Tag Archives: Didache

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Instructions About Washings

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings…

Hebrews 6:1-2 (ESV)

Hebrews 6:1-3 identifies “instructions about washings” as one out of six fundamental, elementary teachings about the Messiah. Does this refer to Baptism? Learn about the Jewish practice of immersion in a mikvah and discover evidence of early, apostolic-era catechism prior to immersion.

Includes a short introduction to the Didache.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-one: Instructions About Washings
Originally presented on June 22, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Instructions about washings (plural). After a brief summary of the first two elementary principles, “Repentance from dead works” and “Faith toward God,” Lancaster continues with the third, “Instructions about washings”. This is often considered in normative Christianity to refer to baptism and easily dismissed as such. The King James Version of the Bible even renders the phrase as “the doctrine of baptisms,” but…

The translators of the English Standard Version, like many Bible scholars, recognized that the Greek word “baptismon” does not sound as if it’s talking about Christian baptism, because it appears in the plural form, whereas Christians are baptized only once. Furthermore, in other places in the New Testament, the word “baptismos” refers to ceremonial purification rituals of immersion in a mikvah. Several scholars looked at this passage and said, “I don’t think he’s talking about Christian baptism. I think he’s talking about Jewish purity rituals.”

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Chapter 5: Instruction About Washings,” pg 64
Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity

This book leverages much of the material from Lancaster’s sermons on these elementary principles from his “Hebrews” series and is a good companion to use with these audio recordings.

Here we learn that it is highly likely that these “immersions” mentioned in Hebrews 6:2 do not reference the modern Christian concept of baptism, since a Christian is only baptized once and the Greek word used in the text is clearly plural. It is more likely that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is talking about Jewish ritual purity rites using the mikvah, since the writer (according to Lancaster) is a Jew writing to other Jewish believers in Messiah Yeshua.

Lancaster presents some historical and archeological information regarding ancient immersion pools in the late Second Temple period to illustrate that it was extremely common for Jews to immerse on any number of occasions for the purpose of ritual purity, including participation in Temple sacrifices.

He also takes this opportunity to go on a small “rant” about how Christianity has fundamentally misunderstood the nature and character of baptism, and he ran through a litany of things that he believes the Church has gotten all wrong (he was talking too fast for me to take notes, so if you want to hear his reasons, you’ll have to listen to the recording). I don’t think Lancaster was trying to “diss” the Christian Church so much as he was being passionate about what he sees as the truth of the early history of Jesus-believing Judaism and how it’s been distorted by subsequent Gentile Christianity.

mikvahAs an aside, Lancaster has been lobbying to build a mikvah at Beth Immanuel for the last seven years (eight years as of this writing) but there hasn’t been much of a response. That reminded me of something I just read in Sue Fishkoff’s book The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch. Often, when a Chabad family moves into an area without an Orthodox Jewish presence, their first and overriding priority is to build a mikvah, particularly for the use of the Rabbitzin in relation to the laws of ritual family purity. The reaction from the local Jewish community to the Chabad’s fundraising efforts to build a mikvah (and they’re not cheap) is just as lukewarm. What does Lancaster and the Chabad know about the mikvah that the rest of us don’t, or is that a sad question to ask as connected to “elementary principles” of our faith?

So, what were these “instructions about immersions?” How to build a mikvah? The mechanics of how to baptize? At one point, Lancaster might have said “yes”, but then he realized how “dumb” an answer that was…a typical “Goy” answer.

Jews would have been already well acquainted with the rituals surrounding the mikvah, the occasions when one had to engage in ritual purity rites and so forth. This wasn’t a mystery. While Gentiles may have needed those sort of instructions, they would have been less than useless to the Jewish believers.

Lancaster shared his own revelation. When reading a commentary on this part of the Book of Hebrews, he learned that these instructions about immersions could be referred to as “Catechetical Instructions for Conducting the Baptismal Rite.”

When I was a pre-teen and into mid-teens, my parents regularly took me to a Lutheran church. Lutheran churches, like Catholic churches, put their young people into a two-year Confirmation class where we studied Catechism, which according to Wikipedia is “a summary or exposition of doctrine and served as a learning introduction to the Sacraments traditionally used in catechesis, or Christian religious teaching of children and adult converts.”

That’s what Lancaster thinks these “instructions about immersions” are. Not directions on how to immerse or baptize, but the very basic instructions a new believer had to know before being immersed in the name of the Messiah as a full disciple.

Lancaster than referenced the best known ancient “catechism” we have access to: the Didache.

Last fall, I read and wrote about First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) Toby Janicki’s article “The Didache: An Introduction” published in Messiah Journal. Since then, I purchased a copy of the Didache along with a commentary and wrote several blog posts on the topic which can be found here.

While Lancaster isn’t saying the Didache we have is the actual set of instructions being referred to in Hebrews 6:2, they may very well be related. It’s clear that the Didache was written for new Gentile “novices” in Yeshua-discipleship in order to prepare them to be immersed into Messiah by being initiated in the teachings of the Master. These instructions may have begun as oral instructions that accompanied the delivery of the Acts 15 “Jerusalem Letter” to the various Jesus-believing Gentile communities in the diaspora.

