This study begins
by exploring the meaning of the DIDACHE against the
backdrop of the "spiritualization" of sacrifice
that was widespread as a Jewish response to the traditional
piety of offering animal sacrifices. In order to insure
a "pure sacrifice," the Didache community
was set up two distinct safeguards: no unbaptized
or unreconciled person was admitted (DIDACHE 9: 5)
and the confession of failings was to be held prior
to the eucharist on the Lord's Day (DIDACHE 14: 1).
These practices had the effect of enforcing the standards
of holiness cherished by the community members. No
one could keep coming week after week and repeatedly
confess the same failing. Thus, for a community out
of step with the rest of society, the confession of
failings served to recall both backsliders and forgetters
to the perfection (the Way of Life) to which they
were called at the time of their preparation for baptism.
The DIDACHE reveals
more about how Christians saw themselves and how they
operated on a day-to-day level than any other book
This study begins by exploring the meaning of the
DIDACHE against the backdrop of the "spiritualization"
of sacrifice that was widespread as a Jewish response
to the traditional piety of offering animal sacrifices.
To insure a "pure sacrifice," the DIDACHE
community was set up with two distinct safeguards:
no unbaptized or unreconciled person was admitted
(DIDACHE 9: 5), and the confession of failings was
to be held prior to the eucharist on the Lord's Day
(DIDACHE 14: 1). These practices had the effect of
enforcing the standards of holiness cherished by the
community members. No one could keep coming week after
week and repeatedly confess the same failing. Thus,
for a community out of step with the rest of society,
the confession of failings served to recall both backsliders
and forgetters to the perfection (the Way of Life)
to which they were called at the time of their preparation
for baptism in the Christian Scriptures. The DIDACHE
is not a gospel and, accordingly, it does not attempt
to offer guidance by narrating a life of Jesus. In
fact, it is older than the canonical Gospels and was
written in the generation following the death of Jesus
when the message of Jesus was not yet encapsulated
in stories about Jesus (Rordorf 1991; Milavec 2003:
695-738). Nor is the DIDACHE a letter like those of
Paul. In fact, the DIDACHE was created at the time
of Paul's mission to the gentiles but shows not the
slightest awareness of this mission or of the theology
that undergirded it.
The DIDACHE is an
anonymous document. Like so many books in the Christian
Scriptures, it didn't belong to or originate with
a single individual. It belonged to a community of
householders who had received a revealed Way of Life
transmitted by the Father through "his servant"
Jesus. The senior mentors of this community had formulated
the DIDACHE over a period of years based upon their
own successful pastoral practice (Milavec 2003: 70-97).
The DIDACHE represents
the first concerted attempt by householders (Crossan
1998: 363-73) to live the way of Jesus adapted to
the exigencies of family, of occupation, of home--the
very things that Jesus and his wandering apostles
had left behind (Theissen: 10-14). The senior members
of the community had formulated the DIDACHE over a
period of years based upon their own successful practice
initiating gentiles to become full participants in
their shared life. One overhears a candidate being
trained from scratch by a mentor who becomes his beloved
"father" or "mother." One witnesses
the fasting and the solemn rite of baptism, preferably,
by immersion in flowing water. One overhears the daily
prayers and the weekly eucharist-both of which are
sketched out in full detail. One learns how visiting
prophets were a blessing and a danger at the same
time (Milavec 1994b; 2003: 428-75). One comes to understand
how manual work, the sharing of resources, and the
cultivation of gratitude worked together to provide
an economic safety net in a world wherein crushing
poverty could easily overtake unprotected family businesses
(Milavec 1996b; 2003: 176-82). One learns how the
confession of failings, the correction of backsliders,
and the shunning of recalcitrant members worked to
maintain the community's standards of excellence among
a diversified group of individuals. Finally, one discovers
how a community poised on the threshold of the end
times could fashion its daily life sharing the same
passionate expectation of the Kingdom of God preached
by Jesus (Milavec 1992; 1995b; 2003: 324-30, 628-72).
All in all, therefore, the DIDACHE provides a comprehensive
and detailed schema used to train gentiles for full
and active inclusion within the DIDACHE communities
of the mid-first century.
In many ways, the
DIDACHE manifests a pioneering spirit. The offering
of first fruits, for example, represents a unique
rite of gratitude for the Lord's bounty that finds
no parallel in the whole of the Christian Scriptures.
In this essay, however, attention will be centered
upon two other pioneering domains:
First, the DIDACHE
offers the "oldest explicit instance of the understanding
of the Lord's Supper [eucharist] as a sacrifice"
(Niederwimmer 1998: 197). Furthermore, the DIDACHE
offers the first instance in which the eucharistic
meal was held weekly on a day honored as "the
day of the Lord." One has to wait until the writings
of Justin Martyr (150 CE) before one finds a second
instance of the eucharist being presented as a "sacrifice"
celebrated on Sunday mornings.
2. The DIDACHE also
discloses that, prior to each eucharistic meal, members
of the community would have "confessed in full"
(DIDACHE 4:14, 14:1) their failings and resolved any
interpersonal conflicts (DIDACHE 14:2). Nowhere in
the Christian Scriptures does one find any reference
to a public confession of failings in connection with
the eucharist. Historically speaking, therefore, the
DIDACHE provides the first instance wherein confession
and reconciliation were perceived as the necessary
conditions (in addition to baptism) for participation
in the weekly eucharist.
Within the context
of the early churches, therefore, the DIDACHE provides
the most primitive vision of how the confession of
failings and the notion of sacrifice came to be associated
with the eucharistic experience. The purpose of this
essay is to explore the character and implications
of this groundbreaking vision.
Confession of Failings and the Eucharistic Sacrifice
The confession of
failings in DIDACHE 14 does not come as a complete
surprise. At the very end of the catechumenate, the
novice was told, "You will not leave behind the
rules of the Lord" (DIDACHE 4:13), and immediately
thereafter he/she was given the means to be used to
sustain this attachment to the rules of the Lord:
"In the church, you will confess-in-full your
failings, and you will not go to your prayer with
a bad conscience" (DIDACHE 4:14).
