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Paul M. Nguyen Patristics, A.

Orlando September 10, 2012 On the Moral Code of the Didache The third principal section of the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles presents a moral instruction that parallels that of the Sermon on the Mount. Both contain positive and negative exhortations, and both express varying degrees of vices they condemn. We thus endeavor to contrast the content and form of what is presented in the Didache with what is presented in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel (NRSV Mt. 5:1–7:28). The Didache first forbids “wickedness and … everything of the sort” including explicitly that one should not be irritable, jealous, contentious or impetuous (3:1–2). This seems to cover vast moral territory, yet the author(s) continued to elaborate with the subsequent dispositions. The Sermon on the Mount likewise presents an exhortation to be the “salt of the earth” (5:13–16), positively encouraging virtue rather than the Didache's negative admonishment against vice, but follows with a warning that the law will be justified and that its spirit ought to be followed (5:17–20). The Sermon on the Mount continues with a discussion against anger and bearing grudges, in 5:21–26. Both texts use “murder” as the extreme outcome: “for anger leads to murder” (Didache 3:2) and “'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But … if you are angry … you will be liable to judgment” (Mt. 5:21–22). In this regard, they express the same sentiment about the moral life. The next exhortation (3:3) teaches about unchastity, forbidding lustfulness (ἐ πιθυμία) and foul language (αἰσχχρολόγος). Matthew's Gospel uses the same term for “lust” in the Greek, but with a more specific context of looking at a woman with desire/lust: βλεπων γυναῖκα πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι (5:27– 28). Matthew is also stronger in equating this action with the Decalogue's forbidden adultery, while the Didache only says that lust “leads to fornication,” though it goes a step further and declares that foul language likewise leads to adultery; such a connection is not presented in the Gospel.

In the third moral counsel (3:4), the Didache warns against “divining” practices as they lead to idolatry. By contrast, the Gospel presents no obvious parallel. There is a teaching concerning oaths (Mt. 5:33–37) and one against “serving two masters” (Mt. 6:24), which, taken together, could yield the counsel not to engage in divining (which could yield idolatrous gain), as in the Didache. Furthermore, the Didache augments the first teaching with admonishment against even attending a divining session or observing the practice; those lead to the same end. The Didache next warns against all things that lead to theft: lying, avarice, and vanity (3:5). Taken as a whole, the Sermon on the Mount promotes respect of others' personal property and thus would implicitly encourage against theft. But here again, there is no clear positive teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that condemns theft or suggests which other vices may foster its practice. The Gospel does condemn speaking falsely, and encourages generosity and a general indifference toward one's own personal property. Herein lies the greatest disparity between the Didache and Matthew's Sermon on the Mount. This passage in the Didache closes with virtues to be encouraged (3:7–8), in the face of the vices that it first discouraged. This passage is easily parallel to the Beatitudes of the opening verses of Mt. 5. Specifically, the Didache reads: “Be humble, … patient, merciful, harmless, quiet, and good” and to “be with the upright and humble.” Of the Beatitudes, four clearly agree with the Didache: “meek” (v5), “merciful” (v7), “pure in heart” (v8), and “peacemakers” (v9). So the Didache's moral instruction in this passage, compared to the corresponding texts in Matthew, seems to be at times more elaborate and at times softer.