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The Ethical Teachings of the Didache

We have been talking about the Didache on the blog, and it occurred to me that it might be useful to post part of its text, so readers can see what we’re talking about.  The book has several discrete parts: it begins with a discussion of the “two ways” – one that leads to life and one to death.  This is a set of ethical instructions for Christians.  As you’ll see, the author appears to have taken materials from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and various other passages chiefly from Matthew and Luke; but he cites other ethical injunctions (some of them unusual) from other, unknown sources.

After the “two ways” comes a set of instructions about church life and ritual – for example, how to baptize and what prayers to say at the eucharist meal.  At the end comes a one-chapter “apocalyptic discourse” describing what will happen at the end of time.

Here is the opening discussion of the two ways; it is my own translation, which, in a later version, appeared in my edition of the Apostolic Fathers in the Loeb Classical Library, with Harvard University Press.

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Is the Didache One Document or Three?
What Is the Didache?

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Comments

  1. Xeronimo74  December 21, 2017

    ” If anyone seizes what is yours, do not ask for it back, for you will not be able to get it.” > so one should simply accept to be a victim and to let oneself be abused?

  2. Xeronimo74  December 21, 2017

    “Welcome whatever happens to you as good, knowing that nothing occurs apart from God.” > have they ever said this to a child that has been raped and abused?

  3. Xeronimo74  December 21, 2017

    “And you who are slaves must be subject to your masters as to a replica of God, with respect and referential fear.” > it is interesting that they consider keeping other human beings as slaves is compatible with ‘the way of life’ and that they tell the slaves to obey their masters …

    • godspell  December 24, 2017

      You do realize the alternative to obeying your master was a horrible death, right? I mean, I would have thought everybody saw Spartacus on TV, one time or another. Crucifixion wasn’t reserved for Christians.

      Slaves made up a large part of early Christianity–clearly they got something out of it, even if you don’t. The same thing, interestingly, happened with American slaves.

      To have openly taught rebellion would have meant far more severe repression for the cult. To have written down instructions to the effect that slavery was illegitimate would have brought down horrendous reprisals. Pagan skeptical Rome had zero problems with slavery–it was considered to be a natural and permanent part of society.

      Under Christianity, it began to be questioned–by slave owners who converted–and by slaves.

      “Among us there is neither slave nor free.”

      You get it? They were slaves everywhere–always–except with other Christians. Who treated them as humans.

  4. jbskq5  December 21, 2017

    Thank you Dr. Ehrman. I spent some time yesterday trying to find a reproduction of the Didache online, so I’m glad you were able to post part of it here!

    I love the teaching about letting your gift to charity sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give it. Does this teaching go back to another Christian source or is it original to the best of your knowledge?

  5. godspell  December 21, 2017

    I see clear parallels in what we’re told about Jesus’ teachings in the synoptics, but I don’t see much of a parallel in terms of the phrasing. I would think, in terms of the Garrow argument, phrasing would be crucial, since it’s not hard to believe that two Christians such as Matthew and Luke would know the basic teachings of their religion without any text to refer to.

    Also, don’t we find this same emphasis on the way of righteousness leading to life and lack thereof leading to death in Proverbs 12:28? Which predates all Christian texts by some centuries. Jesus was one of history’s originals, but nobody’s 100% original.

  6. flshrP  December 21, 2017

    So the Didache is loaded with an abundance of common sense ethical teachings. Well and good. But many of these are also found in the ethical teachings of the pagan philosophers.

    It also teaches against sorcery and incantations, which implies that these practices were common enough among first and second century Christians to warrant that prohibition. And these practices continue among some Christians to this day.

    And, regrettably, the Didache acknowledges the practice of slavery and indentured servitude among the early Christians but does not include any prohibitions against these practices. But why should it since both the old and new testaments also tacitly accept these immoral practices, including Jesus himself.

    I don’t see any ethical progress in the Didache. Perhaps I am expecting too much from a first century document.

    • godspell  December 23, 2017

      Nobody even began to question slavery in that time period. But it was under Christianity that it began to be questioned in the western world. That was progress. But ultimately, when people stood to profit from slavery, they tended to support it, regardless of what teachings they embraced, and that’s often still true.

