(110 - 180 AD)

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Tatian referred to himself as "an Assyrian,"[1] "born in the frontier district between the Roman Empire and Parthia".[2] Trained in "mythology, history, poetry, and chronology"[3] he became disgusted with paganism. He travelled first to Antioch and then to Rome, where he was converted by reading the Hebrew Scriptures.[4] In Rome he joined the school of Justin Martyr, (between 150-165)[5] whom he held in high regard.[6] Tatian was a man of fiery temperament and seems to have found in Christianity a means by which to attack not only "pagan religion, but also… the Roman system of law and government."[7] He was apparently the first Christian writer to declare that God created matter by the power of the Logos:[8] "And as the Logos, begotten in the beginning, begat in turn our world, having first created for Himself the necessary matter..."[9] From this it was only a small step for later Christian thinkers to arrive at the doctrine of creation out of nothing.[10] Unlike his teacher Justin he did not link the Greek hero Deucalion with Noah.[11]

After Justin’s martyrdom Tatian’s teaching gradually became more and more ascetic, until he broke with the Church in about 172 and returned to Mesopotamia.[12] Here (according to Eusebius and Jerome) he founded the sect of the Encratites.[13] Who, it was alleged, abstained from meat and rejected worldly goods, substituting water for wine in the Eucharist.[14] He was opposed by many of the early church fathers, including Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria,[15] Hippolytus[16] and Origen.[17] This probably explains why all but two of his numerous works have perished, so we have little opportunity to examine at first hand the claims of heresy levelled at him.[18] Irenaeus summarises the false teachings of Tatian as follows:

  1. "He invented a system of certain invisible Aeons [or powers], like the followers of Valentinus..."
  2. "Like Marcion and Saturninus, he declared that marriage was nothing else than corruption and fornication..."[19]
  3. "...his denial of Adam’s salvation..."[20]

Irenaeus notes that Tatian was the source of this last heresy. Robert M. Grant explains Tatian’s reasoning in the Address as follows: "...since immortality is obtainable only where a soul forms a union… with the divine Spirit (13.2), and since the divine Spirit was lost by the same man (7.3), the first man Adam cannot have been saved."[21] Perhaps more interesting than Tatian’s reasoning is the obvious inference that if Irenaeus was able to class the denial of Adam’s salvation as heresy (and Scripture is silent on this point) then the orthodox position at that time must have been that Adam was saved after the fall. It may well be that this doctrine was considered important because it countered Gnostic teaching to the contrary.

It is not surprising that Tatian’s teaching on creation was misinterpreted when he made use of Gnostic terminology. An example of this is Tatian's statement that the Logos, begotten by the Father, in turn 'begot' the creation (5.2).[22] Further evidence of allegedly Gnostic teaching is found in Address 20:

The demons were driven forth to another abode; the first created human beings were expelled from their place: the one, indeed were cast down from heaven; but the other were driven from the earth, yet not out of this earth, but from a more excellent order of things than exists here now.

The phrase "not of this earth, but from a more excellent order of things..." may suggest to some a higher level of existence,[23] but could equally be well be taken as a reference to the physical Eden, which is no longer part of this world.[24] In defence of Tatian, Gerald F. Hawthorne has made the following points[25]:

  • "It is quite possible that Irenaeus’ catalogue of heresies is derived solely from his acquaintance with the Discourse."
  • "Subsequent references to Tatian as a heretic among the early fathers seem to be based upon Irenaeus’ remarks with very little evidence for his heresy."[26]
  • "Some of the things for which Irenaeus condemned Tatian can hardly be classed a heresy..." An example of this is the subject of Adam’s salvation - or lack of it - as noted above.
  • "Some orthodox teachers of the early church… spoke of him as the champion of orthodoxy. Rhodo, for example, Tatian’s own pupil, testifies that he combated the heresy of Marcion."[27]

Given these considerations it is less easy to dismiss Tatian out of hand as a heretic. The charge that Tatian was a Gnostic is difficult to substantiate. Tatian clearly declared his belief in Christ’s incarnation,[28] His suffering[29] and bodily resurrection.[30] We can only guess at the real reason for Tatian’s condemnation at the hands of Irenaeus. Some have suggested that it may have been his status as an independent Christian teacher. In such a position he was outside of the control of the church hierarchy and may well have been seen as a threat to orthodoxy; "orthodoxy" at that point in history being increasingly defined as that which the bishops believed.

Rob Bradshaw, Webmaster


[1] Tatian, Address, 42 (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, 81-82).

[2] Frend, The Rise of Christianity. (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1984), 175.

[3] Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, 1910. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 727.

[4] Tatian, Address, 29 (ANF, Vol. 2, 77).

[5] "Justin Martyr", Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church 3rd edn., 1341.

[6] Tatian, Address, 18 (ANF, Vol. 2, 73).

[7] Frend, Rise, 175; Tatian, Address, 28 (ANF, Vol. 2, 77).

[8] B. Studer, "Creation," Angelo D. Bernardino, ed. Encyclopedia of the Early Church, Vol. 1. (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 1992).

