The author(s) of the Didache begins by describing two ways, one of life and one of death. The wording, here, is of great importance. We look back to the Greek of the text to discern the exact pointing and to be sure that the English is a correct representation. The autograph was most likely written in Koine Greek, like the New Testament, and the earliest versions of the document exist in the Greek and were found in modern-day Turkey, where the Apostle Paul spent most of His time.
The author(s) does not describe a way to life and a way to death. This is not the point of the Didache. The author(s) intentionally uses the word τας or του, meaning “of.” If they meant “to,” they would have used the word προς. So, from the outset, this is a document that is meant to describe the way in which people who already have life walk and the way in which people who do not have life walk. According to the author(s), the two ways are very different. In fact, they are opposite.
So, just from the language used, we see a very important doctrinal distinction present in this document. The author(s) believes that regeneration precedes faith. First, one must have life before one can walk in the way of life. Those who do not first have life walk in the way of death. This is the clear teaching of the Apostles and the Apostolic Fathers. So, these instructions are meant for those who have already experienced conversion.
Those who already have life live like this. These are the basics of Christian practice according to the author(s). It is basically a direct quotation of or allusion to the Scriptures. These instructions can be found in the Law, the Gospels, and the Epistles.
There are a couple things that we learn. First, the author(s) of this document sees the letters of the Apostles and the Gospels as Scripture along with the Old Testament. Second, he (or they) consider the word of the Old Testament Law to be important, especially as it was used by Christ in the record of the Gospels. Third, this document follows the instruction of Christ and the Apostles.
These instructions for those who have already received life by grace alone and through faith alone are basic. They indicate the initial turning of the believer’s heart. These are the outward changes that are essentially made first in the believer’s life. It is instruction, here, for new believers and young local church bodies. These are first things. Let’s think about them together.
- Love the God who made you (from Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:37-39),
- Love your neighbor as yourself (from Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:37-39),
- All things you would not want done to you, do not do to another person (from Matthew 7:12, and present in Tobit 4:15 in this form),
- Bless those who curse you (from Luke 6:28, Matthew5:44),
- Pray for your enemies and fast for those who persecute you (from Luke 6:27-28, Matthew 5:44),
- Love those who hate you (from Luke 6:27, Matthew 5:44),
- Abstain from the desires of the flesh and of the body (from 1 Peter 2:11),
- If anyone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other cheek to him also (from Matthew 5:39, Luke 6:29),
- If anyone compels you do go one mile, go with him for two miles (Matthew 5:41),
- If anyone takes away your coat, give him your shirt also (from Matthew 5:40),
- If anyone takes away what is yours, do not demand its return (from Luke 6:30, Matthew 5:42), and
- To anyone who asks something of you, give it to him, and do not ask for it back (from Luke 6:30, Matthew 5:42).
These allusions to the Biblical text are out of order and are not exact quotations, which means the author(s) is writing from memory to new believers and young churches. The allusions are accurate to the instructions of Scripture. The only slight difference, here, is the use of the word fasting instead of prayer from Luke 6:27-28 and Matthew 5:44. It is not a misrepresentation of Scripture because fasting often accompanies prayer. In this way, the Didache also helps us to understand something that is slightly vague in the Biblical text. Serious prayer is accompanied by fasting. Fasting is a prayerful activity as understood by the early church and under apostolic authority and also a concept for new believers and young churches to understand and put into practice.
For the believer, these basic instructions are also accompanied by the promise of Scripture. Those who are serious about walking in the way of life will be perfect (from Matthew 5:48,19:21). This is the promise of sanctification for the one who has truly received life and who proves that life by bearing the fruit of life- beginning with this basic fruit.
What strikes me about what people refer to as Christianity today is that there are so many people who claim to be Christians who do not even bear this basic fruit, which are the first-fruits that come from the believer’s life according to the author(s) as he instructs new believers and young local churches. This means that many people who claim to be Christians do not walk in the way of life. This is, in large part, the fault of the church and her ‘pastors’ as much as it is the fault of the believer. We are mostly not interested in walking in the way of life but, instead, having an experience or being entertained or growing the number of attendees in our ‘worship’ services. These things distract us from becoming mature and complete- perfect creatures. The caveat is that if we are not being sanctified to perfection in the context of the local church body, we are not walking in the way of life but death. Many local churches are, then, it seems, walking in the way of death according to the author(s) of this document and leading many in the way of death. Our churches are in dire need of this spiritual milk, for we desire to move on to a more mature diet than merely these things.
The author(s) continues to simply teach what Jesus taught, this time looking to Matthew 5:25, 18:34, and Luke 12:58. There is also a possible allusion, here, to Ben-Sirach 4:31. A mark of a truly regenerate heart is generosity, both in a person’s offering and in his or her giving to those who are genuinely in need.
The author(s) condemns those who receive without having real need and encourages the discernment of the true believer. Even with discernment, the way of life is liberality in giving. It is a shame that most people who claim to be mature believers do not even bear this fruit- which is produced in the newly regenerate heart according to the author(s). This is what baby Christians and young churches are called to and how they are convicted to live in the depths of their souls. It is the immature fruit of the one who now walks in the way of life joyfully and willfully- and most “Christians” haven’t even matured into drinking this infant’s milk.