The Didache: Discerning the Real Deal

In chapter 10, we saw the instructions for how the community was to order their Eucharist. This was clearly a shared meal rather than a snack appended to a worship service.

This leads to what I think is the most interesting section of the text as it gives a window into early Christians’ ethics and the criteria of authenticity. In chapters 11-13, we find instructions on how the community was to go about the process of discerning whether someone was the real deal. What it assumes is that—in the same way we see it in the NT—the itinerate teachers and traveling Christians passing through town occurred regularly. It demanded a great deal of hospitality but also a great deal of discernment.

The section breaks down as follows:
(1) Visiting teachers (11:1-2)
(2) Visiting apostles and prophets (11:3-12)
(A) Apostles (11:3-6)
(B) Prophets (11:7-12)
(3) Fellow-Christians (12:1-5)
(A) Passing through (12:1-2)
(B) Wishing to settle (12:3-5)
(4) Prophets and teachers wishing to settle (13:1-7)

Because many came through in the name of the Lord, it was important to discern the legit from the posers. Jesus made it clear that many would claim to be his but will not be (Matt 7:15-20). Nevertheless, Jesus’ true apostles and prophets were sent traveling, and their lives depended upon the hospitality of others. This, I think, provides a better context to understand Jesus’ words: “He who receives you receives me” (Matt 10:40) and “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40).

The Test -
The teacher: Should be received and listened to if their teaching conforms to the teaching they have already received. If the teacher strays from it by teaching another teaching which undermines it, they should be rejected. Only teachers, who promote righteousness and knowledge of the Lord, should be received as the Lord (cf. Matt 10).

The apostle: This clearly implies the position of apostle extends beyond the twelve. Just as with teachers, the apostles were to be received as the Lord. Interestingly, the sole criterion for discerning false apostles had to do with their disposition to provisions. The apostle was only to stay one or two days. If they stayed longer, they were false. Likewise, the apostles were to be sent away with a day’s provision of bread that would get them to next stop. If the apostle asked to be paid in money, they were false.

The prophet: The criteria for judging prophets was severely complicated by their understanding of Jesus’ teaching on the unforgivable sin in Matt 12:30-31, which is paraphrased here: Every sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven (Did 11:7 BAB). This sin, in the context of Matt 12 is clearly the attribution to Beelzebub (or Satan) things done and said by the Holy Spirit. For this reason, the community was commanded not to judge the prophet’s words in a spirit but rather the deeds of his life: But everyone who speaks by a spirit is a prophet, but if he should have the behavior of the Lord. Therefore, by the behavior, the false prophet and the prophet will be known (Did 11:8 BAB). What behavior were they to watch? One, which I do not quite understand, seems to have something to do with their behavior at meals (v. 9). Second, if they teach truth but do not do it. Third, if they have been tested and found genuine and then practice worldly mystery for the church, they should not be judged by the church. This a difficult line to understand, but may be something like when the OT prophets would enact bizarre and sometimes inappropriate acts to illustrate their prophetic message. Finally, with regards to money, if someone requests money for himself, they are false; on the other hand, it is fine if they are requesting money for others.

Fellow-Christians: Those who came in the name of the Lord but were not teachers or prophets, were to be tested. However, no details are given, only that they will be able to discern it. These Christians were only to stay a couple of days—like the apostles—and then sent on their way. However, if these brethren desired to settle with them, they were required to apply a trade to provide for themselves. If they could not, then the community was to decide how to handle it, but they are warned not to accept anyone who refused work.

Finally, teachers and prophets wishing to dwell with them permanently, were to be provided for. It says, the community should provide for them out of their first fruits. These leaders are likened to the OT prophets and priests who were to be provided for by the rest of the nation. If no such leaders lived among them, however, they were to collect for the poor.

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