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In Defence Of The Didache

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#1 Evangelion



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Posted 25 January 2003 - 03:47 AM

Is the Didache Reliable?
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.

'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.


#2 Evangelion



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Posted 25 January 2003 - 05:30 AM

Grudem continues:

Christians are required to pray the Lord's Prayer three times a day.  (8.3)

This is a misrepresentation of the Didache's instruction. It does not constitute a ritual prayer, but merely a guide to prayer - which the early Christians were already practicing in ritual form.

  • To the first point; namely, prayer thrice a day:
    It must be remembered that the Jews were in the custom of praying thrice daily. In this regard, the Didache does not introduce anything new, but merely conforms to the practice of the day.

    Secondly, we know from the record of Scripture that the early Christians continued to observe this Jewish ritual. Peter and John entered the temple for the purpose of ritual prayer at the ninth hour (Acts 3:1); Peter prayed upon the housetop at the sixth hour (Acts 10:9), and Cornelius prayed in accordance with the Jewish ritual, receiving his vision during a prayer in the ninth hour (Acts 10:30.)

    Finally, Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215) and Origen (AD 185-254) both refer to prayer three times a day, demonstrating that the practice had been accepted by the general Christian community, and was not restricted to a few “heretics” doing their own thing off in a corner somewhere.

  • To the second point; namely, the use of the Lord’s Prayer:
    The Lord's Prayer was instituted by Christ, who told his disciples to pray "after this manner", and "not like the hypocrites." The early Christians took him at his word, using the Lord's prayer as the benchmark, and retaining the Jewish ritual observance.

    But it is foolish to claim that the Didache's instruction requires Christians to pray in this way and in no other fashion. For if we were to follow this logic, we would also be forced to conclude that Jesus is telling is to use the Lord's Prayer exclusively - which he obviously is not.

Similarly, when Christ says...

Matthew 6:6.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

...do we understand him to mean that this is the only way to pray, and that no other mode is acceptable? It would be ridiculous to assume that this is what he intended. Thus, the words of the Didache (which, after all, simply reiterates the instruction of Christ) are to be taken in the same spirit as Matthew 6:5-7, 9. The Didache’s instruction, therefore, was not an addition by the authors of the Didache, but merely an endorsement of the original practice.

Unbaptised persons are excluded from the Lord's Supper.  (9.1-5)

The record of the book of Acts clearly demonstrates that baptism was the rite by which a new believer entered the body of Christ. It is therefore impossible to share the body and blood of Christ unless we have entered fellowship with him through baptism.

Without this act of obedience, we cannot share in the Lord’s supper because we will not be counted among his brethren. Baptism is the only door to the body of Christ.


Romans 6:3-4.
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

See also:

I Corinthians 12:12-13.
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

And again:

Galatians 3:27-29.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

The Didache’s instruction, therefore, was not an addition by the authors of the Didache, but merely an endorsement of the original teaching.

Apostles are prohibited from staying in a city more than two days.  (11.5; but note that Paul stayed a year and a half in Corinth and three years in Ephesus!)

This is a misrepresentation of the Didache’s instruction. It is not a rigid commandment, but merely a helpful guideline. The principle is clearly articulated in II Thessalonians 3:7-12:

For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;
Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:
Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.

The Didache’s instruction, therefore, was not an addition by the authors of the Didache, but merely an endorsement of the original practice.

Prophets who speak in the Spirit cannot be tested or examined.  (11.7, in contradiction to 1 Cor. 14:29 and 1 Thess. 5:20-21)

This is a misrepresentation of the Didache’s instruction. Believers are advised to first determine the legitimacy of a man who claims to be a prophet, and then hearken to his words. If, therefore, a man can be shown to speak with the authority of God, it would be blasphemous to ignore his teaching, as Ananias and Sapphira learned to their detriment. (See also the previous point.)
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.


#3 Evangelion



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Posted 25 January 2003 - 05:31 AM

Grudem continues:

Salvation requires perfection at the last time.  (16.2)

The Didache does not demand literal, absolute perfection - instead, it exhorts us to aspire thereto.

  • Matthew 5:48.
    Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

  • Matthew 19:21.
    Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

  • Luke 6:40.
    The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.