Didache CodexI should mention here that as Lancaster correctly states, the Didache’s initial discovery prompted accusations of forgery and fraud, since the document didn’t match the theology and doctrine of any Christian denomination and was seen as “too Jewish”. But today, most Christian scholars admit that the document most likely originated within one or two decades of the destruction of Herod’s Temple, written probably by Jewish disciples of Jesus for newly minted Gentile disciples. As I mentioned though, these written instructions could well have been preceded by an oral equivalent and could possibly have first come from the apostles themselves.

However, the Jewish disciples may have required a similar, parallel set of instructions to familiarize them with the teachings of Messiah and what it is to be a Jew preparing for a lifelong commitment to “take up their cross” and follow Moshiach, even unto death.

So look at it like this.

The newly initiated Jewish believers were first taught the very elementary principles of Yeshua-faith starting with repentance from dead works (sin) and then faith toward God as specific to Messianic devotion. Once they had mastered those first two principles, they were ready for the third, the basic instructions required for them to prepare to be immersed into the name of Messiah, which constitutes a vow of eternal fidelity.

Jewish people would immerse in the mikvah an untold number of times over the course of a lifetime, so immersing for ritualistic reasons was hardly novel. However, John specifically practiced an immersion of repentance (Matthew 4:17, Acts 19:4) and the Master commanded another specific immersion:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (emph. mine)

Matthew 28:19-20 (NASB)

The immersion in the name of Messiah fits in perfectly with what the Church calls “the Great Commission” but put back into a Jewish context, the ritual immersion in Messiah’s name makes a great deal more sense.

Jewish ConversionFor Lancaster, and I agree with him, a serious time of preparation must have been thought necessary before formally becoming a disciple of the Master. This was probably quite similar to the proselyte ritual process Gentiles experienced when converting under other Jewish sects. Even today, a Gentile converting to Judaism, particularly Orthodox Judaism, undergoes a time of intense preparation and study under the supervision of a Rabbi, and must past several tests before becoming circumcised (for males) and immersing in the mikvah as the final rite in becoming a Jew.

It seems very reasonable to believe that in ancient Yeshua-faith, the Gentile “converts” were required to undergo a similar procedure, although I’m sure there were exceptions (Acts 8:25-40, Acts 10:44-48).

Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?

Luke 14:17-28 (NASB)

What Did I Learn?

Actually, I felt there were things Lancaster only hinted at in his sermon. If he believes the Christian Church has gotten baptism all wrong, particularly as far as only being baptized once, what other applications might there be for immersion among the body of believers? I’m sure that Messianic Jewish disciples of the Master could and would immerse for the same reasons as other observant Jews, but what about the “Messianic Gentiles?” If we immerse in the name of Messiah once, on what other occasions should Gentiles enter the mikvah?

It had never occurred to me to apply Matthew 28:19-20 to Hebrews 6:2 but now it makes a great deal of sense to connect the two scriptures. I’m sure an entire study could be done applying what we think of as “baptism” in Christianity to ancient and modern concepts of immersion in the mikvah.

This also made me think of my own immersion. In August 1999, my entire family was immersed, under the auspices of a local Hebrew Roots congregational leader, in the Boise River. The following month, my life started to dramatically fall apart in such a spectacular manner that it would take years for me and my family to recover.

My interpretation is that God takes immersion into the name of Messiah quite seriously, even if the people being immersed don’t know what they’re doing (and I certainly didn’t). God delivered the consequences of my ill-conceived decision directly into my lap and it wasn’t pleasant at all. A lot of re-writing of my script had to be done and it’s not finished yet, not by a long shot. The finger of God is still writing on my heart and slowly converting it from a thing of stone to a heart of beating flesh and blood.

How many churches prepare their people with a dedicated set of instructions and tutelage before determining they are ready for this level of life-long commitment? I know in the church I attend there is some sort of formal preparation, but I fear for the sake of the children, some age nine and younger, who are deemed ready to understand what it is to count the cost, take up their crosses, and follow Jesus, even unto death. How could you be nine years old and possibly comprehend who you’re vowing to obey and what the consequences will be?

child baptismLancaster says he believes our churches are filled with “false converts,” people, like me, who consent to being baptized without any real idea of what that truly means. We have very few formal vows in Christianity left. The one you most likely think of is the wedding vow, but the staggering divorce rate in the Church indicates even that one is not well understood.

When we consent to being immersed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit of God, we had better know what we’re doing, and if we haven’t been prepared adequately for the commitment, then even though we are acting out of ignorance, God will hold us accountable.

Lancaster believes we should return to instructing new believers in the elemental principles of our faith which might include some familiarity with the Didache or something patterned after it. I think he’s right. People declare Christ as Lord and Savior and are baptized in his name far too casually in our day. I think thousands upon thousands of people in the Church are in a lot of trouble and don’t even realize it.

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Snow and Shabbos

shoveling-snowMaimonidies explains our midrash by reference to the related instance of rabbinic religious psychology: “God’s presence is never felt in a state of sadness or lethargy or levity or conversation or distractedness, but only amid the joy of performing a mitzvah.”

-Ismar Schorsch
quoting Bavli Shabbat 30b.
“The Seedbed of Prophecy,” pg 165 (December 21, 1996)
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayigash
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

I read this on Shabbat after shoveling snow off of my driveway and sidewalk. Actually, I also shoveled the snow off of the sidewalks of my two next door neighbors. It was a mitzvah of a sort. I try to do a little more than required because I know it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s something God built into me for some reason.

