Thinking Out Loud

January 31, 2015

A Book from the First Century Church, Discovered in 1873

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 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


When first published at Thinking Out Loud, this article attracted several comments; one that we’ll repeat here as well…

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.

 

Nothing Matters But The Weekend…
Some blogs pretty well shut down on Saturdays and Sundays, but weekends can be a rather quiet time for those who miss the pace of work or school; so Thinking Out Loud occasionally ramps it up with extra weekend posts.You can be a part of doing something similar. Find a need that’s not being met. Find a group of people who need connection. Find a place where every sign says ‘closed.’ And then step up. Make a difference. Swim upstream. You can have a part in changing lives. Know somebody who could use some people contact today? Maybe that’s you. Get in touch. Reach out.

4 Comments »

  1. I read the Didache several times every year. It reads just like scriptures, and even contains quotes from scripture. It challenges my faith and it will challenge anyone who reads it. If it is a discipleship training manual (catechism), it is the earliest one known to us. It was most likely written while the Apostles were still alive, so it gives us a very good picture of what the church was like at so early a period. Nobody questions it like they do the Gospel of Thomas. It is an accepted work.

    “First of all, we have all we need in the Bible, and no one should feel compelled to read extra-Biblical writings like this…”

    I agree with the idea. However, we also don’t need to read any extra-Biblical writings by any other humans, contemporary or ancient. We don’t need Calvin, or Piper or Grudem or Geisler or FF Bruce or any modern scholar. But, alas, we do read all these people and others, and dare I say that most of us read them more than our Bibles? The last time I checked, the Christian “Book”store close to me had more books than Bibles.

    My thought is this: If you are going to read something other than the Bible for inspiration, why not go to very early Christian sources? Should we fear them?

    Comment by Jim — January 31, 2015 @ 11:56 am

    • I wrote this and included it in a lengthy blog post that’s been shelved for the time being, but I might flesh it out into its own post at some time:

      “If God’s Word is a vast ocean of truth, the writings of others are what push me off the dock and into the water; on a daily, sometimes even hourly basis.”

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — January 31, 2015 @ 12:40 pm

  2. I’m guessing that someone who is not the author broke it down into chapter and verse, right? Not a criticism but just wanting a verification.

    Comment by Janis Vitolins — February 1, 2015 @ 10:36 am

    • Yes, chapter and verse is a modern invention that helps us locate things.

      Comment by Jim — February 1, 2015 @ 2:27 pm


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