The Didache: Communion

Didache 10:1 begins Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks in this way. Actually, there is a little word play here, in that the Greek word eucharistia means thanksgiving. So it reads almost like Now concerning the thanksgiving, give thanks in this way. This is actually significant in that the teaching here seems to emphasize giving thanks more than themes of remembrance (of the blood and body) or covenant (cf. Matt 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:15-20; 1 Cor 11:23-25). The emphasis of these prayers has more to do with thanksgiving, unity of the church, and a prayer for preservation until the Lord’s return (cf. 1 Cor 11:26).

It seems that this practice was an actual meal rather than what we are accustomed to in our worship services. This is evidenced by the fact that prayers of thanksgiving are given for the cup, the broken bread, and after being filled.

The meal was limited to baptized believers; the unbaptized were explicitly prohibited from sharing in the meal (Did 9:5). Interestingly enough Jesus’ words in Matthew (7:6) “Do not give dogs what is sacred,” are used as the rationale.

This protocol was to be generally followed by the church, but if a prophet wanted to lead the meal in a different way, the church was to submit to them. This is followed by criteria for discerning legit prophets from the false, which we will get into next time.


"The Mystery of Godliness": A Sermon by John Calvin

The title of this sermon may lead one to expect Calvin to give a mystical spin on proper Christian living, what we today often call "godly behavior." But the sermon is actually an exposition of 1 Timothy 3:16 -- "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." Calvin takes this occasion to give a clear, orthodox presentation of the doctrine of the two natures of Christ.

Francis Schaeffer in How Should We Then Live? remarked that the Reformation was no golden age of Christianity, and Calvin here evidences that Christians in his time resemble Christians in our own. It is now as it was then: Christians don't know what they believe. That is, Christians don't know Christian doctrine, the teachings foundational to the Gospel. As Calvin notes, people are too occupied with their lives and fail both to read the Scriptures and to comprehend the truth of God as given in the sermons they hear. Indeed, how often do even faithful church attenders walk out the door and immediately forget the content of that day's sermon! Lunchtime afflicts us with a dulling amnesia. (Perhaps we should schedule the sermon earlier in the service.)

Calvin stresses the centrality of the doctrine of the two natures of Christ to the Gospel. Our atonement is secured in the righteousness of the one Jesus Christ, who is both God and man. As the righteous man, Christ sacrificed himself so that we might be justified, and he now mediates between God and us, as he is able to represent us, being of the same nature as we are. Yet as Christ is also God, we can trust in him. When Calvin quotes part of Jeremiah 17:5, it becomes evident that Calvin is not merely saying that Christ is trustworthy or dependable, but rather that he is more than just a man; observe Jeremiah 17:5a & 7 (NIV) -- "This is what the LORD says: 'Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength. . . . But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him." This passage reflects Calvin's frequent contrasts in this sermon between the power and majesty of God (particularly as revealed in Christ) and the weakness of man. All in all, Calvin invites us to meditate on the mystery of the Incarnation and of the two natures of Christ in order "to nourish our faith" and to avoid past heresies, which Satan has used to threaten the salvation message of Christianity.


The Mystery

"All science, even the divine science, is a sublime detective story. Only it is not set to detect why a man is dead; but the darker secret of why he is alive." - G.K. Chesterton, The Thing

The Didache: Baptism, Fasting, & Prayer

This is to me is where The Didache gets interesting. Moving from broadly accepted virtues, the text begins to describe the very specific rules prescribed for this community’s daily and weekly practices. We get more detailed description on how things were actually performed here than in the NT (and maybe there is a reason of that). It should be noted that this document represents a particular tradition and it would be too much to say this is how the early church did it. Nevertheless, for those who reference the early church as the ground for how things ought to be done, an appropriate question to ask is “How early?” because this is an example of an orthodox community existing during or closely after the apostolic period. As you will see, this is not where you want to go if you want to demonstrate how the early church was a free-wheeling, ritual-less organism (as opposed to our ritual-laden institution).

The first thing said about baptism is that:
after all of these [things] are spoken beforehand, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water. (Did 7:1 BAB)

“These things” probably refers to the material in “The Two Ways” (chs 1-5). What is literally “speaking beforehand” isn’t clear exactly what that is but definitely includes some period of instruction and perhaps the memorization and recitation of “The Two Ways.” This is the earliest example—outside of Matthew 28:19—of the Trinitarian formula being used in baptism. Living water shows that it was preferable to baptize in a running body; however, the text gives an order of preference to be followed depending on availability (7:3):
(1) Living water
(2) Cold water
(3) Warm water
(4) A pitcher over the head 3x (for the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit).

Before the baptism, both the baptizer and the baptized were to fast for one or two days. Others in the community were invited to fast along with them (7:4).