      The Didache seems to be a bit like “The Idiot’s Guide to being a Christian” so yeah, probably you are expecting a bit much. The Sermon on the Mount would strike me was a better reference point.

  7. Eric  December 21, 2017

    You may get to this, but this seems (so far) to have a rather “low” Christology.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2017

      I suppose one would say the same thing about the Sermon on the Mount.

      • llamensdor  December 26, 2017

        Few people seem to understand the why and wherefore of the Sermon on the Mount. It is not an isolated event proposing a new level of ethics in a vacuum. Jesus had a specific purpose and program, but that has been lost in the mists of history. Vanderbilt Prof.Ami-Jill Levine wrote a book about Jesus as “A Misunderstood Jew,” and she is more right than she knew.

  8. ddorner  December 21, 2017

    I realize theology isn’t really the focus of the Didache, but is the “way of life” referring to being in a right standing with God come the end of time? So salvation, as it were, is achieved by “good works?”

    Versus, say, a modern Evangelical Christian who would say faith and faith alone is all that’s needed for salvation.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2017

      Yes, it’s a good question. The Didache never lays out a soteriology.

  9. RonaldTaska  December 21, 2017

    “Do not abort a fetus” is interesting and surprising. I did not realize that there was anything in ancient Christianity about abortion. I need to read some about how abortions were done during the first century and how frequent they were. Are there any other references in early Christianity about abortion?

  10. RonaldTaska  December 21, 2017

    I was also surprised by the reference to “pederasty.” Interesting!

  11. talmoore
    talmoore  December 21, 2017

    Okay, I think I’ve almost figured out what happened here, Dr. Ehrman.

    There were two “teachings” originally disseminated by the Jerusalem Church. The first (and earliest) was the so-called Gospel, or Good News preaching. This “good news” (b’sorah tovah in Hebrew) had its origins all the way back in John the Baptist’s preaching of the impending advent of the messianic age and the need for every Jew to get right with God before it’s too late. After John was arrested and presumably executed, the good news had to be revised. Now the good news was that the Messiah had arrived, in the form of Jesus the Nazarene (a nazarene being a follower of John). But then Jesus was also arrested and executed. So what was the good news now? Well, the good news was that Jesus rose from the dead, as the “firstfruits” of the coming Mass Resurrection before the messianic age. Great, that’s wonderful news. But weeks, months, years passed, and no Second Coming. So what was the good news going to be now? Clearly, the good news is that Diaspora Jews and even Gentiles can be saved from hellfire and have a part in the coming messianic age. All the Diaspora Jews and Gentiles need to be informed of this, so the good news now became the mission to the Diaspora Jews and Gentiles, as typified by Peter and Paul, respectively.

    As we can see, the so-called good news was continually being revised to rationalize the thwarting of expectations. A revised form of the “gospel” eventually became what we find in Mark: a story of how the once-and-future Messiah came in the form of the man Jesus to foster a movement of Jews whose mission it was to spread this news throughout the Jewish and Gentile world. And that’s it. Little if nothing about communal rules and ethics. Little if nothing about organizational hierachies and roles. And only an opening summary about the original purpose of John’s baptism, which was to prepare Jews for the imminent arrival of the messianic age, within months, if not weeks or days. But Mark does capture what it was supposed to capture, the essence of the gospel message as it was preached to diaspora Jews and Gentiles.

    But now the Jerusalem Church had a problem. Their movement was, indeed, growing. And they were suddenly becoming saddled with issues of communal rules and ethics, organizational heirachies and roles, etc. Everyone needed to get on the same page. So what did the Jerusalem Church do? They created a document, probably in Aramaic, that set to lay out what the “elders” of the Jerusalem Church ruled was the fundamental ethical, communal and eschatological tenets of the movement. And this document was to be disseminated to other churches via “apostles” who were busy spreading the gospel. (We get a frustrating glimpse into how this may have happened in Acts 15.)

