Thursday, February 1, 2018

Paleo-Orthodoxy and the Didache

I do not believe there can be any discussion of paleo-orthodoxy without also discussing the practices of the early church. Perhaps the most ancient church document we possess outside Sacred Scripture is what is known as the Didache, or Teachings of  the Twelve Apostles. Most scholars date this early manual of church function to the 1st century, placing it in or near to the lives of the Apostles themselves. I have been working on a commentary on this very important document that will connect it both to its Jewish roots and to the Church Fathers. What follows is a sneak preview of part of the commentary on the first verse of the Didache. I encourage readers to purchase a copy and explore what the early church looked like.

1 There are two paths, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the two paths. The Path of Life is this:

The Didache is, first and foremost, an ancient near eastern Jewish document dating to the 1st century. This places the document well within the lifetimes of the twelve apostles. It also means we must approach it with the same care, and thus the same principles, that we do the Old and New Testaments. That is, we must use the same hermeneutical principles we do with Scripture. One of the most important principles is that we do our best to understand the text as the intended audience would have understood it. In this case, we need to understand the text as 1st century Jewish disciples would have. This is no small feat, since we have been conditioned to read Scripture through the lens of creeds, denominational standards, and generally, Greek oriented thinking. If we are to really grasp the meaning of this text, we must avoid making this mistake. I am not at all suggesting those things are not valid (they absolutely are), but that, if we are sincere in our desire to grasp the intended meaning of the text, we need to read it as the intended audience would have. With this basic principle in mind, lets proceed with our exploration of the text.

At the outset we are told that there are “two paths”, being the path of life and the path of death. This idea of only two ways, or paths, by which humanity lives is not new to the Didache. We find a similar idea expressed in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which many scholars believe to be the writings of the Essenes, a third major sect of 1st century Judaism, along with Pharisees and Sadducees. The Community Rule, found in Cave 1 at Qumran, is likely the oldest of the documents of the Essene sect, with some scholars dating it as early as 100 B.C. The Community Rule expresses this division of humanity by referring to those who (in the language of the Didache) walk the path of life, as “the sons of light”, and those who walk the path of death, as “the sons of darkness”.1 The writer of the Community Rule also provides the following distinction:

He has created man to govern the world, and has appointed for him two spirits in which to walk until the time of His visitation: the spirits of truth and injustice. Those born of truth spring from a fountain of light, but those born of injustice spring from a source of darkness.”2

This is evocative of the same language used by the author of the Teaching. The Community Rule also adds the following for clarification:

All the children of righteousness are ruled by the Prince of Light and walk in the ways of light, but all the children of injustice are ruled by the Angel of Darkness and walk in the ways of darkness.”3

11QS I:10
21QS III: 15 and 20
31QS 3:20

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