Written by Mor Dionysius Jacob Bar Salibi Metropolitan of Amid (Diarbakir) (d.1171)
Translated from Syriac by Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Joseph Tarzi
Pastor of St. Ephrem’s Cathedral in Burbank, California (2003)
Chapter 1 The Purpose
When the commentaries on the Pentateuch and the Prophets were completed as concisely and as simply as possible, O’ our admirable brother, we have proceeded to work on the New Testament, that is, the Gospels and the Book of Acts together with the Epistles of Paul. In doing so, we are not saying anything of our own but rather we are building on the foundation of earlier exegetes for the building of the spirit and for the benefit of the soul. Also, when we looked at and examined the commentaries on the Gospels by these exegetes, I mean, St. Ephraim, St. Ivanius1, St. Cyril2, and those who came after them, such as Moushe (Moses) Bar Keefo3 and Ivanius of Dara4 together with most of the other doctors, we realized that it was not possible to gather the commentaries of all of them in one book, lest the text volume would be out of proportion, and we would need many books and volumes. Therefore, we undertook to gather concisely all the thoughts of all the exegetes, and condense the length and the breadth of their work, as much as possible. We thought of this so that lengthy discourses might not overburden the listeners, just as fullness and too much food do to the stomach, and that the slothful and the inadvertent might be stirred to moderate studying and reading, and brief and short listening. As for you, O’ exhorter of those who are slothful and inadvertent, and you, O’ hearkeners and listeners, proffer continuous prayer for Dionysius the stranger, Yacoub, the humble servant of God, who according to his power, has done what is due and proper, and did not send the petitioner and the requestor away in disappointment.
We commence now by writing about the purport and the sense concealed in the chapters which the doctors composed before writing their commentaries.
Chapter 2 The Existence of God
Human’s knowledge of God’s existence comes from two sources: Nature and the Book. As for Nature, it has implanted in mankind the knowledge that God does exist, and that He is the Maker of the whole creation. The knowledge that God exists can also be drawn from rational and natural investigations. In this concern, there are two appellations, one is everlasting and the other is transient. Everlasting denotes that which has beginning but does not have end, as the case is with angels or with God’s intention for His creation. Everlasting also denotes Him Who neither has beginning nor end, which is God. The transient appellation, however, denotes that which has begun and shall end. Therefore, we know that God exists from the fact that this world is transient and made. This world is a corporeal body, and the corpus is not everlasting, hence this world is not everlasting.
Also, the world is finite and it has boundaries. It is pieced together, perceptible, divided into portions and vulnerable to changes and occurrence of events. Furthermore, there are contradictions in it; and it is confined by region and place, and anything designated by all these terms is not everlasting. That which is not everlasting is transient and made; it has a Creator, Who alone is everlasting, and this Creator is God, Who has neither beginning nor end. For instance, when we see a house we perceive the architect who built it, although he is not around. This is also true for a chair and a ship. Similarly, when we see the creation we perceive God Who created it. Also, from the fact that the world is preserved and standing, even though there are contradictions in it, we know that there is God Who keeps it, and by His might it is sustained.
Chapter 3 God is One
God is One and not many, as heathens maintain. We know this from the fact that the one cannot be divided, whereas two or more can be; therefore God cannot be divided. As for one, because it is one, it is indivisible. In addition, one is not countable, whereas two or more are; therefore, God is not countable, hence, God is one. That God is one can also be known from the fact that He is perfect and whole in power, goodness, and justice. Where there is no change, oneness is announced, but where there are changes multiplicity is promulgated.
Chapter 4 God: One and Three
This discourse leads us up to state that this One God is of three persons. This is known from the fact that the Creation is constituted of two substances, one is simple, and the other is composite made up of matter and form. God is not one person lest He would be less than the Creation. Furthermore, He is not two persons that He might not be equal to the Creation. He is three persons so that He may be above the Creation. He is not four (persons) so that polytheism may not be thought of.
Also, an angel and man cannot be spoken of each as being living and rational, that is, each has the faculty of speech and spirit, and that each is a person, that is, his thought is a person, and his spirit is a person. In addition, the father is the cause; the son and the spirit are the effects. The cause can be spoken of in three ways: as being natural, of handiwork, and as carnal. Man is the natural cause of his son who is begotten. He is of handiwork for he made and hewed up the Ark. It follows that God is the natural cause because the Son is begotten of Him sempiternally, and the Spirit proceeds from Him. He is also the cause of handiwork, that is, the creating cause, for He brought the Creation into existence. If He is the natural cause of the Son and the Spirit, then He is in three persons.