    They probably started out with a short list of the required commandments that even Gentiles must follow — what later Rabbis would eventually formulate into the Noahide Laws.
    ~ Worship no other gods but God, and God alone — Q: “It is written, ‘You shall reverence the lord your God and serve him alone.'” Didache: “You will love the God that made you.”
    ~ Avoid idolatry — Q: “No one can serve two masters.” Didache 5, 6 “abstain by all means from meat sacrificed to idols”
    ~ Avoid sexual perversions and adultery
    ~ Do not murder or steal
    ~ Do not curse — Q: “bless those who curse you.” Didache 1, 5

    Next they laid out ethical rules.
    ~ The love commandment — “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
    ~ Be generous and welcoming; give to the poor (everything, if necessary)
    ~ Avoid conflict and ill-will
    ~ Do not lie or make false oaths
    ~ Treat all Christians the same, Jew or Gentile
    ~ Do not be envious or jealous
    ~ Do not judge
    ~ “Turn the other cheek” etc.
    ~ Don’t be like the hypocrites — Q: diatribe against the Pharisees
    ~ Egalitarianism

    Two ways: Luke 13; Didache 1

    They also included advice on ritual:
    ~The Lord’s Prayer
    ~ Eucharist blessings and the communal meal
    ~ Luke 12:8-12

    And lastly, they laid out the basically eschatological paradigm:
    ~ Luke 12; 17:23-37; etc. Didache 16

    Now, I’m saying that Q and the Didache are word-for-word, copy-and-paste from the Jerusalem source. I’m merely suggesting that it was the initial source for the “teachings” on these topics (ethics, morals, rules, etc.) that we eventually find within the Q tradition and the Didache. The fact that skeletal remains of these rules can be found in such greatly altered and extended form in Q and the Didache speaks of how far they are each removed from the original source. And some of these teachings may very well go back to Jesus somehow, but I highly doubt that the historical Jesus made extended colloquies on avoiding idolatry to a group of already zealous Galilean Jews. Obviously, this was a result of the Jerusalem church admonishing Diaspora Jews and Gentiles. For the most part, this source was almost entirely the product of the so-called “pillars” of the Jerusalem church, which means that our received documents (Q, Didache, possibly Gospel of Thomas) find their origins in this source from the Jerusalem church.

    Eventually, however, this source became conflated with the teachings of Jesus himself, and the later Sitz im Leben was created around Q to canonize this belief.

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  12. anthonygale  December 21, 2017

    Is there compelling reason to believe whoever wrote this necessarily used Matthew and Luke? As opposed to other ovelaping sources. Perhaps sources that Matthew and Luke used? Even Q?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2017

      It’s a debated issue. My sense is that most experts have concluded that the author used Matthew and Luke.

      • AGarrow  January 1, 2018

        Hi Bart, I think your sense of where expert opinion lies on the relationship between Matthew and Luke and the Didache is out of date.
        In his seminal work of 1957 Helmut Koester noticed that it is really quite difficult to see how Matthew or Luke could have been used by the Didache. He, and the majority of present specialists, favour the idea that all these texts shared common source(s). However, after encountering my book on the Matthew’s dependence on the Didache, Koester, very generously, wrote the following comment: ‘What I did not dare to do fifty years ago, Garrow accomplishes in this book, namely to ask the question: Why could Matthew not be dependent upon the Didache – in whatever form it existed at the time? This is a great and fruitful question.’ More recently Jonathan Draper, probably the leading international authority on the Didache, has taken the further step of identifying with my position. In Paul Foster’s *The Writings of the Apostolic Father* (T&TClark, 2007) p. 15, he writes: ‘the watershed study of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers undertaken by Helmut Koester cast doubt on the dependence of the *Didache* on Matthew’s Gospel. While the debate over the relationship between the two writings has still not been settled, … some, myself included, would argue contrariwise for a dependence of Matthew on the *Didache*’. This is not to suggest that there are not still those who defend the idea that Matthew and Luke presupposed the existence of the Didache. Chris Tuckett published a careful defence of this view in 1989. This has, however, drawn direct criticism from Andrew Gregory, Willy Rordorf, Steve Young and myself because his conclusions are not supported by the evidence he marshals.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 2, 2018

