Early Christian Writings: The Didache–Circa Late First Century AD (Chapters 1-4)

For the next few posts, I am going to share a more “reader-friendly” version of The Didache. It is one of the earliest Christian writings after the Apostolic period (i.e. the first century) that we possess, and it therefore gives us a glimpse into early Christianity–what was emphasized and taught–immediately after the Apostolic period came to a close.

The Didache
The Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations

Chapter 1: The Two Ways and the First Commandment
There are really only two ways in life: either the way of life or the way of death. And there is a tremendous difference between these two ways. The way of life is to be found in loving God, the one who made you, and in loving your neighbor as yourself, and not doing anything to someone that you would not want done to you.

So what does loving God and loving your neighbor look like? It means blessing those who curse you, praying for your enemies, and fasting for those who persecute you. After all, what reward is there is loving only those who love you? Don’t the Gentiles do the same thing? But if you love those who hate you, you soon will not have any enemies.

Loving God and loving your neighbor also means abstaining from fleshly and worldly lusts. It means, if someone hits you on your right cheek, turning to him your other one. It means if someone forces you to carry his things for a mile, going with him for two miles. It means if someone takes your cloak, giving him your coat as well. Do that, and you will become fully mature in Christ. So if someone takes something from you, don’t ask for it back—you can’t make him give it back anyway. You should instead give to anyone who asks you, and don’t ask for it back. It is the Father’s will that we give what we have been blessed with to everyone. The one who gives in this way, according to what the Father has commanded, will be truly happy, for he will be guiltless.

On the contrary, the one who receives will be held to greater scrutiny. Now, if someone receives because he is in need, he still is guiltless, but if someone receives, even though he doesn’t have a need, that person will pay the penalty for taking what he didn’t need. And when he is brought into confinement, everything he has done will be thoroughly examined, and he won’t be set free until he has paid back the last penny.

This is why that old saying is true: let your alms sweat in your hands, until you realize which person you should give your charity to.

Chapter 2. The Second Commandment: Grave Sin Forbidden
Loving God and loving your neighbor means a few more things. You must not commit murder or adultery. You must not have sex with children or commit fornication. You must not steal, or practice magic and witchcraft. You must not murder your child by abortion, or kill your child once it is born. You must not covet what belongs to your neighbor. You must not swear or bear false witness. In fact, you must not speak evil about anyone, or bear any grudge.

You must not be double-minded or double-tongued, saying one thing to one person and the exact opposite to another. If you are double-tongued, you will find yourself in the snare of death. Whatever you say must not be false or full of hot air. Instead, you should do whatever you say you’re going to do.

So don’t be covetous or greedy, and don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t be so readily inclined to do evil, and don’t be arrogant. Don’t accept any advice that will end up doing evil to your neighbor. Make it a point not to hate any man. Yes, some you will have to criticize and reprove, but you should pray for all of them. And some you are to love more than your own life.

Chapter 3: Other Sins Forbidden
And so, my child, run away from everything that is evil, even anything that looks like evil. And don’t be so quick to anger, for anger ultimately leads to murder. Don’t be jealous, or quarrelsome, or hot-tempered—indeed, all of these things eventually give birth to murder.

In addition, my child, don’t be one of those people who are driven by their lusts, for lust will lead to fornication. Don’t be a filthy-talker, and don’t be always looking for something better—for these types of things eventually give birth to adultery.

My child, don’t be someone who looks for omens, for practices like that leads to idolatry. For that matter, be sure not to be an enchanter, an astrologer, or someone who practices purifications for divinization. Don’t even look into such things, for all of these things eventually give birth to idolatry.

Don’t be not a liar, because lying ultimately leads to theft. Don’t lust after money or vain-glory, for these things eventually give birth to theft. Don’t murmur, for it ultimately leads to blasphemy. And don’t be self-willed or evil-minded, for these things also will lead to a wide range of blasphemies.

Instead, be meek, for it is the meek who will inherit the earth. Be willing to bear up under suffering for a long time. Be full of pity for people and don’t let even one trace of treachery be within you. Be gentle and good, and always keep in mind these words that you’ve heard. Do not exalt yourself, and don’t let yourself be overly-confident. You are not someone who should attempt to associate with the lofty ones of this world. Instead, you should spend your time with those in the world who are considered lowly and humble. Accept whatever happens to you as good, because you know that if it wasn’t for God, nothing would come to pass.

Chapter 4: Various Precepts
Always remember the one who speaks the word of God to you, and be sure to honor him as you honor the Lord, for the Lord is present wherever the lordly rule is proclaimed. In addition, be constantly seeking out fellow saints, so that you can find rest in their words. And don’t look for things that give you an excuse to cause division. Instead, do everything you can to get those who are in an argument to make peace.

Make sure you are righteous whenever you make a judgment, and pay no mind to who the person is if that person deserves to be confronted over some transgression. If something needs to be done, don’t hesitate to address it, no matter who the person is.

Don’t be one of those people who immediately stretches out their hands to get something, but then draws their hands back in when it is time to give something away. Whatever you have, you should give it away as a ransom for your sins. Don’t even hesitate to give, and certainly don’t complain about it, for you will soon know the one who will repay you for such service. So don’t turn away anyone who is in need. Instead, share everything with your brother, and don’t claim those things as your own. After all, if you share in those things that are immortal, why shouldn’t you share even more in regard to things that are mortal?

Don’t fail to discipline your son or daughter. Instead, teach them the fear of God when they are still young. And if you are angry about something, don’t take it out on your bondman or maidservant, who put their hope in the same God. If you do, they will come to fear you, and not God, who is over you both. For God comes and calls people whom the Spirit has prepared, and He doesn’t call someone based on outward appearances. Therefore, your servants should be subject to those who are over you too, in modesty and respect.

You should hate every kind of hypocrisy, and everything that is not pleasing to the Lord. Don’t forsake the commandments of the Lord. Instead, keep what you’ve received close to your heart, and don’t add or take anything away from it. Whenever you are in the church, you should acknowledge any transgressions you might have done, so that you don’t come near for prayer with an evil conscience.

All of what I’ve just told you—this is the way of life.

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