Two factors were thus
inculcated: confession and a good conscience. Few
particulars were given. Both were described in the
future tense since both took place in the context
of the eucharist, of which the novice had no direct
experience. Mentors, consequently, must have deliberately
avoided excessive details at this point for they were
well aware that there would be ample time, following
the first eucharist, to prepare novices for the confession
and the reconciliation which would be part and parcel
of every subsequent eucharistic meal.
When DIDACHE 4:13
and DIDACHE 14:1-3 are placed side by side (see the
box at the top of the next page), one can see that
the progression of topics in both cases is the same.
(In this translation, the plural "you" is
written as "you.")
According to the earlier
formulation (DIDACHE 4:14), one discovers that the
confession of faults takes place "in the church,"
i.e., when the members are called together as an "assembly."
While being trained in the Way of Life, the novice
knew little or nothing of the eucharist; hence it
was fitting to omit any mention of it. Later, however,
precise details would be given: namely, that this
confession would take place when the community gathered
on each Lord's day to break bread and celebrate the
eucharist. Likewise, the earlier formulation provided
no motivation for the confession. Later, however,
the notion of "pure sacrifice" would be
introduced to explain the necessity of this confession.
The earlier formation indicated that one would not
go to pray (in the assembly) with a "bad conscience."
The novice was not offered any details by way of explaining
how this was to be avoided. The later formulation
filled this gap: "You will not go to your prayer"
(DIDACHE 4: 14b) if you have an unresolved "conflict"
(DIDACHE 14: 2) with a "companion/associate/friend"
(hetairou), and you will be prevented from doing so
until you "be reconciled" (DIDACHE 14: 2).
Also, a motivation is provided: "that your sacrifice
not be defiled" (DIDACHE 14: 2c).
A semantic parallel
is evident. The positive activity of confessing has
the positive effect of producing a pure sacrifice;
the negation or absence of conflict has the effect
of avoiding the negation of the pure sacrifice, namely,
defilement. In both instances, the motivation is clearly
drawn in the direction of assuring the community that
its sacrifice is "pure." The citation from
the Lord nails down the requirement that a "pure
sacrifice" (DIDACHE 14:3) was an absolute requirement
for the Lord is a great king whose name must be "wondrous
among the gentiles" (DIDACHE 14:3c).
Language of Sacrifice
The DIDACHE finds
no need to define "sacrifice" (thysia) or
"pure sacrifice" (kathara thysia). This
is so because "sacrifice permeated the ancient
world, and it was a fact of life" (Stevenson:
11); hence both Jews and gentiles stood in a cultural
milieu wherein such things were generally understood
and taken for granted. Sacrifice made sense to them
even if and when it does not entirely, any longer,
make sense to us (Malina 1996: 260. Similarly, those
who approached a God to offer a sacrifice would have
been conscious of whether they had the requisite "purity"
(katharsis). Here again, notions of purity associated
with sacrifice were prevalent not only among the Jews
(Cooke) but among all other ancient peoples as well
The Greek language
distinguished between "sacrifice" and "holocaust"
(enagismos). A "sacrifice" was "typically
a festive daytime celebration with music and procession
toward the temple" (Jay: 22). A "holocaust"
was "commonly a nighttime ritual" (Jay:
22) performed in silence (Jay: 23), with the procession
"leading away from the temple or city" (Jay:
22). In both Roman and Greek circles, a "sacrifice"
had the effect of "joining people together in
an alimentary [meal-sharing] community; it was life-enhancing
and life-maintaining" (Malina 1996: 33). On the
other hand, the "holocaust" had the effect
of "separating the person and group from defilement
and danger; it was life-protecting" (Malina 1996:
33). A "holocaust" was entirely burnt upon
the altar and made no provisions for a fellowship
meal to follow.
The sacrificial traditions
of Israel differed from those of the Romans and Greeks;
yet a clear demarkation was made between "sacrifice"
(zebach shelamim--"sharing offerings" as
in Leviticus 3) and "holocaust" (olah--"burnt
offering" as in Leviticus 4) (Malina 1996: 36).
In the case of a "sacrifice," Leviticus
directs that the blood be poured out "on the
borders of the altar" (Lev 3:13) and that the
kidneys and the fat on the entrails be burnt (Lev
3:15F). The rest was eaten in the context of a festive
meal. In the case of a "holocaust," however,
the "bull's skin, all its flesh, its head, legs,
entrails and dung ... must be carried outside the
camp ... and the bull must be burnt there" (Lev
4:11f). Nothing was eaten. Malina summarizes as follows:
Thus in terms
of the sacrifices described in Leviticus there
are two major
triggers that require sacrifice. In the first case,
seek to celebrate life with their Lord God, to
honor the Lord
and share with friends.... On the other
[the "holocaust"] is likewise required when
offends the honor of the deity to
such an extent
that only death or equivalent seems reasonable
satisfaction of that honor)
The language of the
DIDACHE is entirely centered upon "sacrifice";
the term "holocaust" nowhere appears. This
is entirely to be expected since "sacrifice"
in the ancient world was commonly associated with
a fellowship meal (Sered: 136-38). Thus, both Jews
and gentiles would have been disposed to regard the
eucharistic meal as a kind of "sacrifice"
even though (as will be explained later) no animal
was ritually killed. The absence of the term "holocaust,"
signals, at any rate, that both Jews and gentiles
would not have been inclined to regard the confession
of failings or the discipline of reconciliation as
being motivated by the need for the forgiveness of
sins or for the atonement of guilt. The key motive
is offering a "pure sacrifice" (DIDACHE
14:1f)--a concept which will become clear as our investigation
Whether an Individual
Confession of Failings Was Practiced
The DIDACHE does not
define what "failings" were to be publicly
and communally confessed (Rordorf 1978: 68). The Greek
term found in both DIDACHE 4:14 and DIDACHE 14:1 is
parantomatos, which signifies literally "a false
step." Three considerations are in order here:
Against the Way of Life.