          Yes, as you might imagine, I know Koester’s views well. I’m trying to get his Synoptische Überlieferung bei den apostolischen Vätern translated into English for the series NTTSD that Eldon Epp and I edit for Brill (Eldon was his student back in the day). But as you also know, his position never did become the majority view, even though he held it to the end. I’m actually ambivalent on whether the Didache actually had a text of Matthew and Luke in front of him. But I’ll also say that “majority opinion” debates — at our level at least — aren’t worth a whole lot. One might think about what the majority says about the Didache as a source for the Synoptics, e.g., 🙂

          • AGarrow  January 2, 2018

            In 2003 in Tilburg, Netherlands, there was an international conference on the Didache at which virtually all the active specialists were present. There was a poll on the question of the relationship between Matthew and the Didache. Six judged that the Didache knew Matthew. Sixteen judged that the Didache has created without any dependence on Matthew (and one said that Matthew used the Didache – you might be able to guess who that was!).
            I quite agree that ‘majority opinion’ is often flawed!
            I raise the question only because, in a comment above, you say: “My sense is that most experts have concluded that the author used Matthew and Luke.”
            In reality, rather little attention has been given to the relationship between Luke and the Didache. The best book on this subject is Andrew Gregory’s very thorough, *The Reception of Luke in the Second Century*. Here Gregory concludes that there is no specific evidence that the Didache knew Luke.
            Some scholars have, in the past, claimed that Matthew knew (or presupposed) the Didache – but expert support for this view has, if anything, continued to dwindle since the Tilburg poll back in 2003.
            I wish you every success with an English edition of Koester’s, Synoptische Überlieferung – a book that certainly deserves a wider readership.

  13. Tony  December 21, 2017

    I re-read the Didache and there is little doubt in my mind that this church is Pauline and not Petrine, likely precedes the Gospels, and that “the Lord” of the Didache is the celestial Son of God who has never been on earth. Here is why:

    • The title line, “The teaching of the Lord through the twelve apostles to the Gentiles”, uses the Pauline “apostles” (messengers) and not the later, gospel invented, “disciples” (followers);

    • Nowhere in the document is their any mention, or indication, of a Jesus of Nazareth who had an earthly ministry and was crucified in Jerusalem. The Lord had obviously issued commandments, but likely only through revelations to apostles;

    • The Didache Eucharist procedure is a straightforward adaptation of 1 Cor 11: 23-33 as per Paul’s revelation. There is no mention of a Jerusalem last supper;

    • The prayer commanded by the Lord in 8:2-3 could easily have been the source of the later Gospel Lord’s Prayer version;

    • The Lord imminent coming as described in 16:6-8 is an adaptation of 1 Thess 4:13-17. Notice that the Lord will will COME, and the world will see the Lord COMING on the clouds in the sky… This Lord is definitely not “returning”.

  14. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  December 21, 2017

    I’m surprised to see something from that era mention abortion. Was that an issue in the early church and is mentioning abortion an accurate translation from the Greek?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2017

      I hope it’s an accurate translation, since it’s mine! The Greek literally says: “Do not murder a child who is in corruption” That means, a child who is still not completely formed. That it is referring to an unborn child is clear from what is said next “Nor kill a child once it *has* been born”

      • tompicard
        tompicard  December 24, 2017

        How can translators avoid inserting their personal 21st century liberal/enlightened American views in their work? Is it actually impossible not to?

        For example, if the literal is “Do not murder a child who is in corruption”, why did you translate as “do not abort a fetus”, rather than the more natural “do not murder an unborn child” ?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 26, 2017

          I had to read your comment about five times before I understood it. I’ve never thought that saying “abortion” or “fetus” reflected a liberal bias!!

          • llamensdor  December 26, 2017

            tompicard is right. Liberals use “fetus” because they don’t wish to acknowledge that it is actually a “child’ whose life is being terminated. I’m surprised you’re not aware of this.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 27, 2017

            Really? I’ve never been aware of using ideology to define terms. I like dictionaries! Every dictionary I know defines a fetus as an unborn child. It’s an old word that comes to us from Middle English — so it’s not an invention of modern liberals!

