Is the Didache Reliable?
Does it Faithfully Represent the 1st Century Christian Community?
Does it Faithfully Represent the 1st Century Christian Community?
Wayne Grudem (an evangelical scholar) has cast aspersions upon the legitimacy of the Didache and presented a list of objections to its teaching. For the most part, these criticisms are merely fabricated from an over-literal reading of the text, with general guidelines being unnecessarily interpreted as inflexible requirements, and qualified statements treated as unqualified demands.
Grudem's own qualifications are impressive; he is well known for his brilliant work in the field of systematic theology. But his attack on the Didache springs largely from personal opinion rather than objective fact, and his own theology (particularly in regard to prophecy) is disturbingly suspect. For more on Grudem, see Farnell's article in Bibliotheca Sacra 150 (January-March 1993); 62-88, which may be read at your leisure here.
My own article aims to defend the veracity of the Didache, proving beyond any shadow of a doubt that it does indeed represent the earlist Christian community in every way. Grudem's comments appear in the quotation boxes; my rebuttal follows in regular text.
Christians are told to let alms sweat in their hands until they know to whom they are giving. (1.6.)
Far from being an unqualified rule, this is merely an exhortation to prudence. The Biblical parallel is I Timothy 5:9-13, where the apostle Paul presents a cautionary guide to ecclesial welfare:
Honour widows that are widows indeed.
But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.
Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.
But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.
And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless.
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man.
Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.
But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry;
Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith.
And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.
I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.
For some are already turned aside after Satan.
If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.
Paul advises the elders to ensure that they know to whom they are giving – that they determine whether or not these women “are widows indeed.” The Didache’s instruction, therefore, was not an addition by the authors of the Didache, but merely an endorsement of the original practice. Prudence in charity is merely a sensible caution.
Food offered to idols is forbidden. (6.3)
This injunction was only given to those whose consciences were not yet strong enough to bear the freedom of the New Covenant. (Notice that the Didache establishes the context with the words “that which ye are able to bear”, thereby proving that this is a qualified statement in reference to the personal conscience of a believer.) Paul discusses the issue at length in Romans 14, and finally concludes:
Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
In this regard, Paul did not add any new teaching, but merely endorsed the recommendation of the brethren at the Jerusalem Conference in Acts 15, who…
…wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia.
Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:
It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.
For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
Having seen for ourselves that this instruction was fully endorsed by God (through the power of the Holy Spirit) we may rest assured that there are no legitimate grounds on which the Didache can be criticised for including it – especially since it carries the same qualification as Romans 14.
People are required to fast before baptism (7.1-4)
It was customary for prayer and fasting to be performed as a twofold ritual, in preparation for a significant decision or religious rite. The disciples of John the Baptist fasted, as did the 1st Century Jews and Christians. The Didache’s instruction, therefore, was not an addition by the authors of the Didache, but merely an endorsement of the original practice.
Baptism must be done in running water. (7.1-4)
Leaving aside the fact that the Didache does not say that baptism can only be legitimately performed in running water, let us note that John the Baptist baptised in running water, and the authors of the Didache obviously considered this mode of baptism as the benchmark. (Which, insofar as it provides the most accurate representation of the "washing" away of sins - I Corinthians 6:11; Hebrews 10:22 - it most certainly was.) In practice, the apostles baptised their converts with whatever was available. John (who lived outside the city) used a river; Philip baptised the Ethiopian eunuch in "a certain water" (possibly an oasis, though it was just as likely to have been a river, lake or stream), and house baptisms (as in the case of the Philippian jailer) would have involved the use of a bath or tub.
The Catholic Encyclopaedia concurs:
This (vii-x) begins with an instruction on baptism, which is to be conferred "in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" in living water, if it can be had — if not, in cold or even hot water. The baptized and, if possible, the baptizer, and other persons must fast for one or two days previously. If the water is insufficient for immersion, it may be poured thrice on the head. This is said by Bigg to show a late date; but it seems a natural concession for hot and dry countries, when baptism was not as yet celebrated exclusively at Easter and Pentecost and in churches, where a columbethra and a supply of water would not be wanting.
The Didache’s instruction, therefore, was not an addition by the authors of the Didache, but merely an endorsement of the original practice.
Fasting is required on Wednesdays and Fridays but prohibited on Mondays and Thursdays. (8.1)
This is a misrepresentation of the Didache’s instruction. It does not institute a rite of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays – what it actually says is that when Christians fast, they should do so on Wednesdays and Fridays, so as to distinguish themselves from the hypocrites. (Pharisees.) The Didache has clearly taken its instruction from Jesus’ commandments: “Do not give alms as the hypocrites do… do not pray as the hypocrites do… do not fast as the hypocrites do…” (Matthew 6:1-2, 5, 16.) By fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, the Christians ensured that their actions would not be confused with a religious observance of the Law, which was no longer required.
Note also that Jesus never prohibits fasting, but merely instructs his followers – when and if they fast – to fast with sincerity.
Fasting was definitely practiced by the early Christians themselves. Cornelius (an aspiring Christian) was fasting when he received his vision. (Acts 10:30.) The apostles fasted and prayed before making significant decisions on behalf of the Christian community. (Acts 13:3; Acts 14:23.) It appears that Jews and Christians still fasted in preparation for the Day of Atonement. (Acts 27:9; see the footnote in the margin of the NIV.) Finally, Paul instructs married couples to pray and fast while they abstain from conjugal relations. (I Corinthians 7:5.)
Edited by Evangelion, 19 October 2005 - 04:53 PM.