The term parantomatos
harmonizes well with the notion that the members of
the community were being trained to walk on "the
path of life." A "false step," consequently,
would include anything that deviated from the specifics
given in DIDACHE 1-4. In effect, this could include
anything from murder (DIDACHE 2:2, 3:2) to grumbling
(DIDACHE 3:6). One might even be tempted to say that
the specifics drawn out in the "way of death"
illustrate the kind of "faults" that might
have been confessed at one time or the other in the
community. In any case, the examination that follows
will suggest that the principal benefit gained when
confessing such failings was to solicit the practical
support necessary to aid individuals in their striving
Infractions against Another.
The term parantomatos
also harmonizes well with the notion that the members
of the community were preparing to share a festive
meal (the eucharist) and were living in close proximity--sharing
meals, work, and (in many cases) lodging. A "false
step," consequently, might also include day-to-day
matters that caused grief or injury, e.g., failing
to comb wool properly for spinning or misplacing a
tool due to negligence. The DIDACHE does not expressly
list such matters; yet, insofar as such matters could
cause "a conflict" (DIDACHE 14:2), they
might well be included. The following examination
will indicate that the principal benefit gained when
confessing such everyday failings was to renew the
human bonding necessary for harmonious community living
and the joyful celebration of the eucharist.
Infractions That Led to Shunning.
Given the fact that
"everyone having a conflict with his/her companion"
had to be excluded "in order that your sacrifice
may not be defiled" (DIDACHE 14:2), one can surmise
that, on these occasions, the confession of failings
functioned by way of publicly acknowledging "a
false step" which had led to that exclusion and
to public shunning by the entire community (DIDACHE
15:3). The examination that follows will indicate
that the principal benefit gained when confessing
such grave failings was to readmit someone who had
for a period of time been publicly shunned because
of his/her bad conduct.
It would seem insufficient,
as Rordorf suggests (1973: 286, 1978: 68; Poschmann:
89-91), to reduce the confession of failings to a
general formula or a collective prayer acknowledging
Only one thing
is certain: it [the confession of failings] does
not consist in
a penitential prayer, individual and detailed,
but in a prayer
of the community. But this would not be the
Our Father because
it is already recited three times daily as
we have seen.
Now, FIRST CLEMENT has preserved for us a
of the confession of sins which can give
us an idea of
the prayer of the DIDACHE: "[God], merciful
pardon our iniquities and our unrighteousness,
our faults and
negligence. Do not take into
account any sin
of your servants [male] and servants
cleanse us with the cleansing of your truth and
guide us such
that we might walk entirely in holiness of
heart and might
do that which is good and agreeable in your
(1 CLEMENT 60: 1-2) [Rordorf 1973: 287].
of the DIDACHE on the part of Rordorf faces three
First, whenever thematic
and stylized prayers are intended, the DIDACHE spells
these out in detail (DIDACHE 8: 1-2, 9-10). One can
readily accept Rordorf's suggestion that, if the Our
Father was the intended prayer, this would have been
specified. It remains difficult to imagine, however,
why the DIDACHE would not have provided an outline
of this public prayer if, as Rordorf assumes, such
a prayer was traditionally used on a weekly basis.
In the second place,
whenever collective prayers are envisioned, the DIDACHE
routinely introduces them using the plural imperative
(DIDACHE 8: 2, 9: 2ff). DIDACHE 14: 1 does use the
plural. Earlier, however, the novice is told "you
[singular] will confess in full your [singular] failings"
(DIDACHE 4:14). It seems difficult to escape the fact,
therefore, that an individual confession of personal
failings was practiced and the novice had to be given
notice of what would someday be expected of him/her.
And finally, going
beyond this, nothing in the DIDACHE supports the assumption
that the "confession of failings" takes
the form of a prayer. Rordorf comes to this conclusion
because he likewise assumes that (a) only "sins"
were being confessed (b) "before God" (c)
with the understanding that, at DIDACHE 10: 6, only
those who have regained their "lost holiness"
(1978: 229) of baptism were to be permitted to come
forward to receive communion. Finally, when the community
prayer from FIRST CLEMENT is examined in its own context,
one finds that it has nothing to do with a "confession
of failings" or with the "eucharist."
In sum, therefore,
it seems more prudent to set aside the untested assumptions
of Rordorf and to return to the text itself, which,
as shown above, favors an audible and individual confession
of specific failings when assembling prior to celebrating
the eucharist. From what follows, this conclusion
will become all the more evident.
Confession of Failings and the Forgiveness of Sins
When the confession
of failings prior to the eucharist is explicitly said
to insure a "pure sacrifice" (DIDACHE 14:
1), one would be mistaken to understood this confession
as a primitive form of the Sacrament of Confession.
The church of the early centuries practiced shunning
and excommunication in order to deal with serious
sins and only, in the sixth century, did the confession
of sins to a monk or priest emerge as a practice recommended
to the laity--a practice which caught on so well that
it eventually became established as a Sacrament in
the medieval church.
Within early Judaism
as well as in early Christianity, it was understood
that the Lord forgives transgressions as soon as a
person approaches him and confesses his/her failings
(Sanders 1977:175-82). This may, at first glace, look
like a "Protestant approach" to the issue;
yet, it must be remembered that, relative to minor
sins, even Catholics have always maintained the same
understanding. Thus, the psalmist prays:
my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, "I
will confess my transgressions to the Lord,"
you forgave the
guilt of my sin
Within early Judaism,
therefore, public confession was neither implied nor
necessitated. In actual practice, if someone was bringing
a sin-offering to the temple, he/she had to confess
to the priest the sin involved so that sacrifice could
be treated as a "holocaust" (Buchler: 417).
In cases involving fraud (Lev 5:21-26), the priest
had to ascertain whether suitable restitution had
been made. Bystanders had no way of discerning what
kind of offering was being made until they saw how
it was handled by the priest (Buchler: 417). Within
later rabbinic Judaism, "so long as the sins
were committed in private, the repentance of them
could be a private matter of the sinner's heart; but
after sinning publicly, repentance would have to be
accompanied by a public confession of sins" (Buchler:
423). Nothing of this, however, shows up in the DIDACHE.
All in all, the DIDACHE
was concerned with perfection in the Way of Life (esp.