  15. PeteSammataro  December 22, 2017

    Prof Ehrman,
    Your translation includes the phrase “slaves must be subject to (their) masters as to a replica of God…. ” Is this a tacit endorsement of slavery, or have I read too much into it?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2017

      Yes it is!

      • essamtony  December 24, 2017

        Many have seized on the idea that the Didache (like the New Testament) does not speak up against slavery and/or tacitly approves of it. The word slavery evokes in their minds images of people being whipped as they crumble under the weight of heavy cargo they are made to carry. Slaves in the first century were not the lowest class. If you were a slave, you had a home to go it, a roof over your head, and food. You were much better than many millions who lived in the Roman Empire. If you were an educated slave (any many were), you worked as a scribe or a teacher for the children of your lord. A slave in the first century, in my opinion, is the equivalent of an employee in the 21st century.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 26, 2017

          It really depended on what kind of slave you were. A managerial slave in Caesar’s household or, e.g., a slave in the salt mines. Huge difference. You may want to see my friend Dale Martin’s book Slavery as Salvation.

      • godspell  December 24, 2017

        Probably one reason why the Didache was put aside and forgotten for centuries.

        The faction that wanted no slavery won–though the war never ends.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 26, 2017

          I’m afraid we don’t know of factions in the ancient world who objected to slavery on principle.

          • llamensdor  December 26, 2017

            Under Jewish law, a slave had to be freed after 7 years. I don’t know if this rule was enforced, but it certainly implies that slavery was not a favorable or favored status. It made slavery seem more like indentured labor–not the best of all worlds, either.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 27, 2017

            There aren’t any ancient Jewish texts that oppose the institution of slavery; the rules are all about how to operate well *within* that system.

          • godspell  December 26, 2017

            We know that in Christian communities of that time, slaves were often members, and were treated the same as free people. “Among us there is neither slave nor free.” Because in the Kingdom, of course, slavery would no longer exist.

            The question then was how to deal with slavery in the world of earthly kings, since God was taking his own sweet time sending the Son of Man to put an end to all that. Many Christians were wealthy enough to own slaves–there were barbarians who owned slaves as well, who might be converted–and if Christianity had become an abolitionist movement–after Spartacus? Hardly bears thinking about.

            My point was not that ancient Christians were trying to abolish slavery. There was obviously a dialogue about how to deal with this issue. Jesus had wanted all people to be equal. He had treated slaves as if they had the same rights as everyone else. He’d also treated women as equals–that didn’t change the realities of gender politics in the ancient world, anymore than it does now. But it did create a goal to be aspired to.

            Ancient slavery didn’t dehumanize slaves to the same extent racially based American chattel slavery did–because Americans believed all men were created equal–therefore they had to somehow remove the manhood and womanhood of slaves in order to justify that very profitable institution. The Romans, who never aspired to equality, didn’t have this problem. Anyone could be a slave, though some were treated far more brutally than others.

            I was suggesting that the Didache represented a segment of Christian thought at a transitional moment–still waiting for the Kingdom, which would, inevitably, make the question of slavery irrelevant–but also trying to lay the groundwork for a stable religious institution, which would have to respect other more deeply rooted institutions of that society–such as slavery.

            To urge the slaves to act as if they were not slaves–that would be tantamount to murdering them. Rebellion had been tried. Rebellion had monumentally failed, leading to a mass crucifixion compared to which the execution of Jesus and perhaps a few other minor criminals hardly even bears mentioning (and yet, look which led to more substantial results over time).

            Perhaps one reason why the Didache was forgotten for so long was because the ideas in it were extremely dated within a relatively short period of time. Slavery, in the Roman sense, died out. (Replaced by institutions like serfdom, which were oppressive, but in most ways preferable).

            Please note–and I’ve seen no one mention it–several early Popes were reportedly former slaves.
            Pope Clement I (92–99), Pope Pius I (158–167) and Pope Callixtus I (217–222). While nobody knows for sure that this is true, the mere fact that it became part of their legends would suggest a strong sympathy for slaves in early Christianity.

