Church History, Lesson 4: The Didache, Pt. 1

The Didache 2aRecap

In 49 AD, the Church met in her first council to resolve issues of incorporating Gentiles into, then, an ethnically Jewish Church.  The Gentiles did not need to be circumcised for, as the Apostle Paul would later write, baptism supersedes circumcision in the New Covenant (Colossians 2:11-13).

However, Gentiles did need to give up all their associations with pagan altars.  These included what was “polluted by idols”:

  • “sexual immorality,” which was part of the worship practices at pagan temples, and
  • what was “strangled” and “from blood,” referring to consuming meat sacrificed at those altars.

Still, those brought up as Gentiles entered a foreign world in the Church.  Without knowing the Old Covenant, they did not grow up learning the behavioral norms expected of God’s people.  So, to fill this void, those in the Church put together a document to teach adult Gentile converts how one lives the Christian life.

 

Introduction

Didache” (pronounced: dih-dah-KAY) is the Greek word for “doctrine,” “teaching,” or “training” (as a noun).  The full title is “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” followed by “The Lord’s teaching to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles.”

The early New-Covenant Church used the Didache in her everyday life.  As far as we know, it is the oldest Church document apart from some scriptural texts.  However, the Didache began to fall into disuse for two main reasons:

  1. The book was not part of Scripture, not because of doctrine but because it lacked proof of apostolicity. So it was no longer valuable enough to spend many painstaking hours copying it.
  1. The Church was no longer ethnically Jewish, which made teaching Gentiles to enter a Jewish-Christian Church as unnecessary.

So the Didache became lost in the dustbins of history.  However, in 1873, an Eastern Orthodox Metropolitan, Bryennios, discovered a manuscript of the Didache, copied in 1056.  Since its discovery, other fragments of the Didache were found in Latin, Coptic, Ethiopic, and Syriac—and a surviving translation of the Didache in Georgian!

 

Date of the Didache

The Didache was probably written in Antioch, Syria, even before much of the New Testament was written.  It quotes or references the Gospel of Matthew 31 separate times—but not the other three Gospels!  Here are the general dates of the 4 Gospels:

  • Matthew: 50 AD
  • Mark: 50-60 AD
  • Luke: Luke 55-60 AD
  • John: 90 AD

The Didache only quotes and references the existence of one Gospel, Matthew (8:2).  So, it had to be after Matthew wrote his Gospel, but before Mark or Luke wrote theirs, which makes the decade of 50 AD the most likely.

The Greek vocabulary of the Didache is typical of koine Greek from the mid-first century.  Of its 552 different words, the New Testament contains 504, 497 are in classical Greek, but only 15 occur in later documents.

Outside of the title, the Didache never mentions the 12 Apostles.  When it does use the word “apostle,” it applies to possible visit (11:3-6).  This means the Didache was written when one or more Apostles were still alive and could visit!  Considering Nero’s persecution of the Church from 64 to 68 AD, this makes a date earlier than 64 AD to be the most probable.

 

What is Missing in the Didache?

When we make our way through the Didache, we will find it devoid of many Church doctrines.  In fact, most doctrinal information contained in the New Testament will not be there.  Why?  We can’t say for certain, for the Didache never asks, nor answers, that question!

Christianity became a persecuted religion.  At first, the Jewish authorities tried to stop the Church.  Later, Roman authorities persecuted Christianity, at times, severely.  As opposition and persecution were the “norm” for the early Christian Church, she adapted her instruction.  For adult converts—instead of baptizing after receiving and believing in Jesus (such as 3,000 on Pentecost day [Acts 2:41]; the jailer during his night of instruction [Acts 16:33])—baptism was delayed.

The delay of baptism helped protect Christians from people “faking” their Christianity, which made it harder to inform authorities to identify, imprison, or kill believers.  This led to a time of training (catechesis) extending for a year or longer before an adult was baptized.

How then was instruction done?  Probably in the Jewish, synagogue style.  The instructor would read a small portion of the Didache and then expound on it.  He would teach the doctrinal underpinnings and “connect the dots” to explain why a Christian lived the way he did.  The lack of information in the Didache helped protect the Church in case a copy ended up in the wrong hands.

 

The Structure of the Didache

  1. Chapters 1-6: The first part of the Didache draws on the Ten Commandments and sayings from Matthew, the Psalms, and Proverbs to show what living the Christian life entailed.
  2. Chapters 7-16: Deal with the worship and discipline of an early Christian community.
    1. 7-10 give direction on baptism, fasting, daily prayer, and celebrating the Eucharist.
    2. 11-15 concern the ministry of the Apostles and prophets, of bishops and deacons, and Sunday worship.
    3. 16: Tells of the Last days and return of our Lord. This chapter may be incomplete.  The Apostolic Constitutions includes a paraphrase of the Didache and may contain the “lost” parts of the conclusion.