[9] Tatian, Address, 5 (ANF, Vol. 2, 67).

[10] May, 154.

[11] Jack P. Lewis, A Study of the Interpretation of Noah and the Flood in Jewish and Christian Literature. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1968), 107: "Though Tatian does not specifically mention Noah's flood, his chronology would make it impossible for him to identify Deucalion with Noah (Address to the Greeks 39.2)."

[12] Eusebius, History, 4.29.3 (NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. 1, 208.

[13] Eusebius, History, 4.29.6 (NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. 1, 209); Jerome, Lives, 29 (NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. 3, 369); Against Jovinian 1.3 (NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. 6, 347); cf. Irenaeus, who writes that this sect came from Saturinus and Marcion (see Heresies 1.28.1 [ANF, , Vol. 1, 353]). Hendrik F. Stander, "Encratites," Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 298.

[14] Stander, "Encratites," Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 298.

[15] Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 3.7; ANF, Vol. 2, 396, 406-407 (text in Latin).

[16] Hippolytus, Refutation, 8.9; 10.14 (ANF, Vol. 5, 122, 146).

[17] Oxford Dictionary of the Chriatian Church, 3rd edn., 1341.

[18] ANF, , Vol. 2, 61.

[19] Tatian rejected marriage on the basis of 1 Cor. 7:5 & Gal. 6:8; Tatian, Address, 8 (ANF, Vol. 2, 68); Irenaeus, Heresies 1.28.1 (ANF, Vol. 1, 353). See further R.M. Grant, "Tatian and the Bible," Kurt Aland & F.L. Cross eds. Studia Patristica, Vol. 1. (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1957), 300-301.

[20] Irenaeus, Heresies, 1.28.1 (ANF, Series 1, Vol. 1, 353).

[21] Robert M. Grant, "The Heresy of Tatian," Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. 46 (1954): 64.

[22] Grant, "Heresy," 64.

[23] Grant, "Tatian," 305.

[24] Robert C. Newman, Personal Communication, November 1995.

[25] Gerald F. Hawthorne, "Tatian and His Discourse to the Greeks," Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 57, No. 3 (1964): 165-166.

[26] Eusebius, History, 4.29 (NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. 1, 207-209); Hippolytus, Philosphumena, 8.16.

[27] Eusebius, History, 5.13.1 (NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. 1, 227).

[28] Tatian, Address 21 (ANF, Vol. 2, 74).

[29] Tatian, Address 15 (ANF, Vol. 2, 71-72).

[30] Tatian, Address 13 (ANF, Vol. 2, 70-71).

Primary Sources

Book or monograph Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies 3.12.81-82
Book or monograph Eusebius, Church History 4.16.7; 4.29; 5.13.8
Book or monograph H.G. Hogg, trans. "The Diatessaron of Tatian," Ante-Nicene Fathers, new edn., Vol. 10. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999. Hbk. pp.35-138.
Book or monograph Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.28; 3.23.8
Book or monograph Origen, Against Celsus 1.16
Book or monograph Origen, On Prayer 24.5
Book or monograph Selections from the Prophetic Scriptures 36.
On-line Resource Tatian (Christian Classic Ethereal Library)
On-line Resource James Hamlyn Hill [1847-1915], The Earliest Life of Christ Ever Compiled from the Four Gospels, Being The Diatessaron of Tatian [circ. A.D. 160]James Hamlyn Hill [1847-1915], The Earliest Life of Christ Ever Compiled from the Four Gospels, Being The Diatessaron of Tatian [circ. A.D. 160]. Literally translated from the Arabic Version and containing the Four Gospels in One Story. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1910. Hbk. pp.224. View in PDF format pdf [This material is in the Public Domain]
On-line Resource Alexander Roberts [1826-1901] & James Donaldson [1831-1915], eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Translations of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, Vol. 2Alexander Roberts [1826-1901] & James Donaldson [1831-1915], eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Translations of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, Vol. 2: Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire). Buffalo, NY: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1887. Hbk. pp.626. View in PDF format pdf [This material is in the Public Domain]