DIDACHE 6: 2, 10: 6, and 16: 2). When the forgiveness
of sins is considered, the use of the aorist tense
in the Lord's Prayer makes clear that only a final
(one-time only) forgiveness is sought when the Lord
comes (Brown 1961: 200-01). Outside of this, the sharing
of one's resources is done "for the ransoming
of your sins" (DIDACHE 4: 6)--a typical Jewish
perspective. Beyond this, nothing is said. It would
be a mistake, therefore, to try to read into the "confession
of failings" anything of the penitential system
that emerged in early monasticism.
With even greater
force, one must be careful not to allow medieval theology
to interpret the DIDACHE. Medieval theology was built
on the premise that the fall of Adam and Eve in the
garden infected all their children in all generations,
making them enemies of God. Jesus and Jesus alone,
among all those born of women, was just and holy and
entirely without sin. Thus, within this horizon of
understanding, Jesus and Jesus alone was capable of
offering an acceptable sacrifice to God. The sacrifices
offered by God's just and devoted servants (e.g.,
Abel, Noah, Abraham) were demoted in importance and
given the status of "prefiguring" the one
and only true sacrifice acceptable to God. Jesus'
sacrificial death on Calvary was thus elevated as
the sacrifice, which gained infinite merits and which,
over the course of time, secured the forgiveness of
sins for those who were locked in darkness and unable
to help themselves. According to medieval theology,
the purpose of the eucharist was to apply the merits
gained by Christ on Calvary to those sinners who unite
themselves to him in faith.
Little or nothing
of this is found in the DIDACHE. The only assumption
shared by these two systems is that a pure sacrifice
can be offered only by one who is holy. Beyond this,
the DIDACHE appears to know nothing of a catastrophic
fall in the Garden which dooms the whole of humankind
to being enemies of God. Quite to the contrary, the
DIDACHE presumed that ordinary holiness pursued along
the paths revealed by the Father in the Way of Life
was pleasing to God. Accordingly, when the community
gathered, the DIDACHE does not hesitate to acknowledge
that here one has "the presence of the saints"
(DIDACHE 4: 2). Not all who were assembled to offer
the "sacrifice" of the eucharist, however,
were fully perfected--otherwise there would be no
need for fraternal correction (DIDACHE 4: 3), for
the confession of failings (DIDACHE 14: 1), and, in
severe cases, for shunning (DIDACHE 15: 3). One must
surmise from this that the framers of the DIDACHE
regarded those who offered the eucharistic "sacrifice"
as worthy due to their striving toward perfection
and sustaining each other in that quest (DIDACHE 6:
2, 16: 2). Only someone locked in "a conflict
with his/her companion" (DIDACHE 14: 2) or maliciously
"misbehaving against the other" (DIDACHE
15: 3) had to be excluded lest their "sacrifice
be defiled" (DIDACHE 14: 2). In contrast to the
medieval synthesis, the DIDACHE is entirely mute regarding
the "sacrifice of Jesus Christ" and entirely
vocal regarding the "pure sacrifice" (DIDACHE
14: 1, 3) that even gentiles on the Way of Life were
capable of offering to the God of David.
Returning to the language
of the DIDACHE, recall again that the language of
the DIDACHE is entirely centered upon "sacrifice,"
and the term "holocaust" nowhere appears.
When the term "sacrifice" is properly distinguished
from "holocaust," then it appears quite
natural that the confession of failings was directed
toward insuring a "pure sacrifice" (as will
be explained shortly). Nothing should be decided,
therefore, on the mistaken assumption that the confession
of failing was used by the framers of the DIDACHE
to secure the forgiveness of sins or to gain the merits
of Christ (Anderson: 204-12).
of Sacrifice within Judaism
To understand the
pastoral genius of the DIDACHE, one has to leave aside
our modernity for the moment and enter into an ancient
horizon of understanding that is quite foreign to
our contemporary modes of seeing and reflecting. All
in all, when this essay is finished, we will have
constructed a sturdy three-legged stool:
The first leg is already
This is the widespread
experience in the ancient world that every "sacrifice"
involves and culminates in a festive meal. This pillar
allows us to recapture how the framers of the DIDACHE
found it entirely natural to link "breaking bread"
and "giving thanks" with their notion of
"sacrifice" (DIDACHE 14: 1).
The second leg.
This is the recognition
that the confession of failings
involves a verbal
acknowledgment of particular failings which has little
or nothing to do with obtaining forgiveness and very
much to do with insuring that the community can offer
a "pure sacrifice" (DIDACHE 14: 1).
The Third Leg.
In just a moment,
we will explore the spiritualization of sacrifice
in the various Judaisms of the first century, and
this will provide the background whereby the DIDACHE
intuitively connects the confession of failings and
preparing to offer a "pure sacrifice." Then,
we will have the third leg and the interconnecting
braces which, when finished, will allow us to grasp
how the "confession of failings" and "fraternal/soeurrel
correction" joined together with the eucharist
to ensure a pragmatic stimulus to holiness within
a caring community of like-minded individuals.
When our sturdy three-legged
stool is finished, we can then sit and contemplate
or dance and celebrate the magnificent pastoral craftsmanship
which went into the construction of the DIDACHE. Let's
go now and examine the second leg: the spiritualization
Within Judaism, one
finds a long-established tradition of offering suitable
sacrifice to God. The Torah delivered to Moses gave
great attention to the when, where, and how of offering
sacrifice. Within the prophetic literature, however,
a shockingly new voice was heard--for the first time,
one heard stinging critiques of temple sacrifices
based upon the perception that God had no patience
with traditional sacrifices. This new voice represented,
according to Karl Jaspers, an illustration of the
epochal shift that swept through the progressive world
cultures at that time (2-10). Acting justly and virtuously
began to assert itself as the normative preparation
for offering true sacrifice. The prophet Isaiah stunned
his contemporaries with graphic images such as these:
are your endless sacrifices to me?" says the
am sick of holocausts of rams and the fat of calves.
blood of bulls and of goats revolts me.... When you
out your hands [in prayer] I turn my eyes away. You
multiply your prayers, I shall not listen. Your hands
with blood, wash, make yourself clean. Take your
wrong-doing out of my sight. Cease to do evil. Learn
good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just
orphan, plead for the widow"
[Is 1:11, 15-17].
notes here that sacrifices were taken for granted.
