4.11.2009

The Didache: It is not Gospel, So Why Read It?


A pet peeve of mine is when people talk about the early church with very broad strokes and as a way of saying “this is how it necessarily ought to be.” In other words, “This is how things should be done because this is how it was done in the early church.” This gets me for a few reasons. First, it presupposes there was a way the early church did it. I don’t believe there was. Second, there is no clarity as to how early we have to go and when things went wrong. In other words, some people say the golden age was the time before Constantine (i.e., the first three centuries), others while the apostles were still alive (the first century), and others the first few days. Third, it is theologically dubious. If Paul says that the church should be maturing as a man, should we always be going back to childhood to find out what to be like? And if we were more mature 2000 years ago, what does it say about the truthfulness of Paul’s theology? Fourth, it is usually a matter of authority and institutionalism. Thus, we are fed up with the authority structures and institutional order of things, and so we look to the day when things were supposedly so much more free and egalitarian. Fifth, the early church is usually interpreted through our own prejudices. In other words, we see what we want in the early church and thus rationalize our own biases.

That brings me to the Didache (Alternately titled The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles for the Gentiles). What is the Didache? It is the earliest church manual we possess. How early? Most scholars believe that it was written near the end of the 1st Century or very early in the second. This means that the Didache—at least in part—may have been written before some of the later NT books. It seems to reflect an example of Jewish Christian practices. Ultimately, it was not accepted as a part of the NT, but is considered among the documents designated The Apostolic Fathers. It is worth reading—even if we don’t treat it as Gospel—because it gives a concrete example of actual practices in the early church.

The Didache breaks down into three sections that we will look at in subsequent posts.

I. The Two Ways (chs. 1-5)
II. The Manual (chs. 6-15)
III. The Eschatological Warning (ch. 16)

4 comments:

Travis said...

my pet peeve is when people don't think the early church was the way things should be....

actually kidding, BUT

If the early church didn't set an example or a model even, and the 'mature' church was what the church became through the past 2000 years a hierarchical structure, then we all should repent and go back to the...oh wait, which one is the original? One might say the Roman Catholic Church, but is that the closest to the main stream of Christian community? or would it be eastern orthodox, or what? And then what of these 'mature' forms having so much involved that seems to contradict Jesus' irreligious theology?

Just some initial reactions of how pivotal this topic is. If I became convinced that the hierarchical institutional structure of church was good and valid, and the way the church "matured" then I am just a lone arrogant renegade here in this catholic town. And I'd have to repent and go to catholic or orthodox seminary, and divorce my wife...yikes...

So this topic obviously has HUGE implications...

BAB said...

So here is how I see it. I don't think that we have necessarily matured as we ought to have. Today's church - I don't think - the picture of perfection. I am just saying that what the church ought to do or be - I think - is to be determined by its future and not its past. Acts gives us the highlights of the early movement, and I think it does so for us to learn and in some way imitate. It is not the early church.

The question is: what is the church to become? And not what was the church like?

Travis said...

Did you mean to make the distinction between "the early church acts-300, vs early church as in "acts". That would be a good distinction. I usually think of Acts when I'm talking about the early church. A lot of people are probably including the first couple of centuries in that?

I really am interested in grappling with this question as I have been intently studying this for over 3 or 4 years now. I'd really like to find some gems in the didache.

BAB said...

I haven't made the distinction simply because no matter what people mean, there is an error that is made. This may sound weird for you to hear me say, but even the church in Acts, cannot be accurately said to be the "early church". Like I said it is a highlight reel. I think it is as much a presentation of what the church should be as it is what it actually was.