A BIBLICAL STUDY OF THE
TEACHING OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES

[Didache ton dodeka apostolon]
An Instruction of the Lord given to the Heathen by the Twelve Apostles(1)
[Didache kyriou dia ton dodeka apostolon ethesin]
Lesson I

Beloved Lord,
Your Son commanded His Apostles to make disciples of all nations and to teach them to observe all the commands He gave them. In the Church's earliest surviving catechism, we can see that what Jesus taught His Apostles is the same faith that has been handed down through the centuries to us today. We thank You Lord for the Gospel message of salvation that is our inheritance from Jesus Christ. Guide us in our study, Lord, of the Church's instructions to the faith communities who were inviting Gentiles to enter into the New Covenant of Jesus the Messiah in fulfillment of the prophecies of Your holy Old Testament prophets. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Bishop Eusebius (c. 263-340) on the list of considered books for the New Testament canon: Among the rejected writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles ... but which others class with the accepted books.
Eusebius, Church History, III.24.4

Standing with His disciples on the Mt. of Olives before He ascended to the Father, Jesus gave His disciples their mission statement for His Church when He told them: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). It was from this point that the Church considered catechesis (religious instruction that leads faith communities and its individual members to maturity of faith) as one of her primary duties in proclaiming the Gospel of salvation to humanity by making disciples of all nations and teaching them to observe all that Christ taught and commanded. From the time Jesus Christ commissioned His emissaries until now, the Church as not ceased to provide teaching, in the Living Tradition of the Church, to faith communities around the world. According to the Church Fathers, the first catechism was an instruction manual called Didache ton dodeka apostolon,-"Teaching of the Twelve Apostles." It was a document that was lost to the Church for many centuries.

In 1873, Orthodox Metropolitan Philotheos Bryennois discovered a cache of old Greek manuscripts in the library of the Jerusalem Monastery of the Most Holy Sepulcher at Constantinople. The collection of manuscripts, later known as Codex Hierosolymitanus 1056, was bound in one volume and written by the same hand. It was signed "Leon, notary and sinner," and bore the Greek date 6564, which in our dating is reckoned as 1056 AD. One ancient codex was a copy of the lost Didache ton dodeka apostolon, the instructions given to the Twelve Apostles by the Lord that was circulated among the Christian faith communities to provide proper instruction for Gentile converts. Church scholars knew of this missing document for centuries and referred to it as "the Didache"-"the Teaching."

The Didache was named by Bishop Eusebius as among those books that were included in the list of works considered for the New Testament canon and in the end were rejected but considered worthy of catechetical instruction (see quote above). Since its publication in 1883, it has been observed by scholars that large parts of the Didache had previously been present as quotations within other works but had not been recognized as belonging to this early catechism. It was a document that was frequently quoted in the writings of such Church Fathers as St. Athanasius and the biblical scholar Rufinus, a contemporary of St. Jerome, who added the Didache to their list of sapiential and other deuteron-canonical books. The Didache was also quoted in the works of other Church Fathers including the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas. St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (martyred 202), quoted from it in his writings, and references to the Didache are found in the letters of St. Clement of Alexandria (150-211/216 AD) and in the writings of Origen (185-253/54 AD), once head of the famous catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt and considered the most renowned Biblical scholar of his times. The last mention of the Didache was made by Nicephorus, Patriarch of Constantinople, (d. c. 828 AD) more than two hundred years before Leon made his 1056 copy.

Other early Church catechisms were founded upon the Didache, like the Didache's successor in Latin, Doctrina duedecim apostolorum (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), a copy of which was rediscovered in 1900, and the 4th century Didascalia, Apostolic, (Apostolic Constitutions); almost all of the Greek text of the Didache is present in chapter VII:1-32 of the Apostolic Constitutions. There is also great agreement with the Apostolical Church Order, most likely originating from the Church in Egypt and dated to the third century AD. The first thirteen canons correspond closely in order and wording with the Didache in chapters I-IV. Since the Didache's discovery, numerous other finds have been made of fragments of texts from the Didache in Latin, Coptic, Ethiopic, Syriac and a complete translation Georgian. Metropolitan Bryennois' discovery electrified Christian scholars and cast new light on the structure and catechesis of the Christian faith communities in the earliest years of the Church.

The Purpose and Dating of the Original Document

The purpose of the Didache is announced in the document's subtitle: "An instruction of the Lord given to the Heathen by the Twelve Apostles"-instructions based on the teachings of Jesus Christ that were witnessed by the Apostles and transmitted by them to pagans who desired to become Christians. While "the heathen" refers to Gentiles who desired to join a Christian faith community, the instruction in the Didache not only addressed topics necessary to admitting Gentile converts but general instructions for the community as a whole.