Isaiah, speaking for the Lord, did not intend to abolish
them but to drive home the fact that (whatever may
have been the case earlier) God was no longer pleased
with offering sacrifices unless the one approaching
the altar was both ritually and morally pure and uptight
([dagger] CE 50), an Alexandrian Jew, demonstrates
quite well how deep and how widespread the epochal
shift had become when he writes as follows:
God is not pleased even though a man bring hecatombs
oxen] to his altar; for he possesses all things as
his own and
stands in need of nothing. But he delights in minds
love God and in men who practice holiness, from whom
gladly receives cakes and barley, the very cheapest
if they were the most valuable ...
[SPECIAL LAWS 1.270).
God looks upon even the smallest offering of frankincense
by a holy man as more valuable than ten thousand beasts
which may be sacrificed by one who is not thoroughly
the eyes of God it is not the number of things sacrificed
that is accounted valuable but the purity of the
rational spirit of the sacrificer
[SPECIAL LAWS 1.275, 277].
remotely like this can be found on the lips of Moses.
Philo, speaking as though he knew the sentiments of
God, uses great exaggeration in order to demonstrate
again and again that the quantity means nothing to
God and that the quality of a sacrifice increases
in direct proportion to the holiness/purity of the
one making the offering. In the same way as just judges
refuse to receive gifts from those pleading a case
before them, Philo argues, so the Judge of the whole
world cannot be "corrupted by bribes" for
he "rejects the gifts of the wicked" (SPECIAL
LAWS 1.277)--an argument that finds almost an exact
parallel in Plato (REPUBLIC 364-66).
the matter to an extreme, Philo goes so far as to
conclude the just person who loves God can offer to
God "the smallest thing." Indeed, such a
one can even come into the temple empty-handed. At
this point, Philo goes way beyond the prophets of
Israel. Here is what he says:
And even if they [persons who practice holiness]
nothing else, still when they bring themselves, the
completeness of virtue and excellence, they are offering
most excellent of all sacrifices, honoring God, their
Benefactor and Savior, with hymns and thanksgivings
[SPECIAL LAWS 1.272].
this fashion, holiness of life becomes "the most
excellent of all sacrifices." Thus,
when they [the righteous] have no longer any materials
in which they can display their piety, they then consecrate
and offer up themselves, displaying an unspeakable
and a most superabundant excess of a God-loving disposition"
[SPECIAL LAWS 1.248].
sacrificial language here is evident. Even when the
temple still existed in Jerusalem, therefore, Philo
attests to the fact that many diaspora Jews were entirely
content to live their ordinary lives of holiness with
the firm conviction that they were thereby offering
true sacrifice to God without ever travelling to Jerusalem
to offer an animal or grain sacrifice upon the altar.
J. Daly carefully documents this "spiritualization
of sacrifice" in his treatise, THE ORIGINS OF
THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE or SACRIFICE. He defines the
broad scope of this movement as follows:
We are using the word spiritualization in a much
sense than simply antimaterialistic. This sense includes
those movements and tendencies within Judaism and
which attempted to emphasize the true meaning of
sacrifice, that is, the inner, spiritual, or ethical
the cult over against the merely material or merely
understanding of it. We include here such different
as: the effort among pious Jews to make their material
an expression of an ethically good life; the prophetic
criticism of the sacrificial cult; the philosophical
doubts about the sense of offering material sacrifice
to a spiritual
God; the necessity of finding substitutes for material
sacrifice when participation in the sacrificial cult
Jerusalem temple was not possible, as in Qumran, or
diaspora, or after the destruction of the temple
permeated the ancient world, and it was a fact of
life with which any new religions had to reckon"
(Stevenson: 11). In like fashion, the spiritualization
of sacrifice made firm inroads during the first century
among both Jews and gentiles. Paul, for instance,
at one point, urged Christians "to present your
bodies as living sacrifice (thusian), holy and acceptable
to God" (Rom 12:1) and, at a later point, he
referred to his own "preaching the Gospel"
as his "sacrificial/priestly service" (Rom
strongest instance of this is found in the Letter
to the Hebrews. Hebrews argues that, since Jesus was
not a Levite, "if he were on earth, he would
not be a priest at all" (Heb 8:4). In the heavenly
sanctuary, however, Jesus is the eternal high priest,
chosen by God as an exceptional case paralleling God's
former choice of Melchizedek (Heb 7:1-17). In the
end, the author of Hebrews brings this revolutionary
framework home by espousing a novel understanding
Through him then let us continually offer up a
praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge
name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what
have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God
reference to a "sacrifice of praise" here
can be interpreted as referring, among other things,
to the eucharistic prayers; yet, the text is far from
clear on this point. What Hebrews does make plain,
however, is that "brotherly love" (Heb 13:1),
"hospitality to strangers" (Heb 13:2), and
many other aspects of Christian living (Heb 13:3-15)
constitute "acceptable worship" (Heb 12:28).
Paul and Hebrews, the framers of the DIDACHE pioneered
an alternative solution: the act of gathering together,
taking a meal, and giving thanks (all named in DIDACHE
14: 1) was the true "sacrifice" pleasing
to God. This meant that the festive eucharistic meal
celebrating the election of Israel and anticipating
the final ingathering constituted the "sacrifice"
of the community. Hebrews focused upon "doing
good" and "sharing resources" as those
actions that God was pleased to receive as their sacrifices.
Philo, in his turn, focused upon those moments when
wisdom (knowing Torah) and holiness (doing Torah)
came together in a person's life. Each in his own
way had redefined sacrifice in such a way as to entirely
leave out the Jerusalem temple (see Milavec 2003:
of these innovations entirely revamped the character
of the traditional animal sacrifices. Each, in its
own way, provided a way of spiritualizing sacrifice.