But I was performing one mitzvah (I don’t think the Bible says to specifically shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk, but it does say to love your neighbor, so I figure helping them with shoveling snow qualifies as “love”) but I was breaking another, well, sort of. It depends on whether or not you believe that non-Jewish believers are obligated to observe Shabbos in the manner of the Jews. I know that the Didache, an early document dated to the second or even first centuries and purportedly used to train new Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah entering the Jewish religious stream of “the Way,” states that even a Gentile may keep the entire “yoke of the Lord” (i.e. Torah commandments) if they (we) are able, but if not, to keep what we can, so keeping the Sabbath in some manner is on my radar screen as an option.

On the other hand, the two Jewish members of my household (and the other two Jewish family members who have their own households) don’t observe Shabbos, though I believe they are obligated to do so.

But I’m not the religious police. Each person must negotiate their own relationship with God. Past efforts of mine suggesting to my family that they take a more observant path have resulted in a rebuke and a reminder that they themselves must make those sorts of decisions.

And so they must. My remaining option for the sake of peace in the family is to pray and to rely on God to lead His own back to Him, even as Messiah will lead all the Jewish exiles back to redemption in the Land of Israel.

In reading the quote from Schorsch (and Maimonidies), I tried to recall if I felt joy when shoveling snow and if I felt the Presence of God. I have to admit that I didn’t experience either state. There was a sense of satisfaction at the realization that I was exceeding my property lines and doing what wasn’t expected of me, but I can’t say I had any sort of religious revelation. I don’t think living a life before God or doing the right thing is magic. I think it’s just what we’re supposed to do.

I also believe that no one “does it” perfectly, and I’m a living example of that.

If anything, I have a greater sense of the presence of God when I reading the Bible, when I’m studying the Torah Portion, when I’m contemplating a Psalm, even when I’m writing a blog post about God and the mitzvot.

I know people (online) who do a much better job at observing Shabbos. Some of them live in places like Colorado and Wisconsin, places that get a lot of snow. What do they do on the Shabbat when it’s snowing, just let it sit on their driveways and sidewalks?

I live in a suburban neighborhood that has a homeowner’s association (whether I like it or not) and the association has a covenant which states that each homeowner is responsible for keeping the sidewalks in front of their homes free (reasonably) of snow. We are also legally responsible if we fail to do so and a pedestrian falls and is injured as a result. So I have a duty to protect my neighbors by keeping my sidewalks clean, even on the Shabbat.

I know some people who would be rather rigid and dictatorial about such a suggestion, saying God’s commandment to observe Shabbat trumps any law or other responsibility assigned by human beings, but let’s look at that. I have a duty to love my neighbors which could be interpreted as protecting them from harm. I know there’s a Torah commandment that specifies if you see someone drowning in a body of water and you do nothing to help save their life, you have sinned against that person and against God (Rabbinic interpretation does say however, that if you are a poor swimmer and would be likely to drown too, you are absolved of this responsibility).

So what’s the higher duty, to perform an act on the Shabbat that at least in potential, could prevent a neighbor from being harmed, or to observe the Shabbat and ignore my neighbors by playing the “I’m keeping the Shabbat, look at how holy I am” card?

It’s an interesting question.

Of course, returning to my lack of actual obligation to observe a strict Shabbat, at least in the present age, I am not in quite the same bind as a Jewish person. I also believe the commandment to love one’s neighbor is universal, particularly since we see it occurring not only in Leviticus 19:18, but issuing from the mouth of Jesus (see Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31).

I know there is a part of Shabbat observance that is also universal, since such observance acknowledges God’s Creative Sovereignty, but I will have to be satisfied with acknowledging God’s creation of human beings by doing something, even on Shabbat, that is of service to some of those “creations.”

I try to spend most of my Saturdays in prayer, in study, in recording my contemplations on God, but it’s not perfect. In fact, it’s very far from perfect. But what I desire and am unable to accomplish today, may God grant me a life in the world to come where I may observe His peace and His perfection.

And as I write this, it’s still snowing outside.

The Didache in Retrospect, Part 2

SpeakThe fifth sequence might appear as puzzling since it associates grumbling as “leading to blasphemy” (3:6). The Greek term “blasphemia” derives from “blapto” + “theme” (“to injure” + “speech”) and so could be rendered as “slander.” In the Septuagint, however, this term is almost entirely used to denote injurious speech against the Lord, hence what is communal called “blasphemy.” Since the verb “gonguzein” (“to murmur”) is used repeatedly to describe the grumbling of the Israelite people in the desert (Exod. 16:2, 7(2x), 8(2x), 9, 12), some scholars believe this is the implied case history that stands behind the warning against murmuring (Ross 218).

-Aaron Milavec
“A Brief Commentary,” pp 58-9
The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary

I’m picking things up pretty much where I left off in yesterday’s morning meditation. You may wonder about the above-quoted text, but while Milavec associates it with “grumbling” or blaspheming against the Lord, the phrases “to injure” and “speech” remind me of something else.

Leviticus 25:17 says, “You shall not wrong one another.” This has traditionally been interpreted as wronging a person with speech. It includes any statement that will embarrass, insult or deceive a person, or cause a person emotional pain or distress.

-from the article “Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra”
Judaism 101

I don’t question Milavec’s interpretation of this portion of the Didache, the document apparently used to train newly minted Gentile disciples in “the Way,” possibly in the late first century to late second century in the common era, but it also seems reasonable that if the novice Gentile disciples were warned against “injuring” God in speech, they would also be warned against injuring other people in speech.