Their fasts were not to coincide with the “hypocrites,” which is likely a reference to Jews. The “hypocrites” fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, and so these Christians were commanded to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays (8:1).

Their prayers were also not to be “like the hypocrites”, rather they should “pray like this”, which introduced The Lord’s Prayer essentially as we find it Matthew (6:9-13; contrast Luke 11:2-4). (It is interesting that the Lord’s Prayer is given in Matthew to distinguish them from the way the Gentiles prayed, and here it is to distinguish themselves from Jews.) This prayer was to be prayed three times per day.

You can clearly see the formation of daily and weekly rituals and rhythms regarding fasting and prayer. What I also find interesting is how baptism is taken seriously and given time. This is far different than the spontaneity you find in Acts. New converts spent time being initiated and instructed in the faith before they were baptized. I am impressed that fasting accompanied the baptism and that it was communal in that others were invited to participate—not the just the baptized.

What do you think? Is this an example of Christianity already being spoiled? Or is there something to learn from here?


The Didache: Food and Idolatry

Many of us have read Paul’s teaching on meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8-10) with a certain level of confusion. It, for one, is one of those passages with a tremendous amount of common knowledge assumed between author and audience. These situations and practices are simply foreign to us. It, for two, is a long argument and takes some effort to follow. It, for three, seems to be broken up by a strange rabbit trail about his right earn a living, take a wife, and Israel’s wilderness wanderings (9:1-10:13) before returning to food sacrificed to idols.

Many interpreters understand Paul’s command on this subject to go something like this: eating meat sacrificed to idols is acceptable, just be careful not to cause others to stumble (or of course if it was a part of actual idolatrous worship). Enter a problem, in two other books of the Bible this practice is prohibited. First, when Paul met with James concerning his Gentile mission, James gave him a short list of things for the Gentiles to avoid, the first being meat sacrificed to idols (Acts 15:29; 21:25 NRSV). Second, in the letters to the seven churches, the practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols is one of the things Christ condemns in the churches of Pergamum and Thyatira (Rev 2:14, 20 NRSV). So, why should Paul think it is OK?

Enter another problem. The Didache also seems to prohibit the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. We have discussed how this manual opens with the doctrine of the two ways (chs 1-5). The second section (chs 6-15) is the “rulebook” and prescribes the specific practices in the church. The very first issue in this section has to do with food.

Now concerning food, bear what you are able, but because of meat sacrificed to idols be extremely careful, for it is worship of the gods of death. (Did 6:3 BAB)

The first part, bear what you are able is a little ambiguous, but echoes the verse before where the writer says that if you are able to bear the whole yoke of the Lord, you will be complete, but if you are not able, do what you can (6:2 BAB). Maybe this means that they should do everything they can to avoid meat sacrificed to idols, but acknowledges that culturally this would be very difficult? At any rate, to eat this stuff is to participate in the worship of the gods of death.

Back to Paul, is Paul saying that consciously eating meat sacrificed to idols is OK in certain circumstances? I used to think so, but now I think he might be doing something else. This post is already too long, so let me briefly explain what I think Paul is doing. Paul is doing what I think every father has to do with his children. When one son takes the toy from another who refuses to share, a father has to address two issues. First, the thief must understand that he must not steal, and he must not covet but learn contentment. Second, the hoarder must understand it is good and right to share and must learn to enjoy the joy of others.

I think this is what Paul is doing. He first grants the argument of those who think food is no big and demonstrates why even so they are wrong to eat it because they fail to love and consider their brothers. They have destroyed fellowship and unity and disregarded their brothers by their insistence on exercising their rights. This is where Paul’s apparent rabbit trail fits perfectly as he demonstrates how he has surrendered his legitimate rights for the sake of his love of God and the Corinthians. After that, he gives a warning in the example of Israel, who after being redeemed, sinned and failed to enter the Promised Land. “Therefore,” he says, “Flee from the worship of idols” (cf. Did 6:3). What is the big deal though? For Paul, just as the Christian eating of the bread and drinking of the cup is a mysterious participation in the sacrifice of Christ—and in addition to that, it is a symbol of unity with all the members of the church—so consciously eating meat sacrificed to idols is a participation in idolatry, which Paul says is demonic. Thus, the believers’ allegiance to Christ made it impossible for them to then divide their loyalty in unity with the idolatrous culture that surrounded them.

For those with a sensitive conscious, Paul then gives them instruction on how to practice this, which basically amounts to this: if you are ignorant of the meat’s origin, you are innocent, but when you become aware that the meat is sacrificed to idols then you must abstain. Because these idolatrous practices were so pervasive in the culture it would have been extremely difficult to avoid, and perhaps this is why The Didache in the same spirit says, “Do what you can.”