Each highlighted distinctive operative values. Note,
for example, that both the framers of the DIDACHE
and Philo presume that the suitability of a person's
sacrifice is directly proportional to his/her holiness
of life. For the DIDACHE, however, the focus is decidedly
communal. Only "one sacrifice" is offered,
and one would suspect that the suitability of this
sacrifice might be directly proportional to the striving
for perfection and the deepening of interpersonal
bonding within the community. Philo, of course, would
not exclude such elements; yet his metaphors reveal
his emphasis. Sacrifice, for Philo, is first and foremost
an individual affair dependent upon achieved perfection
of life. Sacrifice, for the framers of the DIDACHE,
is first and foremost a communal affair dependent
upon interdependent forms of mutual support and bonding.
This contrast will be seen more clearly in what follows.
and Reconciliation as Enhancing Holiness
what has already been said, it is clear that striving
toward holiness represents the key preparation for
offering the eucharistic "sacrifice." Accordingly,
the confession of failings and the discipline of reconciliation
need to be explored in the perspective of sustaining
and enhancing the interdependent holiness of individuals
within the community.
the Quest for Perfection after Baptism
to the DIDACHE, the initial lure toward the Way of
Life begins as an impulse of the Spirit (DIDACHE 4:10),
which draws an outsider to know and admire one or
more insiders. Yielding to this impulse, the community
then assigns a mentor, possibly one of those whom
the outsider already admires. Within the training
period, the novice's habits of feeling and judging
are gradually transformed by "the one speaking
to you the word of God" (DIDACHE 4:1). Progressively,
the novice assimilates for him/herself the ability
to walk in the Way of Life revealed by the Father
through his servant Jesus. Even at the end of the
training period, however, the process is not complete:
For, on the one hand, if you are able to bear
the whole yoke
of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if, one the
other hand, you
are not able, that which you are able, do this
(DIDACHE 6: 2).
this fact of life and given the decisive importance
of growing in perfection until the Lord comes (DIDACHE
16: 2), the framers of the DIDACHE undoubtedly designed
the confession of failings to provide a weekly stimulus
toward this perfection. The mention of specific failings
by any individual reminded the entire community that
such things were to be avoided. Thus, the scope of
the Way of Life was renewed--and maybe even expanded--in
the minds of all present. The mention of specific
failings by each member also provided the occasion
wherein persons close to them came to a deepened awareness
of how these persons needed support in particular
ways. Finally, while humiliation or self-abasement
was not the primary goal of the confession, one can
easily understand how a person locked in a particular
sin would, after repeatedly confessing the same failing,
either reform his/her life or leave the community.
who have had experience with the Chapter of Faults
practiced within religious orders or who have witnessed
the truth telling practiced within Alcoholics Anonymous
will quickly grasp the impact of mentioning specific
failings. It seems preferable, for this reason, to
imagine that members of the community took their turns
confessing specific failings wherein they deviated
from the Way of Life during the preceding week. Remembering
that the eucharist as portrayed in the DIDACHE was
a full evening meal, there is no need to imagine that
the number of participants impeded such individual
confession. Furthermore, since the forgiveness of
God was not the primary objective, there would be
no reason to limit the confession to sins against
God since, as one examines the Way of Life, one quickly
discovers that it is nearly entirely occupied with
how to love one's neighbor.
Obstacles to a Festive Meal and to the Final Ingathering.
the nature of the eucharistic "sacrifice"
as a festive meal that affirmed the election of the
participants in the promises made to Israel and which
anticipated the final ingathering into the Kingdom,
it becomes transparently clear that "everyone
having a conflict with his/her companion" would
be excluded "that your sacrifice may not be defiled"
(DIDACHE 14: 2). As shown above, this exclusion had
a practical aspect. How could a festive meal proceed
with a convivial spirit if one or more of the members
were "misbehaving against the other" (DIDACHE
15: 3)? The very character of the eucharist, consequently,
imposed the discipline of reconciliation.
a group of strangers, the acknowledgment of specific
deeds that caused pain for others would be of no great
consequence. But within a community of intimates,
the regular acknowledgment of small failures would
become the vital means whereby resentments were defused,
hidden conflicts were openly acknowledged (quieting
down the rumor mill), and past hurts were smoothed
over. In a word, no practice would be more conducive
to restoring and to enhancing the bonds which keep
an intentional community alive and growing. I myself
have seen how unspoken problems, festering resentments,
and backbiting can bring even an idealistic community
to a standstill and destroy the dedication and joy
of individuals therein.
voluntary confession of failings had the effect of
bringing closure to a painful incident which, otherwise,
might have gone unattended. On the other hand, however,
those persons who were offended or hurt by another
member of the community were urged to bring this to
the attention of the offender (as will be seen in
the next section). When the offender, however, took
the initiative by acknowledging his/her fault, the
one injured had no further cause for confrontation.
On pragmatic grounds, therefore, it can be surmised
that the confession of failings served, in many instances,
as a means of avoiding the pain of being reproved
Ending a Period of Shunning.
someone being reproved failed to acknowledge his/her
fault or when the fault was very grievous, then the
discipline of shunning and of exclusion from the eucharist
would have come into play (DIDACHE 15:3). In the first
case, shunning had the effect of forcing the offending
party to take into account how s/he injured someone
(even while not fully intending it). In the second
case, grievous sins (like adultery) normally require
an extended period wherein the innocent party and
her allies grieve for and with the person injured.
In both these cases, the readmission of the offending
party after a period of public shunning (DIDACHE 15:
3) would normally have taken place through the public
confession prior to a eucharist. The importance of
this will be considered in what follows.
and Shunning as Complements to the Confession of Failings
examined closely, the DIDACHE provided its members
with a very well considered program for maintaining
the bonds of unity among its members. Such training
began when a novice was prepared in the following
terms for becoming an active arbitrator and a courageous
You will not make dissension but will reconcile
You will judge justly; you will not take into account
social status when it comes time to reprove against
[DIDACHE 4: 3].
three responsibilities are expressed in the second-person
singular--a sign that each and every member was expected
to take the initiative for these community maintenance
functions and not just a chosen few. The DIDACHE community
had the informality and lack of privacy that characterized
an extended "family." No complex procedures
were established for "reconciling those fighting"
(DIDACHE 4: 3), for instance, and neither the mentor-trainers
nor the bishop-deacons were assigned any essential
role in the process. Anyone could arbitrate between
same thing held true for "reproving against failings"
(DIDACHE 4: 3). Here again, one finds the informality
and the lack of privacy that characterize a "family."