  • Luke 8:14.
    And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.

  • John 17:23.
    I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

  • II Corinthians 13:9.
    For we are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong: and this also we wish, even your perfection.

  • II Corinthians 13:11.
    Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.

  • Ephesians 4:12-13.
    For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
    Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

  • Philippians 3:15.
    Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.

  • Colossians 1:28.
    Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:

  • II Timothy 3:17.
    That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

  • Hebrews 6:1.
    Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,

  • Hebrews 7:19.
    For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.

  • Hebrews 10:14.
    For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

  • Hebrews 11:40.
    God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

  • James 1:4.
    But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

  • Revelation 3:2.
    Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
As always, context must be our guide.

The Didache’s instruction, therefore, was not an addition by the authors of the Didache, but merely an endorsement of the original teaching.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.


#4 Evangelion



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Posted 25 January 2003 - 05:32 AM

Grudem continues:

The Didache is a post-1st Century document.

Many proofs could be given in response to this charge, but the Catholic Encyclopaedia presents a fine summary:
There are other signs of early date: the simplicity of the baptismal rite, which is apparently neither preceded by exorcisms nor by formal admission to the catechumenate; the simplicity of the Eucharist, in comparison with the elaborate quasi-Eucharistic prayer in Clem., I Cor., lix-lxi; the permission to prophets to extemporize their Eucharistic thanksgiving; the immediate expectation of the second advent.

As we find the Christian Sunday already substituted for the Jewish Sabbath as the day of assembly in Acts, xx, 7 and I Cor., xvi, 2, and called the Lord's day (Apoc., i, 10), there is no difficulty in supposing that the parallel and consequent shifting of the fasts to Wednesday and Friday may have taken place at an equally early date, at least in some places.

But the chief point is the ministry. It is twofold: (1) local and (2) itinerant.

— (1) The local ministers are bishops and deacons, as in St. Paul (Phil., i, 1) and St. Clement. Presbyters are not mentioned, and the bishops are clearly presbyter-bishops, as in Acts, xx, and in the Pastoral Epistles of St. Paul. But when St. Ignatius wrote in 107, or at the latest 117, the three orders of bishops, priests, and deacons were already considered necessary to the very name of a Church, in Syria, Asia Minor, and Rome.

If it is probable that in St. Clement's time there was as yet no "monarchical" bishop at Corinth, yet such a state of things cannot have lasted long in any important Church. On this ground therefore the Didache must be set either in the first century or else in some backwater of church life. The itinerant ministry is obviously yet more archaic. In the second century prophecy was a charisma only and not a ministry, except among the Montanists.

— (2) The itinerant ministers are not mentioned by Clement or Ignatius. The three orders are apostles, prophets, and teachers, as in I Cor., xii, 28 sq.: "God hath set some in the Church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors [teachers]; after that miracles, then the graces of healings, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all doctors?"

The Didache places teachers below apostles and prophets, the two orders which St. Paul makes the foundation of the Church (Eph., ii, 20). The term apostle is applied by St. Paul not only to the Twelve, but also to himself, to Barnabas, to his kinsmen, Andronicus and Junias, who had been converted before him, and to a class of preachers of the first rank. But apostles must have "seen the Lord" and have received a special call.

There is no instance in Holy Scripture or in early literature of the existence of an order called apostles later than the Apostolic age. We have no right to assume a second-century order of apostles, who had not seen Christ in the flesh, for the sake of bolstering up a preconceived notion of the date of the Didache.

Since in that work the visit of an apostle or of a pretended apostle is contemplated as a not improbable event, we cannot place the book later than about 80. The limit, would seem to be from 65 to 80.

Harnack gives 131-160, holding that Barnabas and the Didache independently employ a Christianized form of the Jewish "Two Ways", while Did., xvi, is citing Barnabas — a somewhat roundabout hypothesis. He places Barnabas in 131, and the Didache later than this. Those who date Barnabas under Vespasian mostly make the Didache the borrower in cc. i-v and xvi. Many, with Funk, place Barnabas under Nerva.

The commoner view is that which puts the Didache before 100. Bartlet agrees with Ehrhard that 80-90 is the most probable decade. Sabatier, Minasi, Jacquier, and others have preferred a date even before 70.