 

The Text of the Didache

1:1 There are two ways: one of life and one of death!  And a vast difference exists between the two.  2 Now, the way of life is this: First, you will love the God who made you.  And second, love your neighbor as yourself.  Whatever you wish not to happen to you, do not, likewise, do to another.

  • Deuteronomy 30:15: “I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.”
  • Proverbs 12:28: “The path of righteousness is life, but another path leads to death.”
  • Jeremiah 21:8: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Look, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.’”
  • Concerning salvation, how many ways exist?

 

  • What does this mean about all the other ways?

 

2:1 The second commandment of the teaching is this:

  • 2 Do not kill.

  • Do not commit adultery.

  • Do not corrupt boys.

  • Do not have illicit sex.

  • Do not steal.

  • Do not practice magic.

  • Do not make potions.

  • Do not kill a child through miscarriage or once he is born.

  • Do not covet what belongs to your neighbor.

  • Among these, which do the Ten Commandments include?

 

  • What in this list reveals specific issues of their day and culture?

 

3:10 Accept whatever happens to you as a blessing, knowing that nothing happens apart from God.

  • Romans 8:28-29: “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, those who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he [Jesus] would be the firstborn among many brothers.”
  • How can this comfort us in our heartache?

 

4:1 My child, day and night, remember the one who preaches to you the Word of God and honor him as the Lord.  For where the Lord’s authority is preached, there is the Lord.

  • Luke 10:16: “[Jesus, speaking to those whom He had sent to preach His Word:] ‘The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects the One who sent me.’”
  • 1 Corinthians 2:2: “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
  • Why is the pastor to be honored?

 

  • Based on this verse, what (or who) is “the Word of God”?

 

  • What is implied by the Lord’s authority?

 

  • What if the pastor doesn’t preach from the Lord’s authority?

 

  • Matthew 7:15: “[Jesus, said to the crowds listening to Him:] ‘Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are vicious wolves.’’’

4:2 Each day, seek out the presence of the saints that you may find rest in their words.

  • What are Christians to do and how do they support one another?

 

4:5 Do not be someone who extends his hand to receive but withdraws it when it comes to giving.

  • Sirach 4:31: “Let not your hand be extended to receive, but withdrawn when it comes time to repay.”

 

  • What does this reveal about our fallen nature?

 

4:13 Do not abandon the Lord’s commands, but guard what has been handed down [“traditioned”] to you, neither adding nor subtracting.

  • When the Didache was written, how were most of Christ’s teachings passed down to the first Christians?

 

  • 1 Corinthians 11:2: “Now I praise you for remembering me in everything and keeping the traditions just as I delivered [traditioned] them to you.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:15: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”

Scripture tells us to hold to the Apostolic tradition.

4:14 In the assembly, confess your sins, and then you won’t come to your prayer with a guilty conscience.  This is the Way of Life!

  • John 20:23: “[Jesus said to His Apostles,] ‘If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you retain them, they are retained.’”
  • Matthew 16:19: “[Jesus spoke to the Apostle Peter,] ‘I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven.’”
  • What do we find as part of the worship life of the first Christians?

 

6.1 Take care for no one to lead you astray from the Way of the Teaching [Didache], for he will then be teaching you apart from God.

  • Jeremiah 23:32: “‘I am against those who prophesy false dreams,’ declares the Lord. ‘They proclaim to them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness.  I did not send them or commission them, nor do they help these people in the slightest,’ declares the Lord.”
  • How did the early Church consider what she taught? (Note: “the Way” and “the teaching”)

 

4, Church and Scripture to Teach the Faithful

 

6:2-3 If you can bear the whole yoke of the Lord, you will be complete; but if you cannot, do what you can.  Concerning food, bear what you can, but especially be on guard against food sacrificed to idols, for it involves the worship of dead gods.

  • 1 Corinthians 8:12: “When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak consciences [in Corinth, this was by eating meat sacrificed to idols], you are sinning against Christ.”
  • 1 Corinthians 10:18, 21: “Do not those who eat the sacrifices [at a pagan altar] participate in the altar? … You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.  You cannot share in the Lord’s table and the table of demons.”
  • How does the Didache teach Gentiles to be sensitive to their ethnically Jewish brothers?

 

  • Though bearing what they can concerning food is important, what is most important? Why?

 

Next Week: Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Church in her worship.

 

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