  16. fishician  December 22, 2017

    “do not abort a fetus or kill a child that is born.” The NT does not directly address abortion but it seems the Didache does. Are “abort” and “fetus” precise translations from the Greek, or is this an approximation of what the Greek means?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2017

      The Greek literally says: “Do not murder a child who is in corruption” That means, a child who is still not completely formed. That it is referring to an unborn child is clear from what is said next “Nor kill a child once it *has* been born”

    • godspell  December 26, 2017

      There was a long debate about how to deal with abortion in Christianity. Many different opinions, many learned debates, but almost nobody believed committing an abortion was the same thing as murdering a born person.

      Early legal ideas are a lot stranger and more involved than people realize. There were ritual executions of farm animals who committed ‘crimes’. People were constantly trying to figure out what was right, what was wrong, who had a soul, who was responsible for their actions, who was not.

      I’m not sure we’ve made all that much progress.

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      • Bart
        Bart  December 27, 2017

        I’m not aware of any early Christian debates over abortion — other than Christians saying it should be done, in contrast to “pagans” who allegedly did it at will.

        • godspell  December 27, 2017

          I think we’re running into problems over the use of the word ‘early.’

          That can happen with a two millennia old religion.

          It’s a bit pointless, perhaps, discussing the social policies of an institution that has no power to impose its views on anyone, and is still waiting for God to do that.

          A few centuries later, there were vigorous debates about when the soul entered the fetus, and almost nobody thought it was at conception.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 28, 2017

            I’m referring to Christianity in the first four centuries (that’s usually the period “early” refers to for Xty).

  17. ardeare  December 22, 2017

    5:14 “Confess your unlawful acts in church, and do not come to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life.” On another blog I’m somewhat active on, there is much debate concerning whether one should confess their sins to church leadership or to God in prayer. Do you consider the weight of this matter to be of a personal nature or does the Didache conform with early Christian teachings that confessions should be orally spoken to church leadership as a way of releasing oneself from a guilty conscience? It strikes me as a blurry line between theology and history. In essence, I’m asking if public confessions were part of our earliest known Christian teachings.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2017

      The Didache appears to be imagining a person confessing sins committed to the congregation as a whole, in the context of a worship service.

      • Gabe  December 23, 2017

        Gosh, wouldn’t that be awkward? “I confess that I had impure thoughts about Jenny over there…” Hopefully Jenny doesn’t fancy the guy, or else we might have a future scandal on our hands!

        This would seem to parallel with James 5:16. That said, James 5:16 is debated hotly (and I imagine the Didache would be too) in some circles and might not mean what we all assume it means, that is; spill your guts and dirty laundry out in front of a bunch of church people! Hah! That could NEVER go wrong, could it? 🙂

        • Bart
          Bart  December 26, 2017

          Yeah, it could definitely lead to some embarassing moments

          • Duke12  December 27, 2017

            This is why confession before the entire church evolved to confession before someone representing the church, i.e. the elder (Presbyter/Priest) — at least this is what is taught in Orthodox Christian catechism classes. I don’t have a direct reference to a source off hand. BTW, in the Orthodox Church there is no confessional box — but confession is otherwise still handled discreetly.

      • essamtony  December 24, 2017

        This was the ancient practice of confessing your sins before the congregation. It is mentioned for example in the Coptic texts describing the repentance of Moses the Black who became the great monk.

        • Gabe  December 27, 2017

          No doubt, but as far as I know, they operated primarily with the idea that sin was an action. Today, much of fundamentalist Christianity seems to conflate thoughts, temptation, and sin. So many end up feeling like a moral failure due to the impulses themselves, regardless of what they do with them. Needless to say, I reject that way of thinking.

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  December 27, 2017

          Back in my Pentecostal days, there was a man in my church who told another member he was sleeping with his girlfriend and had no intentions of stopping his behavior. Of course, his friend told the pastor—because it was his duty to report these things—and the pastor made him confess it in front of the congregation. I remember thinking how embarrassing it must be for him, and it really wasn’t any of our business. Plus, the man was in his mid 40s and had never really dated. Even then I thought the poor guy should be cut some slack considering how long it took him to get a girlfriend. What really gets me (rant alert!) is that his girlfriend, who later became his wife, called me out on cutting my hair. My hair-cutting incident was way more scandalous than their fornication series if that says anything about how sins were ranked.