J. Louis Guthrie (a Baptist) concurs. In his brief commentary on the Didache (written in 1938), he says:
There is much evidence, that this booklet, used as a sort of church manual from which new converts were taught, and young preachers, both from the personal instruction of the Apostles and the early preachers of the churches, were taught how to present the essentials of living after one was saved and became a member of a church.

This booklet sets us back in time to the very days of the Apostles, when Christianity was pure and not added to by Hierarchy, Episcopacy, and the thousand other contentions that are troubling the thinking of men today about churches by taking Churchianity and making dogma the standard of the life of man, instead of the grace of God and that following of grace, a life of loving service.

A cursory study of this document will tell the reader many things about the early Church and her brand of Christianity, which has been added to by selfish and selfseeking men, who wanted to find place for themselves in church activity and church life. In other words, it will, if properly and carefully studied, rule out all selfseeking among men, who are trying to do what moderns are calling "MAKING A RACKETT" out of religion and the church life, and remove "HIGH PLACES" from the Churches of our Lord.

The ancient writers in the churches, that mention this book, as being extensively used in the early Churches are: Eusebius, Athanasius, Nicephorus, Clement of Alexandria, and some others not so well known.

The manuscript was lost for many centuries by falling into disuse by the Catholic church authorities from 324 A.D. until copied by Leon, the scribe, in June, 1056, then lost again until 1885. It is a fortunate thing for modern scholars, that this single copy, the only complete one in existence, as far as we now know, lay in the library in Constantinople, and then, be discovered by Bryennios. This is as far this side of Leon, as the other beyond him.

Guthrie says that the Didache does not teach baptism for salvation. (He is right, of course. The Didache only presents the mode of baptism. It doesn't talk about whether or not this has anything to do with salvation. We must look to the New Testament for that...)

But Matthew Ropp, while studying at the Fuller Theological Seminary (School of Theology), wrote a wrote a paper in 1998 which rejects Guthrie's claim, arguing forcefully that the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is found not only in the Didache but also in the Ignatian epistles, the writings of Justin Martyr & Irenaeus and the Epistle of Barnabas - all of which are very early church documents indeed.

Another conservative (Larry V. Crutchfield, Professor of Early Christian History & Culture, Columbia Evangelical Seminary, Longview, WA) also defends an early dating of the Didache, placing it no later than AD 90 and suggesting that it could have been written within the lifetime of the apostle John.

Philip Schaff (yet another conservative) accepts a dating of AD 80-100 for the Didache (see Volume 1 of his History of the Christian Church, 1882) taking his argument from the undeniable dependence of the Didache on the Gospel of Matthew.

He writes:
The first Gospel was well known to the author of the 'Didache of the Apostles,' who wrote between 80 and 100, and made large use of it, especially the Sermon on the Mount.
Full text available here.
If the reader still doubts the antiquity of this precious document, let him:
  • First address the historical evidence.

  • Present a viable alternative.

The Didache is not representative of the original Church.

False. According to Athanasius (writing in his Festal Letter 39) the Didache was:...appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly joined, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness.
...along with several other books he classified as deuterocanonicals, such as Tobit, Esther, Sirach, and The Shepherd of Hermas.

All of which tells us that the early Church not only accepted it as legitimate, but actually required new converts to read it. Indeed, when we check the historical records we find various Church Fathers (such as Clement and Justin Martyr) quoting it in their own letters, thereby confirming that:
  • They considered its theology to be doctrinally sound.

  • They considered its liturgies and practices to be doctrinally sound.
Even today, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches still hold up the Didache as the earliest extra-Biblical account of doctrine and practice in the early Church.

As far as they are concerned, it is 100% accurate - though they admit that it is silent on the twin dogmas of transubstantiation and Trinitarianism, since these were the product of doctrinal speculation which did not occur until the post-Apostolic era. (Leaving us with no grounds on which it might be claimed that the authors of the Didache believed either one of them.)

Therefore, since the Didache is accepted as legitimate by two of the oldest and most conservative Christian churches on the face of the planet, there are no legitimate grounds (whether historical nor theological) on which it can be justifiably criticised.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.


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