Recently we added an apocryphal reference to the site: "The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles" also known as the Didache [Greek: teaching]. The Didache is a short, first century document attributed to the twelve apostles and thought to be the basic instructions for the Gentile believers who are new to the faith. While it is not Scripture the Didache definitely provides valuable insight into the focus of the apostles early teachings. It was originally known from references to it by Athanasius [3rd century], Didymus [4th century], and Eusebius [3rd century], and Serapion of Thmuis (4th century) has a quotation from it in his Eucharistic prayer.1
The Didache has two major parts:
- The two ways: the way of life (Didache 1:1-4:14) and the way of death (Didache 5:1-2)
- A manual of order and practice (Didache 6:1-16:8)
This is not an exhaustive list but simply represents an initial record of some observations regarding this historical document and the teachings it contains.
The Way of Life
The very first line of the document after the title but preceding what is considered to be "chapter 1" is this:
The teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the twelve apostles.
The focus is on gentile (i.e. non-Jewish) believers and the instruction they would need in the ways of the Lord, the Messiah Yeshua.
Matters of the Heart
Paul, in Colossians 2, points out the valueless pursuit of Gnostic teachings:
If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
Consistent with Scripture and contrary to the un-Scriptural Gnostic teachings of its time (which included the idea that anything physical was inherently evil and to be shunned as much as possible) the Didache addressed the "physical and bodily cravings" with these two sentences:
Abstain from physical and bodily cravings. "If someone gives you a blow on your right cheek, turn to him the other as well," (Matthew 5:39) and you will be perfect. If someone "forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles"; "if someone takes your cloak, give him your tunic also"; "if someone takes from you what belongs to you, do not demand it back, " (Matthew 5:41) for you cannot do so. (Didache 1:4)
The "bodily cravings" of retaliating when someone slaps you on the cheek is a heart issue; doing only what is required (laziness?) is a heart issue; and possessiveness (greed?) is a heart issue. The Didache focuses on things that are of value against fleshly indulgence: matters of training our hearts into servanthood... the servant leadership found in Messiah. This would have been entirely counter-cultural in the "rights"-focused Roman world (which is interestingly much like many Western cultures today).
As huge an issue as abortion is in America today, it apparently was also an issue in the first century. The teaching of the apostles included this commandment:
"You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery"; you shall not corrupt boys; you shall not be sexually promiscuous; "you shall not steal"; you shall not practice magic; you shall not engage in sorcery; you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide. "You shall not covet your neighbor's possessions; (Didache 2:2) [empasis mine]
Lives of Action
James makes these statements regarding faith and works:
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
The Didache is consistent with James' words:
Your word must not be false or meaningless, but confirmed by action. (Didache 2:5)
Do not become angry, for anger leads to murder. Do not be jealous or quarrelsome or hot-tempered, for all these things breed murders. (Didache 3:2)
This admonition is entirely consistent with Yochanan's words:
1 John 3:15
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Interestingly enough, this is also part of the daily prayers of early believers:
My God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully. To those who curse me, let my soul be silent; and let my soul be like dust to everyone. Open my heart to Your Torah, then my soul will pursue Your commandments. As for all those who oppose me and design evil against me, speedily nullify their counsel and disrupt their design. May it be Your will, Adonai my God and the God of my forefathers, that human jealousy may not rise up against me, nor my jealousy upon others; may I not become angry today, and may I not anger You. Rescue me from the Evil Inclination, and place in my heart submissiveness and humility. O our King and our God, cause Your Name to be unified in Your world; rebuild Your city, lay the foundation of Your House, perfect Your sanctuary; gather in the scattered exiles, redeem Your sheep, and gladden Your congregation. Act for Your Name’s sake; act for Your right hand’s sake; act for Your Torah’s sake; act for Your sanctity’s sake. That Your beloved ones may be given rest; let Your right hand save, and respond to me.2 [emphasis mine]
In Didache 3:3-6, we see the phrase "My child" preceding the instruction:
My child, do not be lustful, for lust leads to fornication. Do not be foul-mouthed or let your eyes roam, for all these things breed adultery.
My child, do not be an auger, since it leads to idolatry. Do not be an enchanter or an astrologer or a magician, or even desire to see them, for all these things breed idolatry.
My child, do not be a liar, since lying leads to theft. Do not be avaricious or conceited, for all these things breed thefts.
My child, do not be a grumbler, since it leads to blasphemy. Do not be arrogant or evil-minded, for all these things breed blasphemies. (Didache 3:3-6)
Here (as well as in several other places) in the Didache the author(s) addresses the reader as "child" or "children". This is consistent with the writings of Scripture (e.g. 1 Cor 4:14,17, Gal 4:19, 1 Tim 1:12, 1 John 2:1, etc) in that the teacher addresses the student as "child" even though the student may be physically older than the teacher! This is a common Hebraic idiom used by teachers in addressing their students and attests to the authentic Hebraic nature of this writing.
The Way of Death
The information provided about "the way of death" is the shortest section of the Didache. It simply provides this:
But the way of death is this: first of all, it is evil and completely cursed;
murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, sorceries, robberies, false testimonies, hypocrisy, duplicity, deceit, arrogance, malice, stubbornness, greed, foul speech, jealousy, audacity, pride, boastfulness.
It is the way of persecutors of good people, of those hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing the reward of righteousness, not adhering to what is good or to righteous judgment, being on the alert not for what is good but for what is evil, from whom gentleness and patience are far away, loving worthless things, pursuing reward, having no mercy for the poor, not working on behalf of the oppressed, not knowing Him who made them, murderers of children, corrupters of God's creation, turning away from someone in need, oppressing the afflicted, advocates of the wealthy, lawless judges of the poor, utterly sinful. May you be delivered, children, from all these things! (Didache 5:1-2)
It is interesting to note that 1) these things had to be written down and taught so that others could know they were evil and 2) there is no commentary on these evil things: they stand alone as evil without requiring explanation.
Order and Practice
The Whole Yoke of the Lord
A "yoke" in a Hebraic sense and in this context are the commandments. Numerous Hebraic sources refer to the commandments of G-d as "the yoke of heaven". In the Didache we again find confirmation of its Hebraic origins in chapter 6:
See that no one leads you astray from this way of the teaching, for such a person teaches you without regard for God. For if you are able to bear the whole yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect. But if you are not able, then do what you can. Now concerning food, bear what you are able, but in any case keep strictly away from meat sacrificed to idols, for it involves the worship of dead gods. (Didache 6:1-3)
This speaks to an issue facing most Messianic believers today: after we are saved to what degree are we required to keep the commandments of G-d? The "One Law" debate (Are gentile believers required to keep the whole Law or is that only for Jews?) has flared up again as First Fruits of Zion has reversed their stance to a position opposed to "One Law". The instruction of the apostles found in the Didache is to gentile believers. Here we see them giving a very gentle path for the gentiles to follow (pun intended): do what you can.
The question of how to baptize seems to be answered here in the Teaching of the Twelve:
Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" [Matthew 28:19] in running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water; and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times "in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit." And before the baptism, let the one baptizing and the one who is to be baptized fast, as well as any others who are able. Also, you must instruct the one who is to be baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand. (Didache 7:1-4)
Again we find a very wide set of guidelines for baptism which is focused entirely upon the point: regardless of how you do it, baptize new believers in order to fulfill the commandment.
But do not let your fasts coincide with those of the hypocrites. They fast on Monday and Thursday, so you must fast on Wednesday and Friday. (Didache 8:1)
Early first century believers fasted twice a week: Wednesday and Friday [literally: "the fourth" and "the sixth" of the Sabbath].
Work in progress...