Some scholars fix the date of the Didache to somewhere in the third century AD. Other scholars date the Didache to the first century within a decade of the Council of Jerusalem. In the Church's first Proto-Ecumenical Church Council held in Jerusalem in 49/50 AD, the Apostles addressed a controversy that erupted within the Christian community at Antioch, Syria concerning the conversion of Gentiles and their acceptance into the New Covenant faith (Acts 15:1-4). The Acts of Apostles provides a record of the controversy that St. Paul and Barnabas, sent as the official representatives of the Antioch community, brought to the Church assembly of Apostles and elders in Jerusalem (Acts 5:5-35). St. Peter, as the Vicar of Christ, opened the assembly with the statement: 'My brothers,' he said, 'you know perfectly well that in the early days God made his choice among you: the gentiles were to learn the good news from me and so become believers. And God, who can read everyone's heart, showed his approval of them by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as he had to us' (Acts 15:7-8). He appealed to the assembly not to make the burden of conversion too harsh on the gentile converts.

After Sts. Paul, Barnabas and James of Jerusalem spoke, the Apostles issued a decree announcing that only the council of Apostles had the authority to make such decisions (Acts 15:24; CCC 880), and they sent a letter to the community at Antioch defining what was expected of Christian coverts from paganism who wanted to be admitted into the New Covenant in Christ Jesus (Acts 15:28-29). Most scholars believe the council didn't limit their instructions to one faith community but soon thereafter issued an instruction manual to be sent to all Christian communities and that the Didache may have been this early manual of catechetical instruction. Scholars, who give the Didache an early date, date it to within a decade of this council; however, other scholars date it as late as the third century AD. It is unlikely to be dated later than that date since St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, appears to quote from the Didache in his writings, and the good bishop was martyred in c. 202 AD.

Information within the text of the Didache that points to its ancient origins:

  1. According to the text of the document, the instructions are for the "heathen." Within a few decades of the birth of the New Covenant Church on the Jewish feast of Pentecost in 30 AD, the Church went from mostly Jewish-Christian congregations to mostly Gentile-Christian congregations. It seems unlikely that the term "heathen" would be applied to Gentiles desiring to convert to the New Covenant faith by other Gentile-Christians or by a Church leadership that was mostly Gentile. It is likely that the manual was written when the hierarchy of the Church was still largely Jewish.
  2. The simple language of the text is another indication of its age. Similar to the Greek of the New Testament books, the Didache is written in common Greek and not the more sophisticated Greek of later Church documents and the letters of Fathers of the Church who had received a classical Greek education (i.e., St. Augustine among others). The Scripture citations within the Didache resemble those of the Apostolic Fathers.
  3. The organization of the Church in the Didache reflects a primitive hierarchy and organization similar to St. Paul's description of the faith communities in Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28 where charismatic leaders are prominent (see Didache 11:3ff and 13:3). The Didache does not yet identify the presbyterate as a third Church office between bishops and deacons. Scholar A. Ehrhard writes: The fact that the Didache does not yet know the presbyterate as a third office, intermediary between the episcopate and the diaconate, is an infallible proof of its great antiquity. The Didache only mentions two levels of hierarchy within the Church. First, the bishops and deacons who are elected but owe their power and authority as leaders of the Church from the Apostles or their successors (Didache 15:1; 1 Tim 4:14; 5:22; Epistles of St. Ignatius). The second group is composed of the prophets who are residents of the communities, prophets and apostles who travel as missionaries, and the teachers of the community, all men chosen because of their spiritual gifts (Didache 11; 1 Cor 12:28). The Didache makes no mention of presbyters, although Acts of the Apostles, St. Clement of Rome, the third Pope to sit on the "chair of St. Peter" (martyred c. 101 AD) and St. Ignatius (martyred c. 107 AD) all mention the office of the presbyterate frequently in their letters.
  4. The document records that the leaders of the community were elected by the community (Didache 15:1). By the time St. Clement of Rome wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, prior to Clement serving as the third Bishop of Rome, faith communities were discouraged from electing their own ministers and were being urged to accept those men ordained by the Church. Many Bible scholars date St. Clement's letter to c. 96 AD, but other scholars date his letter prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD since St. Clement refers to Temple sacrifices and the High Priest's ministry in the present tense and does not mention that the Jerusalem Temple has been destroyed (Clement and the Early Church of Rome, Fr. Thomas J. Herron; see 1 Clement 40:1-41:2).
  5. The document also appears to mention the very early Christian custom of eating a complete communal meal before receiving the Eucharist (Didache chapters 9-10). St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (martyred 107), mentions the "agape supper" (agape is the Greek word for "spiritual love") in his letter to the Church at Smyrna (Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, 8.2). At the Last Supper Jesus and His disciples ate the Jewish Passover meal before Jesus offered Himself in the Eucharist (Mt 26:17-19, 26-29). In imitation of Jesus' Last Supper, early Christians also ate a complete communal meal, which they called the "agape supper," with the Eucharist being the climax of the meal as it was in the Gospel record of the Last Supper (Mt 26:26; Mk 14:22; Lk 22:14-19).

