I want to thank Paraclete Press for the opportunity to be part of this blog tour, and Carol Showalter for graciously working with me. Amy Moffitt as part of the tour has posted good, interesting thoughts from her perspective, and you will do well to take the time to read it, to get a fuller perspective around what I’m going to say.
I found this book, The Teaching of Twelve: Believing & Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community, by Tony Jones, to be an interesting, good read. Tony helps us understand the background and history of the Didache, the earliest Christian document we have aside from Scripture, along with the influence it is having today. I appreciated his fresh, clear translation of it.
I quote one passage from it to give you a sense of the writing:
2:7 Hate no one; correct some, pray for others, and some you should love more than your own life.
I believe this was the first time I’ve read the Didache. It’s interesting to note that it may have been written before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, and prior to the gospel of John, and the Revelation. And that this ancient document indicates no awareness of Paul’s writings. The document mirrors an ancient community’s struggle to understand and live out their new faith in Jesus, probably addressed to Gentile believers. As Amy points out, it was a time of upheaval in which the change coming was overturning old traditions, and threatening the status quo all the way around. This new faith, originally a sect of Judaism was in its developmental stages. For that alone, this book is worth a good read.
I believe the Didache has value in helping us see the context in which the New Testament was written. We can see something of the values and practice of an ancient Christian community existing during perhaps the midpoint time or earlier of which Acts writes about. This is valuable background for us, especially as we consider Christianity in its infant stages. And infant not just in not yet having the full message, but in getting at the roots of that message.
I found both the Didache and Tony’s take on it for both the past and the present fascinating. When one reads the Didache (which might be roughly as long as the book of Ecclesiastes) one encounters a number of Jesus’ sayings, and directions for the way of life as opposed to the way of death, as well as directions for Christian and church practice. It is not a dull read at all; in fact one will appreciate insights and want to ponder what is said.
Tony shares with us of a community of believers who call themselves the Cymbrogi, Celtic for “companions of the heart.” They meet regularly as they can and are trying to assimilate something of the Didache into their community values and living. In fact it seems to be a central part of their community in their attempt to live out something of what they view as a more original and therefore purer version of Christianity.
Like a book from Scripture, let’s say James, the Didache needs to be studied well on its own, as well as compared to other writings, in the case of James, with the rest of “the New Testament”. The Didache’s relative brevity, directness and plainness seem to give it a power to this community, unencumbered by the baggage churches and denominations often carry with them, especially in how church is perceived and practiced. They feel like they’re getting back more to the roots and therefore purity of the ancient faith.
This book can open up a good discussion on what value such an ancient document can and should have on church gatherings and believers today. The Didache is not a part of Scripture. Both Tony and the Cymbrogi community seem to put a high value on it as a possible guide for present-day faith and practice. I think it has merit as a most valuable resource of background for our reading and understanding of Scripture, and something of how Christianity was practiced in one community in its early stages.
As Amy points out, the book is a great buy here (and I appreciate the work of Paraclete Press, which has published some of my favorite books). One can ponder the meaning of this ancient text today for themselves, along with Tony. And please come along with us on the blog tour (scroll down a little to see that) as we continue both through the book, and final questions relevant to it.