The Didache

Richard Beck's post about the Διδαχή (Didache), or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, got me re-interested in that early Christian text, and so I read Tony Jones' translation (linked to in Dr. Beck's post) in about twenty minutes. I thought I'd jot down a few quick thoughts on different verses that struck me:
  • 2.5-6: I've always wondered about how absolutely we should apply commands like "Give to every one who asks you." For example, should I give money to a homeless person if I know that person will use the money to buy cigarettes or liquor? The saying in v. 6 - "Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give them" - suggests that it is wise to use discretion with our almsgiving. This discretion should not lessen our generosity, but it should focus it.
  • 2.2: Notice the prohibition of abortion.
  • 2.7: "Hate no one; correct some, pray for others, and some you should love more than your own life."
  • 3.3: Filthy talking is put on the same level as lust.
  • 4.2: Daily fellowship! Apparently, they needed it, too.
  • 4.6: Hmm...  
  • 4.8: This comes close to saying that Christians shouldn't have private property (echoing Acts 2). We could probably do a lot better in sharing what we have; after all, if we will share everything in Heaven (as the author argues), why not share everything on Earth?
  • 4.9: Spare the rod and spoil the child!
  • 4.10-11: It seems that the early Christians had servants - or slaves, for the Greek word (δοῦλος) translated "servants" here and "slaves" in Ephesians 6 (among others) is the same. This is something worth keeping in mind (not to condone modern institutionalized slavery).
  • 4.14: Confess before you pray!
  • 6.2: "For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able, then at least do what you can." Perhaps a reference to martyrdom?
  • 6.3: It seems that the author(s) weren't aware of 1 Corinthians 8. This is interesting for determining how authoritative we should consider early Christian texts to be (in this case, this particular text seems to go against Paul's writings)  and for understanding how doctrinally and theologically united the early Christians were.
  • 7.4: Already, the Christians seem to be moving away from the immediate baptisms of Acts. I am not sure if this is a good thing; after all, we take our time as well!
  • 8.2-3: We probably do not focus enough on the Lord's Prayer.
  • 9.4: This is a side of Communion that we almost certainly neglect: the communal aspect. For the author(s) here, the Eucharist (i.e., Communion) symbolizes the Church's desire for unity. (And, of course, the Eucharist was originally part of a meal - a social event.)
  • 9.5: Baptism marked the entry of Christians into the Church - not faith. Notice that candidates for baptism (i.e., catechumens) - people who were presumably believers - were not yet considered full members of the Church.
  • 10.6: I love this.
  • 11.1: Teachers have a distinct role in the Church.
  • 11.3ff: "Apostles" and "prophets" seem to be used relatively interchangeably. Also, the different tests for evaluating the legitimacy of prophets are interesting.
  • 11.7: Probably a reference to the unforgivable sin (cf. Matthew 12.31-32, Mark 3.29-30). Not sure what to make of that.
  • 12.1: Discretion!
  • 12.4: "[A] Christian should not live idle in your midst."
  • 13.1-3: Yeah, full-time ministry! (Seriously, though, that's what it sounds like.) Notice that teachers are entitled to support just as much as prophets.
  • 14.1: cf. 4.14.
  • 14.2: This is something Jesus commands as well - and yet I have never (to my knowledge) seen it practiced today. Maybe we should have a time for reconciliation and confession before every Communion.
  • 15.1: Bishops (what we would call "elders") and deacons (literally "servants") are appointed by their churches - not by some higher central authority. And they "render to [us] the service of prophets and teachers."
  • 16: A lot of interesting things here about the last days, imminent eschatology, and all that jazz.
  • 16.2: cf. 4.2. We come together "seeking the things that are good for [our] souls."
  • 16.4: Anti-Christ?
Overall, I find this glimpse into the practices of the first-century Christians quite illuminating. Nonetheless, I cannot help but agree with most of the early Christians that the Didache is non-canonical; it just doesn't have the right feeling about it. But it is very instructive, and worth the twenty minutes.


shallowfrozenwater said...

our church community has been exploring the links between communion and baptism lately and there was some discussion of the Didache linking the two together unlike the gospels. in the end we decided to pursue and open communion table as a means to allow more to see/find grace in their journey. when we were in discussions i decided that i wanted to read the Didache for this very reason so thanks for the link.
that was a good read and you're right, it was worth the 20 minutes.