Commentary on the Didache

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The Didache (Greek: teaching) is a short manual for early Christians in the first century AD. The closer date of the document is to Jesus’ time, the more reliable. Thus, the didache provides a earlier window into the past. Why was it written? Some believe it was written after the Acts Council (Acts 15) as a guide for Gentile believers. The church introduced many pagan elements after the time of Emperor Constantine, who made Christianity the state religion (roughly 300 AD). I shall comment on some of the earlier practices that differ from ours today. We might learn some practices that would be beneficial to adopt again today.

Chapter 1 to 5 outlines the way of life and death. The way to life is to obey the Great Commandment: Love God and love our neighbour as ourselves.

Chapter 6. Against False Teachers, and Food Offered to Idols. See that no one causes you to err from this way of the Teaching, since apart from God it teaches you. For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able to do this, do what you are able. And concerning food, bear what you are able; but against that which is sacrificed to idols be exceedingly careful; for it is the service of dead gods.

The issue of food sacrificed to idols is not so common in the West. It was common in the Greco-Roman empire and still is today in Asia. Here, just like Paul in 1 Corinthians 8, warns against eating food offered to idols unless our conscience is clear.

Chapter 7. Concerning Baptism. And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.

This is the common invocation that pastors use in baptism. If your church doesn’t, something is wrong! Running water is specified, maybe referring to conducting baptism in a river or stream. It is fascinating that they even indicate the temperature of the water used for baptism. Cold water is preferred over warm (maybe according to the weather). There is flexibility in the procedure but the main thing is that baptism should be carried out without being legalistic. There is a concession if running water is not available. The Pastor can pour water over the head of the person being baptised (I don’t think sprinkling is meant). This might have taken place with the head over a container. Three times is needed for the invocation of the trinity with each pour. The requirement to fast before baptism is lost today. The baptiser and the person to be baptised are to fast for one or two days before the event. Others observing the baptism are invited to fast too. This underscores the sanctity and purity involved in the act of baptism.

Chapter 8. Fasting and Prayer (the Lord’s Prayer). But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week. Rather, fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday). Do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, like this:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, evil); for Thine is the power and the glory for ever..

Pray this three times each day.

Early Christian fasted twice a week. They purposely chose a different day from the “hypocrites”. Who are these hypocrites? A guess would be religious Jews who attempted to show everyone that they were fasting and thus holier. Christians were to fast on different days to prevent identification with these hypocrites. I’m not sure exactly what kind of fasts these Christians did. Whatever it was, meal time was replaced with prayer. Fasting without prayer is meaningless. Here, Christians are asked again not to pray like the hypocrites who babble (Matt 6). Instead, they prayed the Lord’s prayer. When we are at a loss of what to pray, we can easily repeat the words our Lord taught us. They prayed the Lord’s prayer three times a day. That’s a great discipline to incorporate into our lives. When we wake, midday and before we retire for the night.

Chapter 9. The Eucharist. Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup:

We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever..

And concerning the broken bread:

We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever..

But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”

It seems that the Lord’s supper was quite established by that time and thus instructions are provided for the early church. The Cup, representing the blood shed for us by Jesus, is presented first. Here God is thanked for the ” Holy Vine of David”, meaning the blood ancestry that traced itself from David to Jesus. This blood was shed for us on the cross. Next the broken Bread, symbolising the body of Jesus that was broken for us is presented. Here God is thanked for “life and knowledge”. God became human flesh (Incarnation) to give us life and a knowledge of who God is. What is the “scattered over the hills” talking about? Possibly, it was referred to Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 (Matt 14:13-21). After people ate the Bread (Jesus’ body), the remaining pieces were collected. This is related to the unity of Christ’s Church. As Christ has fed every church around the world with spiritual food, may we all be gathered together again at the end of time.

Suddenly there is a warning. Only those who have been baptised can partake of the Eucharist. This means that the Eucharist is open to Christians who have been baptised from any church. The main thing is if the person is baptised in the Lord or not. What is the reason for this strictness? Jesus said that holy things must not be given to the dogs (Matt 7:6). I agree with this fully. There is a practice of open table in some Methodist churches where unbaptised persons are allowed to take the Lord’s Supper. They may be eating and drinking judgement. If they really desire to partake, why can’t they wait and go for baptism first? Let us not fall into judgement for giving what is holy to dogs or pearls to swine.

Chapter 10. Prayer after Communion. But after you are filled, give thanks this way:

We thank Thee, holy Father, for Thy holy name which You didst cause to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You modest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Thou, Master almighty, didst create all things for Thy name’s sake; You gavest food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to Thee; but to us You didst freely give spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Thy Servant. Before all things we thank Thee that You are mighty; to Thee be the glory for ever. Remember, Lord, Thy Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in Thy love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for Thy kingdom which Thou have prepared for it; for Thine is the power and the glory for ever. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen.

But permit the prophets to make Thanksgiving as much as they desire.

We are to thank God for the body and blood of Jesus that was given for us. The meaning of tabernacle means to stay or reside. When Jesus took on human form, he tabernacled among us. When we accepted Christ, he tabernacled in us. Check out my post on an expanded explanation of God dwelling with us.  We thank God for physical food but much more for spiritual food that God graciously gave us. We pray for the protection, purification and unity of the church. We need to be forward looking towards Christ’s second coming. The Lord’s Supper not only looks backwards to what Jesus did, but proclaims that Jesus is coming back again. We desire that he speed his coming back to establish his kingdom. Because of Jesus’ impending return, we are to live holy lives. If not, we must repent. What a wonderful prayer.