Chapter 5 God’s Birth
In rebuttal to those who say that God begets not, we say that it is not human birth which is ascribed to God, but rather God begat the Son and brought forth the Spirit sempiternally and beyond the scope of time, passion, and definition, just as the word is born of the mind, and rays proceed forth from the sphere of the sun. As such, His birth is superior to that of the Creation, indeed.
Chapter 6 God the Word
Furthermore, the word of God is not like ours. Our word is subject to dissolution. God is Sempiternal, hence, His word is eternal, too. “You are the Lord forever and ever, and your word is abiding in heaven.” The Spirit, Who is with God, is a living person and Creator. He is not like the wind, and like our breath, which enters (into our lungs) from outside, as does the word (through our ears), which is living, but not a person, and is subject to dissolution.
Also, our word proceeds forth through voice and tongue and vanishes in the air, but the Word God is subsistent. For instance, by the word of the Lord heavens were created. As for our spirit, it is air in essence, but God’s Spirit is not so. God is a subsistent person, such that with the breath of His mouth miracles were worked.
Chapter 7 On the Fall of Satan
As for the fall of Satan, it is analogous to the fall of a stone detached from the summit of a mountain and driven down to the depth by the effect of its weight. On its way down, a detached stone bumps against many other loose ones, which go down with it. Such was the case with Satan and his hosts, that is, the devils, who, being infirm in goodness in their intention, went down with Satan, by their own free will, to the depth of sin.
Chapter 8 Why was man created?
We answer saying: It was not becoming for the light to exist without a spectator, neither was befitting for glory to exist without a witness, or for goodness to exist without someone to enjoy it. On account of this, man was created to enjoy all these. God created him in His image for He endowed him with the faculty of speech and made him independent, wise and free. He even made him in His likeness for He loves goodness and the virtue of mercifulness.
Chapter 9 Why did Satan envy Adam?
He envied him because he saw the earthly creature honored by being fashioned in the image of God. When he failed to destroy him, he offered him a (fatal) advice, like someone who fails to extinguish a lamp because of the intensity of its light, and thus mixes water with the oil and extinguishes the lamp. In this manner, Satan, with the advice of the misleading serpent, extinguished the blessing, and thus righteousness was substituted by sin.
Chapter 10 Why did man turn from goodness to evil?
We say he did this by his own free will, like that who closes his eyes in the middle of day time and finds himself in darkness. God created eyes and not blindness. He created sight so that man might see and not halt his sight. Likewise, He proclaimed virtue and warned us against getting close to evil.
Chapter 11 Uncertainty
If God knew that man would fall, why did He create him?
We answer saying that God created man for Good. As for the fall, sickness, evil and death, they all were caused by his own choice. The chastisements that followed the fall were for the correction of whom that fell by his own choice, even as astringent medicines cure the body. Furthermore, the matter is similar to a clay vessel, when it is filled with lead it breaks. The potter and owner of the vessel make it anew free of lead. Thus, God raises the broken body in the Resurrection free from lead, that is, free from sin. If God knew that man would fall, he also knew from eternity that he would come, save him, and bring him back to his original rank.
Chapter 12 Inquiry
Why did the Son alone become Incarnate and not the Father or the Spirit? no prescription
We say, lest the special attributes of the Persons would suffer detraction. The Father is the Begetter, the Son is the begotten and the Spirit is He Who proceeds. The Son, Whose peculiar property is being begotten, was born and incarnate. In addition, the Word was begotten of the Father just as our word is begotten of the mind. Our word is inscribed and written down on paper, not the mind that uttered it or the spirit from whom it proceeded. Such was the case with the Word, He became incarnate, and not God the Mind or the Spirit Who proceeds from Him.
Chapter 13 The Word or the will
It was not the will of God that dwelt within the Virgin, but the Word God; for John said that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Similarly, Paul said, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman. Since Paul further demonstrated that the Son of God was born in the flesh, He must have had another birth that was sempiternal. Furthermore, Gabriel said, “The power of the Most High will rest upon you,” that is, the Word God. Let the heretics then, who maintain that only His will rested upon the Virgin, be put to shame.
