In But Not Of This World (Epistle to Diognetus)

Lightfoot’s Apostolic Fathers in English

This is such a great section of the 2nd century Chrisitan letter called “The Epistle to Diognetus“.  It is good commentary on the teaching of Christ and his apostles that this present age, this present world, is not our permanent home (John 17; 1 Pet. 1:1, etc.).

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs. 2For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practise an extraordinary kind of life. 3Nor again do they possess any invention discovered by any intelligence or study of ingenious men, nor are they masters of any human dogma as some are. 4But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvellous, and confessedly contradicts expectation.
5They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners;
they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers.
Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign.
6They marry like all other men and they beget children; but they do not cast away their offspring.
7They have their meals in common, but not their wives.
8They find themselves in the flesh, and yet they live not after the flesh.
9Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.
They obey the established laws, and they surpass the laws in their own lives.
11They love all men, and they are persecuted by all.
12They are ignored, and yet they are condemned.
They are put to death, and yet they are endued with life.
13They are in beggary, and yet they make many rich.
They are in want of all things, and yet they abound in all things.
14They are dishonoured, and yet they are glorified in their dishonour.
They are evil spoken of, and yet they are vindicated.
15They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and they respect.
16Doing good they are punished as evil-doers; being punished they rejoice, as if they were thereby quickened by life. 17War is waged against them as aliens by the Jews, and persecution is carried on against them by the Greeks, and yet those that hate them cannot tell the reason of their hostility.

 Joseph Barber Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), 505–506.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015


O The Sweet Exchange!

Here are some great words from a late second century AD Christian tract/treatise called the Epistle to Diognetus (10:2-5).

“Oh the surpassing kindness and love of God! He did not hate us, or reject us, or bear a grudge against us; instead he was patient and forbearing; in his mercy he took upon himself our sins; he himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the guiltless for the guilty, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. …In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone?  O the sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous person, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!”

The above quote is found in The Apostolic Fathers 3rd edition; ed. and trans. Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 711.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: Brief Review Part II

Yesterday, I introduced this great addition to Reformed theological studies: David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).  Today, I’ll briefly point out a few highlights of chapters 2-3.

In chapter two, VanDrunen argues that

“The doctrines of natural law and the two kingdoms in the Reformed tradition did not spring from nowhere at the time of the Reformation.  They were rooted, in different ways, in nearly a millenium and a half of Christian reflection upon the natural knowledge of God’s law possessed by every human being and the relation of Christians individually and the church as a corporate body to civil society, and especially to the state” (p. 21).

He writes that Augustine and the Epistle to Diognetus both advocated a strong antithesis between the two kingdoms and at the same time showed that there is an area of overlap where Christians and non-Christians share a sort of common realm.  Of course, there are some nuances to consider, but these two themes are pretty clear in these two early church sources. 

In this chapter, VanDrunen also talks about the “two swords” doctrine of Pope Gelasius (c. 500 AD) and Pope Boniface VIII (c. 1300 AD), which in some ways correspond with the earlier Augustinian and Diognetian positions.  He also shows how William of Ockham (b. 1280)  returned more robustly to the Augustinian/Diognetian positions than did Boniface VIII.  Ockham argued strongly that the pope did not have authority in the civil realm.  The rest of the chapter is dedicated to the natural law teaching in the early and medieval church (including Aquinas and Ockham).  He ends chapter two by examining Luther’s two kingdom and natural law doctrines – showing the continuity among and contrast with earlier positions.  Basically, in this chapter (two) VanDrunen does a brief trek through church history showing that and how the two kingdoms and natural law teachings showed up.

Chapter three is outstanding.  In it, VanDrunen points out how Calvin stood in pretty strong continuity with the earlier church teachers when it came to the two kingdoms and natural law doctrines.  Discussing this chapter in-depth would take awhile (time which I don’t have!), so to summarize, Calvin did teach a two kingdoms doctrine which was somewhat similar to Luther with certain different nuances (you have to get the book to see the nuances!).  Concerning natural law, which is woven throughout Calvin’s writings, VanDrunen says “Calvin’s doctrines of natural law and the two kingdoms are intimately related” (p. 110).

This chapter on Calvin is worth reading a few times.  It is clear that Calvin did teach natural law and the two kingdoms; at the same time it is very important to note the political/cultural context Calvin worked within – a Constantinian-like Christendom.  Also, since Calvin was not perfect, we shouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t 100% consistent in discussion and/or application (as if anyone is!).  One more thing VanDrunen pointed out in this chapter was how Barth missed a fundamental aspect of Calvin’s teaching on natural law (p. 114).  I thought that was an important note to make.

A person doesn’t have to agree with the natural law and two kingdoms doctrines, yet if one wants to be honest, s/he has to acknowledge that they are an integral part of old-school Reformed/Presbyterian theology.  More in a day or two.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

For Greek Junkies: BDAG and the Apostolic Fathers

For you fellow Greek junkies out there, though I may be preaching to the choir, don’t forget to use BDAG (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature) to find word parallels between the NT and the early church fathers.  Below is an example from a brief word study on 1 Corinthians 15.14c.

In 15.14c Paul says that if there were no resurrection, our faith in Christ would be kenos.  Greek lexicons say this means empty, void, vain, etc.  To see how kenos was used by the early church fathers (or if they used it), go ask BDAG.  In this example, BDAG says that kenos was used (among many other places) in Dg 8:2.  The index of abbreviations in BDAG (p. lxiii in the front) says this is the Epistle to Diognetus.   If you have Michael Holmes’ edited volume, The Apostolic Fathers, you can see Dg 8:2 for yourself in Greek and English on page 707.

So we go to that (Dg 8:2) and see there in the Greek the same term (kenos) to describe the statements of the “specious philosophers” (axiopiston philosophon) who say that God was fire, or water, or any other element he created.  (Side note: there is humor here in Dg 8.2 – the author says that ironically those who think God is the element of fire are headed for that very thing: fire!)  These specious philosophers speak empty (kenos) and silly (lerodes) statements.

In Dg 8.2 we also get a parallel to kenos, the word Paul used in 1 Cor 15.14c: lerodes.  All this helps us get a little closer to the meaning of “vain faith,” a “resurrectionless” faith.  Paul says faith without the resurrection is empty; Dg 8:2 says the philosophers’ statements that God is fire is empty and silly.

Of course, these are just the basics of a word study – and remember word studies need to be handled and used with care!  The high-speed Bibleworks user could no doubt do this as well, perhaps with more depth.  The point I want to make, I suppose, is this: BDAG put the references to the early church fathers in there for a reason! Use it!

shane lems

sunnyside wa

This Kingdom, That Kingdom

The Epistle to Diognetus (c. 150 AD?) is a sort of apologetic work whose author scholars debate (Hippolytus? Theophilus of Antioch? Pantaenus?).  Regardless of the author, there are some outstanding themes and notes about early Christianity in this epistle.  Here’s one that we might call a nice definition of two kingdoms or pilgrim theology.  I’ll have to dig around Calvin and Luther to see if they cited it – though I’m not sure they had access to this letter.  Notice it is descriptive, not prescriptive.

“For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom.  For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life.  This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious people, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do.  But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship.

They live in their own countries, but only as nonresidents; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners.  Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign.  They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring.  They share their food but not their wives.  They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh.  They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.  They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws.  They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted.  They are unknown, yet they are condemned; they are put to death, yet they are brought to life…” [he goes on here to talk about different measures of persecution]. (Ep. to Diog. 6.1-12)

See The Apostolic Fathers ed. M. W. Holmes 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 701-3.

shane lems

sunnyside wa