We are working through Tatian’s Diatessaron, a harmony of the Gospels written back in AD 165. Last time we covered Luke 1:24-45, where Mary goes to meet Elizabeth, her cousin and the soon-to-be mother of John the Baptist. We went through Elizabeth’s greeting and the effect it must have had on Mary.
Today we will go through Mary’s reply. It is often called the Magnificat. I believe the word just means “praise song,” but it is amazing, not just because it came from Mary, the mother of our Lord, but because of its contents.
I do have to pause to make one point I have not made yet. Tatian’s Diatessaron is the most certain proof we have that the churches, at least in the Roman empire, had decided very early upon which Gospels were going to be accepted among the apostolic churches (meaning the churches that were founded by and continued to follow the teachings of the apostles). In the Diatessaron, we don’t have to wonder if a certain phrase is a citation from Matthew or another is a citation from John, etc. This is a collection of our four Gospels and our four Gospels only. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not Peter, Mary Magdalene, Judas, and Thomas. Contrary to the rumors that abound on the internet, the Gospels were not decided upon at the Council of Nicea in 325, they were settled in the first half of the second century at the latest.
The Diatessaron also refutes claims made by National Geographic’s “Gospel of Judas” program. It claims that Irenaeus, around the year 180, chose the four Gospels because there are four directions of the wind and four points on the compass (in this video, 34:00 – 34:30 & 39:00 – 40:00). In doing so, they say, Irenaeus was arguing for four Gospels from over thirty that were in circulation among the Christians.
This is not true. Irenaeus does argue that it is right that there should only be four Gospels because of the four winds, the four living creatures, and the four points of the compass (jstor.org, “Irenaeus and the Four Gospels”), but he is explaining why the four already accepted Gospels are four rather than one or twenty. He is not choosing four Gospels, then establishing them with his argument. He would have no authority to do so, anyway! (See his discussion against changing or adding to the faith.)
It is obvious Irenaeus couldn’t have established the four Gospels on his own authority and argument because Tatian already knew about four Gospels, and had harmonized them into one book, some twenty to thirty years before Irenaeus wrote his book Against Heresies. They are also presented as accepted by all churches in the Muratorian Fragment, which is a list of books accepted by the apostolic churches from the same time period as Tatian and Irenaeus. You will also find that in church writings from the first half of the second century, it is the same four Gospels that are cited regularly.
Beware, folks. Just because a famous magazine or authority is speaking does not mean you are hearing everything they know. Well-trained and knowledgeable people are capable of withholding things from you on purpose. I promise you that I will never do that to you. Even if it weakens my argument, I will always give you all the evidence as well as I know it.
In the Diatessaron we are reading an English translation of an Arabic translation of Tatian’s original Greek. So, as best as we know it, this is Tatian’s second century rendering of Mary’s hymn of praise. Tatian is pulling this from Luke 1:47-55.
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, who has looked upon the low estate of his handmaiden. Lo, from now on all generations shall pronounce blessing on me. For he has done great things for me, the One who is mighty, and holy is his name! His mercy embraces them who fear him throughout the ages and the times. He accomplished the victory with his arm and scattered them that prided themselves in their opinions. He overthrew them that acted haughtily from their thrones and raised the lowly. He satisfied the hungry with good things and left the rich without anything. He helped Israel his servant and remembered his mercy, just as he spoke with our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.
Mary’s song of praise expresses one thought loud and clear and in many ways: it is God alone who produces victory. Further, he is not victorious for the rich, the royal, and the proud, but for the lowly, the hungry, and for his people to whom he has proclaimed his promises.
Mary is pulling from ancient promises, not merely recent ones. Psalm 2 proclaims that there shall be an Anointed King and that God would call that King his Son. That Psalm was written by David (according to the church at Jerusalem–Acts 4:25). Thus, the promises in it belong to around 900 BC. God had begun to prophesy the coming Messiah even before that, but the full announcement of this coming King was 900 years old by the time it was being fulfilled in Mary.
As Peter tells us at the end of his second general letter, we should not give up on God’s promises. God, being both timeless and merciful, will come through. Just as Jesus came as the Suffering Servant at just the right time, so he will return as conquering King at just the right time, a time reserved in the counsel of God (Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7).
The Birth of John the Immerser
We will talk about why I call John “the immerser” in later posts. Today, let’s just set up Zacharias’ prophecy by covering Luke 1:57-66, which I am not going to write out here. Again, here’s the link, and you can find the section I’m referencing by finding “” in the numbers down the left side.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, which is until John was born. Here we find the word of the messenger fulfilled, and Zacharias obediently named his child John. Once he followed through on Gabriel’s command, his voice was restored to him, and he let forth a brilliant prophecy from the Holy Spirit, which we will cover in the next post.
I do want to point out one curious occurrence. When Elizabeth wanted to name the child John, the others present thought it was strange since the family had no relatives named John. Therefore they asked the father. Notice, though, how they asked Zacharias. They asked him with signs. As far as we know, Zacharias wasn’t deaf, just mute. Do you think they were just making the traditional mistake many of us make, thinking that if a person can’t talk, they must not be able to hear either? Or was he possibly deaf as well?