jews.
  • Chapter IV.-The Other Observances of the Jews.
  • Chapter V.-The Manners of the Christians.
  • Chapter VI.-The Relation of Christians to the World.
  • Chapter VII.-The Manifestation of Christ.
  • Chapter VIII.-The Miserable State of Men Before the Coming of the Word.
  • Chapter IX.-Why the Son Was Sent So Late.
  • Chapter X.-The Blessings that Will Flow from Faith.
  • Chapter XI.-These Things are Worthy to Be Known and Believed.
  • Chapter XII.-The Importance of Knowledge to True Spiritual Life.

The 10th chapter breaks off in mid thought and so the last two chapters, a kind of peroration that abandons the (fictive?) epistolary formula, are often considered to be later additions as characteristically 3rd-century contentions appear in them: "This Word, Who was from the beginning...". Some have ascribed these additions to Hippolytus, based on similarities of thought and style; in the 11th chapter "Mathetes" presents himself as "having been a disciple of Apostles I come forward as a teacher of the Gentiles, ministering worthily to them" placing himself in a class with authoritative figures like John the Presbyter.


  • Crowe, Brandon D. "O Sweet Exchange! The Soteriological Significance of the Incarnation in the Epistle to Diognetus." Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 102, no. 1 (2011): 96-109.
  • Foster, Paul. "The Epistle to Diognetus." Expository Times 118, no. 4 (2007): 162-168.
  • Jefford, Clayton N.: "The Epistle to Diognetus (with Fragments of Quadratus): Introduction, Text and Commentary. ed. by N. Brox, K. Niederwimmer, H. E. Lona, F. R. Prostmeier, and J. Ulrich. (Series: Oxford Academic Fathers). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0199212743
  • Lienhard, Joseph T. "Christology of the Epistle to Diognetus." Vigiliae Christianae 24, no. 4 (1970): 280-289.
  • Lona, Horacio E.: "An Diognet", Übersetzt und erklärt, ed. by N. Brox, K. Niederwimmer, H. E. Lona, F. R. Prostmeier, and J. Ulrich. (Series: Kommentar zu frühchristlichen Apologeten, KfA, Vol. 8). Verlag Herder: Freiburg u.a., 2001. ISBN 3-451-27679-8
  • Nielsen, Charles Merritt. "Epistle to Diognetus: Its Date and Relationship to Marcion." Anglican Theological Review 52, no. 2 (1970): 77-91.


  1. ^ Cyril C. Richardson, Early Christian Fathers, (1953), pp. 206 - 210
  2. ^ Richard A Norris, Jr, 'The Apologists', in Frances Young, Lewis Ayres and Andrew Louth, eds, The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature, (2004), p. 43
  3. ^ Early Christian Writings
  4. ^ Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  5. ^ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 1.6
  6. ^ a b Foster, Paul (2007). "The Epistle to Diognetus". The Expository Times. 118: 162–168. 

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