This is training that many believers in the various religious streams that claim Jesus as Lord and Messiah would benefit from today.

I mentioned some things about Gentiles and food issues in my original pass through on the Didache, but Milavec speaks further on this topic on pages 61-2 of his commentary:

The absolute prohibition against eating “the food sacrificed to idols” (6:3) occurs after the conclusion of the training program and just prior to baptism.

Milavec debates whether this prohibition was placed outside the “Way of Life” instruction as an awkward addition or the injunction was developed and added to a later iteration of the oral instructions/written Didache as a necessity to cement this restriction as an absolute “no-no.” This was probably easier said than done for Gentiles just coming out of paganism and with family and friends still involved in the Roman/Greek worship framework:

Of necessity, therefore, most candidates would have been constrained to take part in family meals wherein, either regularly or periodically, some offering was made to the household gods as part of the meal or some portion of the meats served had been previously offered at a public altar.

-Milavec, pg 62

kosher eatingWhile the prohibition against eating meat sacrificed to idols was one of the absolute commandments in the Didache, reflecting a portion of the Jerusalem letter (Acts 15:28-29), Neither the text of the Didache nor Milavec’s commentary mention applying kosher food restrictions to Gentile disciples in any sense. It also doesn’t mention how Jewish and Gentile table fellowship was to be managed, but then, the perspective of Jews who would be eating with Gentiles was outside the scope of the Didache’s mission, which was as a training manual for a specifically Gentile audience.

In speaking to Baptism (pp 62-4), Milavec cautions against turning “Immerse in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (7:1) into a “baptismal formula”:

Furthermore, the Hebraic expression of acting “in the name of X” has to do with the way a disciple or servant was authorized to act because of the training or mandate received from the master.

-ibid pp 62-3

This is a reflection of how a Rabbi would teach in the name of or in the merit of his master. We find this in the apostolic scriptures:

According to the Christian Scriptures, for example, the Twelve heralded the reign of God and apprenticed disciples “in the name of “Jesus” (Acts 4:18; 5:28; 9:27, 29).

-ibid, pg 63

Milavec’s commentary continues to reveal that this document, though a set of instructions for Gentiles, has a very Jewish source.

The closing line, “This is the Way of Life!” (4:14b), probably served as a liturgical refrain and, quite possibly, following Jewish parallels, was sung (#5a).

-ibid

It is also apparent that the character of the Didache recognized no separation between the “Jewishness” of its sources and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, declaring that Jesus and the apostles were completely representative of the normative Judaisms of that day:

The Didache declares that members should pray “as the Lord commanded” (8:2). The “Lord,” in this case, is not Jesus, for he is regarded as “the servant” who reveals “the life and understanding” of the Father (9:3). For early Christians, Jesus proclaimed “the good news of God” (Mark 1:14; Rom 1:1, 15:16; 2 Cor 2:7; 1 Thess 2:2, 9; 1 Pet 4:17) — never the good news of Jesus.

-ibid, pg 65

This is bound to make many modern Christian readers a little nervous or concerned, because the Didache is elevating God the Father higher than Jesus the Son. At the risk of offending almost everyone, it also potentially raises questions about the modern conceptualization of the trinity, since trinitarian theology considers the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit co-equals in the Godhead or the “Echad” of God. Of course, Jesus considered himself a servant in his early incarnation, but post-ascension, we cannot say that continued to be so, at least in standard Christian thought.

Part of the reason I bring this up is because I recently quoted John MacArthur on the topic of being “obsessed” with Jesus:

The charismatic movement fails this test of exalting Christ above all. MacArthur said, Show me a person obsessed with the Holy Spirit and I’ll show you a person not filled by the Spirit. Show me a person obsessed with Jesus Christ and I’ll show you a Spirit-filled person.

The Didache seems to take another viewpoint on this matter, at least relative to God the Father.

PaulOne of the values of examining ancient Christian texts such as the Didache, are that they are closer to their Jewish source and pre-date the overwhelming majority of Gentile Christian teachings. The Didache may give us a snapshot of how the Jewish and Gentile believers viewed certain concepts that we take for granted in the Church today. I don’t say this to upset anyone, but to bring into focus that what we understand about being a Christian now could be seen as entirely foreign by the very first Christians in the ekklesia communities established by Paul.

What would the apostle Paul say if he were to walk into a 21st century church and listen to what was being taught?

Milavec confirms that the Didache fully anticipated Gentile believers encountering prophets and seems to cast such occurrences in “charismatic” terms:

When the Spirit was active each inspired prophet gave thanks “as much as” he or she wished — a hint that when the prophets got rolling their combined ecstatic prayers might well run on over an hour. Lest this be considered preposterous, consider the case of the second-century “Martyrium Polycarpi,” where one discovers that Polycarp “stood up and prayed, being so full of the grace of God, that for two hours he could not hold his peace.”

-ibid, pg 70

Polycarp is considered the last disciple of John, the last apostle, and when Polycarp died, the direct line of discipleship leading back to the original apostolic tradition was destroyed. I mourn Polycarp as the last link to a body of wisdom and experience we understand only incompletely today.