 

Outline of the Text:

  1. The Two Ways (1:1-6:3)
    1. The Way of Life
    2. The Way of Death
  2. Rituals of the Church (7:1-10:7)
    1. Instructions on Baptism
    2. Instructions on Fasting and Prayer
      1. Fast days
      2. The Lord's Prayer
    3. Instructions on the Eucharist
      1. Prayer over the cup
      2. Prayer over the bread
      3. Continuation of the Eucharistic Prayer
      4. Invitation to Receive
  3. Ministry (11:1-15:4)
    1. Visiting Teachers, Apostles and Prophets
    2. Christians Coming to the Community
      1. Transient Christian visitors
      2. Christians seeking to join the community
    3. Material Support for the Clergy
    4. Assembly on the Lord's Day
    5. Church Hierarchy
  4. Final Exhortation (16:1-8)

All Bible quotes in this lesson are from the New American Bible unless otherwise noted. Quotes from the New Jerusalem Bible will be designated "NJB." The notation "CCC" indicates a quotation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Quotes or paraphrases from Scripture within the text of the Didache are in italics and the related Bible passages are listed in parenthesis as a reference. Headings above sections of the text are my addition.

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TEACHING OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES
[Didache ton dodeka apostolon]
An Instruction of the Lord given to the Heathen by the Twelve Apostles(2)
[Didache kyriou dia ton dodeka apostolon ethesin]

Part I: The Two Ways
Two Ways there are, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the Two Ways.

____________Commentary and Questions____________

The doctrine of the "Two Ways" is found in the opening chapter of the Church's first catechism and its Latin translation the Doctrina Apostolorum. The doctrine of the "Two Ways" or "Two Paths" is a reoccurring theme in the Old Testament (Dt 30:15-20; Ps 1; Pr 4:18-19; 12:28; 15:24; Sir 15:17; 33:14), in Jesus' teaching (Mt 7:13-14; Jn 14:6-6), and in St. Paul's letters (Rom 12:16-21 and 13:8-12). The teaching on the doctrine of the "Two Ways" was also a popular Jewish treatise in the first century and was probably a work that was familiar to many Jewish-Christians.

The "Two Ways" is a theme first introduced by Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy. In his last homily to the Israelites prior to the conquest of Canaan, Moses tells the people: Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grown numerous, and the LORD, your God will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy, If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve their gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish ... (Dt 30:15-18). Living the Law of God is the path to life (CCC 2057).

The first part of the Didache may reflect a very popular Jewish treatise dated to the first century AD, originating from the Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt and entitled "The Two Ways," and was a teaching Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 7:13). If the Didache was influenced by the Jewish treatise, it suggests that the hierarchy of the New Covenant Church was still largely Jewish and therefore points to an earlier dating of the document. By the time the disciples of the Apostles had assumed the leadership of the Church, the Church leadership was almost entirely composed of Gentile Christians (for example, St Linus of Rome, St. Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius of Antioch, and St. Polycarp of Smyrna). It is also possible that the "Two Ways" was the original version of the Didache sent to Christian communities as instruction for admitting Gentiles into their congregations and that the other chapters were added at a later date.

In a homily teaching on Moses' instruction in Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Caesarius Bishop of Arles (c. 470-543) warned the faithful: As he himself said ... "Behold before you are fire and water, death and life. Choose life that you may live." Everything we mentioned above, that is, good and evil, is contained in these two. For heaven and hell, Christ and the devil, height and depth are proposed to us in them. Through his grace God has put it into the power of each one to choose and to stretch out his hand to whatever he wished (Sermon 149.1)

Question: What theological truth is present in the teaching of the "Two Ways"? See CCC 311, 1730-34.
Answer: The Doctrine of "free will"-man's choice in determining his ultimate destiny.

Question: What is the theological point being made about one's choice between the "Two Ways"? See CCC 311, 1730-34.
Answer: The point is our personal responsibility in the choices we make. God has given man the gift of "free will," and it is therefore man's decision as to which path he will take-the path that leads to eternal life or the path that leads to eternal death.

Question: What is the problem with man determining for himself what constitutes the "Way/Path of righteousness" apart from God's Law and the moral choices that will lead to happiness? See CCC 1739.
Answer: The problem with man's freedom in making moral choices is that it is limited and fallible. Moral choices can be influenced by sin in one's life and by what society determines is in a person's self-interest until the lines between what is righteous and what is sin becomes so blurred that a person becomes a slave to sin and a stranger to righteousness. Living according to God's Law gives life and also frees man from slavery to sin and death. From its onset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom (CCC 1739).

