The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetius

The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetius was an anonymous letter (Mathetes is not a proper name but is simply a disciple) written to a person we know nothing about. There is also no historical record of any person named Diognetius. The epistle was written between 130 AD – 200 AD, and is considered quite famous since several original manuscripts survived. It was recorded in the AnteNicene Fathers, Vol 1, which contains important documents from First and Second Century writers. I have been investigating this epistle and found it absolutely amazing in its depiction of early Christians.

The letter to Diognetius is a record of one person’s daily observations of who Christians were and how they lived. Nobody knows if the author was a believer or not, but he wanted somebody to know about these people. The Epistle is divided into 12 chapters, each having a separate title. Here are direct quotes from Chapter 5, “Relations of Christians to the world” and Chapter 6, “The Manners of the Christian”:

“For Christians are not differentiated from other people by country, language, or customs; you see, they do not live in cities of their own, or speak some strange dialect, or have some peculiar lifestyle.

This teaching of theirs has not been contrived by the invention and speculation of men, nor are they propagating mere human teaching as some do. They follow local customs in clothing, food, and other aspects of life. But at the same time, they demonstrate to us the wonderful and unusual form of their own citizenship. They share all things with others, but like aliens, suffer all things.

They marry and have children just like everyone else, but they do not kill unwanted babies. They offer a shared table, but not a shared bed. They are at present “in the flesh” but they do not live” according to the flesh”. They are passing their days on earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey the appointed laws, and go beyond the laws in their own lives.

They love everybody, but are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death and gain life. They are poor yet make many rich. They are short of everything and yet have plenty of all things. They are dishonored and yet gain glory through dishonor.

Their names are blackened and yet they are cleared. They are mocked and bless in return. They are treated outrageously and behave respectfully to others. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when punished, they rejoice as if being given new life. They are attacked by Jews as aliens, and persecuted by Greeks; yet those who hate them cannot give any reason for their hostility.

To put it simply – the soul is to the body as Christians are to the world. The soul is spread through all parts of the body and Christians through all cities of the world. The soul is in the body but is not of the body; Christians are in the world but not of the world”.

Notice these Biblical principles early saints were observed teaching, practicing, and actively promoting:

  1. Their Beliefs And Teachings Did Not Come From Men –
    “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe…But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness”. (I Cor 1:21, 23).

  2. These Christians Realized Their Citizenship Was In Heaven And They Were Aliens On Earth. –
    “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ”. (Phil 3:20). “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul”. (I Pet 2:11).

  3. They Did Not Kill Unwanted Babies And They Did Not Engage In Sexual Immorality –
    “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death”. (Rev 21:8).

  4. The Believers Are At Present “In The Flesh” But Do Not Live “According To The Flesh” –
    “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the “ Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly “ Week 14: Mark 14:22 Week 15: Mark 14:23,24 flesh with its passions and desires”. (Gal 5:24).

  5. They Obeyed The Laws Of Their Countries And Went Beyond This Law Keeping In Their Personal Lives. –
    “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God”. (Rom 13:1).
  6. Christians Love Everyone, Yet Are persecuted; They Gain Glory Being Dishonored. –
    Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law”. (Rom 13: 8). “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you…But rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy”. (I Pet 4:12- 13).
  7. Christians Are In The World, But Not Of The World –
    “But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world”. (John 17:13- 16).

Truly an amazing, concise, authentic, and extremely accurate description of Christians living in the First and Second Centuries. How do I know it was extremely accurate, you say? Because every account, every explanation, every word of narrative written in this Epistle to Diognetius, was exactly the same as Apostolic teaching confirmed in the Holy Scriptures!

Important Question For Our Consideration? What if a citizen from each city: Calera, Columbiana, Chelsea, Sylacauga, Shelby, Harpersville, Birmingham, Montevallo, Ashland, Westover, and Wilsonville; spent 30 days closely observing the lives and activities of Christians in their town? What would they record for the world to read? I hope this “old letter” looks pretty important to us now.