The Teaching of the Twelve: Chapter 1

Twelve-3DSMI’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 don’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 there’s a growing consensus that it’s earlier than that. I date it between 50 and 70 CE, contemporaneous with Paul’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 – 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.


  1. says

    Adam, I look forward to hearing more. There as been alot of research recently, that is sketching an image of two streams of faith practice, that by James, and Paul. It is interesting that Paul’s christianity was started outside its origins. That Paul likely had no contact with the disciples until four years after his spiritual experience. It’s no secret James and Paul did not see eye to eye. That Acts wasn’t written until after both were dead, and whose authorship is still unclear might served as a document to merge the the two streams. Paul’s faith practice certainly applealed to a broader audience, and certainly caught the imagination of Rome. This may be the first incident where the megachurch swallowed up a small traditional church. Will these recent findings change things, likely not…but historically these findings are important if we are to truly understand the family story.

  2. The Didache says

    “There are two ways: one of life and one of death! And there is a great difference between the two ways.” (1:1)

    “The way of death…is this: first of all, it is evil and full of accursedness: murders, adulteries, lusts, illicit sexual acts, thefts, idolatries, magic, potions, sorceries, perjuries, hypocrisies, double-heartedness, trickery, arrogance, malice, self-pleasing, greed, foul-speech, jealousy, audacity, haughtiness, false-pretension….” (5:1)

    The apostle-prophet was a figure of authority in the author’s community:

    “And concerning the apostle-prophets,…act thus: going out, let the apostle take nothing except a loaf that he or she needs to tide him or her over until he or she might lodge in another courtyard; if, on the other hand, he or she should ask for silver, he or she is a false prophet” (11:4-6)

    And finally, the real kicker. How does Jones get off saying this text doesn’t mention authority figures in the church when it says this?

    “Appoint, then, for yourselves, bishops and deacons (ἐπισκόπους καὶ διακόνους) worthy of the Lord, men gentle and not money-loving and truthful and tested; for to you they likewise serve the unpaid public service of the prophet-teachers. Do not, then, look down upon them; for they themselves are your honored ones with the prophet-teachers” (15:1-2).

  3. says

    “the Didache records a Christianity seemingly unfamiliar with the theology and writings of the Apostle Paul” (1).

    No wonder you love it.

    “It is interesting that Paul’s christianity was started outside its origins.”

    Let’s see…… is that the Paul who was taken to the third heaven, who conversed with Christ personally? The problem is YOUR christianity was started outside of both the Spirit and the Word.

    2Peter 3:15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,
    16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
    17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.

    Peter warned us of those like you and Jones

    Adam, I am so hurt that you dropped me off your friend’s list on FB. It only took two months for me to notice it. :)

  4. says

    Chris P.,

    I’m not entirely sure if you’re being serious or not, so I offer two replies:

    In the event that you’re joking: Funny!

    In the event that you’re not joking: Obviously this is a larger debate about Biblical inspiration and interpretation (if you believe in Biblical Inspiration a la James Gray’s The Fundamentals, then I should preface that we’re just going to fundamentally disagree), but is the fact that Paul conversed with Jesus supposed to give his writings more credibility? By that logic, Pontius Pilate, Judas, and, you know, the DEVIL (Luke 4:3) all hold equal credibility to that of Paul.

    Also, how exactly is the faith of Adam and Tony outside of the “Spirit?” If I approached the Bible from a literalist standpoint, then I can kind of understand being outside the Word (although that depends on which word you’re reading, and Jesus himself doesn’t actually say anything about the New Testament scriptures given that, you know, they weren’t written yet), but the Spirit? I’m not sure where your claim is there…

    Adam – interesting stuff. A group of us here in Divinity school were talking about the Didache the other day, and I brought up your post.

    Also, Adam: we’re still waiting for your Church is Alive video, good sir!


    • says

      Jack – well, Chris P. isn’t joking….we actually have a long history together on You can just search for Chris P. (like here) and see a lot of his comments.

      Just as I’m sure he’d say the same about me, there isn’t much you say to argue with Chris and folks like him – unless you want to quote large chunks of scripture out of context.

      Glad you found this post interesting….did I tell you I was making a Church is Alive video? Shoot…well, I’ll have to get on that.

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