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The Way of Life

2 Now, the Way of Life (Dt 30:15; Ps 16:11; Prov 15:24; Jer 21:8; Mt 7:13-14) is this: first, love the God who made you; secondly, your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18; Dt 6:5; Mt 19:19; 22:37-39): do not do to another what you do not wish to be done to yourself (Mt 7:12; Lk 6:31). (4) The lesson of these words is as follows: bless those that curse you (Lk 6:28), and pray for your enemies (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:28); besides, fast for those that persecute you (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:28). For what thanks do you deserve when you love those that love you? Do not the heathen do as much (Mt 5:46; Lk 6:32-33)? For your part, love those that hate you (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27);(6)in fact, have no enemy. 4 Abstain from gratifying the carnal [and bodily] impulses.(5) When anyone gives you a blow on the right cheek, turn to him the other as well (Mt 5:39), and be perfect (Mt 5:48; 19:21; Lk 6:40; Jn 17:23); when anyone takes your cloak away, give him your coat also; when anyone robs you of your property, demand no return (Mt 5:40; Lk 6:40). You really cannot do it. 5 Give to anyone that asks you, and demand no return (Mt 5:42); the Father wants His own bounties to be shared with all. Happy the giver who complies with the commandment, for he goes unpunished. Trouble is in store for the receiver: if someone who is in need receives, he will go unpunished; but he who is not in need will have to stand trial as to why and for what purpose he received; and if he is thrown into prison, he will be questioned about his conduct, and will not be released from that place until he has paid the last penny (Mt 5:25-26; Lk 12:59). (7) 6 However, in this regard, there is also a word of Scripture: Let your alms sweat in your hands until you find out to whom to give (Sir 7:10; 12:1, probably paraphrasing these two passages).

____________Commentary and Questions ____________

Part I of the Didache presents the standard of Christian morality for pagan candidates for the Sacrament of Baptism. Much of the teaching in Part 1 contains quotes and paraphrases from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of St. Matthew (Mt chapters 5-7) and the Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke (Lk chapter 6). Jesus, the "new Moses," taught on the choice between "the two ways," identifying the contrast between the two ways.

Question: How did Jesus identify the "Way of Life" as opposed to the "Way of Death"? Read the passages in Mt 7:13-14; Lk 13:24 and Jn 14:6.
Answer: He identified the "Way of Life" and as the "narrow gate" and the way less traveled. No one can force themselves into the gates of heaven to secure their own salvation. He described Himself as the only "Way" to eternal salvation:

Question: In section 1:2 what examples of behavior does the Didache quote as actions that lead to the path of life?
Answer: Love of God, love of neighbor and treating others as one wants to be treated.

The so-called "golden rule" is stated in the positive in Scripture (Mt 7:12; Lk 6:31) but in the negative in Didache 1:2.

Question: The majority of the Scripture references in Didache 1:3-5 come from Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) and the Sermon on the Plain (Lk 6). Those passages encourage charity to those in need; however, what is the warning to those who receive the charity in Didache 1:5?
Answer: Anyone who takes advantage of the generosity of a covenant member will be guilty of sinning and will face judgment.

Charity is the hallmark of Christian virtue, but there may have been some problems with people trying to live off the generosity of the New Covenant faith communities.

Question: St. Paul warned the Thessalonians that they should avoid such abuses in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-15. What did he tell the community they should do with someone who refused to labor to support himself? Was Paul's solution unfeeling or too harsh?

Answer: Paul essentially told the community if someone doesn't work he doesn't eat. No, his solution was not too harsh or unfeeling. He did not want the generosity of the community to be abused, and he wanted every member to be a valued part of the whole. Charity is meant to help a person who has fallen on hard times to find a way to become self-sufficient; living on the charity of others was not meant to be a lifestyle.

Didache 1:5-6 cautions Christians to give generously to those in need, but what warning is included for the Christian giver?

Question: The warning is not to give only out of obligation but out of love. The generous Christian who gives with a happy heart will not be judged even if he has been misled and the receiver is taking advantage of his generosity.

The "trial" mentioned in Didache 1:5 may not refer to a civil trial but to God's divine judgment. It might be difficult for a Christian to determine what need is legitimate and what is a false claim of poverty. In such cases, the Christian is to let God be the judge. In Luke 12:59 this phrase is used in an eschatological sense, which is probably the sense in the Didache passage. It is the Christian's duty to care for the poor who come for help and not to judge who is worthy of help and who is not. That prerogative belongs to God and even if the Christian's generosity is being abused, that will not have any bearing on Christian's blessings from God.

Question: If the judgment is not temporal judgment but divine judgment, who will be the judge and what will be the verdict against the person guilty of abusing Christian generosity in alms giving? What might be the interpretation of "prison"? See Mt 5:25-26; Lk 12:45-59; 16:19-31; 1 Cor 3:11-15;1 Pt 3:18 and CCC 633.

Answer: If the reference is to divine judgment, such an unscrupulous person may not necessarily loose his eternal salvation but he will be held accountable for his sin. He would need to undergo purification where he will not be released from that place until he has paid the last penny-until the person has been held completely accountable for his sin.

Prior to the Advent of Christ, the Jews called the place of purification of sins Sheol, called Hades (or the abode of the dead) in Greek. It was a state of purification that received both the sinners and the righteous. Jesus referred to this state of purification as "Abraham's Bosom" (Lk 16:19-31). When Christ descended into Sheol He liberated those captive souls who received His Gospel message of salvation. From the time of Christ's liberation of Sheol, those who rejected God's gift of salvation condemn themselves to the Hell of the damned while the righteous entered into heaven. Those who have been saved by God's grace through Christ's perfect sacrifice but who are still in need of cleansing of venial sin or who have not fully made penance for mortal sins that have been forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation are purified of their sins in a place/state of purification which the Church now calls Purgatory before entering heaven (CCC 1030-32, 1472). Sheol/Hades will remain part of God's plan for man's salvation until the Second Advent of Christ when, along with Death, it will be destroyed by being thrown into Hell, the burning lake, that Jesus called Gehanna (Rev 20:13-15).

