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The Scripture Principle in the Didache

The Didache, or “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” written around the turn of the second century, is one of our earliest non-canonical witnesses to post-Apostolic Christian faith and practice. It is refreshing in its simplicity, directness, and practicality.

In this post, we look briefly at the incipient theology of revelation that sits behind the author’s point of view. It is not unfolded systematically, but can be gathered indirectly from a few remarks, and is consistent with the canonical testimony.

In chapter 4, the author writes:  “My child, him that speaks to you the word of God remember night and day; and you shall honor him as the Lord.” Lest he be misunderstood, he immediately clarifies what he means: “for in the place whence lordly rule is uttered, there is the Lord.”

The initial remark, then, is not a comment about something intrinsic to “office”; it is, rather, an indication that the Word begets the Church,1 and is its primary mark: ὅθεν γὰρ ἡ κυριότης λαλεῖται, ἐκεῖ κύριός ἐστιν. Mark well the verbal emphasis here. The Lord’s presence is indicated by the speaking of the “lordly rule,” and it is around that speech–that Word–that the Church is gathered. The Church is the assembly that hears.

This perspective about the centrality of revelation is confirmed at the end of the chapter by the admonition to leave the commandments “whole,” neither adding to or subtracting from them: “Forsake in no way the commandments of the Lord; but you shall keep what you have received, neither adding thereto nor taking away therefrom.”

When teachers speak, therefore, they must speak in accordance with what has been said before–an utterly Pauline stance found already in Galatians 1. Thus Didache 11: “Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him.” The author presumes that his audience is capable of testing the teaching to which they are exposed by some other standard, namely, the standard of what they have already received (ταῦτα πάντα τὰ προειρημένα).

They are presumed to be not only capable, moreover, but responsible: “But if the teacher himself turn and teach another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not; but if he teach so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord.”2

 

  1. For a similar ordering in Irenaeus, cf. here, here, and here.
  2. Whether the author of the Didache recognized our canon in all its details is irrelevant to the point at hand; what counts for understanding his position is the principle of the relation between audience, man’s speech, and God’s speech, and the fact that there is a publicly accessible method of determining that relation that the assembly itself can employ.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

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