While reproving had to do with infractions against
the Way of Life, it surely was not reserved to such
things. Reproving, for the most part, had to do with
the everyday hurts and disappointments which arise
whenever committed persons eat, work, and live together.
One can imagine, therefore, that reproof had to do
with carelessly misplacing shop tools or inadvertently
failing to properly vent a kiln. So, too, reproof
had to do with "speaking badly of someone"
or "holding grudges" (DIDACHE 2: 2)--infractions
against the Way of Life, to be sure, but also ways
in which the bonds of unity were fragmented and the
respect and support of a Brother or Sister was withdrawn.
DIDACHE empowered ordinary members with the tools
for living in harmony most of the time and for living
in joy much of the time. The overall interpersonal
goal was stated as follows:
You will not hate any person, but some you will
concerning others you will pray, and some you will
than your soul [DIDACHE
insistence that hate could be entirely quenched was
earlier explained as the flip side of loving your
neighbor (DIDACHE 1:2, 3). At this point, however,
the rule pertains to insiders (as also in Lev 19:17).
Then, reproving enters the picture as the loving service
whereby each member sustains the others on the Way
of Life. Praying for others undoubtedly had to do
with supporting others in their efforts but also with
forgiving others for the grief caused. Whereas the
earlier praying "for your enemies" (DIDACHE
1: 3) had to do with outsiders, the focus here is
primarily on insiders. Three times each day, members
prayed that the Lord would ultimately forgive "our
debt as we likewise forgive our debtors" (DIDACHE
8: 2)--hence, prayer clearly was intended to soften
the hearts of those who were scandalized, disappointed,
or inconvenienced by the failings of others. The last
category, loving "some . . . more than your own
soul" (DIDACHE 2: 7) undoubtedly pertained to
cherished mentors and others who shared the joys and
the pains of their life journey. This category may
also have included those who reproved others gently
and forgave without any trace of vindictiveness.
Way of Life defined the personal responsibility of
reproving and reconciling. In DIDACHE 14:1-3 and 15:
3-4, the communal aspects were brought forward. In
effect, DIDACHE 15:1-2 is a "digression"
(Niederwimmer 1998: 203), which interrupts the flow
of the text. DIDACHE 14:1-3 deals with the confession
of failings and the exclusion of "everyone having
a conflict with his/her companion" (DIDACHE 14:
2) relative to the eucharistic sacrifice. DIDACHE
15:3 expands this into a general rule for defining
the discipline of reproving:
[And] reprove each other, not in anger, but in
peace, as you
have [it] in the good news. And to everyone misbehaving
against the other, let no one speak[to him/her] nor
from you [about him/her] until he/she should repent
for the third time, the importance of reproving has
been brought forward. Again, the clear note is that
everyone did this and that no special class of persons
was assigned this responsibility. Here, however, the
personal aspect is hinted at. Each reproved those
who offended them. And, in such instances, where personal
hurts were involved, the tendency was to allow anger
and disappointment to drive the reproof. The DIDACHE
cautioned against this. Even reproof was to be done
"in peace" and out of love for one's "Brother"
or "Sister" (DIDACHE 1: 2). The reproof
was thus easier to receive and to implement.
reproving was ineffective, the community proceeded
to shunning. Niederwimmer notes that "the next
rule (DIDACHE 15: 3b) seems to apply to the cases
of those who persist in sin despite brotherly or sisterly
correction" (Niederwimmer 1998: 204). "Sin"
may be too narrow a category here. Failings, as noted
above, can refer to infractions against the Way of
Life but also to the day-in and day-out grievances
which those who live and work closely together were
bound to feel. DIDACHE 15: 3b, therefore, might just
as well signal the case of someone refusing to take
responsibility for misplacing a shop tool--in a word,
refusing correction. In any case, where the consequences
were grave or the infraction was persistent, then
the whole community entered into the action: "let
no one speak to him/her nor let him/her hear from
you until he/she should repent" (DIDACHE 15:
3b). Needless to say, there must have been some time
and place wherein the whole affair could be deliberated
before the community (as in the parallel instance
of Matthew 18:15-17) so that it could arrive at a
collective decision to employ shunning.
was directed toward "reconciliation." Hence,
it can be presumed that the community grieved the
loss of one of its members at the next eucharist,
and that the rule of DIDACHE 14:2 was now operative.
Likewise, in the case where public shunning had been
invoked, one can suspect that its removal required
a public confession prior to the eucharist in which
reconciliation was to be publicly effected. In the
case of persons excluded for infractions which they
failed to acknowledge, the open confession revealed
to all that the needed resolution had been obtained.
In the case of grave injuries (e.g., adultery), the
open confession after an extended period of exclusion
served to reveal to the community that the offended
party or parties had finished their time of grieving
and were ready to embrace the offending member who
was now repentant. In both cases, the confession signaled
an end to the publicly established and maintained
period of shunning.
Community Maintenance of Purity in the DIDACHE
the community of the DIDACHE, a certain holiness of
life and avoidance of broken relationships was required
for participation in the eucharistic sacrifice. To
begin with, no one was to be baptized until he/she
had been trained in the Way of Life. And no one who
had not been baptized could be admitted to the eucharistic
meal. The reason given: "Do not give what is
holy to dogs" (DIDACHE 9: 5). Within the rabbinic
literature, this saying is repeatedly used as a euphemism
for the prohibition against giving the meat sacrificed
upon the altar in the temple to gentiles for food
(THEOLOGICAL DICTIONARY OF THE NEW TESTAMENt. 3.1102).