I find it a little anachronistic for Milavec to insert “charismatic” concepts into ancient times, since the modern Charismatic movement is extremely young. This could represent a bias on Milavec’s part which may include his belief (I’m guessing here) that the “gifts of the Spirit” extended beyond the closure of Biblical canon. But how would the actual, lived experience of a man like Polycarp testify in relation to modern Christian doctrine?

When discussing “First Fruits Offered to the Prophets,” Milavec says something unanticipated, at least by me:

The anti-temple stance of the Didache (#10q, 14b) and the decided preference for the Spirit-led prayers of the prophets helps explain why the first fruits were to be given to “the prophets,” who were regarded as the most fitting substitutes for the priests of the Temple.

-ibid, pg 75

My interpretation of the so-called “anti-temple stance” of the Didache is different. It is likely that the Didache was an oral tradition in the last days of the Temple and for most of the “lifetime” of this document’s utility, the Temple probably no longer existed. Judaism underwent a remarkable and traumatic transition with the destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile of the majority of the Jewish people from their beloved Israel. That transition ultimately evolved into the Jewish tradition that considers prayers and good deeds (mitzvot) taking the place of the sacrifices. The tithe once offered at the Temple for a firstborn is still, in some corners of Judaism, given to one known to be a Cohen in modern Israel and in some Jewish communities in today’s diaspora.

Solomons-TempleIt is possible the sections of the Didache that address giving first fruits to prophets mirror this practice of substitution, so, in effect, the new Gentile disciples were being encouraged to follow Jewish practices mapping to Temple sacrifices that were no longer possible.

It has been said that in the future Kingdom of Israel, when Messiah reigns on the Throne of David, the sacrifices of Gentiles will once again be accepted in the Temple in Jerusalem as they were in the days of the First and Second Temples.

The Rabbis say (Hullin 13b): ‘Sacrifices are to be accepted from Gentiles as they are from Jews’ …

-from My Jewish Learning

Gentiles were welcomed to the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, and they will participate even more at the Third Temple – especially during the festival of Sukkot (Zech. 14:16).

When the First Temple was inaugurated by King Solomon, he beseeched G-d with an eloquent prayer that included the following words (Kings I, 8:41-43)…

Torah Law holds that Gentiles are allowed to bring burnt offerings to G-d in the Temple when it is standing in Jerusalem. There is a specific commandment to let us know that an animal (sheep, goat or bullock) offered in the Temple by a Gentile must be unblemished, to the same degree as the offering of a Jew. (Leviticus 22:25)

The Prophet Isaiah foretold us about the even greater participation of Gentiles that will take place at the Third Temple (Isaiah 2:2-3):

“And it will come to pass at the end of days that the mountain of G-d’s House will be firmly established, even higher than the peaks, and all the peoples will flow toward it as a river. And many nations will go and will cry, ‘Let us go up toward the mountain of G-d’s House, to the House of the L-rd of Jacob, and we will learn from His ways and walk in His paths, for out of Zion goes forth Torah and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.’ “

-from “Will Gentiles worship at the Third Temple during Sukkot?”
AskNoah.org

With all that said, I must disagree with Milavec that the Didache is “anti-Temple,” but rather, it was encouraging Gentile disciples to offer “first fruits” in a manner acceptable within the early post-Temple era in Judaism, and perhaps with an eye on the future Kingdom of Messiah, when the sacrifices of Gentiles would be as acceptable as those of a Jewish person.

The last significant section in Milavec’s commentary on the Didache references the End Times, but I think I’ll save that for my third and final blog post in this series.

First Impressions of the Didache

Didache CodexThe Didache represents the preserved oral tradition whereby mid-first-century house churches detailed the step-by-step transformation by which gentile converts were to be prepared for full active participation in their assemblies. As an oral tradition, the Didache encapsulated the lived practice by which non-Jews were initiated into the altered habits of perceiving, judging, and acting characteristic of one branch of the Jesus movement during the mid-first century.

-Aaron Milavec
from the Introduction, pg ix of his book
The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary

“Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.”

So when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.

Acts 15:24-31 (NASB)

I’ve often wondered about the instructions imparted to the non-Jewish disciples of the Master in the so-called “Jerusalem letter.” They’ve always seemed rather anemic to me. I mean, there certainly had to have been more to the training of new disciples who had no clue about the God of Israel, the Messiah, and the role of Gentile believers in a Jewish religious stream.

When I read that the Gentile response to the letter’s delivery in Antioch was that “they rejoiced because of its encouragement,” I ponder about what they found encouraging. Certainly the fact that the men and boys didn’t have to be circumcised would have been encouraging. Also, I imagine it was encouraging that they didn’t have to convert to Judaism and learn to perform the humongous list of instructions found in the Torah and accompanying commentary and halachah.

But a mere four essentials hardly seems an adequate substitute.

Of course, there is the mysterious Acts 15:21: “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” There is a minority opinion among some modern Gentile believers that it was the Council’s intention for the ancient Gentile believers to also be required to follow the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, in spite of Peter’s testimony that the Torah was “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.”

The issue at hand during the Acts 15 legal hearing was how to integrate the Gentiles into the Jewish religious stream of “The Way.” The supposition brought forth (Acts 15:1) was that Gentiles must convert to Judaism (be circumcised and obligated to the full yoke of Torah) in order to be justified before God. The Council’s ruling, after much testimony and due deliberation over scripture, was that Gentiles did not have to convert. It would have been silly to say they didn’t have to be circumcised and convert to Judaism, but in all other ways, they still had to act, relative to Torah, exactly like the Jewish disciples.