Chapter 14 Inquiry
On how the Book says that the Word descended and rested upon the Virgin and that God sent His Son and was born
It is not that The Son of God moved from one place to another, or that He left one place and dwelt in another, for this is characteristic of bodies or finite beings. We are speaking of the hidden one Who appeared in the flesh, and the invisible one Who made Himself visible. Just as the sunrays enter into a house through windows and fill it, and they exist, at the same time, in heaven, the seas, and in the house into which they entered, as well as everywhere else, such is the case with the Word, when He dwelt within the Virgin; He was in heaven, within the Virgin, and everywhere else. Thus the word “where” applies only to bodies and not to God.
Chapter 15 Inquiry
On how the Word was united with the flesh without being defiled or tarnished
Just as God is close, even today, to all the embryos, which are created in the wombs of humans and animals, those whom He fashions without Himself being defiled by His Creation, such was the case when He dwelt within the Virgin. We say, further, that God is equally close and far from heaven, earth and all Creation, and He is upholding all. If He is close to some, He distances Himself from others that he may not be defiled. Thus composite is the power and nature of God. In addition, spiritual beings are immune to the defilements of bodies. An Angel coming close to filthy places will never be defiled, neither is the soul harmed by the filth of the body. Likewise, the sun is not soiled when it passes over foul things; fire does not catch filth from matter no matter how filthy the latter is. If this is the case with the spiritual being and the visible Creation, how much more it is with God, Who never receives defilements. Rather, God has sanctified and cleansed the womb in which He dwelt.
Chapter 16 Retort
In His unification with our flesh, did He undergo any change? no prescription
We say that the sun does not change or get lessened as it shines upon people in winters and summers, nor does the teacher’s knowledge as he prattles with children. Similarly, the soul does not undergo any change when it unites with his body, nor does the nature of fire when it unites with iron. Such was the case with the Word, when He united with the flesh He did not undergo any change.
Chapter 17 Retort
Why did the Lord not save us through an angel or a messenger, but rather by His own self?
We say, it was not possible to save humanity by the hands of creatures, but rather by the hands of the Creator. When a glass vessel breaks, an architect or a carpenter cannot repair it, but rather the glass blower, who made it. Such was the case with us when we fell into sin. It was not possible for someone else to restore us except God, Who created us. In addition, God did not save us through a messenger lest strayers might worship that messenger, or they might worship the prophet, or the angle that He sent.
Chapter 18 Retort
Why did the Word come out of the womb through birth?
We say that the womb is a noble organ; in it the sustenance of every human being is emplaced. Because we die every day, and the womb fights death, therefore it was befitting that God come out of the womb which fights death.
Chapter 19 Why did the Word become Incarnate?
We say that the Word created man by His grace. When man sinned, He saved him also by His grace. He came down and became Incarnate to save him. The Apostle shows us in what way He became Incarnate: Because the children had partaken of flesh and blood, He, likewise, shared in the same, calling the souls children. For, it is customary for the Book to use the part (of man) to refer to the whole human being, as it is evident in the phrase, “fell upon seventy five souls”. As the soul unites with the body and the two become one person having one nature, likewise the Word united with the animated body, hence, became man, so that by His death He might conquer Satan. Also, with that disguise He fought against Satan and defeated him, because with the mask of the serpent Satan had defeated man.
Chapter 20 How did it happen that the Word was not diminished by Incarnation?
We say because He has the ability to persist in His sublimity while becoming incarnate. He never loses His loftiness peculiar to Him, just as the power of a king never diminishes when he humbles himself before his servants, nor does that of a mighty man who submits himself to be bound by the feeble. Thus, God did not undergo any diminution by emptying Himself, but rather He conquered passions. He can even be in Sheol and not be affected by darkness, or in the grave and not be offended by rankness, and in Gehenna and not suffer from its fervor.
Chapter 21 Retort
When the Word became Incarnate, why did He save us through death and not by using power and authority?
