Recently we have been looking the Epistle to the Hebrews. And the culmination that the Epistle text for this Sunday gives (12:4-24, with the option of also including verses 25-29) has essentially two possible ending points for the reader or listener. The writer has downplayed the importance of the ark of the covenant, along with Mount Sinai—where that ark and tabernacle/temple was started—and he puts forward the importance of Mount Zion and, of course, Jesus. In short, the text says that you have not come to Mount Sinai (although that mountain was not named in the text—almost as if it were too holy to be spoken); you have come to Mount Zion.
I think it is helpful that the writer lays out those two options, since both are significantly different. And that idea of a division, with only two possibilities, is certainly frequent in scripture, and it will also be true for what will happen at the end of time—heaven or hell.
With that in mind, I hope you will not mind a slightly different direction with this week’s ‘journey’. That idea of a division or two possibilities is also frequent in writings which are outside of scripture.
I do not think it to be a bad thing that Christians are introduced to writings that may be of a similar time period to the writings of the New Testament, but those writings do not appear in the typical Bible. In the Old Testament, there are the books of the Apocrypha. But, in the New Testament, while there are others, there is the document called ‘The Didache’ (pronounced ‘did-ah-KAY’). It is the Greek word for ‘teaching’.
For much the same reason that confirmation students benefit by learning what the other churches are teaching, the Christian will also benefit by learning at least a little about the other books that were written about the same time as the New Testament. The New Testament was written within a context, and not only the context of the Old Testament, but the context of other Jewish-Christian writings. And ‘The Didache’ is one of the most well-known of those.
As Holmes, the editor, states in his introduction to the text [In his book, The Apostolic Fathers], ‘A remarkably wide range of dates, extending from before AD 50 to the third century or later, has been proposed for this document (page 337).’ Later he gives more detail: ‘’The Didache’ may have been put into its present form as late as 150, though a date considerably closer to the end of the first century seems more probable. The materials from which it was composed reflect the state of the church at an even earlier time (page 337).’
This document very much emphasizes the division, the two ways. In fact, the first verse of the text goes this way: ‘There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways (1.1).’
Sometimes the question is asked, ‘Why was this document not included in the New Testament?’ Sometimes the people of ancient times are looked upon as ignorant or, worse yet, biased!
This document certainly contains words that may be connected to the Old Testament, and there are things which may be connected to the New Testament. But there are significant differences between these texts and scripture.
You may be able to see these differences by the use of some titles within this document. A teacher of mine used to ask, ‘Who is doing the verbs?’ In other words, who is the focus? And the titles of the main persons working within the text can help show the focus.
The secondary title of the work is ‘The Teaching of the Lord…’, but, after that, the next time the word ‘Lord’ is used is all the way in chapter four.
My child, remember night and day the one who preaches God’s word to you, and honor him as though he were the Lord. For wherever the Lord’s nature [the essential aspect of being Lord; see BDAG, page 579] is preached, there the Lord is. Moreover, you shall seek out daily the presence [literally, ‘face’] of the saints, so that you may find support in their words (4.1-2; the word ‘face’ is used two more times after this and is translated as ‘partiality’ and ‘reputation’; sections 3 & 10 respectively).’
Much later in the work, about the same amount from the end of the document (chapter 11), there is a surprisingly similar connection to the quote above, with a person who teaches to be connected to the Lord.
So, if anyone should come and teach you all these things that have just been mentioned above, welcome him. But if the teacher himself goes astray and teaches a different teaching that undermines all this, do not listen to him. However, if his teaching contributes to righteousness and knowledge of the Lord, welcome him as you would the Lord. Now concerning the apostles and prophets, deal with them as follows in accordance with the rule [literally, ‘dogma’] of the gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord (11.1-4).
Instead of putting forward the face and presence of the risen Lord Jesus and what he says and does—and this, in the New Testament, is often done by using the present tense (and usually called the ‘historical present’)—in the above document the connection to the Lord is one that the reader or listener is to make to the Lord’s preacher, teacher, or apostle. In The Didache, the face of the saints is the face that you are to seek out. Perhaps this, more than anything else, shows the secondary—yet still important—nature of this document.
It is still a very good read.