But if that is true and if the four essentials of the Jerusalem letter are far too sparse to constitute a functional set of behavioral requirements, where do we find more? How does the Acts 15:21 statement fit in?

I have a working theory (and it’s just a theory) that the Didache is the answer or part of the answer. My working theory is that a set of oral traditions accompanied the Jerusalem letter and perhaps even developed over time, evolving into a formal halachah for the Gentiles.

I can’t prove any of this of course, but I hope to present a compelling suggestion.

In the process of writing this blog post, I consulted my previous article on this topic, including the notes I took of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teacher and author Toby Janicki’s article “The Didache: An Introduction,” published in Messiah Journal issue 113.

Most scholars generally agree that the Didache was written either in the location of Egypt, Syria, or Israel sometime between the late first to early second century. Some speculate it may have been written as early as 50 CE. This would mean that the Didache is actually older than the canonical Gospels and was written during the generation after the Master’s death.

-Janicki, pg 44

There is some speculation that the Didache was composed by the Apostles themselves or those close to the Council. The further back in time we place its origin, the more authoritative becomes its teachings to the Gentiles. Aaron Milavec, who wrote the commentary for my copy of the Didache, believes its origin to be sometime in the mid-first century. This would allow for the material to be initially orally transmitted, and then soon thereafter, codified and documented for “discipling” new Gentile adherents to “the Way.”

Milavec's DidacheMilavec’s opinion is that the Didache material was a sort of training guide used by mentors to bring up novice Gentile disciples. Milavec’s book presents the Greek and English versions of the text side-by-side. I can’t read the Greek, so I have to trust that the English translation is reasonably accurate. This is my first go-round with the Didache, so all I’ve got are first impressions.

For the most part, I experienced the Didache text (it’s rather brief) as a compilation of teachings gleaned from the Gospels and the Torah. This is interesting if the Didache were composed prior to the Gospels, especially the Gospel of Matthew upon which some say the Didache was founded, because it would mean that the oral traditions passing along the Master’s teachings were incorporated into the early formal training of Gentile believers.

Actually, I can only imagine that both Jewish and Gentile disciples in the Diaspora would benefit from training in the Master’s teachings, but of course, Torah would be known by the Jews and long-term Gentile God-fearers, but be a mystery for the Gentiles just coming out of paganism.

I also found this:

1:2 [A] On the one hand, then, the way of life is this:
[1] first: you will love the God who made you;
[2] second: [you will love] your neighbor as yourself.
[B] On the other hand [the way of life is this]:
as many [things] as you might wish not to happen to you, likewise, do not do to another.

-Milavec, pg 3

This section of the Didache leverages what we know as the Golden Rule as spoken by Jesus, but also the teachings of Hillel, a Jewish sage who lived a generation before the Master (I recently reviewed this material). So we see that older Rabbinic lessons were included to accompany the teachings of the Yeshua.

2:2: You will not murder,
you will not commit adultery,
you will not corrupt boys,
you will not have illicit sex,
you will not steal,
you will not practice magic,
you will not make potions,
you will not murder offspring by means of abortion,
(and) you will not kill [him/her] having been born,
you will not desire the things of [your] neighbor.

-ibid, pg 5

While not exactly direct quotes, this section seems very much taken from the Torah and thus links back to the instruction we find in Acts 15:21. This supports the verse that says the Gentile disciples were to learn the Law of Moses in the synagogue as it applies to them. Here, we see such application.

I’m not sure how to interpret the instruction not to kill children by abortion, since no direct reference to abortion appears in the Bible, and I’m unaware of such a practice in Biblical times (but then, I’m no history major). This is one time I wish I could consult the Greek to see what word is being translated as “abortion.”

I also don’t have any idea what “not corrupt boys” refers to, though it does come right before the instruction against illicit sex.

So, at first blush, the Didache’s instructions to the newly minted Gentile disciples provides a liberal dose of Gospel teachings and Torah teachings, with a smattering of other early Rabbinic lessons.

This is pretty much what I expected and the Didache doesn’t disappoint.

The text goes along presenting additional information from those sources along with what seem like quotes or adaptations from the Proverbs. Here’s an example:

3:5 My child, do not become false,
since falsehood is the path leading to theft;
nor a lover of money,
nor a seeker of glory,
for, from all these, thefts are begotten.

-ibid, pg 9

I’m not going to do a “copy and paste” of large blocks of the Didache into this “meditation,” but I found a few additional sections revealing.

6:2 For, on the one hand, if you are able to bear
the whole yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect;
but if, on the other hand, you are not able,
that which you are able, do this.

-ibid, pg 19

King Priest TorahThe term “yoke” tends to be a reference to Torah in Biblical language. Since we know the Didache is a training manual for Gentile disciples of Yeshua, it seems as if the author is permitting any Gentile disciple to observe the entire body of Torah mitzvot if he or she is able, but if that person is not able, it is acceptable to do anything that they can observe.

I’m sure most other Christians would disagree with how I’m interpreting “yoke,” but to me, it certainly sounds like the mid-first century to mid-second century Gentile disciples in the Jewish Yeshua movement were permitted but not required to keep all or some portion of the Torah commandments, though if they were able to keep all of it, they would be “perfect.”

Just a thought.

