By Mary Jane Chaignot

This writing is known as the Didache. The word itself means "teaching" and it is based on the first line of the book – "Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles." It tackled the subject of how Judaism was to be adapted for Gentile converts. It was probably written from the point of view of a congregation quite settled in their religious practices, prayers, and rituals. They also might have been well-versed in dealing with itinerant teachers and prophets. The importance of such roles is acknowledged – but within certain limits. Christians were encouraged to be generous in caring for prophets and the poor, but they were also cautioned that some might be eager to take advantage of said generosity.

Scholars divide the Didache into roughly four sections. The first has to do with "The Two Ways," contrasting the way of life over death (chapters 1-6). This is followed by a section on rituals including baptism, fasting, and the Eucharist (chapters 7-10). Next come issues relating to the organization of the church, specifically the ministry (chapters 11-15). Last is a small apocalyptic section (chapter 16).

Chapter 1 begins with the statement, "There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways." What follows are the two great commandments taught by Jesus – Love God; love your neighbor. The text continues to expand on the second part about loving one's neighbor. They are to bless those who curse them, pray for their enemies, and fast for those who persecute them. Some of the statements are very similar to Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: love those who hate you, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give someone your cloak and coat, give to every one who asks you. All of these are above and beyond what the Gentiles do. It is the Father who wills that blessings should be shared. There is nothing wrong with being a receiver, but the need has to be real. Otherwise, that person will pay a penalty and be required to pay back every last penny.

The second chapter lists some of the prohibitions listed in the Ten Commandments. Again, these are from the second panel, the ones involving relations with others: Do not commit murder, adultery, or steal. Do not bear false witness or covet the things of your neighbor. But then there are additions: Do not practice magic or witchcraft. Do not kill an unborn or newborn child. Do not speak evil or bear a grudge. Do not speak empty words; do what you say. Don't be a hypocrite or haughty. Do not hate anyone; but some you may need to reprove.

The third chapter continues with sins to be avoided. One should flee from evil and not be prone to anger, jealousy, or a hot temper. These can be precursors to murder. Avoid being lustful, for that can lead to fornication and adultery. Don't be an observer of omens or an enchanter, astrologer, or purifier because all of that can lead to idolatry. Lying, money-loving, and being vainglorious can lead to thievery. Murmuring, self-will, and evil-mindedness can lead to blasphemy. Instead of these things, be meek, long-suffering, guileless, gentle, and good. They should not exalt themselves nor join with lofty ones. They should accept what happens as being good because nothing happens apart from God.

The fourth chapter provides additional precepts. They are to remember the words of their teacher and surround themselves with like-minded saints. Nothing good comes from divisiveness; peace is always the goal. They should never hesitate to give because they know who is the good "repayer of the hire." For this reason, they do not need to fear being generous with those in want; all things can be shared in common. They should teach the fear of God to their children and never abuse their servants. Servants are extolled to heed their masters. They should eschew whatever is not pleasing to the Lord. Obey the commandments; remember what they have learned and do not add to it. This is the way of life.

The Way of Death is described in chapters 5-6 and provides quite a contrast in behaviors. The long list of activities to be avoided includes most of those already mentioned in the first four chapters. Those who follow the way of death do not do that which is good; rather, they love evil. They turn from those in want and advocate for the rich. Some accommodation is made for those who try but end up being less than perfect. People should do what they can. Lastly, when it comes to food, they should do what they are able. Nonetheless, a special warning is given about food sacrificed to idols. While there is no absolute prohibition, they should be exceedingly careful; it is the service of dead gods.

Chapters 7 to 10 start the section on rituals. The first concern is for baptism. They should baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Cold-running water is preferred, but if unavailable, warm water can be used. At the least, they can pour a little water on someone's head three times. Both the baptizer and the baptized should fast for one to two days before the ceremony. Chapter 8 continues with the notion of fasting. They should avoid fasting with hypocrites a possible reference to the Pharisees who were known to fast on the second and fifth days of the week. Christians should fast on the fourth day and on Friday. Instead of praying like the hypocrites - (possible referring to their public prayers), Christians should pray the Lord's Prayer three times a day.

Chapter 9 focuses on proper Eucharist practices. They should give thanks for the cup – the holy vine of David – that was made known through Jesus Thy Servant. Then, they should turn their attention to the broken bread and thank the Father for the life and knowledge made known to them through Jesus Thy Servant. Just as the broken bread was scattered over the hills and then gathered, so let the Church be gathered from the ends of the earth. But no one is to partake of the cup or bread unless he has first been baptized. After they have been filled, they are to offer a prayer of thanks. Scholars have noted the absence of any connection with the cup or bread to the death and resurrection of Jesus. These prayers thank God for simply creating the food and drink.

Chapter 10 elaborates on how they should pray after communion. All things were created for Thy namesake. Food and drink were given for enjoyment. But Christians were given "spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Thy Servant." They prayed that the Lord would deliver the Church from all evil and make it perfect in love. All who were holy could enter. The Prophets could make as much Thanksgiving as they desired.

Chapters 11 through 15 involve Church ministry. Teachers, apostles, and prophets are to be treated with respect and heeded – unless, of course, they are teaching erroneously. Then they should be ignored. Signs of a false prophet include the following: remains three or more days, requests money, orders a meal, deeds do not match words. Such a one will be judged by God.

Chapter 12 specifically speaks about itinerant Christians, saying that everyone who comes in the name of the Lord should be received. They should assist him as they are able, but the time limit remains in effect. If he has a skill, he should work for his food. If he has no trade, he should do something. Idleness means he is a Christ-monger.

Caring for true prophets is the subject of chapter 13. Teachers and prophets are worthy of their support. Every first-fruit of grape, grain, and animal should be given to the prophets. If there is no prophet, it should be given to the poor. People should be as generous as it seems good to them and they should give according to the commandment.

Chapter 14 speaks to the gathering of Christians on the Lord's Day. They should gather, break bread, and give thanks. But no one who is at odds with a member should come until he has been reconciled, lest his sacrifice be profaned. The Lord requires a pure sacrifice.

Lastly, they should appoint leaders – bishops and deacons – who are worthy of the Lord, not lovers of money, but truthful and proved. They should be honored. They should reprove each other when needed, but in peace not anger. If someone acts inappropriately with another, he should be avoided until he repents. Their prayers, alms, and deeds have been laid out in the gospel of the Lord.

The very last chapter invites them to "watch" for the coming of the Lord. They should keep their lamps burning, their loins unloosed, for no one knows the hour in which the Lord will come. To that end, they should gather often, seeking the things that befit the soul. In the last days, false prophets will multiply, sheep will turn into wolves, and love into hate. The world deceiver will appear as the Son of God and will do signs and wonders. The earth will be delivered into his hands and he shall do horrible things. That will be the beginning of the fire of trial, and many will stumble and perish. But those who endure in their faith will be saved. Afterwards, the signs of truth will appear: heaven will spread out, the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be resurrected. "The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him. Then the world will see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven."

Old Testament Apocrypha

Christian Apocrypha