Explorations in Theology

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Letter to Diognetus

This post ‘Christians as the soul of the world’ is an anonymous letter to a cultured unbeliever called Diognetus, written around 140AD. It is an early Apology using terminology that would have communicated in the world shaped by philosophers such as Plato and the Stoics. There are aspects I would change. It is a little too dualistic for me, but it keeps with the theme of the body of Christ being in the world and related to it as the animating element.


Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.

Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonour, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.


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3 thoughts on “Letter to Diognetus

  1. Thank you this is really interesting. I wished I lived like that with such courage . It seems as if hardship and persecution was expected by Christians then and they still chose it. They didn’t expect to be blessed or proper for their faith but rather be the blessing. They must have really encountered the living God. Amazing! I am lucky enough to have one friend who models this in her life.

  2. Thank you Martin. Like you, there are aspects I would change but the main theme is truly thrilling for me. I meet with those being persecuted for Jesus in several countries and their experience of Him, the demonstration of the love of the Father, and dynamic of the Spirit in their lives, is often an expression which, those who truly hunger for authentic discipleship, long for.

    I was with a young woman in Pakistan who had been set on fire with Kerosene (for coming to faith in Jesus, from Islam), yet through all the horror she is richly alive to Christ; loving her persecutors and rejoicing in her Saviour!

    I asked her how she had become so merciful, so gracious, so loving and so rejoicing, and she said this to me: “Because Paul, it is perfectly reasonable to find the very best of God in the very worst of circumstances”. Those words inspired and changed me. But it’s not a one-off; there are many more I could mention who live so beautifully and powerfully in this world, yet are not of it. They remind me of those mentioned in Hebrews 11:

    “Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them.”

    I have rarely seen such Glory as in the faces and lives of those who are persecuted yet do not let go of Christ!!!

    1. Paul thank you for the comment. Not just the comment but your connection to a world that many of us just simply do not face. Suffering and glory connected in Scripture.

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