In our last post we observed that there is clear evidence that over the centuries a process of ‘harmonization’ of the Diatessaron text had occurred, whereby the text had accrued passages from the standard biblical text in the course of transmission.
In this our fourth post in the series, we will examine instances where the Diatessaron clearly supports passages which modern Bible translations treat as later interpolations; and one instance where it clearly doesn’t.
You can find a description of the Diatessaron, and of its author, in the first post in our series here.
Here, then, are two more things we learn from the Diatessaron text as we have it.
#7. The Diatessaron provides evidence in favour of some of the New Testament’s margin readings or disputed readings
“Since the Diatessaron is an early variant of the four Gospels, we would naturally expect it — once we have filtered out the accretions — to preserve a particular tradition as to which passages were, or were not, part of the original text of the Gospels. And indeed we find this to be the case.”
Since the Diatessaron is an early variant of the four Gospels, we would naturally expect it — once we have filtered out the accretions — to preserve a particular tradition as to which passages were, or were not, part of the original text of the Gospels. And indeed we find this to be the case.
In many instances, the text supports readings which are considered marginal or disputed in our New Testaments.
Let me give you four examples of this, and then a fifth text which, rather strangely, appears in the Diatessaron but in none of our copies of the New Testament.
(i.) John 5:3-4
In the ESV translation John 5:1-5 reads:
1After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralysed.[*] 5One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.
A footnote at the place which I’ve marked with an asterisk points out a marginal reading, as follows:—
Some manuscripts insert, wholly or in part, waiting for the moving of the water; 4for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had
However, the text of the Diatessaron as we have it actually preserves this margin reading in its section XXII:—
And there was in Jerusalem a place prepared for bathing, which was called in Hebrew the House of Mercy, having five porches. And there were laid in them much people of the sick, and blind, and lame, and paralysed, waiting for the moving of the water. And the angel from time to time went down into the place of bathing, and moved the water; and the first that went down after the moving of the water, every pain that he had was healed.
“The Diatessaron, as we now have it, […] represents a witness in favour of the authenticity of [John chapter 5] verses 3b-4.”
The Diatessaron, as we now have it, therefore represents a witness in favour of the authenticity of verses 3b-4.
This may, of course, be an instance of accretion into the Diatessaron text in our manuscripts. There is no reason why John 5:3b-4 could not have crept into our copies of the Diatessaron from the standard text. On the basis of the evidence which we have, it seems to me impossible to say whether this is the case or not.
(ii.) Mark 9:44,46,48
In the ESV translation Mark 9:43-48 reads:
43“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.[*] 45And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’”
A footnote at the placed marked with an asterisk notes:—
Some manuscripts add verses 44 and 46 (which are identical with verse 48)
In other words, in some versions of Mark 9 Jesus says three times, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”
Our copies of the Diatessaron bear witness to the genuineness of verses 44 & 46, albeit in a rather curious way. In our text of section XXV we read:—
“If your hand or your foot does you injury, cut it off, and cast it from you; for it is better for you to enter into life being halt or maimed, than having two hands or two feet, to fall into the hell of fire that burns for ever — where their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. And if your eye seduces you, pluck it out, and cast it from you; for it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to fall into the fire of Gehenna — where their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched.”
“[The Diatessaron] iterates the phrase, ‘where their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched,’ not once, not thrice, but twice.”
Here the text iterates the phrase, “where their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched,” not once (as per ESV, NIV, NRSV), not thrice (as KJV), but twice. By position its two iterations of the phrase represent verses 44 and 48 from Mark chapter 9, with verse 46 omitted.
Assuming this text to preserve the original form of this passage in the Diatessaron, it is most curious that Tatian should iterate the phrase twice, which has the authority of none of our New Testament manuscripts.
However, I think this bears witness rather in favour of Mark chapter 9’s thrice saying, “where their worm does not die, &c.,” than of its once saying it. If Tatian’s source text only had this phrase once (i.e., verse 48, with 44 and 46 omitted), then why include it twice in the harmony?
It is, of course, possible that we have here another instance of accretion: verse 44 could have crept into our copies of the Diatessaron from the standard text, but not verse 46.
(iii.) John 3:13
“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man[, who is in heaven].”
John 3:13 (ESV), with margin reading included
The ESV of John 3:13 reads,
“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[*]”
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only,”
where the words, “nor the Son,” are noted as omitted in some manuscripts.
NIV and NRSV also include the clause, with a similar note, as do most modern translations; although interestingly the KJV omits it.