7:2 and 7:3 address baptism and 7:2 specifies that flowing water should be used, recalling the mikvah, with a pattern of immersing the head three times, once for the Father, once for the Son, and once for the Spirit. There seems to be a number of options available. It is preferable to immerse in flowing water and preferable to immerse in cold water, but still water as well as warm water may be substituted if the former are unavailable. It seems mandatory though that the person to be immersed should fast one or two days prior to immersion.

9:1-9:5 mentions the eucharist which involves a cup of wine and broken loaf, and that only someone who has been baptized into the community of the Lord may drink and eat of it (there doesn’t seem to be a direct connection to Passover here).

Many of the blessings the Gentiles are instructed to recite bear great similarity to Jewish blessings for various occasions.

Blessing over wine from the Didache:

We give you thanks, our Father,
for the holy vine of your servant David
which you revealed to us through your servant Jesus.
To you [is] the glory forever.

The traditional modern Jewish blessing over wine:

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

The Didache blessing over bread:

We give you thanks, our Father,
for the life and knowledge
which you revealed to us through your servant Jesus.
To you [is] the glory forever.

The traditional modern Jewish blessing over bread:

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

I just want to point out that the Gentile disciples are being taught to pray to God (the Father) in the name of God’s “servant Jesus,” not to Jesus himself. Jesus never commanded his disciples to pray to him, only to the Father in his name, so that seems consistent with scripture, though not always with modern Christian practice.

Sections 10:1-7 seem to read like an early rendition of Grace After Meals and I can only believe that common Jewish blessings utilized at various points in a person’s day, life-cycle were used or adapted for the training of Gentile disciples, and thus included in the Didache.

This also interested me:

11:3 And concerning the apostle-prophets, in accordance with the decree of the good news, act thus…

This portion of the Didache instructs the Gentile disciples to expect apostles and/or prophets and describes the manner in which the disciples should treat such people. That means, apparently, that apostles still existed when the Didache was composed, which dates it in the mid to late first century, and that there were still actual prophets in the land.

The ProphetThe flip side to this teaching is that if the Didache was composed in the second century, or even later, then we have to accept the idea that apostles, however that term would have been defined given that the original apostles were all dead by then, and prophets, actual prophets of God, continued to exist, in spite of John MacArthur and Strange Fire. Of course, this is all speculation on my part, but fascinating nonetheless.

Speaking of MacArthur and the Holy Spirit:

11:7 [A] And every prophet speaking in Spirit
you should not put on trial and not judge;
for every sin will be forgiven
but this sin will not be forgiven.

-pg 29

The section goes on to describe true and false prophets and how not everyone who speaks in Spirit is a prophet, but these early instructions to new Gentile believers certainly tells them to expect prophets and even others who speak “in Spirit.” Again, depending on the timing of the authorship of the Didache, this has interesting implications for our world of faith today.

13:3 [A] So, every first fruits of the products of the wine vat and the threshing floor, both of cattle and sheep, [1] you will give the first fruits to the prophets; for they themselves are your high priests.
13:4 [2] (But) if you should not have a prophet, give [it] to the beggars.

-pg 33

The language seems to reference the Temple service and the sacrificial system, although the specifics require the “first fruits” of the Gentile disciples to either be given to prophets, if they are available, or beggars (the poor) if they are not. Again, this is very “Jewish” in language and concept, although I suppose Gentiles who were former idol worshipers were accustomed to making offerings in pagan temples.

Here’s a few more points I thought were important.

On page 17 of Milavec’s book, 5:1 and 5:2 lists “the Way of Death,” or that which is evil and “full of accursedness.” Among these “ways” are what you’d expect from Torah: murder, adultery, lust, illicit sexual acts, theft, and so on.

On page 19, 6:3 says the following:

(And) concerning eating, [1] bear that which you are able, [2] from the food, on the other hand, sacrificed to idols, very much keep away, for it is worship of dead gods.

The only definite instruction being given to new Gentile disciples about food is to avoid food sacrificed to idols. There is no direct commentary on whether or not the Gentile is commanded to “keep kosher,” though I don’t know what “bear that which you are able” is supposed to mean.

On page 21, 8:2 is a repetition of “the Lord’s Prayer,” (Matthew 6:9-13), and 8:3 states, “Three times within the day pray thus,” suggesting that Gentiles were also to observe the fixed times of prayer.

The last part of the actual Didache text speaks of the end times, but I won’t go into any of that because Milavec offers an interesting commentary on this topic, one that doesn’t entirely match up with the modern Christian view based on Revelation, but then, if Milavec is right, the Didache as an oral tradition (but not a written document) would have been used to train Gentile disciples years or even decades before John had his vision on the island of Patmos.

I can’t tell you what to believe. At this point, I’m not sure myself what to believe about the Didache. My Pastor said it was seriously considered for canonization, that is, being made part of our Bible as the inspired Word of God, but in the end, it didn’t make the cut. However, even my Pastor quotes from it, and my understanding is that the Didache is taken seriously as an early Christian text.

Talmud StudyIf it’s early enough, it could be considered the possible basis for the oral instructions that accompanied the Jerusalem letter, or if not, then a supplement that was developed by the apostles or those in authority to augment the original Acts 15 instructions.

