Didache - Chapter 1

I recently purchased a book titled, The Teaching of the 12: Believing and Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community by Tony Jones. It’s a small book and reveals a long hidden document by an ancient Christian community living mid to late first century. According to Jones, it appears that the community didn’t seem to have knowledge of St. Paul or his writings. The book contains the Didache text itself plus commentary from Jones and some insights from a small, organic Christian community living The Way in Missouri who call themselves Cymbrogi -- Celtic for “companions of the heart.” According to most scholars, the Didache “is one of the most important documents in the history of Christianity.”

I finished reading this book today and wanted to post each of the Didache “chapters” on here for us to reflect and discuss. The text of the Didache that I will be using was translated and edited by Tony Jones, and is under the protection of a Creative Commons license, so we won’t get into trouble with copyright infringement and I don't think the original community would have minded anyway. They were all about giving things away. Furthermore, this Didache seems to have been some kind of required reading or training manual for the newly “converted” (I don't particularly like that word).

My plan is to quote each chapter in it’s entirety and then reflect on it and have a conversation on it for a week or two before moving on to the next chapter. Sound good? Alright, let’s begin.


1 There Are Two Ways

1:1 There are two ways, one of life and one of death! and there is a great difference between the two ways.

1:2 The way of life is this: First, you shall love God who made you. And second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you.

1:3 The meaning of these sayings is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the heathens do the same? But you should love those who hate you, and then you shall have no enemies.

1:4 Abstain from fleshly and bodily lusts: If someone strikes your right cheek, turn the other also, and be perfect. If someone forces you to go one mile, go two. If someone takes your cloak, give also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, don't ask for it back. You really cannot.

1:5 Give to every one who asks you, and don’t ask for it back. The Father wants his blessings shared. Happy is the giver who lives according to this rule, for that one is guiltless. But the receiver must beware; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless, but if one receives not having need, he shall stand trial, answering why he received and for what use. If he is found guilty he shall not escape until he pays back the last penny.

1:6 However, concerning this, there is a saying: “Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give them.”


Justin said…
Thank you for this insight Jack. I want to get a copy of this book myself. Cheers- Justin
Odysseus said…
The first thing that comes to my mind regarding this text is the 'Two Ways' and the Way of Life is LOVE. They simply state this. Love is the Way of Life. Then they go on to explain it -- Love God; Love Neighbor.
Odysseus said…
A couple of more things:

First is the 'negative' of Jesus' statement in Matthew 7.12: 'do not do to another what you would not want done to you'. This requires action -- the community trusts that the people will be 'doing' the gospel; therefore, in their doing, they shouldn't treat others in ways they wouldn't want to be treated.

Next, the Didache starts fleshing out how to 'love your neighbor'. Besides the addition of fasting for those who persecute us, the Didache community reinforces the idea of love in the last statement of verse 3: 'love those who hate you, and then you shall have no enemies.' To me, THAT is the heart of what it means to follow Christ. Today. instead of love, we have apathy. We really don't care about others that we don't know; that we don't have some sort of emotional bond with. And 'enemies', well, it seems we would rather bomb them all instead of doing the hard work of loving them.

I can hear the responses already, 'We can't just sit by and let our enemies walk all over us.' Really? That's what Christ did. And if we are followers of Christ, we are to act the way Christ acts. And that seems to be exactly what the Didache community understood as well. It looks like a process, the follower of Christ should move from blessing those who curse us. Those who curse us may then become our enemies. Then our blessing them becomes praying for them. At some point, the enemy starts persecuting us. At this point, our non-violent resistence takes on the form of fasting. And our fasting is for our those who are persecuting us! And, if the persecution continues, it might just end in our death. Just like Christ. But what is the outcome of just a life? Our 'enemies' become our loved ones. Again, just like us and Christ.

I think we today complicate things too much. We make excuses about our behaviour (or lack there of), 'Well, YOU shouldn't have done such and such...' 'We CAN'T love them! We have to retaliate. "Eye for an eye".' Well, that is not the way Jesus instructed his followers to live. And that doesn't seem to be the way the Didache community understood it either. And the idea that our lives are more complicated than theirs just won't cut it. They were being hunted down for their faith (see Saul in the Acts of the Apostles), drug out into the street and murdered because they followed Jesus. I don't know anyone personally who has this type of persecution. Today, our 'persecution' is really an annoyance. We get annoyed by what someone does or says or whatever. That is not persecution. That is us not getting our way.

How does this work out for us today?

There is much here. Let's continue to contemplate these things.
Jack said…
Another thought: 'Abstain from fleshly and bodily lusts'. I have always understood (and been taught) that this means (mostly but not limited to) sexual urges. Certainly this can also mean any urging or impulse that one does not 'check'. But, in my mind, it always leans toward the 'naughty'.

But in the Didache community it does not. They go on to explain that 'fleshly and bodily lusts' are more like being in the role of a servant; of turning oneself in to a slave for others. Not in a sexual way but in a very practical way.

It also has the feeling of non-violent resistance. These seem to be different sides of the same coin. Verse 4 seems to be about re-action. Whereas verse 5 seems to be about action. In other words, verses 4 and 5 (with verse 6 added on for good measure) seem like very practical ways of living out almost every situation.

Then there is the 'consequences' of lying to the community. What is interesting here is that one is 'innocent until proven guilty'. But, if accusations are brought up about your requesting assistance, you will have to give proof for your need and show where it all went. It's kind of like being audited.

But, even in this, one is cautioned about giving -- let it 'sweat in your palm' first. Think about it. Pray about it. I was told once that if someone tells you that they need an answer immediately, then answer 'No'. If they don't have time for you to take time to pray about it or reflect upon the request, then let the gift 'sweat in your palm' a little while longer.

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