Thursday, March 4, 2010

The New Testament Use of the Word “Didache”

By Ben Zimmer

The Greek word didache is a primary word often translated as teaching. Two important derivative terms also translated as teaching are didaskalia and didasko. All three words are most often references to the gospel itself (Acts 2:42, 4:2, 5:42, 15:35, 28:31, Romans 6:17, 2 John 1:9). The remaining references are used to indicate false gospels (Titus 1:11, Hebrews 13:9, Revelation 2:14-15, 20). The most shining example of teaching in reference to the gospel is the narrative in Acts chapter five where the Sanhedrin imprisoned the Apostles. They were in turn set free by an angel from God and commanded to “speak to the people all the words of this Life” (Acts 5:20). In the very next sentence the Apostles are in the temple courts “teaching” the people. The context here clearly shows that the content of this teaching is Christ Himself – the “resurrection and the life” (John 11:25, emphasis mine). When confronted by the Sanhedrin regarding the teaching, Peter boldly responds with the gospel – the resurrection and kingship of Jesus, salvation and repentance (Acts 5:29-32). Familiarity with this striking story of bravery and confidence in the gospel, leaves no surprise that teaching occurs more than once in close proximity with the Greek word kerygma translated proclamation (Acts 5:42, 15:35, 28:31). In these texts, the content clearly taught and proclaimed is the gospel – the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Thus, the act of biblical teaching is conveying the gospel, and the body of biblical teaching is the gospel itself. The only difference between the act of proclaiming and the act of teaching is the form it takes (Ridderbos, p.70).

Biblical teaching according to the New Testament is the further explaining of the gospel. While preaching can and should include teaching, teaching most often occurs outside the unidirectional form of preaching. Different from preaching, teaching is often more bi-directional and interactive in its form. While the message is unchanged, the act of teaching can shape itself to match the learning capabilities of its audience. Both teaching and proclamation arise from the great indicatives of Scripture and include the resulting imperatives. The essence of biblical teaching must not be mistaken for mere imperatives; for, in every instance of use in the positive sense, the word teaching presents imperatives as the outflow of the indicative. Thus, teaching and proclamation two forms of conveying and explaining the gospel itself.

To confuse the early church document widely known as the Didache with the usage of the Greek word “didache” in the New Testament writings is to commit a grave error. Indeed, it is akin to mistaking the metaphorical use of “big apple” in reference to Manhattan with all other occurrences of that phrase in the English language. The true biblical didache in truth is not the errant first century literary work, but rather the form and explication of the gospel itself.

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