If my personal theory is right (and it’s just a theory), we have in our grasp something tangible from the mid-first to mid-second century of the common era that tells us the first Gentile disciples had their own “Torah” as it were, that overlapped portions of the Jewish Torah but was in fact not identical; a set of separate behavioral expectations of the Gentile disciples of Jesus that only somewhat mirrored the Torah of Moses. This may be the bridge between the Acts 15 letter and the actual, lived experience of the earliest Gentile disciples of Jesus in the original Messianic Jewish religious stream.

We also see, as I noted above, that according to the Didache (if my little theory is correct), Gentile believers were permitted to take on board as much of the yoke of the Lord (Torah) as they could handle up to and including full observance, but Gentile Torah observance was not mandatory.

Certainly something to think about and discuss. I’ll write more when I get through Milavec’s commentaries.

Acts 15 and the Didache: A Brief Exploration

messiah-journal-113Tony Jones aptly calls the Didache “the most important book you’ve never heard of.” It offers an unparalleled look into the day-to-day community of the earliest disciples of Rabbi Yeshua. It is therefore an invaluable document for all students of the Jewish background of Christianity.

The title Didache means “teaching” and is taken from the first word of the book. The work is also known by the longer title, “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” or the still longer “Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles” which is the complete first line of the book.

-Toby Janicki
“The Didache: An Introduction”
from Messiah Journal issue 113, pg 42

I keep meaning to read the Didache, but there are so many other books around that it’s hard to find the bandwidth. Then I received an audio CD in the mail from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) that contained a recording of Toby reading his Didache article, published last spring in issue 113 of Messiah Journal.

My son, who is normally my commuting companion five days a week, took some time off of work, so one morning last week, I popped the CD into the player in my car and listened to Toby as I drove to my job. The recording was just the right length so that I could listen to everything Toby had to say from home to work. Then I discovered on the packaging that the content could also be found in text format in Messiah Journal. So here I am.

Most scholars generally agree that the Didache was written either in the location of Egypt, Syria, or Israel sometime between the late first to early second century. Some speculate it may have been written as early as 50 CE. This would mean that the Didache is actually older than the canonical Gospels and was written during the generation after the Master’s death.

-Janicki, pg 44

Admittedly, there’s a lot of guess-work about the Didache, who wrote it, when it was written, but generally it’s agreed that the intended audience was the newly-minted Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah, of Jesus. Toby paints a portrait of the Didache as a sort of “learner’s primer” presented to new Gentile disciples who needed some guidance into their day-to-day practices and responsibilities. Toby also makes a point that the style and simplicity of the text seems markedly Jewish and represents early Jewish religious instruction common in the late 1st century period.

The longest title of the Didache, “Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles” would have us believe that the Didache contains instructions that were transmitted by the apostles through the halachic authority that was invested to them by the Master himself. While scholars debate which if any of these titles were originally used when the Didache was composed, this raises the question then of whether or not the Didache actually dates back to the original twelve apostles. Did the teaching of the Didache actually emerge from the oral halachah of the Jerusalem Council? The suggested early date of the compositions, coupled with their contents, makes this a high probability. Jonathan Draper writes, “The earlier the date for this text is pushed, the more likely it was associated from the beginning with, or even originated from, the twelve apostles in Jerusalem, as its title states.” As we will see, the Didache becomes a natural outgrowth of the Jerusalem Council’s rulings in Acts 15.

-ibid, pg 45

I’ve written a great deal on the impact of Acts 15 on Gentile believers in the late Second Temple period and beyond in my Return to Jerusalem series and other blog posts such as The Evidence of Acts 15. One of the criticisms leveled against the “Four Prohibitions” recorded by Luke in that chapter, is that they are woefully insufficient instructions for new Gentile disciples, especially relative to the vast compilation of mitzvot collected in the Torah of Moses and required for the Jewish people. It’s a common argument in parts of the Hebrew Roots movement supporting their belief that the full length of Torah commandments were intended to be observed by both Jewish and Gentile believers.

But what if…just what if the Didache represented the oral halachah that was to accompany the Jerusalem Letter to the Gentile disciples and that it “fleshed out” the letter’s contents.

So when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message (emph. mine).

Acts 15:30-32 (NASB)

the-didacheIt’s very likely that there was a rather long and involved explanation about the contents of the letter delivered to the different communities of Gentile believers. Luke only hit the high points, so to speak, and didn’t write down literally everything Paul and the other Jewish apostles and disciples had to say by way of instruction to the Gentiles. What if the Didache was the written version of those instructions, at least to some degree?

No, I can’t say that it is or it isn’t. There’s a lot of mystery shrouding the Didache, and no one is able to make many definitive statements about it. However, Toby writes that it nearly was made Biblical canon and for various reasons, fell out of favor. Still, it is acknowledged that the Didache is an important written work in early Christianity, albeit obviously coming from a strong Jewish source.

Once I get the opportunity to read and study the Didache, I’ll revisit my suggestions and see if they at all seem credible. If they do, that still doesn’t mean Christians today should follow their instructions to the letter, but it may mean we already have a more complete set of documents advising us of the intent of the Apostolic Council in terms of the requirements for Gentile disciples in the body of Messiah. And remember, the Acts 15 letter wasn’t just the idea of human beings.

“Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials… (emph mine)”

Acts 15:27-28 (NASB)

I can’t claim Divine inspiration for the Didache the way I can for canonized scripture, but it may represent an important and long absent link between the Acts 15 letter and how it was supposed to be lived out “on the ground,” so to speak, by the earliest Gentile disciples.

This may, in the end, also tell us something about who we are in Christ today.