Thinking Out Loud

January 29, 2012

A Most Important Book You’ve Never Heard Of

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways.

~Didache 1:1

While New Testament scholars always knew it existed, it was not until 1873 when a dusty, worn copy was pulled off an Istanbul library shelf by an Archbishop who promptly left it on his desk to attend to other matters, where it sat for months before he finally grasped what it is he had discovered. In fact, the document whose lost text he had discovered was once considered for inclusion in the Biblical canon.

The Didache (pronounced DID-ah-kay) is only about half the length of the Gospel of Mark, but it provides an intimate view of Christian life and Christian community for the early church. There are many books on the subject, but a simple introduction — along with a copy of the complete text — is Tony Jones’ The Teaching of the 12 (Paraclete Press, 2009).

(Random) Highlights:

  • Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give them. (1:6)
  • Do not be one who opens his hands to receive, or closes them when it is time to give. (4:5)
  • Do not give orders to your servants when you are angry, for they hope in the same God… (4:10)
  • Your fasts should not be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays. You should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. (8:1)
  • [Concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way] “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills and was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom…” (9:4)
  • Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he must not remain more than one day, or two, if there’s a need. If he stays three days he is a false prophet. (11:4,5)
  • Concerning Baptism, you should baptize this way: After first explaining all things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in flowing water. (7:1, italics added)
  • Hate no one; correct some, pray for others, and some you should love more than your own life. (2:7)

The early Christians were also told to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times daily (8:3) and if they baked bread, to give the first loaf to the prophets (13;5). The translation above is from Tony Jones’ book, and seems to be closest to one online by Charles Hoole.

So in a post-DaVinci Code climate, where does a document like this fit in?

First of all, we have all we need in the Bible, and no one should feel compelled to read extra-Biblical writings like this, much less those on the periphery such as The Gospel of Thomas.

But for those who want a snapshot of post-New-Testament life, this document has the recommendation of many respected pastors, though don’t expect a movie anytime soon.

DVD: There is a 6-week curriculum DVD available based on Tony Jones’ book. Here’s some info — and a 2-minute promo video — from Tony’s blog, Theoblogy.

This post first appeared on Jan 26/11 at Christianity 201

Update: The first response in the comments section is worth reading for those who want to know more.

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6 Comments »

  1. Thanks for posting a quick intro to the Didache. A couple of thoughts to share.

    One gentle word of correction is that the Didache does not hail from the age after the apostles, but the age of the apostles. The Didache is actually older than most of the books of the New Testament, especially all the Gospels with the possible exception of Mark. Aaron Milavec who is one of the foremost authorities on it places its date between 50 & 70 AD! Yes that is 15 to 35 years after the resurrection. A dating this early means most of the apostles are still alive. Another authoritative voice is Thomas O.Laughlin, who though not as dogmatic, still takes it around that time. The last of the Apostles, John, was still alive in 98 AD when Trajan came to power. From a scholarly standpoint, this era from the resurrection up to the death of John is roundly considered the “apostolic age” and so documents like the Didache, Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas are generally considered the “apostolic fathers” as compared with the documents of the post apostolic age which is generally considered the Ante-Nicene Fathers. On top of all this, the Didache almost made it into the canon. It was widely used among the Fathers and Origin referred to it as “scripture.” I whole heartedly agree with you that Scripture as we have it is sufficient. But I personally still feel that Didache is in a class by itself. I was recently interviewed on a popular podcast about it which can be found here: http://sjchurch.org/media-library/details/reformedcast-61

    In regards to Tony Jones, I have to say while well written and having some good insights, his introduction is the most deficient I have read. His interpretation of the Didache really far more reflects his (and Trucker Frank’s) emergent agenda than Apostolic era Christianity of Syria Palestine. For far more historically and scholarly informed (but readable) introductions to the Didache I recommend either Thomas O’Laughlin’s “The Didache” or Aaron Milavec’s “The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary.” This one by Milavec is his short introduction of only 114 pages. He also has a 1000 pages scholarly commentary by almost the same name. So just make sure you pay attention to the Title.

