Summary: The Didache and the Apostles' Creed are two important documents from the early church and helpful in our understanding how early Christians understood and practiced their faith.
Church History: Examining the Creeds and Confessions of the Church Through the Ages and Why They Matter.
Lesson 3: Creeds and Confessions of the Early Church - From the Didache to the Apostles’ Creed
So far, in our study of church history we have seen an overview of the past 2,000 years of history and we have examined creeds which are found within the Bible itself demonstrating that having creeds and confessions of faith is not improper, but rather is a positive way of establishing our doctrinal positions.
Tonight we are going to focus on two important doctrinal works from the early church.
The early church is sometimes a broad term, so I want to say we are narrowing our focus to the 1st and 2nd centuries.
There are many works which were written early in the history of the church that, while not part of the Bible, are still very valuable.
These writings are part of what is normally referred to as “The Early Church Fathers”
Two of the writings which I would like us to focus on are the Didache and the Apostles Creed.
These two documents are normally considered to be well within the age of the early church fathers.
Though there is not certainty about the original authors of either work, they were circulating within the church very early in its history.
I want to remind everyone that these are not Scripture, nor do they carry the same authority as the Scripture.
They are, however, very helpful insights into the lives and behaviors of our christian forefathers.
They also bear the marks of Creeds and Confessions of Faith which we are focusing on in this course. (This is ultimately why we are focusing on these as opposed to the Epistles of Clement or some other early church writing).
The word Didache comes from the Greek word for teaching (when we talk about ‘Didactic Literature’ we are discussing teaching books).
The Didache is also called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”
It was written around AD 65-80.
It is believed by some to be the what the Apostles taught to the gentiles concerning the Christian faith.
There is debate as to its authenticity, but it is potentially cited in Eusebius and Athanasius in the third and fourth centuries, which would add to its credibility.
If nothing else, it is a source of guidance to help us understand the conduct and behavior of the early Christian church.
It is obvious that major portions of the Didache are simply quotes from Christ and other Scriptural texts.
Consider the first chapter of the Didache as compared to the Sermon on the Mount.
Chapter 1. The Two Ways and the First Commandment. There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you. And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy. Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If someone strikes your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect. If someone impresses you for one mile, go with him two. If someone takes your cloak, give him also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, ask it not back, for indeed you are not able. Give to every one who asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts). Happy is he who gives according to the commandment, for he is guiltless. Woe to him who receives; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless; but he who receives not having need shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what. And coming into confinement, he shall be examined concerning the things which he has done, and he shall not escape from there until he pays back the last penny. And also concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give.
Obviously there are some major variations within this text and the Scripture (such as having our “alms sweat in our hands”) but we can see the basis of Christ’s commands which undergird these teachings.
The Didache is 16 chapters and can be broken into four categories.