Christian reading

Issue N38

answers for a jew, valeriy sterkh

Answers for a Jew

Did Tatian write about contradictions in the Gospels?

Question: Tatian, a prominent Christian, wrote in 160 NE that there is a serious problem related to contradictions between the four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). He suggested making a new version of the Gospel, which would avoid these problems. Is this true?

Answer: Tatian the Syrian was a disciple of Justin the Philosopher (circa 112/120 – circa 180/185), a Christian writer and apologist. By the end of his life he fell into heresy. He is most known for his book «Diatessaron» (Greek διὰ τεσσάρων, which literally means: "through the four"). It connects the four Gospels into one unified narrative which avoids repetitions and reconciles parallel passages. Sometimes it is referred to as «The Gospel from the Four». For several centuries this text was used as standard in some Christian communities, mainly in the churches of Syria and Antioch. Therefore, it is unlikely that Tatian could have written about irresolvable contradictions between the Gospels. Otherwise how could he have harmonized them? The original text of «Diatessaron» has not been preserved (only one fragment was unearthed during excavations at the archeological site of Dura-Europos in 1933). We can only guess at its contents from brief quotations in other ancient writers. For example, Theodoret of Cyprus points out that «Diatessaron» does not include Christ's genealogies and other passages which show that Jesus came from the line of David according to the flesh. Theodoret found about two hundred copies of «Diatessaron» in his diocese, so he got rid of them and replaced them with the four canonical Gospels.

(to be continued)