Our copies of the Diatessaron support the clause, having it in section XLII, as follows:—
“Of that day and of that hour has no man learned, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”
(v.) Matthew 17:26-27
“Now we come to one of the odder inclusions in the whole Diatessaron: the addition of two entire sentences in Matthew chapter 17.”
And now we come to one of the odder inclusions in the whole Diatessaron: the addition of two entire sentences in Matthew chapter 17.
The biblical passage in question, Matthew 17:24-27, is one of the more curious passages of the Gospels to begin with. In the ESV translation it reads:—
24When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26And when he said, “From others”, Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27However, not to give offence to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
The corresponding passage in the Diatessaron, in section XXV, reads as follows:—
And when Simon went outside, those that received two dirhams for the tribute came to Cephas, and said to him, “Doesn’t your master give his two dirhams?” He said to them, “Yes.” And when Cephas entered the house, Jesus anticipated him, and said to him, “What do you think, Simon? The kings of the earth, from whom do they receive custom and tribute? From their sons, or from strangers?” Simon said to him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Children then are free.” Simon said to him, “Yes.” Jesus said to him, “Give also to them, like the stranger. But, so it does not cause them offence, go to the sea, and cast a hook; and the first fish that comes up, open its mouth, and you will find a stater: take that therefore, and give it for me and for you.”
“Simon said to him, ‘Yes.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Give also to them, like the stranger.’”
Diatessaron, section XXV
By a careful comparison of the two passages, you may already have noticed the addition in the Diatessaron passage, located at the end of verse 26 of the Matthew passage:
Simon said to him, “Yes.” Jesus said to him, “Give also to them, like the stranger.”
It is puzzling where these two extra sentences could have come from. You will not find them even as a margin reading in any of the usual translations.
#8. The Diatessaron is a clear witness against the authenticity of John 7:53—8:11
One of the disputed passages of the Gospels which is decidedly not supported by the Diatessaron, is the famous passage about the woman caught in adultery, John 7:53—8:11.
Nearly all modern Bible translations include this passage but clearly mark it as not present in the earliest manuscripts. So for example, in the ESV the passage is given as follows:—
[THE EARLIEST MANUSCRIPTS DO NOT INCLUDE 7:53–8:11.]
53[[They went each to his own house, 1but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]]
This passage is not present anywhere in Tatian’s text. We would naturally expect it to occur between Tatian’s equivalent of John 7:52 and his equivalent of John 8:12, that is, in section XXXV of the Diatessaron. But when we look there, what we find is:—
[John 7:52] They answered and said to him, “Are you also by any chance from Galilee? Search, and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”
[Matt. 22:41] And when the Pharisees assembled, Jesus asked them, and said,
[Matt. 22:42] “What do you say about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.”
[Matt. 22:43] He said to them, “How then does David in the Holy Spirit call him Lord? For he said,
[Matt. 22:44] “‘The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit on my right hand, that I may put your enemies under your feet.’
[Matt. 22:45] “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
[Matt. 22:46] And no one was able to answer him; and no man dared from that day again to ask him any more questions.
[John 8:12] And Jesus addressed them again, and said, “I am the light of the world. And he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall find the light of life.”
I have put the cross-references to the Gospels in here to make it clearer what’s going on.
“Directly between John 7:52 and John 8:12, where we would expect to find our passage about the woman caught in adultery, we instead find that Tatian has inserted an entirely different passage from Matthew’s Gospel.”
So directly between John 7:52 and John 8:12, where we would expect to find our passage about the woman caught in adultery, we instead find that Tatian has inserted an entirely different passage from Matthew’s Gospel.
Nor does the passage about the woman caught in adultery crop up elsewhere in the Diatessaron. It simply isn’t there.
Hence the Diatessaron is a very clear early witness that John 7:53—8:11 is a subsequent interpolation.
In this our fourth post in the series, we have seen a number of instances where the Diatessaron — as we have it — supports some disputed or marginal readings in the New Testament. We gave brief consideration to whether any of this ‘support’ could be the result of accretion into the Diatessaron, albeit without being able to come to any definite conclusion.
We also saw a very strange instance of a passage in the Diatessaron which — as far as I am aware — does not appear in any of our copies of Matthew’s Gospel.
And we saw one instance where the Diatessaron definitely does not support a well-known passage in our Gospels.
In our next post we will consider what the Diatessaron tells us about the so-called ‘Longer Ending’ of Mark’s Gospel, Mark 16:9-20.
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Graham is an evangelical Christian believer living in Sussex, UK. He is passionate about helping people to understand what the Bible really says, and about explaining what the Christians of the early centuries believed and taught.