I am reading Aaron Milavec’s The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary.
He moves on to chapter three and four of the Didache. These chapters several times address someone as “my child.” This is a way to address a novice or disciple in the community. Milavec concludes from the fact that the address is not “my son” that the novices included women. He contrasts this with the Sermon on the Mount, which he says exclusively addresses men and their concerns. This is one of the points where he believes the teaching of the Didache is counter to the gospels.
In contrast to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells men that if they lust after a woman they have already committed internal adultery, Didache 3:3 begins in Milavec’s translation, “My child, do not become lustful, for lust_is the path_leading to illicit sex.” Whereas, Matthew 5:28 speaks of adultery, the Didache speaks of illicit sex (porneia), The word is usually translated as fornication and speaks to both men and women, married and single. It may have been code for crossing any of the boundaries set in Hebrew Bible passages like Leviticus 18.
Milavec interprets this as another instance of the Didache adapting the Ten Commandments to Gentiles enmeshed in Roman culture.
The Ten Commandments included a prohibition of adultery and coveting your neighbor’s wife. But the Greeks and Romans were kinkier than that. So the trainers brought in other Bible passages that deal with a broader range of sexual sins. (I would argue that Leviticus 18 targeted things that would mess up social life in villages, so even that did not touch the possible perversities of Roman city culture.) The Didache expands the commandments in a way similar to some Hellenistic Jewish writings.
Notice the pattern of this maxim: don’t do this (become lustful) because it will lead to this (illicit sex). This same pattern returns in most of the injunctions addressed to “my child”. Don‘t practice magic because it will lead to idolatry. Don’t be a money-lover because it will lead to theft. Don’t be a whiner because it will lead to blasphemy.
Milavec’s most interesting observation about chapter 4 is that the household rules there show that novices in the Didache community often had both children and slaves.
Regarding child rearing, he notes that there is no mention of infant baptism or even training children in the faith. The parents guide their children and protect them. But apparently joining the community was an adult decision.
The members of the community are reminded to treat their slaves well. After all, they hope “in the same God as you.” I wonder why it is assumed that this would always be the case.
Near the end of the chapter it says “You slaves shall be subject to your masters.” Milavec sees in the fact that slaves are directly addressed a hint that spiritual mentors typically taught in the home where servants would be present. He interprets the situation as that slaves would overhear the teacher dealing with possible sins and weaknesses of their owners. So there was a need to remind the slaves not to use that as an excuse to disrespect their masters or take advantage of them.
Milavec’s theme is that the master teachers or mentors of the Didache community adapted the Jewish law into a new Way for Gentile followers of Jesus, and that they did this either independently of or in opposition to the viewpoints enshrined on the four gospels.
He goes to great lengths to show that they adapted the Torah to the needs of their disciples. I do not understand why they might not have also adapted the teachings of Jesus–even if they drew them directly from Matthew’s gospel–in the same way.
I admit, though, that the variations from Matthew mean that our version of that gospel was probably not their source for the teachings of Jesus. Maybe it was a source behind Matthew–what some source critics have called M. They were creative in their use of the Hebrew Bible. So they may have been creative with the teachings of Jesus. To me, though, that is not the same as being independent.