We answer saying that because He is just, and the just steers not people by force. He can turn everyone (to the Lord) by force, but he never oppresses freedom, neither He subdues free will. Therefore, He did not save us by force but rather by words of justice. While Satan unjustly assailed Christ, Who is sinless, Christ justly saved the whole of human kind. Moreover, a physician tends only to a sick person and not to a healthy one. In this manner, the Word put on our humankind, which was sickened by sin, in order to take away its sufferings.
Chapter 22 Why did Christ not come from the beginning?
We answer saying, just as we do not feed an infant meat in the beginning until it reaches full development, likewise, when our humankind reached maturity in sickness, the physician came to it. Moreover, when the measure of sin had overflowed and there remained no kind of evil deed known to people that was not committed, then the physician came for their salvation.
Chapter 23 How does it happen that after we were cured of sickness we still are wrecked by sin?
After crushing its head, the serpent does not immediately die but its tail still crawls. Such is evil, although our Lord very much conquered it and brought it to naught, its remnant is still causing trouble to the world.
Chapter 24 Why did God not force people to do good?
We answer saying that accepting faith by force would not do us any good; instead, we would come under more condemnation, just like a person who is forced to love someone he hates.
Chapter 25 Why did God not make man love His servitude by nature?
We say, had He done that He would have oppressed free will and freedom, and man would have lacked these two. Furthermore, nature would have been found to be in bondage, that’s possibly the wrong term to use, I mean bondage in the sense of restriction and being restricted to do something. For example, fire would not start by its own will, and so would the sun, which, revolves and shines its light. The same would be true for all the creatures yoked under command, they would have had no freedom, and no goodness, and would have received no reward for their deeds.
Chapter 26 How was Satan killed, sin removed, and death nullified?
We say that Satan died in two ways:
One, by his torture and wretchedness, like the soul; when it commits sin it dies, and it is known that the death of the soul is its torture. Thus, Satan died for he was tormented by the loss of his pride, and because the worship of idols was despised.
Satan died also because Christ crushed his power, which is the author (source) of wickedness. Furthermore, Christ exposed sin and showed its true nature. He also showed how people ran away from sin.
Now, the question is, if Satan died, how does it happen that he is still striking people by his temptations? The answer is, God does permit this to happen, at times in thought, and at others in deed, for the purpose of our purification and honor, as He did with Job. In addition, sin was abolished for it was blotted out, “Make us rejoice, for our inequity has died, and we will cast our sins into the sea.” The medicines that blot out sins are repentance and the life-giving Sacraments.
As for death, it died (was abolished) by the death of Christ; its strength was loosened like a vicious animal whose teeth are broken, and a serpent whose tail crawls even after its head has been crushed. Death also died because our Lord raised His body into incorruptibility even as he shall resurrect us.
Chapter 27 Why did He give us Baptism?
We say so that He might send us to immortal and blissful life. Carnal birth routs us to death, whereas spiritual birth of baptism sends us to life. That we immerse (a person in water) thrice in Baptism is a mystical signification of the descent of our Lord into the grave for three days. Likewise, rising up from the baptismal font signifies the Lord’s resurrection, except for one difference; the Lord was buried in the earth while we are buried in water. The element of earth is comparable and analogous to that of water for they do mix with each other.
Chapter 28 Why do we receive the Body and the Blood?
When fire unites with iron it imparts it energy, and iron emits light and burns like fire. Christ does the same thing. When Christ took bread and wine, He truly transformed them into His body and blood, and gave them power and sanctity. When we receive them, they put death away from us, and impart us immortal life. Even as leaven causes leavening of the whole mass of dough and draws it towards itself, likewise the holy mysteries draw us to immortality. When the Word united with the flesh, He made it God not in nature, but rather in operation. Such is the case with the Body we eat, we say it was born of the Virgin, and it is God, not in nature, but rather by unity with God the Word.
