Welcome Back! It’s been a couple of weeks, but I wanted to do this podcast when the rewrite of the Didache in Modern English hits Amazon, which it has. So, if you don’t know what the Didache is or you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a little recap.
So what is the Didache?
The Didache is an early church document, also referred to as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. It is thought to have been written in the early to mid-second century. However, with the title The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, some feel it may be an even earlier work and some church fathers thought it should be included in the biblical canon, so it held a lot of weight in the early church. I was surprised when our men’s lunch group read it last summer that most copies are just reprints of 19th century books and not modern texts. I want to make sure everyone understands, I’m not translating from the original Greek, I have three public domain copies from the 19th century I am using to come up with a modern take on the document.
It was mentioned by several early church fathers in their writings, but no copy of it had been found until a Greek Bishop named Philotheos Bryennios found it in a stack of other 11th century copies of early church documents in a monastery in Constantinople (Yes that’s still what the Orthodox Church calls Istanbul) in 1883.
The finding of the Didache is the completion of a circle for some scholars. It’s not on a level with the Dead Sea Scrolls, or the Gnostic Gospels found in Egypt, but it’s a document that scholars knew was out there, but no one had found a copy. The funny thing is that two teams of scholars passed this copy over a few years before Bishop Bryennios found and published it.
Why Does it matter to us today?
The Didache is important to us because it gives us a glimpse into the early church. One of the biggest takeaways I have from the Didache is that it was written to a group of people who were living a life separate from the world. It wasn’t written to a country or a state or a city. It was written to a group of people who were separated from the world. The Roman world was a harsh and unforgiving place for Christians, and the Didache was written to teach them how to live lives separate from that world.
Today we live for the world and go to church. These people lived in the church and participated in the world, but knew the world was not for them. They didn’t try to change the world; they let Christ change them. This is a lesson I think the church of today could learn from.
Here is a short overview of the first five chapters, which are an early catechism of the church
There Are Two Ways!
The First Part of the Didache starts with the teaching of the two ways, one of life and the other of death. And there is a great difference in the two.
“This is the way of life: First Love the Lord your God who made you, second Love your neighbor as yourself, third do nothing to anyone else that you wouldn’t like to happen to you. To keep these teachings, bless people who talk bad about you, pray for your enemies, and fast for people who persecute you. What credit is it to you if you only love people who love you? Sinners can do that.”
This first part is very familiar to most people who have been in church for any length of time. The Great commandment and the Golden Rule. It’s not twelve ways to be a better Christian or 45 days to a more Godly life. It’s love God, Love your neighbor, and pray for your enemies. Isn’t it amazing that 20 centuries later this is still the hardest teaching we as Christians have? We can’t figure these three things out and our best writers and scholars think we are going to spend 30 days doing something or 10 lessons to get something and we can’t Love God and everyone else.
But that’s the way it is with the Didache. Do the things that draw you toward God and don’t do the things that draw you away. Jesus says, if your hand causes you to sin, then cut it off. Jesus knew it isn’t our hands or our eyes or our cars that cause us to sin, but it’s our nature. The Didache draws this out and gives a groundwork we can build a life on today. It’s not about changing the world, it’s about letting Christ change us.
Admonitions against sin
Chapter two is a list of “Thou Shalt Not’s,” which I changed to don’t do this or stay away from this. The main principles in this section that stick out to me is the prohibition on abortion. We may think abortion is a modern thing, but it was apparently rampant in Roman and Greek society. It goes farther by saying to not kill a child that has been born. Today we wouldn’t think of doing this, but when society declines this becomes a reality. Again, the Didache Doesn’t say to go and make other people not have abortions. It says, “You the Christian don’t have an abortion.”
Along with the admonitions in these chapters, the author tells us to become meek and patient and kind. I think these are things we can work towards because all we have to do is look around and witness the grandiose and boastfulness in our world today.
Chapter four starts by telling us we should honor anyone who speaks the name of Christ. We should seek out people like this every day. Today we may not be able to connect with Christians every day because of our busy lives, but we have podcasts and mp3s we can have with us at all times so we can learn and be encouraged. It also talks about living in community and sharing all things. We need to be ready to support a brother or sister in need because if we share in the salvation through Christ, we should share our earthly things as well. One, not funny, but strange sounding thing to me was that if you take money or goods and don’t really need them, you will be arrested and have to pay back every cent. This prohibition fell out of favor and can’t be reimplemented today because if you have been in church ministry for any length of time, people will take stuff from the church whether they need it or not. Just an observation.
The Way Of Death
Finally, for this section chapter five gives us the way of death, and it’s mostly just doing the things we are told to abstain from in chapter one through three. The best part of this section is “You know you are on the path of death when you are Destroying the image of God, not helping the needy, abusing the distressed, and advocating for the rich.” That’s our society today. But we as Christians are supposed to be separate from that and live lives that don’t look exactly like everyone else around us. I also know I’m the chief among sinners. I Wish I could live a life truly for Christ and separate from this world, but it is really hard. All I can say is “Lord have mercy” and thank him for loving me and keep trying to live that life.
That’s it for this week. Next week we’ll get into the functional part of the Didache and talk about baptism, the Eucharist, and church and community functions.
My goal is to edit books and documents from the first 300 years of the Church, and if you’re interested, you can help in a couple of ways, you can buy the books when they come out on Amazon. The Didache In Modern English Or, you can support this effort by becoming a patron on Patreon for a few dollars a month. Either way, I will be very appreciative, and if you do both, I will be super appreciative.
I want to be very clear that you do not have to contribute anything to keep listening to these podcasts or reading the blog. I am glad you are here and I appreciate every download, every listen, every like and every share I get.
Thanks for listening and I’ll see you next week.