    Thanks for sharing Paul

    Comment by tmurphy10 — January 30, 2012 @ 9:05 am

    • Thanks for writing. I’ve amended the sentence that suggested the work is post-apostolic.

      I think what Tony Jones’ book will do is bring this document to light for those who were previously unaware of it. There are more scholarly works to be sure, but they are out of range both in terms of price and in terms of what the average parishioner can understand, not having read other academic books or being steeped in church history.

      I checked with Ingram, the largest distributor of books in the world and on this topic their demand ranks are:

      #1 The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary by Aaron Milavec, 111 pages $11.99 US
      #2 The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians by Thomas O’Loughlin 185 pages $24.99 US
      #3 The Teaching of the 12: Believing & Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community by Tony Jones 125 pages, $14.99

      Milavec has a more detailed work which runs 1,022 which I don’t see flying off the shelves, but it certainly earns him the right to be heard in the shorter work. It ranks #6 with a various authors Paulist Press edition coming in at #4 and Bart Ehrman at #5.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — January 30, 2012 @ 9:44 am

      • Thanks Paul. You are certainly right about Jone’s work getting the message out before the Christian public. For that I am grateful, and again he has some good points. My biggest concern with Jones intro is he treats the Didache as if that community was unconcerned with theology. True that they did not think of it the way we do and their use of it was inherhently practical (as compared to our day). On the practical side is where I tend to agree with him. But that does not mean they did not care much about what they believed theologically. There is a robust theology that though not overtly taught, is absolutely assumed.

        Yeah I think the short work by Milavec, not only being the cheapest, is the best out there. He is probably the foremost authority on the subject in our day. It is very readable too. But that is why I distinguished between the two, because his scholarly commentary has a very similar title and it is easy to get them mixed up. Anyone who wants a simple introduction does not need to spend that kinda money and have a tome like that show up in the mail!

        Really appreciate your post and response Paul. Blessings brother.

        Comment by tmurphy10 — January 30, 2012 @ 10:19 am

  2. I’m a big fan of the Didache as it validates the NT in its authenticity (at least in terms of ‘practices’). Shows too that there was ‘religion’ involved in one’s faith – not a bad thing. We’re religious about everything else in life (work at a certain time, brushing our teeth 2x a day, DVR’ing our fave shows) so why NOT our faith practices?

    I’m also of the opinion (since Jude quoted from it directly) that the Book of Enoch should have been included in the Canon of Scripture, but that much of it simply weirded out the team deciding its fate. (It’s worthy to note that it’s part of the Egyptian Coptic canon, I believe…).

    Comment by Compos Mentis — January 30, 2012 @ 1:57 pm

    • I guess the challenge to the early church was the same as it is us today: How, in practical terms, do we make our response to God in light of what Jesus taught us? The danger of course is succumbing to the same religiousity that Jesus had just dealt with re. the Pharisees.

      My guess is that with all the postmodern Christian writers and bloggers have been considering, not to mention all the Emergent/Emerging Church stuff that has been written, I still have an aversion to the R-word (religion.)

      I’d prefer to frame it in terms of the “spiritual disciplines” they developed at the time, though I say this in full recognition that for some people, “discipline” is every bit as much the “D-word” as religion is the R-word.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — January 30, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

    • Great points! We are religious by nature because God made us that way. It is not a choice between religiousness and irreligiousness nor a choice between ritual or no ritual, it is a choice between pursuing the true or false religion, between good ritual and bad. I love the Didache because it represents an embodied faith with God directed ritual that is all aimed at facilitating repentance in the church. I have used the Didache with my leaders here at Sacred Journey Church to much more profit than any book I have found on ministry or church planting.

      Comment by tmurphy10 — January 30, 2012 @ 3:25 pm


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