Chapter 29 Confronting the Muslims
Muslims claim that we have made some changes in the Gospel. We say to them, either you bring us witnesses, who would testify that we have indeed made changes in the Gospel, or we will take an oath that we have not changed anything. For, this is what you say, “bring witnesses for him who reads Books, and ask for oaths from infidels.” You are our adversaries and thus your testimony against us is not acceptable. And if you say that it is written in your book that we have shifted words from their places, this is not said about us, but rather about the Jews. We know this from the words preceding the place at which this occurs (in your book). Tell us, who made changes in the Gospel, at what time, and for what purpose? What are the altered verses? If you claim that the apostles made the changes, your book testifies that they were virtuous people. Tell us at what time this happened, did it happen before or after your rule? If we altered something in the Gospel for carnal gains, here is what is written in it, “Sell everything you possess and give to the poor.” If for a spiritual purpose we made the change, how did God let men change the Books against His will? And what words we changed? We did not change the hard commandments for they do exist, such as, “if any one strikes you on the cheek etc…” If we changed the lowly words, they, too, are still there, such as, “Jesus prayed and shed tears.” Therefore, it is obvious that nothing in it has been changed. Lo, it is written in your book, “If you have any doubt, ask those who have been reading the Books before you.” See how your book is directing you to us. Furthermore, your prophet has said that God said “we have given Jesus the Gospel in which there is light, life, guidance and the way to truth.” Therefore, if there is light and life in the Gospel, who would run away from light except the blind? Who would run away from life except the dead? Who would run away from the way except the thief, and from the truth except the untruthful? Hence, our Gospel is true, especially since your own testimony confirms this. It is, further, far above lusts, and its commandments heal the sins and the sufferings of the soul. In addition, it has revealed to us about the things to come, and those who accepted it, did so not out of fear of the sword but because they witnessed divine miracles
Chapter 30 Confronting the Jews
The Jews, too, speak against us. They say Moses said, “Do not add anything to or remove anything from the Law. The Gospel is an addition.” We answer them saying, “You, too, have added the books of Prophets and the Wisdom.” If, however, they say that these additions complement the Law and are in harmony with it, the Gospel, too, complements the Law and is in harmony with it; and if the apostles were fishermen, the prophets, in turn, were shepherds. In addition, because the Law was unable to perfect men in righteousness, the Gospel took the matter over. They also claim that there is falsehood in the Gospel, because of the contradictions that it contains. We respond to this saying that additions and omissions are only related to narration. They do not constitute any contradictions. Behold, it is written in the Law, “On the day you eat from the tree you shall die.” Nevertheless, Adam died after nine hundred and thirty two years (from the day he ate from the tree). Likewise, the Law did not go into excess in cursing the earth and thus write, for example, “In curse shall you eat”
Chapter 31 In how many ways can the Law be spoken of?
The Law can be spoken of in six ways. The first one is the Natural Law, which is discernment, that is, the tribunal of conscience endowed to the human race and is engraved in its heart, (2) The written Law of Moses, like the commandment: “Thou shall not commit adultery etc..” (3) The Law of Christ, like “If any one strikes you on the cheek…,” (4) that we are saved by grace. (5) The Law of the organs, which is sin, and (6) The Holy Spirit Himself.
The Old Testament was given in Mount Sinai after the exodus of the people (The Israelites) from Egypt amid fire and rising smoke because of the hardness of the Israelites.
The New Testament was given in the upper room after the exodus of the Gentiles from sin, on Sunday at the third hour. The word “Testament” means covenant and commandment; it is executed after death. As for “Gospel,” it means good tidings. We received the good tidings that God came down to Earth, death had been abolished, the Kingdom was made manifest and the prophets cried out saying that the Lord would give the word of good tidings. The word “evangelist” means preacher. The Gospel is the story of the Incarnation of the Word. As for the writings of Paul and the apostles, their subject is Incarnation; they teach us about the good things that came forth from it.
Chapter 32 Baptism is the beginning of the Gospel
The beginning of the Gospel is the baptism of the Lord, says Philoxenus5. From the time of His birth until His baptism, Christ conducted Himself according to the Law. Hence, the baptism is the beginning of the Gospel. In his discourse against Eunomius, Basilius6 says that the beginning of the Gospel is the preaching of John, which Mark calls it “the beginning of the Gospel.” The accounts on Christ’s conception and birth are not considered parts of the Gospel. Our Lord chose simple people so that the wonder of the miracles may not be attributed to the greatness of personalities. Likewise, the Father, too, chose men of low estate, such as Moses, a dumb; David, a shepherd; Amos, a herdsman; and Ehud, whose right hand was crippled. In the Old Testament, God chose shepherds because they were shepherding a definite herd and in the Land of Judea. In the New Testament, however, the Lord chose fishermen for they caught the whole world indefinitely, like a net by which ever kind of fish is caught.
