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Who was Tatian of Adiabene?

Tatian of Adiabene

Tatian of Adiabene was a second-century writer and theologian. His works include the Diatessaron (“From Four”), a paraphrase of the four Gospels that combined all four books into one; the Oratio ad Graecos, or “Address to the Greeks,” which contains a condemnation of paganism and a presentation of Christianity as the better alternative; On Perfection According to the Doctrine of the Savior, in which Tatian addresses matrimony; and Problematon Biblion, a compilation of obscure passages of Scripture. There is evidence that Tatian of Adiabene was a student of Justin Martyr.

Tatian of Adiabene was of Syrian descent and as such is also known as Tatian the Syrian and Tatian the Assyrian (in Greek, his name is Tatianos). He tells readers in his Oratio ad Graecos that he was born in Syria and then traveled to Rome. During his time in Rome, Tatian was introduced to Christianity, read the Old Testament, and became disenchanted with paganism. Believing paganism to be “unreasonable,” his dislike of the Greek religious system grew, and he eventually converted to Christianity. There are many passages in the Old Testament dealing with pagan religion and Yahweh’s condemnation of pagan ritual and pagan idols (Exodus 34:17; Leviticus 19:4; 26:1; 26:30; Deuteronomy 12:3; 29:17; 1 Samuel 12:21; 2 Kings 17:12). It is not surprising that a person of pagan descent, being called by God, would react as Tatian of Adiabene did to God’s Word.

The writings of Tatian of Adiabene contain some questionable elements, and his eventual association with the Encratites, a heretical group in Syria, is problematic. Tatian’s Diatessaron takes the four Gospels, cuts them up, and cobbles them together in a new way, presenting the result as a viable alternative to the Scripture. In fact, in Syrian churches, the Diatessaron was used in place of the four Gospels exclusively until the fifth century when the bishop of Edessa ordered it replaced by a copy of the original four, separate Gospels.

Another problem is in Tatian’s On Perfection According to the Doctrine of the Savior, in which he condemns matrimony, saying the idea of matrimony was created by the devil and is not within the will of God. He says that matrimony ties a person’s flesh to the world. This is clearly not biblical, as the author of Hebrews calls marriage “honorable” (Hebrews 13:4), and the apostle Paul presents marriage as the better alternative to sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 7:1–9). One of the marks of a false teacher is that he forbids marriage (1 Timothy 4:3).

In general, Tatian’s writings focus on monotheism vs. polytheism, and the differing spirits that exist. He postulates that the Logos is the source of creation (John 1:1–2) and then that creation was invaded by a pneuma hylikon or “world spirit,” which exists in all things and in man is called the psyche, or soul. In this way, man is not any different from the animals or plants, except when “lifted up” by the divine spirit. This theology clearly has Gnostic overtones and is largely speculative. As with the works of any non-canonical writer, Tatian of Adiabene’s writings should be compared to Scripture at all points, and only that which agrees should be accepted as true.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022