6.22.2009

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?

1 comment:

Rob Oliverio said...

This portion of the Didache has helped me as I have considered debates about the mode of baptism. Here we have members of the early church describing how they baptize; and apparently they leave room for immersion and pouring, according to what water is available at the time. Cf. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. III, Chap. XX, Sec. 7