Chapter 33 Why four Gospels
The Gospel was written by four evangelists because the good tidings were to be carried to the four corners of the world. In addition, the number “four” is in harmony with the four elements, the four rivers, the four spirits seen by Daniel, the four horses, the four chariots seen by Zakaria, the four candlesticks, the four carpenters and the chariot seen by Ezekiel that had four animals, which symbolize the four evangelists. The lion signifies courage and preparedness for crushing deception. The eagle tells that the devils are delivered up into the apostles’ hands even as animals fall into the claws of eagles, and they (The evangelists) see the invisible things just as the eagles see and gaze from afar. As for the ox, it teaches that the evangelists bring the world into bondage by their teaching, and the man tells that they were human beings. The wings denote the loftiness of the Gospel, and the man’s hand carrying the animals represent the aid of Christ extended to the evangelists. The two wheels, one inside the other, symbolize the two Testaments. The eyes tell of the perfect knowledge that the apostles planted in the world. The man on the Chariot indicates the Word, Who was to become incarnate. no prescription
Chapter 34 The four Evangelists
Two of the apostles, and two of the preachers, Mark, Peter’s disciple, and Luke, Paul’s disciple, wrote the Gospel. The four Gospels were not written by four apostles for they were not doing things in pride. In addition, the preachers would have felt belittled and said to themselves “we are not partners with the apostles in preaching and writing.”
Some people say that the person who compiled the four Gospels into one book and set them in order was Eusebius of Caesarea. When Eusebius saw that Amonius of Alexandria compiled the Diatessaron, that is the harmony of the four Gospels, changing the sequence of the verses, and so too did Tatian the Greek heretic, he gathered the four Gospels together and wrote each one separately into one book. Others say that John the Evangelist arranged them into one book; when the three Gospels reached him he added to them his own.
Chapter 35 When did they write
After Paul was chosen, and the Apostles had to go to other regions to preach, the three evangelists began to write the Gospel. Matthew wrote before the apostles dispersed. Mark and Luke, however, wrote after the apostles dispersed. When the writings reached the faithful in Ephesus, they asked John that he, too, should write on all that is required and necessary.
Chapter 36 The reason for writing the Gospel of Matthew in particular
When persecution was unleashed on the apostles, Stephen was stoned to death, and James was killed, the apostles dispersed and began preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. When the Hebrews, who had accepted the faith, saw this, they came to Matthew and asked him to put what he had told them verbally in writing in the form of a book, and he did so. Three evangelists did the same thing. They wrote about what our Lord had done in one year, from the imprisonment of John until ascension, in addition to the Nativity, Baptism, Temptation and other events, without which it was not possible for their narratives to have a beginning. John, however, wrote on the Divinity and the works of our Lord during the first two years, since He began preaching until John was thrown in prison. The objective of their writings was to focus on the coming of our Lord in flesh and the good things He brought forth to us.
Chapter 37 The language of the Gospels
Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew7 in the land of Palestine, and Mark wrote his in Rome in Latin, that is, Frankish. However, St. Ivanius says that Mark wrote in Egypt. Luke wrote in Greek in Alexandria. John wrote in Ephesus. Thus the Gospel was written in three languages, for in these very languages the inscription on the Cross of our Lord was written, that is, Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Hebrew was used for the sake of the Jews, Greek for Pilate, and Latin for Herod. Thus, the languages that were used for His condemnation were also used for preaching His Gospel.
Chapter 38 Chronology of the Gospels
Luke wrote chronologically placing everything in its order, exactly as worked by our Lord. John did the same, even thought he left out many things in between, for they were mentioned by his colleagues. Matthew, however, did not do so. He, rather, followed the order of teaching in such a way that words followed each other, placing the ordinances enjoined by our Lord under one chapter. The other evangelists placed them in a scattered manner. Mark followed Matthew’s example in his writing. Because many people did not understand the purpose of diversifying the way every evangelist presented the written Gospel, they thought that the Gospels contradicted each other.