A further commandment of the Teaching: 2 Do not murder, do not commit adultery (Ex 20:13-14; Dt 5:17-18; Lev 20:10; Mt 15:19; 19:18; Rom 13:9); do not practice pederasty [homosexuality/unnatural sexual acts] (Ex 22:18; Lev 18:22; Dt 18:9-12; Rom 1:26-26; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Jude 4); do not fornicate (Lev 18:6-20; 20:10-14; Mt 5:27; 15:19; Mk 7:21; Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25; Rom 1:29; 1 Cor 5:1; 6:13, 18; 7:2; 10:8; 2 Cor 12:21; Gal 5:19; Eph 5:3, 5; Col 3:5; 1 Thes 4:3; 1 Tit 1:10; Heb 13:4; Rev 21:8; 22:15); do not steal (Ex 20:15; Dt 5:19; Lev 19:11; Mt 19:18); do not deal in magic; do not practice sorcery (Ex 22:18/17; Lev 19:26, 31; 20:6, 27; Dt 18:10-12; Rev 21:8; 22:15); do not kill a fetus by abortion, or commit infanticide (Ex 20:13; Dt 5:17; Lev 18:21; 20:2-5). Do not covet your neighbor's goods (Ex 20:17; Dt 5:18/21). 3 Do not perjure yourself; do not bear false witness (Ex 20:16; 23:1; Dt 5:20; Mt 19:18; Mk 10:19; Lk 18:20); do not calumniate [to speak evil of falsely] (Dt 19:18); do not bear malice (Ex 23:1; Dt 19:16; 1 Pt 2:1). 4 Do not be double-minded (Ps 119:113; Jm 1:7, 8; 4:8) or double-tongued (1Ti 3:8), for a double tongue is a deadly snare. 5 Your speech must not be false or meaningless, but made good by action. 6 Do not be covetous, or rapacious [violently seizing another's property], or hypocritical, or malicious, or arrogant. Do not have designs upon your neighbor. 7 Hate no man; but correct some (Mt 18:15-18), pray for others, for still others sacrifice your life (Jn 15:13; Rom 12:1) as proof of you love.

____________Commentary and Questions____________

Section 2:1-7 has a list of prohibitions from the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), the expanded Law in the Book of the Covenant, the Holiness Code and the Deuteronomic Code. All of the teaching in this section is found in the moral Law of the Old Testament and is affirmed in the New Testament Gospels and the New Testament Epistles (i.e., see Rom 1:24-32).

Didache 2:2 states "do not kill a fetus by abortion, or commit infanticide ...;" these heinous acts, which are an extension of the commandment in the Decalogue against taking innocent life, will be repeated in Didache 5:2 and were clearly forbidden by the Church without consideration for any exceptions.

Verse 5 teaches: Your speech must not be false or meaningless, but made good by action.

Question: How is this teaching reflected in the Letter of St. James 1:19-27 and 2:10-13, 24?
Answer: Christian belief must be demonstrated in actions of righteousness and charity if Christian faith is to have meaning.

Question: In what three ways does the Didache teach that the Christian should interact with others within the community? See verse 7.
Answer: Some must be corrected, other prayed for, and for others Christians must be ready to love them to the extent of being willing to sacrifice their lives.

Organized persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire began in 64 AD under the rule of the Emperor Nero. Sts. Peter and Paul were martyred c. 67 as were many in the Christian community in Rome. Persecution also spread to the faith communities in Greece and Asia Minor. St. John the Apostle wrote the book of Revelation while in exile on the island of Patmos during a period of persecution in Asia Minor, and in 1 John 3:16 he wrote: This is the proof of love, that he laid down his life for us, and we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

 

 

1 My child, shun evil of any kind and everything resembling it. 2 Do not be prone to anger (Jm 1:10-11), for anger leads to murder. Do not be fanatical, not quarrelsome, not hot-tempered; for all these things beget murder. 3 My child, do not be lustful, for lust leads to fornication. Do not be foul-mouthed or give free rein to your eyes; for all these things beget adultery. 4 My child, do not be an augur, because it leads to idolatry.(3) Do not be an enchanter, not an astrologer, not an expiator, and do not wish to see (and hear) these things; for they all beget idolatry. 5 My child, do not be a liar, for lying leads to theft. Do not be a lover of money, or a vain pretender. All these things beget thievery. 6 My child, do not be a grumbler, because it leads to blasphemy; or self-willed, or evil-minded. All these things beget blasphemy.

7 On the contrary, be gentle, for the gentle will inherit the land (Mt 5:4). 8 Be long-suffering, and merciful, and guileless, and quiet, and good, and with trembling treasure forever the instructions you have received. 9 Do not carry your head high, or open your heart to presumption. Do not be on intimate terms with the mighty, but associate with holy and lowly folk. 10 Accept as blessings the casualties that befall you, assured that nothing happens without God.