Thus, some possibility exists that the community of
the DIDACHE embraced this as their own logic for accounting
how the saying of the Lord applied to those to be
included from their eucharist. As such, one does not
have to wait until DIDACHE 14 to discover that the
eucharistic meal was regarded as a "sacrifice"
that must be offered and eaten by those who are morally
pure. Furthermore, the strong prohibition expressed
earlier relative to refraining, in all circumstances,
"from the food sacrificed to idols" (DIDACHE
6: 3) also points in this direction. Should one buy
and prepare such food or eat of it when it is served
by one's host, the DIDACHE regarded the mere eating
as the "worship of dead gods" (DIDACHE 6:
3) even when one had no part in the prayers or the
pagan sacrifice as such. If mere "eating"
was regarded as a participating in the worship of
pagan gods, then it followed that the community of
the DIDACHE must be prepared to regard its own "eating"
as worship of the living God.
sacrifice was not enough. According to the DIDACHE,
the confession of failings was positively necessary
to offer a "pure sacrifice," and the exclusion
of unreconciled members was necessary to prevent defilement
(DIDACHE 14: 1-2). This practice indicates that failings
were to be expected since one was admitting persons
still partially addicted to pagan ways. Thus "confession
in full" served not only to allow new members
to examine their conduct and to freely acknowledge
their errors; it also served to verify, in the eyes
of all, that the Way of Life was being recognized
and revered. Far from immediately excluding persons
who had failed, therefore, the DIDACHE community opted
to embrace the broken and the fallen as fit subjects
to offer "pure sacrifice" to God.
in the DIDACHE, however, tolerance for progressive
holiness had its limits. In one case, that of an unresolved
interpersonal conflict, persons involved must be excluded,
for their inclusion was perceived as risking the defilement
of the community sacrifice (DIDACHE 14: 2). How so?
First, one must try to imagine how a grave failing
such as practicing divination, when confessed, offered
no obstacle to a pure sacrifice while a petty quarreling,
even should it be confessed, could not be tolerated
unless reconciliation was effected. To begin with,
one must call to mind my opening observation that
we are dealing here with table fellowship wherein
no anonymity was possible. When even one person at
table was visibly upset or angry, everyone was immediately
affected. Like it or not, in the face of any dispute,
persons would be prompted to take sides--to favor
one party as "in the right" and another
as "in the wrong." An unresolved dispute
involving two persons, therefore, can potentially
divide the entire community. But, even beyond this,
the very eucharistic prayers include petitioning the
Father to gather the members of the community together
into his kingdom at the end of time (DIDACHE 9: 4,
10: 5). Such a prayer, however, would have to stick
in the throat of those who know of someone who, for
the moment, they do not want to see or encounter,
much less to eat with. Since such persons could not
properly join in this expectation of being united
in the future, they risked rendering the sacrifice
of the community "unclean" because, for
some, their hearts denied what their words expressed.
study began by noting that "sacrifice" was
a common phenomenon within the ancient world and that
the "spiritualization" of sacrifice was
a widespread response to the traditional piety of
offering animal sacrifices. Along the way, we discovered
that the DIDACHE community was so bent upon offering
suitable worship to God that they set up two distinct
safeguards: no unbaptized or unreconciled person was
admitted (DIDACHE 9: 5) and the confession of failings
was to be held prior to the eucharist on the Lord's
Day (DIDACHE 14: 1). These practices had the effect
of enforcing the standards of holiness cherished by
the community members. No one could keep coming week
after week and repeatedly confess the same failing.
Thus, for a community out of step with the rest of
society, the confession of failings served to recall
both backsliders and forgetters to the perfection
to which they were called at the time of their preparation
than be a pseudocommunity that avoided conflict, the
community of the DIDACHE trained its members to supportively
judge and to boldly reconcile (DIDACHE 4: 3 and 15:
3). No specific class of persons was exclusively assigned
to these tasks. Functions vital to all were wisely
set out as incumbent upon all. The DIDACHE community
was not leaderless, but, if it was going to become
a real community, it had to be a community in which
everyone was prepared to supportively judge and to
boldly reconcile. Thus every novice being trained
for community living was trained to get ready: "You
will judge justly; you will not take into account
social status when it comes time to reprove against
failings" (DIDACHE 4: 3).
a community that knows how to confront the evil within
its own midst can be taken seriously. Only the community
that knows how to stimulate and to enable its own
members to be perfected in clearly defined standards
of excellence can expect to permanently diminish evil
without maintaining a police force. The eucharist
of the DIDACHE, therefore, served not only to evoke
the hope of the future Kingdom; it served also to
stimulate practical processes whereby the holiness
necessary for entrance into the Kingdom would be sustained
and enlarged. The weight and the promise of the eucharistic
meal thus overflowed into bringing the anticipated
Kingdom closer at hand. The practical wisdom of the
framers of the DIDACHE is that they knew how to light
a small candle rather than to curse the darkness.
the church, you
confess in full
failings, and you
not go to your
with a bad
according to the divinely instituted day of the
having been gathered together, break bread and
having beforehand confessed in full your
so that your sacrifice may be pure. [And]
having a conflict with (his) companion, do
let him/her come together with you until they be
in order that your sacrifice may not be
For this is the thing having been said by the
"In every place and time, offer to me a pure
a great king am I," says the Lord, "and
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Greek and critical notes by A. Tuilier. Paris, France:
LITURGIE, FOI ET VIE DES PREMIERS CHRETIENS. Paris,
E. P. 1992. JUDAISM: PRACTICE & BELIEF 63 BCE-66
CE. London, UK: SCM Press.
PAUL AND PALESTINIAN JUDAISM. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress
Susan Starr. 1994. PRIESTESS, MOTHER, SACRED SISTER:
RELIGIONS DOMINATED BY WOMEN. Oxford, UK: Oxford University
Kenneth. 1986. EUCHARIST AND OFFERING. New York, NY:
Gerd. 1977. SOCIOLOGY OF EARLY PALESTINIAN CHRISTIANITY.
Translated by John Bowden. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress
Milavec holds a doctorate in Systematic and Historical
Theology, with a concentration in New Testament studies,
from the Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley, CA).
He has been a seminary professor for twenty-five years,
and currently serves as Chair of the new program unit
of the Society of Biblical Literature, The Didache
in Context: 50-90 CE. His resource and discussion
board can be found at www.Didache.info
2003 Biblical Theology Bulletin, Inc in association
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COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group