Three Questions (Diognetus 1)

Summary

In the opening chapter of the letter, we learn that Diognetus has three “clear and careful” questions about the Christian faith.

  1. What do Christians believe about God and how do they worship Him?
  2. What is the nature of the heartfelt love they have for one another? (We will soon find that this question could also be phrased “How do Christians interact among themselves and within the wider world?”)
  3. If Christianity is true, why would God have waited so long to introduce it to the world?

Notes on the Reading

Who is Diognetus?

There are some throughout history who have held that the intended recipient of this letter was none other than Diognetus, the tutor of Marcus Aurelius. Whether this is the case or not is difficult to determine historically. What we do know is that Diognetus at least represents somebody within the Roman empire who is curious about the Christian faith.

Disregard the World? Despise death?

Though we will learn more about what the author of this letter means by these two phrases, it is worth highlighting the nuances of two Greek words used by the author.

The word translated as “disregard” means literally to overlook someone or something. To disregard the world appears to mean to intentionally overlook the ways of the world (i.e. those ways of living that are in contrast with the Christian faith) as viable ways of living.

The word translated as “despise” means to look down on something because it has little value or power.

Prayer for Speakers and Listeners

The author ends this opening chapter by asking God to allow him to speak in a way that benefits those who are listening. He also asks God to allow his audience to hear him in a way that leaves the speaker without regrets. These are two good prayers to keep in mind for those who speak and those who listen.

Discussion Questions

  1. What three questions do you think Diognetus would have about our faith if he were alive today?
  2. If you were responsible for answering these questions, what percentage of the letter would you devote to answering each question?

Reading for next week: Diognetus 2 and Acts 17:22-31

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What is the Epistle to Diognetus and Why Should I Read It?

What is the Epistle to Diognetus?

The Epistle to Diognetus is an ancient (probably 2nd or 3rd century) letter written by an anonymous Christian to someone in the Roman Empire who has questions about Christianity.

Why is now a good time to study this anonymous Christian letter?

Regardless of what outcome you expected or hoped for in the 2016 Election, you likely noticed the same thing I did along the way: we Christians need to think better about how our faith should drive our interaction in a pluralistic society. Put in biblical language: how should Christians today be in the world but not of the world. The Epistle to Diognetus was written, in part, to answer this very question.

Throughout Diognetus we see glimpses of an early Christian community living within the Roman Empire in a way that is inspiring and worthy of emulation.

(You can read more about how I read this letter with my Senior Theology class at Coram Deo Academy in the days following the election.)

Why study an ancient text (vs. modern)?

It is easy to assume that all modern industries and cultural spheres are operating at the “state of the art.” We often assume that the way we do things now is the best they have ever been done.

In some areas, this is likely true. Automobiles are safer, more reliable, and more efficient than ever before. Space exploration is beginning to bridge the gap between science and science fiction. But is everything at the state of the art? What about education? What about our ability to think well and speak clearly about things that really matter? What about Christian political theology?

We are studying an ancient text because some problems are so big they require the wisdom of those who have come before us.

Why study an extra-biblical text (vs. something from the Bible)?

We can never really exhaust the beauty and relevancy of the Christian Scriptures. So why would we spend a semester studying an ancient Christian epistle and not a New Testament epistle?

New Testament epistles were written to a specific audience for a specific purpose, and we simply do not have a New Testament epistle whose purpose matches that of the Epistle to Diognetus.

The Epistle to Diognetus relies heavily upon and only makes sense in light of the Christian Scriptures. Most weeks we will actually read a passage of Diognetus along side a passage of Scripture.

For Next Week: Read, and annotate, the opening chapter of Diognetus.

Click here to download the Handout and reading for next week here, or view below.

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