To summarize, for Paul there are (at least) two principles at work in this issue. (1) Our love and unity with our fellow-believers trumps our personal rights and desires. (2) Our love and loyalty to Christ means we must not divide loyalties with the idolatrous practices of the surrounding culture. Even our food provides an opportunity to embody this. The Didache, in profoundly fewer words, agrees by putting this first.


"The End" with the Church Fathers

Contrary to what appears to be popular belief, the earliest church fathers (e.g., Papias, Polycarp) were premillennial, largely because of the teaching of a certain apostle named John. Eusebius claims he is differnt than the son of Zebedee, but most Fathers claim he, in fact, is the one who walked with Jesus in Galilee. Irenaeus, who essentially defines "orthodoxy," preserves the following saying from Jesus. I will provide his context, the saying, and a few comments:

The blessing thus foretold undoubtedly belongs to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall rise from those who are dead and reign, when creation, too, renewed and freed from bondage, shall produce an abundance of food all kinds from the dew of heaven and from the fertility of the earth, just as the elders, who saw John the disciple of the Lord, remembered having heard from him how the Lord used to teach about those times and say:

“Days shall come, when vines shall grow, each having ten thousand shoots, and on each shoot ten thousand branches, and on each branch ten thousand twigs, and on each twig ten thousand clusters, and in each cluster ten thousand grapes, and each grape when crushed shall yield twenty-five measures of wine. [3] And when one of the holy ones takes hold of a cluster, another cluster shall cry out: “I am better, take me, bless the Lord through me.” [4] Similarly, a grain of wheat will produce ten thousand heads, and every head will have ten thousand grains, and every grain ten pounds of fine flour, white and clean. [5] And the other fruits, seeds, and grass shall produce in similar proportions, and all the animals feeding on these fruits produced by the soil shall in turn become peaceful and harmonious toward one another, and fully subject to humankind.”

[6] Papias, a man of the early period, who was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp, bears witness to these things in writing in the fourth of his books, for there are five books composed by him. [7] And he goes on to say:

“These things are believable to those who believe.”

“And,” he says, “when Judas the traitor did not believe and asked:

‘How, then, will such growth be accomplished by the Lord?’

the Lord said:

‘Those who live until those times will see.’”

For the citation, see Against Heresies 5.33.3-4.

Comment: The language echoes Jesus’ canonical teaching (e.g., the parables throughout Matthew 13; see also 5:5). We find a similar yet less extravagant vision in 1 Enoch:

"Then all the earth will be tilled in righteousness, and all of it will be planted with trees and filled with blessing; [19] and all the trees of joy will be planted on it. They will plant vines on it, and every vine that will be planted on it will yield a thousand jugs of wine, and of every seed that is sown on it, each measure will yield a thousand measures, and each measure of olives will yield ten baths of oil." (10:18-19; tr. Nickelsburg and VanderKam)

The early church valued 1 Enoch, which eventually became canonical for the Ethiopic Church (Jude 14-15). As we noted already, the saying fits the theological vision of Revelation 20. These logia of Jesus also explain the millennialism of Papias, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Victor, and others.

The two primary states are fecundity and peace. There is a surplus of food and wine, in anticipation of the Messianic Banquet. The earth will also produce food (fruits, seeds, and grass) that will create harmony among the animals, which previously ate another.

The Mosaic Law begins with the ideal setting of a garden, in which human beings and animals do not eat one another but live in peaceful harmony (Gen 2:19-20). God says:

"Look, I gave you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. [30] And to every creeper of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every grass for food." (Gen 1:29-30)

God also intends human beings to sow and harvest grain from the field:

And no plant of the field was yet on the land, and no (cultivated) grain of the field had yet sprouted, because the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land and there was no man to work the ground. (Gen 2:5)

Literary parallelism ties “cultivated grain” with “man” (Hebrew roots). God gave us hands with opposable thumbs to cut channels for irrigation, cast seed, cut the harvest, and separate the chaff from the head of grain (wheat, barley, etc.). God provides what we need for our daily bread. Only after the fall and subsequent flood does God allow the consumption of animal flesh (Gen 9:3-4).

Perhaps the central claim of the Gospels is that Jesus inaugurated a messianic era, the Kingdom of God, which is presented by the Prophets and Gospels, in part, as a return to Eden. Jesus reverses the curse (Gen 3:14-19).

The disciple may embrace vegetarianism as a prophetic act—“a witness to the world that God’s creation is not meant to be at war with itself,” as S. Hauerwas and J. Berkman put it (1993, 62). As Isaiah’s messiah, Jesus will one day bring peace between predator and prey (11:6-9). But this vision requires the physiological transformation (resurrection?) of a predator’s body. Animals still eat animals, and, more importantly, some animals must eat animals to thrive—“obligate carnivores,” such as lions.

We do not find an equivalent saying in the Fourth Gospel, but John or his circle of disciples claim to have been profoundly selective (21:25).


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