Secondary Sources

On-line Resource Craig D. Allert, "The State of the New Testament Canon in the Second Century: Putting Tatian's Diatessaron in Perspective," Bulletin for Biblical Research 9 (1999): 1-18. View in PDF format pdf
Article in Journal or Book T. Baarda, "John 1:5 in the Oration and Diatessaron of Tatian: Concerning the Reading katalambanei," Vigiliae Christianae 47.3 (1993): 209-225.
Article in Journal or Book T. Baarda, "The 'Foolish' or 'Dead' Fig-tree Concerning Luke 19:4 in the Diatessaron," Novum Testamentum 43.2 (2001): 161-177.
Article in Journal or Book George A. Barton & Hans Henry Spoer, “Traces of the Diatessaron of Tatian in Harclean Syriac lectionaries,” Journal of Biblical Literature 24.2 (1905): 179-195.
Article in Journal or Book G.W. Clarke, "The Date of the Oration of Tatian," Harvard Theological Review 60.1 (1967): 123-126.
Book or monograph F.L. Cross, The Early Christian Fathers. Studies in Theology 1. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd., 1960. Hbk. pp.53-54, 66-68.
On-line Resource William John Ferrar [1868-1945], The Early Christian Books. Handbooks of Christian LiteratureWilliam John Ferrar [1868-1945], The Early Christian Books. Handbooks of Christian Literature. London: SPCK, 1919. Hbk. pp.108. View in PDF format pdf [This material is in the Public Domain]
Article in Journal or Book Richard J.H. Gottheil, “Quotations from the Diatessaron,” Journal of Biblical Literature 11.1 (1892): 68-71.
Article in Journal or Book Isaac H. Hall, “A pair of citations from the Diatessaron,” Journal of Biblical Literature 10.2 (1891): 153-155.
Article in Journal or Book Gerald F. Hawthorne, "Tatian and His Discourse to the Greeks," Harvard Theological Review. Vol. 57 (1964): 161-188.
Article in Journal or Book Roman Hanig, "Tatian und Justin. Ein Vergleich (Tatian and Justin: A Comparison)," Vigiliae Christianae 53.1 (1998): 31-73.
On-line Resource Peter M. Head, "Tatian's Christology and its influence on the composition of the Diatessaron," Tyndale Bulletin 43.1 (1992): 121-137.View in PDF format pdf
On-line Resource Tatian (Patrick J. Healy)
Book or monograph Emily J. Hunt, Christianity in the Second Century: The Case of Tatian. Routledge Early Church Monographs. London: Routledge, an imprint of Taylor & Francis Books Ltd., 2003. Pbk. ISBN: 0415304067. pp.256.
On-line Resource Edward A. Johnson, "The first harmony of the Gospels: Tatian's Diatessaron and its theology," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 14.4 (Fall 1971): 227-238. View in PDF format pdf
Article in Journal or Book Jan Joosten, "Tatian's Diatessaron and the Old Testament Peshitta," Journal of Biblical Literature 120.3 (2001): 501-523.
Article in Journal or Book Jan Joosten, "The Gospel of Barnabas and the Diatessaron," Harvard Theological Review 95.1 (2002): 73-96.
On-line Resource Tatian's Address to the Greeks (Peter Kirby)
On-line Resource Leslie McFall, "Tatian's Diatessaron: Mischievous or Misleading?" Westminster Theological Journal 56.1 (Spring 1994): 87-114. View in PDF format pdf [Accompanying tables:  Table1a   Table1b   Table2]
Article in Journal or Book Charles Marsh Mead, “Tatian’s Diatessaron and the analysis of the Pentateuch: a reply,” Journal of Biblical Literature 10.1 (1891): 44-54.
On-line Resource Bruce M. Metzger, “Tatian’s Diatessaron and a Persian harmony of the Gospels,” Journal of Biblical Literature 69.3 (Sept. 1950): 261-280. View in PDF format pdf [Reproduced by permission of the current copyright holder]
Article in Journal or Book George Foot Moore, “Tatian’s Diatessaron and the analysis of the Pentateuch,” Journal of Biblical Literature 9.2 (1890): 201-215.
Book or monograph Nicholas Perrin, Thomas and Tatian: The Relationship Between the "Gospel of Thomas" and the "Diatessaron". SBL - Academia Biblica. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Hbk. ISBN: 9004127100. pp.218.
Article in Journal or Book William L. Petersen, "New Evidence for the Question of the Original Language of the Diatessaron," Heinrich Greeven, ed., Studien zum TExt und zur Think des Neuen Testaments Festschrift... Berlin: de Gruyter, 1986. pp.325-343.
Article in Journal or Book W.L. Petersen, "Tatian's Dependence upon Justin's APOMNHMONEYMATA," New Testament Studies 36 (1990): 512-34.
Book or monograph William L. Petersen, Tatian's "Diatessaron": Its Creation, Dissemination, Significance and History in Scholarship. Vigiliae Christianae Supplements Series. Leiden: Brill, 1994. Hbk. ISBN: 9004094695. pp.528.
Book or monograph Gilles Quispel, Tatian and the Gospel of Thomas: Studies in the History of the Western Diatessaron. Leiden: Brill, 1975. ISBN: 9004043160. pp.200.
Sign-up to Perlego and access book instantly David Ivan Rankin, From Clement to OrigenDavid Ivan Rankin, From Clement to Origen. The Social and Historical Context of the Church Fathers. London: Routledge, 2016. ISBN: 9781317132424. pp.182. [Sign-up to Perlego and access book instantly]
Article in Journal or Book Robert F. Shedinger, "Did Tatian Use the Old Testament Peshitta? A Response to Jan Joosten," Novum Testamentum 41.3 (1999): 265-279.
Book or monograph M. Whittaker, "Tatian's Educational Background," Studia Patristica 13 (1975): 57-59.
On-line Resource Edward J. Young, "Biblical Criticism in the Second Century" (Pd.D. diss., The Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning, 1943).View in PDF format pdf [Reproduced by permission of the current copyright holder]

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