____________Commentary and Questions____________

Sections 2:2 and 3:4 condemn all forms of magic and astrology, practices that were condemned in the Law of the Sinai Covenant in the Pentateuch (i.e., Ex 22:18/17; Lev 19:26, 31; 20:6, 27; Dt 18:9-12), by the prophets (i.e., Mic 5:12/13; Mal 3:5) and by the inspired writers of the New Testament (i.e., Rev 21:8; 22:15).

Question: Why is involvement in magic, sorcery, and astrology expressly forbidden for the Christian?
Answer: Such practices seek to secure knowledge apart from God, acknowledging other powers over one's life. To seek such knowledge is an act of disloyalty and rebellion against God.

Question: How is seeking knowledge through horoscopes and through astrologers similar to the sin of Adam and Eve when they ate the fruit from the forbidden tree in the garden Sanctuary in Eden? See Gen 2:17; 3:1-7.
Answer: In Adam and Eve's sin, instead of allowing God to decide what was good and evil in their lives, they sought that knowledge apart for God. It was an act of rebellion that denied God's sovereignty over their lives. To seek knowledge about one's destiny apart from God through horoscopes or the predictions of astrologers is the same form of rebellion against God's plan for one's life in the desire to take control one's own destiny.

The Didache condemns all forms of sexual immorality. Human sexuality is a gift from God to be used in partnership with God within the covenant bond of marriage to bring forth the next generation.

Question: What is fornication? How is it different from adultery?
Answer: Fornication is an act of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who are not validly married, although they are free to many. It is by its nature a grave sin. Adultery is an act of sexual intercourse of a married person with another person who is not their wife or husband.

Fornication will also be condemned in a list of sins that puts on one the "Way to Death" in Didache 5:1. Jesus said that fornication is one of the sins that comes from evil in the heart and makes a person spiritually unclean (Mt 15:19-20). St. Paul lists fornication among the deadly sins in his list in Romans 1:22-32, warning that to encourage others to engage in such sins is in itself a deadly sin. In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul urged them to preserve their bodies in holiness for the sake of Christ: ... But the body is not for sexual immorality, it is for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. God raised up the Lord and he will raise us up too by his power. Do you not realize that your bodies are members of Christ's body; do you think one can take parts of Christ's body and join them to the body of a prostitute? Out of the question! Or do you not realize that anyone who attaches himself to a prostitute is one body with her, since the two, as it is said, become one flesh. But anyone who attaches himself to the Lord is one spirit with him. Keep away from sexual immorality. All other sins that someone may commit are done outside the body; but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you and whom you received from God? You are not your own property, then; you have been bought at a price. So use your body for the glory of God (1 Cor 6:13-20). A baptized believer is expected to follow Jesus' example and to remain chaste outside of marriage; see CCC 2337-2345.

In Didache sections 3:1, 3, 4, 5, 6; 4:1 notice the use of the affectionate term "my child."

Question: Why was this term the proper address for a covenant member who had been reborn through the regenerative waters of Christian baptism? See Jn 3:3-5; Rom 8:14-16; Gal 4:3-7; 1 Jn 5:1-4.

Answer: Prior to baptism one was a child in the family of Adam, but after re-birth through water and the Holy Spirit, the new Christian becomes a child in the family of God the eternal Father.

4. 1 My child, day and night remember him who preaches God's word to you, and honor him as the Lord, for where His lordship is spoken of, there is the Lord. 2 Seek daily contact with the saints to be refreshed by their discourses. 3 Do not start a schism, but pacify contending parties. Be just in your judgment (Lev 19:15; Dt 1:16/17): make no distinction between man and man when correcting transgressions. 4 Do not waver in your decision.

5 Do not be one that opens his hands to receive, but shuts them when it comes to giving. 6 If you have means at your disposal, pay a ransom for your sins. 7 Do not hesitate to give, and do not give in a grumbling mood. You will find out who is the good Rewarder. 8 Do not turn away from the needy; rather, share everything with your brother, and do not say: "It is private property." If you are sharers in what is imperishable, how much more so in the things that perish!

9 Do not withdraw your hand from your son or your daughter, but from their youth teach them the fear of God. 10 Do not, when embittered, give orders to your slave, male or female, for they hope in the same God; otherwise they might lose the fear of God, who is the Master of both of you. He surely is not coming to call with an eye to rank and station in life; no, He comes to those whom the Spirit has prepared. 11 But you, slaves, be submissive to your masters (Eph 6:5; Col 3:22) as God's image in reverence and fear.

12 Abhor all sham and whatever is not pleasing to the Lord. 13 Do not by any means neglect the commandments of the Lord (i.e., Num 15:39; Dt 4:2; Rev 12:17; 14:12), but hold fast to the traditions (1 Cor 11:2; 15:3; 2 Thes 2:15; 2 Tim 2:2), neither adding nor subtracting anything (Dt 4:2; Dt 12:32/13:1; Rev 22:18-19). 14 In Church confess your sins (Jm 5:16), and do not come to your prayer with a guilty conscience (1 Cor 11:28). Such is the Way of Life.