Chapter 39 The beginning of the Gospels
Because the beginning of the Gospel is the baptism of Christ, as we pointed out earlier, Mark started his Gospel with it. Matthew, however, started by telling about the genealogical succession to demonstrate to the Hebrews that Christ came according to the prophesies. As for Luke, he turned to the birth of John that he might rebuke those who approached the Gospel of Christ with no reverence. John started with theology to show that even though his colleagues wrote that Christ was human, for He was Incarnate, He is God, He was with God, and only afterwards he took flesh and became man without undergoing any change. They were teaching this in the open on the roads and streets and saying loudly, “God appeared in flesh, suffered in flesh, died and rose.” Their preaching was gaining power by the miracles they worked.
Chapter 40 The style of writing
John spoke on exalted matters, whereas his colleagues spoke on teachings of humbleness. Because Matthew was writing to the Jews, he focused on telling about Christ’s birth and His way of life in flesh. Mark took interest in writing against Simon, who thought that the Son’s dispensation was imaginary. For this reason, he confirmed the matters related to dispensation. It is said that Peter asked him to write on his behalf, for he thought if he himself were to write, the writings of his colleagues might have been despised because of his high rank. It was Peter, who ordered him to write accurately on his denial in order to show forth the mercifulness of God Who had pity on him. Paul, too, ordered Luke to write, and as he was a copy of his teacher, he wrote extensively to confirm Theophilus in faith.
Chapter 41 Christ’s Godhead
When John saw that the matters related to the humanity of Christ had been established by the writings of his colleagues, he began writing on His Godhead.
Our Lord spoke humbly because of the weakness of the listeners. For the sake of confirming Incarnation, teaching humbleness and for making people believe that He was sent by the Father, the High one had to speak humbly, just as God did when He asked, “Adam, where are you?” and “where is your brother, Abel?” Furthermore, a humble person must not speak highly of himself that he might not be thought of as impudent. In His speech, Christ was aiming at showing the greatness of God’s nature. In addition, the Books speak about God in two ways: either as He is, that is, Sempiternal in His Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, or as lower than what He is, such as being fire, becoming angry or regretting over people.
The Books speak of man in three ways, one, as he is, that is, being a living creature, rational and mortal; 2. Higher that what he is, such as gods and sons of gods; 3. Lower than what he is, such as being called woodworm, worm, wolf and fox. In addition, The Books speak of man in many other ways. Therefore, we should know the following four things about every word in a book: the reason, aim, time and the person about whom the word is written. If we do not do this, we will be at risk; otherwise how can we recognize the difference between someone who does not hate his father and another who obeys him?
Chapter 42 The Seven Principles of Every Book
The seven principles of every book are:
1. Objective: the objective of the Gospel is to make people gain life in God, in word through believing in the Trinity, and in deed through virtuous conduct.
2. Benefit: It is useful for the salvation of the soul.
3. Order: That is, the order of reading, for it comes after the Law (Torah) and the Prophets, and in it are fulfilled all that was symbolized in the Books.
4. Meaning of the title: “Gospel” means good tidings.
5. Division into Chapters (Subjects): It is divided for the knowledge of the One God, Who is in three persons, for leading a virtuous life, for the knowledge of the heavenly hosts, who rejoice by the repentance of sinners, for keeping the commandments, for remembering the Judgment, and for benevolent retribution.
6. Whose book it is: It is Christ’s book preached by two apostles and two preachers.
7. Under what subject it falls: It falls under theology, that is, the study of Divinity, and also under works, that is, holy conduct.
It is called “preaching” because it was not being spoken of in secret, but rather publicly.
Chapter 43 Harmony among the Evangelists
Eusebius of Caesarea took interest in laying down the rules for the Gospel. We know this from his letter to Carpinius in which he showed the harmony among the evangelists. Amonius and Tatian had written the Diatessaron, that is, the four Gospels combined into one, as we mentioned earlier. However, when they reached to the story of the Resurrection and saw that it was told differently, (according to their perception) in the four Gospels, they abandoned their work. Eusebius then concerned himself with laying down these rules to show that the evangelists were in harmony in their narratives. Listen (O’ reader) how he did this:
He assigned Olaf (the first letter of the Syriac alphabet) for the first rule, which indicates that all four evangelists mentioned certain events, words, verses or statements. For example, all four evangelists mentioned the words, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am pleased,” and therefore they fall under Rule 1. In Matthew, these words are mentioned in the 18th account; in Mark in the seventh; in Luke, in the 16th, and in John, in the 18th account
The rules that he laid out are ten. In the first rule, all four evangelists are in agreement. Furthermore, in the Gospel of Matthew, if an item under any rule is mentioned twice or three times, it is still assigned the one same letter. This is not the case with the rules of his colleagues’ Gospels. It should be known that if the other evangelists mentioned an item twice in two different places, the setter of the rules would want to assign a letter that would show the frequency of occurrence of the same item in the other Gospels. For instance, each of the letters ?.?.? is written twice at the beginning of the rule of Matthew. This is also the case with Mark. Because John mentioned the item in two places, and Matthew and Mark only once, the setter of the rules needed to indicates that the item was mentioned twice in John. In the rest of the rules, the following scheme is noted:
Rule 2. Three evangelists are in agreement, Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Rule 3. Three evangelists are in agreements, Matthew, Luke, and John.
