Authority In Diognetus In Brief

So what will reading the Epistle to Diognetus (hereafter Diogn as is recommended in the SBL Handbook of Style) tell us about the views of the Apostolic Fathers on authority, revelation, Scripture, etc.? Let’s find out.

First of all, we do not know who wrote this work. So, I will just be referring to this anonymous person as "the author".

The Author’s Use Of Sources

The author does not quote from or explicitly refer to earlier writers much at all. Looking at Holmes, 3rd ed., you can one possible allusion in 9:6 (possibly referring to Matt 6:25, 28, and 31). You have one explicit quotation of 1 Cor 8:1 in Diogn 12:5. He calls Paul "the apostle" and quotes "Knowledge puffs up but love edifies." So at the very least from this we can see that the author respected Paul.

Compared to the other Apostolic Fathers, the author of this letter quotes very sparsely. We will have to look somewhere else for some solid information.

Homily on the Word

Chapter 11 is the author’s "Homily on the Word" (terminology borrowed from Holmes). We can learn much from this. I would quote in Greek, but it is very long. To see the Greek of this check it out on the CCEL site. The translation here is my own. This piece of text is not only interesting in terms of how the author views his own authority, but it is also great Christology. I doubt my translation will do it justice.

11:1 I am not talking about strange things nor am I seeking knowledge irrationally, but since I was a disciple of the apostles I am becoming a teacher of the gentiles. With the teachings passed down I serve in a worthy manner those who are becoming disciples of the truth. 11:2 Does not someone, having been taught rightly and having become someone who finds pleasure in the Word, seek to learn clearly the things made known clearly through the Word? To them, appearing, the Word revealed these things, speaking plainly. He was not understood by unbelievers, but related these things to his disciples, who being considered faithful by Him knew the mystery of the Father. 11:3 For this reason He sent the Word, in order that He might appear to the world, dishonored by the people, preached by the apostles, believed on by the gentiles. 11:4 This one was from the beginning, appearing to be new was found to be old, and always young when he is born in the hearts of the holy. 11:5 This is the eternal one, today considered to be the Son, through whom the church is made rich and grace, being unfolded in the saints, is magnified, showing the mind, manifesting the mystery, announcing the times, rejoicing over the faithful, giving gifts to those who seek, to whom will not break oaths of faith nor transgress the boundaries of the Fathers. 11:6 Next fear of the law is sung, the grace of the prophets is known, faith in the promises is established, the tradition of the apostles is guarded, and the joy of the church will spring up. 11:7 Not grieving this grace, you will understand what the Word is speaking through whom he desires, when he desires. 11:8 For as much as allowed by the will of the Word who commanded us he caused us to proclaim laboriously, out of love for the things revealed to us, we become partakers with you.

Questions to Ask

So here are some questions we will ask of the text. We will ask these same questions when we interact with other authors, and will add questions along the way.

What is the primary source(s) of revelation? - The primary source of revelation is the incarnate Christ, and we get what he said through what the apostles handed down to him (and presumably others). I think the assumption here is clearly that this revelation was passed down through discipleship, not through reading their writings. To say this all in another way, authority and revelation come through the unbroken chain of Word to apostles to disciples.

What place do the Old Testament writings have in his understanding of revelation? - Nothing explicit is said of the writings of the Old Testament. However, it would be unwise to assume that they were of no importance. We simply do not know.

What place do the New Testament writings have in his understanding of revelation? - Since the author quotes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and calls Paul "the apostle", then clearly he considered this writing authoritative. Other than that, his authority seems to be derived more through personal training.

What place do non-canonical works have in his understanding of revelation? - Nothing explicit is said of non-canonical writings.


Next we will be discussing 1 Clement, bishop of Rome.