  18. J.MarkWorth
    J.MarkWorth  December 22, 2017

    The Didache is, I understand, one of the books that was considered for inclusion in the New Testament by the orthodox, but ultimately it was rejected. The Didache specifically states “do not abort a fetus or kill a child that is born.” That’s a clear statement. But the books that did become part of the biblical canon do not specifically mention or describe abortion. Am I correct in saying that?

    My aside: It seems odd that many people claim that the Bible has a clear doctrine on abortion, even though the Bible never uses the word “abortion” or any ancient equivalent, and never specifically describes abortion. I don’t see how the Bible can have a clear doctrine on a topic it never mentions.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2017

      Yes, that’s right.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  December 23, 2017

      Abortion is alluded to at least once in the Bible, but in that case it was not only not condemned but sanctioned. I speak of the so-called Ordeal of Bitter Water at Numbers 5:11ff, where a wife suspected of adultery is given a bitter concoction by a priest, and if the fetus is miscarried (i.e. aborted) then she is guilty, but if not, she’s innocent.

    • essamtony  December 24, 2017

      The Didache was not “rejected”. In fact it was among the books recommended for the instruction of the catechumens in the fourth century.

      In his 39th Easter Festal letter (367), St Athanasius Archbishop of Alexandria (Episcopate 328-373) was the first to explicitly promulgate the exclusive list of the 27 books that make up the New Testament (NT) canon as well as a list very close to the Old Testament (OT) Protocanon. These books alone he called canonized. He also listed five more books from the OT era and two from the NT era which he said were not canonized, but were useful and to be read (anagignoskomena) for the instruction of the catechumens. They are the Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Joshua ben Sirach, canonical Esther, Judith and Tobias from the OT era, and the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas from the NT era.

      The 39th Paschal letter of Athanasius of Alexandria is the key official document that declares the canon, but probably the canon itself was defined earlier.

      • Bart
        Bart  December 26, 2017

        My first scholarly article, on Didymust the Blind, tried to show that even in Athanasius’s day, the canon had not been widely “fixed.” Didymus lived at the same time and the same location as Athanasius, yet had a few additional books in his canon.

    • Duke12  December 27, 2017

      It is realizations like this that lead some Evangelical believers to convert into Christian Churches that aren’t Sola Scriptura based: The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches both see the Bible as a subset (an extremely important one, mind you!) of a much larger tradition (including the decisions of the Church councils over the centuries). For instance, tell an Orthodox Christian that the concept of the Trinity is not found in the Bible, and their response might be: “and your point is …?”

  19. Steefen  December 22, 2017

    How did the disciple John, a son of Thunder, distinguish himself that Jesus would entrust his heart and his mother to him–and Mark, Matthew, and Luke did not mention this?

    What are a couple of great books on the disciple John that would supplement or extend your answer to this question?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2017

      Off hand I don’t know of any books just on John the Son of Zebedee. But it’s important to note: the Beloved Disciple is not identified as John the son of Zebedee in the Gospel of John (or anywhere else in the NT). If you want to read about who the Beloved Disciple might have been, I’d suggest looking at the commentary on John by Raymond Brown (in the Anchor Bible commentary series).

  20. dragonfly  December 23, 2017

    Completely off topic, are there other scholars who think Jesus probably didn’t have a decent burial?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2017

      The first to make a vigorous argument for this was Dominic Crossan

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  December 27, 2017

      In one of my obsessive thinking sessions about the truth of Jesus’ burial, I began to ponder our current events and the memories of the women who have described incidents of inappropriate conduct, some thirty years after the fact, and in great detail. Can their memories be relied upon? Are they truly remembering word-for-word conversations or have their minds recalled a gist memory instead? I suppose it depends on whether one believes if the human mind is capable of preserving an important memory with a high degree of accuracy.

      A thousand Dominic Crossans and, yet, one apostle Paul and four gospel writers…

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