Rule 4. Three evangelists are in agreements, Matthew, Mark and John.
Rule 5. Two evangelists. are in agreement, Matthew and Luke.
Rule 6. Two evangelists. are in agreement, Matthew and Mark.
Rule 7. Two evangelists are in agreement, Matthew and John.
Rule 8. Two evangelists are in agreement, Mark and Luke.
Rule 9. Two evangelists are in agreement, Luke and John.
Rule 10. Only one evangelist mentioned the item, such as the account on the Samaritan woman, which is given only by John.
Chapter 44 10 Rules of Eusebius
Eusebius set up the number of rules to be ten because this number comes from adding four digits; if you add the four digits, 4,3,2,1 you obtain the number 10.
In the first rule, four evangelists are in agreement; in the second, third and fourth, three are in agreement; in the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth, only two are in agreement. In the tenth, however, every one of the evangelists mentioned a particular account by himself alone. Take notice that, if there is only one thing common among otherwise variant versions of an account, it is excluded from rule 10. Take for example the narrative of the women who anointed our Lord; even though it came in three different versions, it was placed under rule 1, just because anointment was the common denominator. Similarly, the account on the paralytic given by Matthew and Mark are harmonious, but it is different in John; nevertheless it is placed under the same rule.
It should be known that for every evangelist, there are assigned numbers that flow in order, and under each number the number of rules is enlisted. From the rule under which a certain verse or account is found, one can tell how many evangelists are in agreement about it. In Rule 1, Eusebius started with narratives that all four evangelists agree upon to silence those who claim that they contradict each other. In rule 2, John was excluded because his peculiarities were excessive compared to Mark. John had 103 items of his own narration that are found in the other Gospels, and Mark had only 27.
We now mention how many numbers each of the evangelists has.
Matthew has the following:
Rule 1, 64 with mark, Luke and John;
Rule 2, 101 with Mark and Luke;
Rule 3, 8 with Luke and John;
Rule 4, 17 with Mark and John;
Rule 5, 87 with Luke;
Rule 6, 57 with Mark;
Rule 7, 19 with John; and 76 of his own.
He spoke in 8 rules, 1 through 7, and 10.
Mark has the following:
Rule 1: 65 with Matthew, Luke, and John.
Rule 2: 101 with Matthew and Luke.
Rule 4: 17 with Matthew and John
Rule 6: 57 with Matthew
Rule 8: 23 with Luke
Rule 10: 27 of his own
Thus, he spoke in six rules, 1, 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10.
Luke has the following:
Rule1 : 64 with his colleagues
Rule 2: 118 with Matthew and Mark
Rule 3: 8 with Matthew and John
Rule 5: 88 wit h Matthew
Rule 8: 23 with Mark
Rule 9: 15 with John
Rule 10: 86 of his own
He spoke in seven rules, 1,2,3,5,8,9,10
John has the following:
Rule 1: 88 with his colleagues.
Rule 3: 20 with Matthew and Luke
Rule 4: 24 with Matthew and Mark
Rule 7: 17 with Matthew
Rule 9: 19 with Luke
Rule 10: 103
John spoke in six rules, 1,3,4,7,9 and 10
1 St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 407)
n2. Patriarch of Alexandria (d. 444)
n3. Bishop of Beth Remman and Mosul (d. 903)
fn4. John Metropolitan of Dara (d. 860)
fn5. Bishop of Mabugh, (d. 523)
n6. Basil, the great Cappadocian Father, Bishop of Caesarea (d. 379)
fn7. The Aramaic dialect of Palestine was called Hebrew