I’m happy to be a part of the blog tour for Tony Jones’s new book, The Teaching of the Twelve: Believing & Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community. I have just a few comments on the first chapter, and you can also read some more comments on the first chapter by Thomas Turner of Everyday Liturgy (Tony shares some on the 1st chapter too here).
I think I fall in the category of persons who had heard a little about The Didache, but couldn’t tell you much more than the fact that it was an early document in the Christian church. If you want a quick primer, Tony provides this short description here:
If you donâ€™t know what the Didache is, it is an early Christian document, only rediscovered in 1873 in a dusty library in Nicomedia. At first, many considered it a forgery, but it was quickly determined to be authentic and attested in other ancient documents. Some scholars date it early 2nd century, but thereâ€™s a growing consensus that itâ€™s earlier than that. I date it between 50 and 70 CE, contemporaneous with Paulâ€™s letters and before the Gospels.
What I think I found most interesting was when Tony points out the information about the dating of the Didache. As Tony mentioned above, while there is currently still some debate on the issue, it’s most likely written around the time of the Gospels and as Tony mentions in the book, “the Didache records a Christianity seemingly unfamiliar with the theology and writings of the Apostle Paul” (1).
So many times when looking at Christian theology, some folks go straight to Paul (when I was in college, any theological question could be answered by someone going to Romans to see what Paul said). But what was it like to live in a pre-Pauline time? How did followers of the Way of Jesus make sense of their faith and their call to live in a kingdom way before Paul? Perhaps the Didache is one of the documents that can help give us a sense of what that kind of faith-filled life might have looked like.
Finally, I was also interested when Tony wrote that:
“…the Didache contains to mention of clergy or priesthood, nor does it grant bishops ecclesiastical authority, so it wouldn’t have been a very popular book for the burgeoning church hierarchy in the fourth and fifth centuries” (9).
In an age where many are saying we need to get rid of the clergy-laity divide, or at the very least, rethink what that relationship looks like in a flattened world, it will be interesting to see how the Didache handles questions about leadership and authority in the church â€“ or if it even does address any of those questions.
I think it’s great that Tony has taken the time to look into this very important and little book. And I think it will be interesting to read the other persons’s thoughts who are on this blog tour of Tony Jones’s The Teaching of the Twelve. I hope you will pick up a copy for yourself (they make great stocking stuffers!) and join in the conversation.