The Culture of Life and the Didache

Breakpoint with Charles Colson published a very interesting article concerning the Didache entitled "A Call to the Faithful: The Didache and Human Life". For those unfamiliar with the Didache (aka The Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles), it is an early Christian document that was not incorporated into the canon of the New Testament. Some would date it prior to the Gospels (around 50 AD) while others date it as late as 160 AD. The document is basically an instruction book for the early church in discipling divided into three parts.

What appears to be undisputed is that the document is a Christian document -- it is not Gnostic or heretical in any major sense (although there are some references in the document that are a bit troublesome). Thus, unlike so many of the more famous early documents that were excluded from the canon because they were Gnostic (such as the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Thomas), virtually everyone agrees thath the Didache can actually be read to understand some of the beliefs of the most primitive form of Christianity. As Charles Colson puts it (quoting Christianity Today), "While no one believes that any of the twelve apostles wrote it, scholars agree that the work is a faithful transmission of the apostles' teaching, intended primarily for the training of Gentile believers."

What Charles Colson noted was that the Didache had something to say of great importance to the present debate within Christianity over abortion. While the greater part of the conservative church believes that abortion is an abomination that ought to be eliminated, many of our mainline denominations are moving towards accepting or have already accepted abortion as a necessary (if not preferred) practice. But the Didache shows that the earliest Christians would have found this more liberal view unacceptable. Here is what the Didache says, in pertinent part with the emphasis in the text (not the titles) added:

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. * * *

Chapter 2. The Second Commandment: Grave Sin Forbidden. And the second commandment of the Teaching; You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born. * * *

Chapter 5. The Way of Death. And the way of death is this: First of all it is evil and accursed: murders, adultery, lust, fornication, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rape, false witness, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing revenge, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing Him Who made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him who is in want, afflicting him who is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners. Be delivered, children, from all these.

Even at the beginning of Christian history the church recognized and advocated for Christians to become a culture of life and to reject a culture of death. Thus, the movement of the church to protect all life which is "the handiwork of God" has been with the church since the beginning and is not some late arrival in the church with the coming of the Evangelicals in the 20th Century. Yet, nearly 2,000 years later, we are still having to advocate to protect life -- even to other people who profess Christ as their savior.

The desire of the Christian church to protect life -- including prenatal life -- has been part of the church since the beginning. This desire should continue to be the desire of the church as it heads into the 21st Century and for all time.


Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi.


Layman said…
Nice post, BK.

I would add a reference to another early Christian document, The Epistle of Barnabas. It is usually dated between 80 and 120 AD. Therein, this early Christian writes:

Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion, nor again shalt thou kill it when it is born.

Chrisians and Jews were peculiar in their opposition to infanticde and abortion in the culture of their day.

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