Sunday, November 23

Some Interesting Quotes from the Didache

Exams commence next week, and following that the writing on this blog should pick up. While studying for the Ancient History subject I read through a document called the Didache. It has been dated from as early as the middle of the first century, and as late as early second century. It's origin is undoubedtly from a community of Jewish Christians who exist in a rural village context. This is interesting for two reasons; most of the New Testament epistles are for Gentile urban churches, and the ministry of Jesus took place in the rural villages around Galilee. The author is entirely unknown, and it may have been written by a collaboration of the community's minds, and written down by a scribe. It has content that will be relevant for future posts in this blog, and the whole document can be read for free here. It some very peculiar verses that are worth mentioning:

4:8 Thou shalt not turn away from him that is in need, but shalt share with thy brother in all things, and shalt not say that things are thine own; for if ye are partners in what is immortal, how much more in what is mortal?

A stunning verse. Chapters 1-5 of the Didache are what scholars call "two ways material". It talks about the way of life, and it talks about the way of death. What is surprising is that the way of life is focused on material found in Matthew's Sermon on the Mount. We have no way of knowing what Paul thought of the Sermon on the Mount, nor the Christian churches that received his epistles. However, from this document it is now clear that at least one Jewish Christian community took it to be central to Christianity. Verse 4:8 not only indicates that they take seriously the radical commands of Jesus with giving/sharing, but seems to take it one step further and abolish the idea of private property among Christians. It closes with what I consider a beautiful sentiment; if ye are partners in what is immortal, how much more in what is mortal.

6:2 If thou art able to bear the whole yoke of the Lord, thou wilt be perfect; but if thou art not able, what thou art able, that do.
6:3 But concerning meat, bear that which thou art able to do. But keep with care from things sacrificed to idols, for it is the worship of the infernal deities

Being a Jewish Christian community, it is understandable that they still take the law and food laws seriously. The important point to note is how they stress "do what you are able to" after stating the principle. I'm not sure if the yoke of the Lord is Jewish law or the Sermon on the Mount material they quote in Chapters 1-5, but it appears that they are trying to factor in the common failures of humanity. It has a completely different feel from the words of Jesus when he said "Be thou perfect, as your father is also perfect."

8:1 But as for your fasts, let them not be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and fifth days of the week, but do ye fast on the fourth and sixth days.

This one is quite funny. Unlike Jesus, they consider the problem of the hypocrite's fasting to not be their public boasting and motivation for doing so, but rather the days of the week that they do it. Be careful on what day you fast!

8:2 Neither pray ye as the hypocrites, but as the Lord hath commanded in his gospel so pray ye: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done as in heaven so on earth. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil: for thine is the power, and the glory, for ever.
8:3 Thrice a day pray ye in this fashion.

The Didache has many references to the Gospel of Matthew (or the same source that Matthew used for his Gospel), and hence it is no surprise that they quote the Lord's prayer in this fashion. What is interesting is the command added in 8:3 to pray the Lord's prayer three times a day. I don't think I have ever heard anything similar in any other early Christian document.

I encourage everybody to read the Didache, it is a wonderful and short work that has information on the way of life, the procedure of baptism, how their village handelled travelling Christian prophets, and how their society functioned as a rural Christian village. Well worth the time.


Blogger the_burning_bush said...

Hi Tim,

The Didache is definitely worth a read in my opinion. I don't consider it to be 'canon', but there is a lot of uplifting content.

A few notes: I hadn't known it was written in/to a rural Jewish community, although that sounds right. No one *knows* who wrote it, but many fathers ascribed it to the Apostles. I think it's been lost for a long, long time. Another passage that I find interesting is the one against abortion (apparently they weren't afraid of losing their tax-exempt status). Also, your characterization of the two-fold path presented in the Didache is an excellent summary.

Glad you liked it!

12:27 PM  
Blogger Derek said...

I find the Didache very interesing.
IF I can add two comments; -

16:2 - "The whole time of your faith shall profit you not, unless you be
found perfect in the last time."

This seems to be linked to what has been said earlier about taking the yolk but stresses the ultimate need for perfection.

3:10 - " Accept the things that happen to thee as good. Knowing that without God nothing happens."

Whatever happens to us in life comes from God. What we might experience as bad must be accepted as good as it comes from God.
There is a divine purpose in our experience of bad things. No it is not a test, but it is a personal experience designed to bring about deeper learning. Sent to help refine us and ultimately bring about perfection.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This one is quite funny. Unlike Jesus, they consider the problem of the hypocrite's fasting to not be their public boasting and motivation for doing so, but rather the days of the week that they do it. Be careful on what day you fast!"
I can understand why this seems shallow, however you need historical contexts, they are not saying they are hypocrits for what day they fast. Rather that's when the hypocrits fasted. The roman appointed Jewish leaders had access to temple on certains days and did things on certain days days, as opposed to the opposition leaders led by James who had access to temple on other days, and as a result moved many other practices to different days. Many parts of both Didache, and the new Testement are misunderstood, because of a lack of historical context. The hypocrits were basically the Roman collaberators that were seen as frauds, and sell outs, who lived in oppulence and corruption while the general Jewish people were repressed. is needed.

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