Tatian's Diatessarōn.

As Proof to the Authenticity of John's Gospel

By the Rev. Dr. Bullinger.

Taken from Things to Come Magazine, August, 1894


IT was reserved for the nineteenth century to seriously assail the authorship of the fourth gospel. The Alogi of the second century rejected it, without arguments, simply because they denied the doctrine of the Divine Logos. The doubts of Evanson and others in the eighteenth century were weak and superficial.

It is only in recent years that the higher critics have definitely advocated the subtle speculations of the Tiibingen School, giving up the Johannean Authorship, and assigning the composition of the gospel to some anonymous writer towards the close of the second century (certainly not before a.d. 170), with the exception, perhaps, of those passages which are to be found in the other gospels. But the discrepancies between the higher critics themselves are far more serious and fatal to their arguments than the alleged discrepancies between the fourth and the other three gospels. The evidence in favour of John's authorship, beginning with his own claim in chapter xxi. 24, is by no means wanting. But the most remarkable evidence has been reserved for our own days. So interesting is the history of it that it reads like a romance; so important is the evidence afforded by it that its force is absolutely crushing to the wild theories of the modern critics. Just as their criticisms are at their height, this evidence is forthcoming to meet and silence them.

It has been known for many centuries that a Greek by the name of Tatian compiled a work on the four gospels about the year 130 to 150 A.D. By some it was spoken of as a "fifth gospel"; by others " the gospel according to the Hebrews." Tatian himself called it Diatessarōn, from the Greek word Διατισσάρων, which means through four, i.e., one through four.1 In English idiom it would be represented by our word "Harmony," when we speak of "a harmony of the four gospels," i.e., one produced by means of the four.

Little is known of Tatian beyond that which he tells us in what was until recently thought to be his only surviving work, An Address to Greeks,2 This is a scathing exposure of the enormities and absurdities of heathenism. Having been an "initiate" of the ancient "mysteries," shocked by their religious rites, and perplexed by the "demons" instigating to the perpetration of evil, "retiring," he says, "by myself, I sought how I might be able to discover the truth; and while I was giving my most earnest attention to the matter, I happened to meet with certain barbaric writings,3 too old to be compared with the opinions of the Greeks, and too divine to be compared with their errors; and was led to put faith in these by the unpretending cast of the language, the inartificial character of the writers, the foreknowledge displayed by future events, the excellent quality of the precepts, and the declaration of the government of the universe as centred in one Being; and, my soul being taught of God, I discerned that the former class of writings lead to condemnation, but that these put an end to the slavery that is in the world, and rescue us from a multiplicity of rulers and ten thousand tyrants." His address concludes thus: "These things, O Greeks, I Tatian, a disciple of the barbaric philosophy, have composed for you. I was born in the land of the Assyrians, having been first instructed in your doctrines, and afterwards in those which I now undertake to proclaim. Henceforward, knowing who God is, and what is His work, I present myself to you prepared for an examination concerning my doctrines, while I adhere immoveably to that mode of life which is according to God."

Tatian was received into the church at Rome, and continued by his writings to defend his new faith.

His Diatessarōn was known to have existed by various writers.

Eusebius (a.d. 325) in his Ecc. History (iv. 29) speaks of it, though he had not seen it.

Epiphanius in his work on Heresies (about 374) says, "The Diatessarōn Gospel is said to have been composed by Tatian, which some call according to the Hebrews." (Cap. xlvi. 1.)

Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus, near the Euphrates, about 420 A.D., speaks of having collected and put away some 200 copies, replacing them by copies of the four evangelists.

Other writers refer to it as to a book which they had heard of, but never seen.

It was doubtless written in Syriac and therefore inaccessible to Greek and Latin Churches, while it was being used in the Syrian Churches to the exclusion of the separate gospels.

Modern writers, in the absence of the original work, have denied that Tatian could have been in possession of all the four gospels. They admitted that the Diatessarōn was a kind of gospel and compiled from more than one source, but not necessarily four. They criticised the references of ancient writers to it, and refused to accept their evidence, because it was their contention that "the miracles of healing ascribed to Jesus in the fourth gospel were a later invention, never heard of in the first century.