I believe with all my heart that all the offices and spiritual gifts have not ceased. There are still apostles, prophets, gift of tongues, healing and prophecy. I believe the office or role of a prophet or apostle is still active today.

Chapter 11. Concerning Teachers, Apostles, and Prophets. Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turns and teaches another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not. But if he teaches so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord. But concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there’s a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodges. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet. And every prophet who speaks in the Spirit you shall neither try nor judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven. But not every one who speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he holds the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the prophet be known. And every prophet who orders a meal in the Spirit does not eat it, unless he is indeed a false prophet. And every prophet who teaches the truth, but does not do what he teaches, is a false prophet. And every prophet, proved true, working unto the mystery of the Church in the world, yet not teaching others to do what he himself does, shall not be judged among you, for with God he has his judgment; for so did also the ancient prophets. But whoever says in the Spirit, Give me money, or something else, you shall not listen to him. But if he tells you to give for others’ sake who are in need, let no one judge him.

In regard to teachers, check their doctrine. If it is a different gospel and does not line up with the word of God, reject it. There are many false teachers in our churches today that claim to speak from God but are teaching an entirely different gospel. We need to know the Word in order to discern the truth. In regard to acknowledging apostles and prophets, there seems to be an allusion to the “decree of the Gospel”. At that time, and still today, there are many who claim to be apostles and prophets. How do we test them? See if they desire money and material items from the church. The church is to warmly receive them but give only a simple meal and lodging. Also, these visitors should not stay more than one or two days! If they desire to have a good meal or money for himself, he is a false apostle and prophet. There are many prophets that I have met in churches who are money hungry. They think that being a prophet entitles them to good food and luxury. However, this proves that their motivations and calling are wrong. Their prophecies are false and often sugar-coated to make listeners happy. We need to be discerning and firm. Their behaviour speaks volumes and we are to watch their actions carefully.

Chapter 12. Reception of Christians. But receive everyone who comes in the name of the Lord, and prove and know him afterward; for you shall have understanding right and left. If he who comes is a wayfarer, assist him as far as you are able; but he shall not remain with you more than two or three days, if need be. But if he wants to stay with you, and is an artisan, let him work and eat. But if he has no trade, according to your understanding, see to it that, as a Christian, he shall not live with you idle. But if he wills not to do, he is a Christ-monger. Watch that you keep away from such.

We are to give Christians the benefit of the doubt first, and get to know them better. If they are in urgent need of money, we can help them for a start to tide this difficult time but they need to eventually work and self-support. No one must be idle and free-load off the Christian community (2 Thess 3:6-13). Some go to church to look for hand-outs and the church gladly gives them. But more effort is needed to find a way for them to earn a living.

Chapter 14. Christian Assembly on the Lord’s Day. But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: “In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.”

Early Christians did various activities on Sunday: They gathered together, had Lord’s Supper, confessed their sins and reconciled broken relationships. I think it is important to have confession of sins weekly and that forgiveness must be a part of our lives. If not, our sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, money are all impure. God is worthy of pure sacrifices. I think many in the churches have forgotten that God is “a great King” and that his name is “wonderful among the nations”. Church members come in late, wearing shorts or caps as if the service was so informal. The holiness and sanctity of the the service is lost. We must reclaim the right view of God so that God will accept our sacrifices. Forgiveness and reconciliation must be sought after quickly and not left to fester. If not, God will not be pleased.

Chapter 15. Bishops and Deacons; Christian Reproof. Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. Therefore do not despise them, for they are your honored ones, together with the prophets and teachers. And reprove one another, not in anger, but in peace, as you have it in the Gospel. But to anyone that acts amiss against another, let no one speak, nor let him hear anything from you until he repents. But your prayers and alms and all your deeds so do, as you have it in the Gospel of our Lord.

There are two roles: Bishops (Pastor/Presbyters/Pastor/Elder) and Deacons that are to be appointed to shepherd God’s flock (similar to Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus). The word “therefore” links back to the previous section on meeting on Sunday to offer God a pure sacrifice. In order to offer God a pure sacrifice, bishops and deacons are needed to lead the flock. Another point to note is “meek men“, meaning that these two roles must be filled by males. I disagree with many denominations (Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran) that allow women ordination and preaching. Why? Not because I think that woman can’t lead or teach well, but because that’s the way God ordained the church to operate. If God says it, I believe it. To read more, check out my post on Reclaiming Patriarchy.  These men are to be honoured for their role as prophet and teacher. A prophet not only fore-tells (tells the future) but forth-tells (tells the reality of the present). He speaks against sin and injustice today. There is also a need to discipline for repentance in our churches today. Many pastors glide over sensitive topics for fear of upsetting them. In contrast, we must target these points! That’s how revivals start. Revival starts with calling out sin and asking for repentance.

Chapter 16. Watchfulness; the Coming of the Lord. Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come. But come together often, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you are not made perfect in the last time. For in the last days false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for when lawlessness increases, they shall hate and persecute and betray one another, and then shall appear the world-deceiver as Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning. Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but those who endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. And then shall appear the signs of the truth: first, the sign of an outspreading in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet. And third, the resurrection of the dead — yet not of all, but as it is said: “The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him.” Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.

The early Christian understood the end times very simply. No pre-tribulation, amillennial or rapture. They understood it as things on earth will get worse and worse while more false prophets and Christs appear to lead Christians astray. Then the “fire of trial” or tribulation will come. Only those who “endure in their faith” will be saved. This means that we need to keep our faith and not get enticed by false gospels and Christs. We can lose our salvation if we do not endure! That is the resounding theme of the book of Hebrews.

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