13 Every Genuine prophet
13:1 Every genuine prophet who wants to live among you is worthy of support.
13:2 So also, every true teacher is, like a workman, entitled to his support.
13:3 Every first fruit, therefore, of the products of vintage and harvest, of cattle and of sheep, should be given as first fruits to the prophets, for they are your high priests.
13:4 But if you have no prophet, give it all to the poor.
13:5 If you bake bread, take the first loaf and give it according to the commandment.
13:6 If you open a new jar of wine or of oil, take the first fruit and give it to the prophets.
13:7 If you acquire money or cloth or any other possession, set aside a portion first, as it may seem good to you, and give according to the commandment.
This chapter can be a little tricky if it’s taken out of context so we need to address a couple of things. First up is the idea of a “prophet.” What’s a prophet? Are there prophets today?
In Judaism, a prophet was a spokesperson for G_d and could be either male or female. While the prophet did, at times, foretell about future events, that was just part of their calling. Most of the time they spoke in the place of G_d and offered teaching. Sometimes (and some would say a lot of the time) the message wasn’t very pleasant, especially for those people in power (see the book of Amos, for example).
Not only did the prophet speak and write for G_d, they also demonstrated what life with G_d was to be like. Their lives were examples for the whole community to follow.
In the early years of following The Way, we see these same type of people. Paul wrote about them in his first letter to the followers of The Way in Corinth (1 Corinthians 14.26ff; cf. Ephesians 3.5-6; 4.11-13).
And James gives his listener’s similar instructions as found in the Didache:
James 5.10-11: Brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord as an example of patient resolve and steadfastness. Look at how we honor those who have practiced endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job. And you have seen what the Lord has accomplished, for the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
But there’s something different in those early years of The Way. The prophets of the New Testament seem to be of a different calibre from the prophets in the Tanakh (the Hebrew scriptures or Old Testament). In fact, of the 67 references to “prophet(s)” found in the Common English Bible, over half of them point to the prophets of Jewish history and roughly 13 are found in the book of Revelation. The only followers of Jesus named as prophets are: Barnabas, Simeon (Niger), Lucius, Manaen, Saul (Paul), Judas, Silas, and Agabus.
Now, certainly, a case could be made for the Apostles to be listed in this category, too. However, when Paul wrote to the followers of the Way in Corinth and Ephesus, he listed apostles and prophets separately. And in both of those letters, most of his references are to the prophets of Jewish antiquity. On the other hand, the offices listed in those passages could all be held by a single person.
And to press the point of this difference between prophets of the Jewish scriptures and the New Testament a bit further, Peter wrote that the false teachers of his day were like the false prophets from Jewish history (2 Peter 2.1).
The point of all this leads to the second question, “Are there prophets today?” That’s a great question. And I have to answer that I’m not sure. I know that I’ve had people who’ve spoken prophetically in my life. And by that, I don’t mean they felt compelled to seek me out and give me a “word from G_d” (truth be told, almost every person that did that would be considered a “false prophet”). I’m talking about listening to a song and have it speak to the deepest levels of my heart—the hidden things that only I know about—and confirm what’s there. But I don’t know if I’d say they were prophets (with, of course, the exception of Trevor Hall). But what I do know is that, if we remove the idea of speaking about the future, and stick to teaching and counseling and pastoring, then, yes, there are plenty of prophets today.
The second thing we need to discuss is “first fruits.” Through the years, I was told that “first fruits” meant the “tithe.” That is, the first 10% of my finances. But that’s not accurate. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “There are no specifications as to the amounts or percentages of seasonal yield required for the offering of first fruits.” Like prophets, this finds its origin with the Jewish people. They were told to bring the first fruits of their crops and livestock to the Temple and give them away as an offering to Yahweh. What wasn’t “sacrificed,” i.e., used for a burnt offering, was for the priests.
The Didache states the same thing. The first of the communities sustenance was to be given to the visiting prophet. But notice the caveat, “If you have no prophet, give it all to the poor.” They weren’t just not to give their first fruits. It was always to be given.
So, with all of this information, what are we to take away from it? For starters, I think we could be safe to say that, in our case, the “prophet” could be those who teach us to live more like Christ; to follow The Way of Jesus more closely. Now, this could be a local pastor or priest. It could be an author. It could be a spiritual director. But it doesn’t have to be a “clergy” person, in the strict sense of the word. It’s whoever helps us to lead a better life of service toward others.
Secondly, we shouldn’t get hung up on how much we give. Like all of the other “rules” from the Didache, we should do what we can—“as it may seem good to you.” But the idea here is to give to those people who help you in your walk with Christ. If you don’t have someone like that, then give to the poor.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC