Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ridderbos & The Didache

By Greg Simmons

         C.H. Dodd
Doddʼs understanding of the New Testament is shaped by his concept of two distinct spheres within the text, one is the religious elements of faith, worship, sacrament, communion and the second being itʼs ethical precepts and admonitions. The presupposition that Christianity is an ethical religion causes him to jump over the indicatives of scripture and land squarely on the imperatives. This is why he puts such emphasis on the “didache” as a tradition of ethical instruction and misrepresents the order and meaning that the apostles actually intended for the Christian life. The concept of a purely ethical body of teaching the “didache”, in which all early believers were some how instructed, cannot be established from the New Testament. This is why Dodd often refers to extra biblical influences, such as Hellenistic Judaism and Stoicism to reinforce his interpretation of the of the “ didacheʼs” intent. The “didache” as he understands it is distinct from the Kerygma or gospel proclamation. In his article on Preaching and Teaching in the Early Church he says, “These members were then instructed in the ethical principles and obligations of the Christian life. This course instruction in morals, as distinct from the proclamation of the gospel, is covered in the term “teaching”, which in Greek is didache.” His error is that the moral instruction or teaching was somehow “distinct” from the gospel proclamation of what Christ had done on behalf of the believer. He believes Paul was mostly concerned that those who were coming out of a pagan background needed to “appreciate the moral demands on their new faith”. This emphasis on morality and the imperatives that flow from it form the core of his hermeneutic. The “didache” as interpreted by Dodd is merely the outcome of his concept of Christianity as an established tradition of ethics. He gives a passing acknowledgement to the historical and saving work of Christ and then focuses on man and his obligation to live a moral life. He simply puts the cart before the horse. His error is a man-centered legalism that un-tethers the living out of the Christian life from the gospel proclamation of what Christ has accomplished in His obedience on our behalf.
Herman Ridderbos
Ridderbosʼs understanding of the “didcahe” stands in contrast to that of Doddʼs. He sees the teaching of the New Testament as encompassing the entire content of the gospel. The teaching of the apostles was a fleshing out of the kerygma that centered on the redemptive proclamation of the life, death and resurrection of Christ with all its implications for the Christianʼs life. He does not divide proclamation from ethics, but acknowledges that the gospel precedes and makes possible all of our ethical behavior. He states, “…the new life in its moral manifestation is at one time proclaimed and posited as the fruit of the redemptive work of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit—the indicative; elsewhere, however, it is put with no less force as a categorical demand—the imperative.” He is clear in understanding that the gospel proclamation or the indicative precedes and gives rise too the ethical imperatives. This order of imperatives flowing out of the indicative of Christʼs completed work is not reversible and the outcome of changing the order results in legalism. Another clear distinction between Ridderbos and Dodd is that the apostleʼs teaching or “didache” is distinguished from “kerygma” by form rather than content. The kerygma is the heralding of the redemptive work of Christ while the didache instructs and explains the proclamation in more detail with all its intended implications. The only difference is one of form not content. The kerygma is also to be understood as teaching in the form of a one-way dissemination of knowledge about Godʼs redemptive plan in Christ. (Eph 3:8-9) It makes known the meaning of previous revelation in the Old Testament in light of the incarnation of Christ as the messiah. Preaching and teaching are related because the aim of both is to pass along this knowledge of the saving work of Christ. Ridderbos is correct when he sees the division of kerygma from didache as a false and unbiblical dichotomy of gospel from ethics.

Both of these views have profound implications for the believer. Doddʼs view of the “didache” as primarily focused on the ethical imperatives, the dos and donʼts, leads us to either frustration or legalism. Ridderbos on the other hand leads the believer into the freedom that all the imperatives of scripture find their fulfillment in Christ and by the Spirit he imparts his holiness into our lives. It is the propositional truth of the gospel that Christ is our righteousness and we donʼt need to return to a Christianized version of law keeping.

No comments:

Post a Comment