The Didache and Sola Scriptura


Okay, so the Didache’s not technically one of the Fathers. But I’ve decided to cover it in this series anyway for a few reasons:

  1. It’s the earliest Orthodox Christian writing we have that is not contained in the New Testament. It was written around AD 60, which means it actually predates much, if not most, of the writings contained in the New Testament.
  2. Because it predates so much of the New Testament, what we have here is a writing produced by a community by whom Sola Scriptura was not only not believed in, but for whom Sola Scriptura would have been impossible! (no Scriptura = no Sola Scriptura)
  3. Also because of its very early date, the Didache is a powerful witness to the early Church — the earliest Church in fact; the Church of the Apostolic Age — and is a powerful piece of evidence that the Faith of the Orthodox Church today is the exact same as that of Christians of those times.

The Didache has been known in an extended Ethiopic version, called the Didascalia for a very long time — it’s actually part of the extended New Testament canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. It was discovered in its Greek original, though, in 1873, in the library of an Orthodox monastery by the Orthodox Metropolitan of Nicomedia Philotheos Bryennios.

The Didache (Greek, meaning “teaching”) is a church order manual. Some of the early Fathers considered it Scriptural, but it was eventually excluded from the New Testament largely because it was unnecessary to include a manual of church order in Sacred Writ.

So let’s look at the Faith as it was believed and lived by the early Christians who lived even before Scripture, and compare it on a few points with the Faith of the Orthodox Church today.

On Baptism:

“But concerning baptism, thus shall ye baptize. Having first recited all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living [running] water. But if thou hast not living water, then baptize in other water; and if thou art not able in cold, then in warm. But if thou hast neither, then pour water on the head thrice in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let him that baptizeth and him that is baptized fast, and any others also who are able; and thou shalt order him that is baptized to fast a day or two before.” – Didache, 7:1-7

The early Christian practices of Baptism via triple immersion and fasting before Baptism are still preserved in the Orthodox Church today.

On fasting:

“And let not your fastings be with the hypocrites [Jews], for they fast on the second [Monday] and the fifth [Thursday] day of the week; but do ye keep your fast on the fourth [Wednesday] and on the preparation [the sixth — Friday] day.” – Didache, 8:1-2

The early Christian practice of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays is still preserved in the Orthodox Church today.

On the Eucharist:

“But let no one eat or drink of this eucharistic thanksgiving, but they that have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord hath said:Give not that which is holy to the dogs.” – Didache, 9:10-12

The early Christian practice of closed Communion (that is, Communion only for Baptized members of the Church) is still preserved in the Orthodox Church today.

As you can see, the Didache preserves for us a record of how the earliest Christians lived, Christians who lived even before the writings of the New Testament were put to pen and paper. Sola Scriptura would have been completely impossible for them — and yet they were a thriving Christian community and one whose Faith is still preserved and observed in the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church today, even in small details like triple immersion Baptism and fasting on Fridays. The community which produced the Didache was Apostolic in the most literal sense of the word and this document is a demonstration of the Apostolic nature of the Orthodox Church’s Holy Traditions — Traditions which may not be explicitly laid out in Scripture, in some cases, but which in many instances pre-date Scripture!

If you’d like to read the Didache for yourself and make your own comparisons with the various Christian groups today, you can check it out here.

Running tally:

Father Not Sola Scriptura Sola Scriptura
Didache
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52 comments

  1. “>> Problem is, if the church were to teach heresy like transubstantiation,”
    “> I think you're confusing “Real Presence” with “transubstantiation.””

    David, be careful not to confuse polemic with fact. There are three ways of expressing “Real Presense”:
    (1) Christ is present “Spiritually”, essentially, if you eat the “grape juice and crackers” Christ will be with you in your heart as you think of him.
    (2) Consubstantiation, essentially, Christ goes in and out of the bread and wine at his choosing.
    (3) Transubstantiation, essentially, Christ goes into the bread and wine by a validly ordanined priest and must be treated as Christ.

    I know the Orthodox position is the Eucharist is a mystery and resists definition, but as you know, definition only really happens if one is forced to by external pressures. If there were no external pressures, the Trinity, for instance, would still lack a formal definition. Those definitions have traditionally been defined by the whole of tradition. The Orthodox had no challenge on “Real Presense” so they kept it a mystery.

    So look at how the Orthodox would have defined it by looking at the practices that flow from each definition.

    A peace of the Eucharist falls on the floor. Do you:
    (1) Ignore it and don't care if anyone steps on it — leave it for the cleaners (Christ is present Spiritually)
    (2) Pick it up and avoid stepping on it (Consubstantiation)
    (3) Pick it up and avoid stepping on it (Transubstantiation)

    A peace of the Eucharist falls on the floor out of a sick person's mouth. Do you:
    (1) Leave it for the cleaners (Christ is present Spiritually)
    (2) Leave it for the cleaners (Consubstantiation)
    (3) Bury it reverently (Transubstantiation)
    (4) Eat it (Transubstantiation)

    (Hint, Orthodox canon law indicates (4) whereas Catholic canon law indicates (3)).

  2. Anil:

    This is quite an old post that you've dug up here!

    The problem with transubstantiation from an Orthodox perspective, in short, is that it relies upon the Aristotelian philosophical concepts of “substance,” “accidents,” etc. Even had the Orthodox view had to be defined, it is highly unlikely that any definition like the one offered by the Scholastics in the Roman Church would have been the Orthodox answer; the terminology just doesn't work from an Orthodox perspective. The additional problem is that transubstantiation, if the Eucharist is interpreted Christologically, is essentially Eucharistic Monophysitism; I believe that Vladimir Lossky briefly discusses this in his “Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church.”

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