__________Commentary and Questions____________

 

Questions: Who is it that the community is to honor as Christ's representative in 4:1?
Answer: The Pastor of the community.

The phrase "where His lordship is spoken of, there is the Lord," may refer to the role of the pastor/priest as he preaches the Gospel in the very words spoken by Christ and as the Presider over the Eucharistic table in "the person of Christ" when he speaks the words of Consecration and Christ is present in the offering of the bread and wine.

The instruction in this section addresses right conduct within the faith community.

Question: How are the members of the faith community to behave towards one another? Name five kinds of positive behavior for the community.
Answer:

Question: What does it mean neither adding nor subtracting anything (Didache 4:12)? See Dt 4:2; 12:32/13:1; Rev 22:18-19; Mt 16:19; 18:18; Jn 20:22-23.
Answer: In Scripture, the command to neither add nor subtract from the instruction on the Law in Deuteronomy or from the words St. John recorded in the book of Revelation is given three times. In this passage in the Didache, it means to neither add nor take away from the instruction given in the manual of the Didache which carries with it the authority Jesus Christ gave the Apostles as the leaders of His Church.

Didache 4:13 is very similar to St. Paul's exhortation to the Thessalonians: Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours (2 Thes 2:15). To the Corinthians Paul wrote: I congratulate you for remembering me so consistently and for maintaining the traditions exactly as I passed them on to you (1 Cor 11:2); and in the same letter he wrote: The tradition I handed on to you in the first place, a tradition which I had myself received, as that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried; and that on the third day, he was raised to life, in accordance with the Scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter]; and later to the Twelve; and next he appeared to more than fire hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still with us, though some have fallen asleep ... (1 Cor 15:2-6).

Question: In the Didache, as in St. Paul's letters to the Thessalonians and the Corinthians, what does "traditions" refer to?
Answer: "Traditions" refers to both the written and oral teachings of Christ and His Church.

Our modern Catholic Catechism affirms the Didache's teaching: "Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit." "And [Holy] Traditions transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of Truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching." As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence" (CCC 81-82)

Question: Which came first, New Testament Scripture or the orally transmitted Tradition?
Answer: The orally transmitted Tradition that the Apostles received from Jesus came first and was later written down in the Gospels.

The Church (in the Old and New Covenants) did not begin with the Scriptures; the Church began with the orally transmitted Tradition. The New Testament demonstrates the process of the Church's Living Tradition (CCC 83). The Apostles entrusted the "sacred deposit of faith" (depositum fidei) passed on to them by Jesus and contained in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition to Universal (Catholic) Church (CCC 84).

Didache 4:14 records "In Church confess your sins (Jm 5:16), and do not come to your prayer with a guilty conscience (1 Cor 11:28). Such is the Way of Life."

The command to "confess your sins" in order for the Christian to present himself as a holy, living sacrifice (Rom 12:1) will be repeated in Didache 14:1.

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The Way of Death

5. 1 The Way of Death is this. First of all, it is wicked and altogether accursed: Murders, adulteries, lustful desires, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magical arts, sorceries, robberies, false testimonies, hypocrisy, duplicity, fraud, pride, malice, surliness, covetousness, foul talk, jealousy, rashness, haughtiness, false pretensions (see similar lists in Rom 1:29-30; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10; Rev 21:8; 22:15), the lack of the fear of God (command to fear the Lord, i.e., Lev 19:14, 32; 25:17, 36, 43; Dt 6:24; 10:20; 14:23; Sir 1:11-30:7-17; etc., 1 Pet 2:17; Rev 14:7 ). 2 It is the way of persecutors of the good, haters of the truth, lovers of falsehood; of men ignorant of the reward for right living, not devoted to what is good (Rom 12:9) or to just judgment, intent upon not what is good but what is evil; of strangers to gentleness and patient endurance; of men who love vanities (Ps 4:2/3), and fee hunters; of men that have no heart for the poor, are not concerned about the oppressed, do not know their Maker; of murderers of children [abortuantes = abortionists in Latin translation], destroyers of God's image, of men that turn away from the needy, oppress the afflicted, act as counsels for the rich, are unjust judges of the poor-in a word, of men steeped in sin. Children, may you be preserved from all this!

____________Commentary and Questions____________

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, concerning the Sacrament of Reconciliation, teaches: In this sacrament, the sinner, placing himself before the merciful judgment of God, anticipates in a certain way the judgment to which he will be subjected at the end of his earthly life. For it is now, in this life, that we are offered the choice between life and death, and it is only by the road of conversion that we can enter the Kingdom, from which one is excluded by grave sin. In converting to Christ through penance and faith, the sinner passes from death to life and "does not come into judgment" (CCC 1470). The decision which path is chosen, the "Way of Life" or the "Way of Death," rests with each of us today, but the consequences of that choice remains throughout eternity.