This is the secret of all the animus which the most enlightened modern criticism has manifested in its anxiety to get rid of such a piece of evidence. This "advanced thought '' and the " higher criticism " cannot be better exposed than by citing a paragraph from one of its works entitled Supernatural Religion, which ran through some six editions in as many months after its publication in 1875. These critics say:

"There is no authority for saying that Tatian's gospel was a Harmony of the four gospels at all; and the name Diatessarōn was not only not given by Tatian himself to the work, but was merely the usual foregone conclusion of the Christians of the third and fourth centuries; that everything in the shape of Evangelical literature must be dependent on the gospels adopted by the Church. Those however who called the gospel used by Tatian 4 the gospel according to the Hebrews/ must have read the work, and all that we know confirming their conclusion. No one seems to have seen Tatian's Harmony, probably for the simple reason that there was no such work. The manner in which Theodoret dealt with Tatian's gospel, or, 'that according to the Hebrews' recalls the treatment by Serapion of another form of the same work — the gospel 'according to Peter.'"

The words which we have printed in italics exhibit the modesty (!) and the truthfulness (!) of our modern critics. The whole of the above paragraph is now shown to be on a par with their criticisms of the Word of God itself — the ignorant reasonings and vain imaginatipns of their own hearts. For now comes the remarkable story of the discovery of this long lost but priceless work!

In the Vatican Library is an Arabic MS. numbered xiv. But no one knew anything of it until 1883, when Agostino Ciasca, one of the Guild of Writers to the Vatican, examined it and published an essay on it in Paris, entitled, On the Arabic Version of Tatian's Diatessarōn. Still the MS. itself remained in Arabic, untranslated. In 1886 Ciasca happened to show the MS. to Antonius Moreos, Visitor Apostolic to the Catholic Copts, who said he had seen one like it in Egypt, and could obtain it for him. In August, 1886, the promised MS. arrived in Rome, evidently a copy of the same work as 44 MS. xiv." This MS. Ciasca selected for translation, and in 1888 he published a Latin Translation of it in honour of the Pope's Jubilee.

The latter MS. distinctly states that it was translated from the Syriac into Arabic. This must have been before 1043 A.D., as the translator, Abû-l-Faraj, died in that year.

It is neither possible nor necessary for us to go into all the side issues raised and settled by this wonderful discovery — deeply important and interesting as they are.

The great and important fact is this, that Tatian's Diatessarōn opens with the words, "IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD, AND THE WORD WAS WITH GOD, AND THE WORD ITSELF IS GOD, &c., and contains practically the whole of John's Gospel!!

Apart from its value as a harmony, and the many interesting questions raised by and involved in it, there remains the inestimable value of the undeniable evidence afforded as to the Johannean Authorship of the fourth gospel, and as to its genuineness and authenticity.

Here it is proved that a man living and writing in the early part of the second century (being born about A.D. no, and dying, it is believed, about A.D. 180, at Edessa) had the gospel of john before him. He was a pupil of Justin Martyr (born about 114, and martyred about 165 A.D.), and therefore his Diatessarōn must have been compiled between A.D. 130-150, at which time John's Gospel was in circulation, and well known.

This remarkable discovery utterly demolishes the hypothesis of the higher critics that the fourth gospel was not the work of John, but that it was written by some unknown individual at the end of the second century, certainly, according to them, not before A.D. 170.

Tatian's work has now been translated into English with a valuable and elaborate introduction and appendix by the Rev. J. Hamlyn Hill, B.D., and published by T. and T. Clark.

It is no small privilege enjoyed by the readers of Things to Come to have some particulars of this remarkable work, which, as Mr. Hill well concludes his introduction by saying, "has been a subject of interest to Christians of every age since it was first written, around which so many controversies have revolved, which- has been in its entirety so singularly recovered in our own day, which throws so much light upon the information possessed by Christians of the second century, and which at the same time possesses a national interest."4



1) Διατισσάρων is the technical term in music for the interval of the fourth. Τέσσαρες (tessares) means four, and Diatessarōn means through four. In music, through four notes; just as diapasōn means through all, i.e., all the eight notes, and was used of the octave.

2) The names of others have come down to us; e.g., A Book of Problem (explaining what seemed obscure in the Old Testament), Of Perfection according to the Saviour, On Animals, A Collection of the Epistles of St.
(some eleven "fragments" of these, as preserved in quotations by Irenĉus, Clement of Alex., Jerome, and others, are given in vol. xlii. of T. and T. Clark's Ante-Nicene Christian Library, pp. 46-48), and The Diatessarōn, which, until quite recently, was also supposed to be lost

3) The books of the Hebrew Old Testament. How wondrous thus to hear of the power of God's word!

4) Those who desire to know more about this interesting subject are advised to procure a complete and elaborate, yet plain and clear account of the whole work, which has been prepared by our brother Pastor William Elliott, of Plymouth. It is entitled, Tatian's Diatessarōn and the Modem Critics. We have not yet seen more than the syllabus of it, but enough to show us its great excellence and value. It may be obtained of the Rev. W. Elliott, 13, Ashley Terrace, Plymouth.