Didache 5:2 condemns the sin of abortion a second time. In the Latin text of the Didache, discovered in 1900, the phrase is rendered abortuantes, "abortionists." The evil of abortion is not a modern practice. Abortions of unborn babies (i.e., Romans), the abandoning and exposing of babies to the elements (i.e., Spartan Greeks), and the sacrificing of children to false gods was practiced by Gentiles in ancient times. Today such "sacrifices" of children are to the false gods of economics and selfish interest. There are no references to children offered in sacrifice probably because the Romans had put an end to that barbaric pagan practice within the lands controlled by the Roman Empire.

Question: What is the hope that God offers for those who stray off the "Way of Life" and on to the "Way of Death"? See CCC 1440-1498.

Answer: God in His mercy offers the Sacrament of Reconciliation in which the sinner confesses his sins, offers sincere penance for those sins, and is forgiven and reconciled to God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

6. 1 See that no man leads you astray (Dt 4:19; Jer 23:32; Sir 13:8/11; etc.; Mt 24:4) from this Way of the Teaching, since any other teaching takes you away from God. 2 Surely, if you are able to bear the Lord's yoke (Mt 11:29 = "shoulder my yoke") in its entirety, you will be perfect (Mt 5:48; 19:21); if you are not able, then do what you can. 3 And in the matter of food, do what you can stand; but be scrupulously on your guard against meat offered to idols (Acts 15:29); for that is worship of dead gods.

____________Commentary and Questions____________

Question: Is there any other "path" or "teaching" other than Christianity that leads to salvation? See Acts 4:10-12; Rom 2:12-16; and CCC 845-48.
Answer: No, Jesus is "the only name under heaven by which men may be saved," and the Catholic Church is the vehicle God planned for man's salvation. However, as St. Paul wrote in Romans chapter 2, someone who has never heard the Gospel of salvation will be judged on their response to the natural law that God placed in the heart of every human being-they will be judged on their consciences instead of revealed Law and by their response to righteousness and justice.

To "bear the Lord's yoke" is a reference to domesticated animals who bent their necks to submit to wearing the yoke of their master. It is a metaphor for obedience to God used both by the Old Testament prophets (see the Chart "Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets") and by Jesus (Mt 11:28-30). Jesus Christ is our Master, and we are called to obediently submit to His "yoke" in His plan for our lives and His plan for the salvation for mankind.

In Didache 6:2, the Christian is called to live a life in the image of Christ, who is "perfect," a teaching that refers to what Jesus said in Matthew 5:48 and 19:21. It is a standard the Christian must strive to achieve, but the Didache acknowledges the difficulty in attaining such a standard. In the call to "be perfect," Jesus was calling for a higher standard of love and commitment than were required under the Old Law. It isn't just by our outward acts that we will be judged on our ability to love, but by the condition of our hearts. The new love surpasses the Old Covenant commitment by fulfilling and surpassing it.

Didache 6:3 warns about eating the meat of animals sacrificed to idols. It was a prohibition the Council of Jerusalem placed on Gentiles desiring to join Christian communities in Acts 15:29.

Question: What did St. Paul discuss concerning eating meal sacrificed to false gods in Romans 8:1-13?

Answer: While acknowledging that what one eats doesn't cause one to sin (see Acts 10:1-43), he does point out that it could lead to the downfall of a former pagan who still clings to superstitions associated with meat sacrificed to false gods and on those grounds he says the practice should be avoided. The Didache is taking the stand that such a practice can still be linked to false worship of "dead gods"-false gods who never existed.

The name "Christians" was first adopted by believers at Antioch (Acts 11:22).

Question: Prior to being called "Christians," what did member of the early Church call themselves? See Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14 and 22.

Answer: They called themselves "The Way."

The author of the Epistle of Barnabas draws from the Didache's teaching on the "Two Ways" in the discussion of "The Two Ways" in chapters 18-20.

Endnotes:

1. Translation by James A. Kleist, S. J., Ph.D., Professor of Classical Languages, St. Louis University, St. Louis, Mo.; Ancient Christian Writers, vol. 6, "The Didache or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," pages 3-25, 151-166.

2. An augur is a soothsayer. Among the ancient Romans, an augur was a functionary whose duty was to predict future events by determining certain signs from the flight of birds or other actions of birds, from certain appearances in quadrupeds, from lightening and other unusual occurrences.

3. Tettullian, De or. 25; De ieium. 10; also see St. Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 7.7.40.3.

Resources:

  1. Ancient Christian Writers, vol. 6, translations by James A. Kleist, S.J., PhD, "The Didache," pages 3-25, 151-66, The Newman Press, 1948.
  2. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7, "Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions," pages 371-508, Hendrickson Publishers, second edition 1995.
  3. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, "Church History," Eusebius, Hendrickson Publishers, second edition 1995.
  4. The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. 1, William A. Jurgens, Liturgical Press, 1970.
  5. Catechism of the Catholic Church, United States Catholic Conference, Inc., Liberia Editrice Vaticana, second edition, 1997.
  6. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995 edition.
  7. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995 edition.

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