Milavec–the burning process

The last chapter of the Didache is an end-times discourse. Some believe this is not really an originial part of it. But Aaron Milavec argues for the unity of the Didache.

There does seem to be a connection between the program for the end times and the understanding Milavec has given for the Lord’s Prayer. The part we are used to saying as “lead us not into temptation” actually refers to the future. It means spare us in the end-time period of trial.

So according to the final chapter of the Didache, the end-times will unfold in four stages. First there will be a time of false prophets. This time was already dawning. There was an attempt by the community to protect its members from wandering prophets who had gone astray either ethically or in their message. The passages speaks of “false prophets and corrupters”. These more and more create havoc.

They will open the way to the next stage, which is the coming of “the world-deceiver”. This seems to match New Testament expectations of a lawless one or an antichrist. These relate back to Daniel, Maccabees, and the Assumption of Moses. Milavec mentions Antiochus Epiphanes. But he does not mention Caligula. I find that strange since the time when he thinks the Didache came to be is mid-first century.

The third stage of the end days comes when there is a great trial.

Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but those who endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself (Roberts).

This is what Milavec says that the petition of the Lord’s Prayer about temptation or trial is about. All people and their works will pass through a “burning-process of testing”, which is how he translates what Roberts translated as “fire of trial”. This process works in two ways.

For those unfit for the Kingdom it destroys them.

For the faithful it saves them.

The phrase “saved from under the curse itself” does not refer to Jesus cursed in crucifixion in accord with one interpretation of Galatians 3:13. Salvation through the cross, Milavec says, does not seem to be an idea in any part of the Didache. Moreover, even the eucharistic prayers pick up Jewish themes instead. Milavec translates, “will be saved by the accursed {burning process} itself.”

The final stage of the unfolding of the end-times is the appearing of “signs of truth”. They are the outspreading or unfurling in heaven, the sound of the trumpet, and the resurrection of the dead.

The text does not say what will be outspread or unfurled in heaven. In accord with the Church Fathers many have interpreted this to mean the sign of the son of man as in Matthew 24:30. However, Milavec offers a different interpretation. In the Hebrew Scriptures the sounding of the shofar or trumpet usually went along with the raising of a standard and unfurling of a flag to show where the people were to assemble. So Milavec takes the first and second signs together.  The trumpet sounds announcing freedom and the flag is unfurled in the place where the living and dead shall gather.

Along with the saints will come the Lord, who will be revealed “coming atop the clouds of heaven”. Milavec see this as talking about the Lord God, not Jesus. The Lord, he believes, in the Didache always means God. Since it doesn’t ever specifically say that it means Jesus, it is hard to argue with Milavec. Yet the phrase “The lord shall come and all his saints with him” is a quote and seems to quote something that is close to 1 Thessalonians 1:3, where the lord is “our Lord Jesus Christ” or perhaps Mark 8:38, where it is “the son of man”.

It is hard for me to see the how the usage of “Lord” for Jesus could have bypassed the Didache community.

On the other hand, in spite of thinking that Milavec has gone too far and been too confident in parts of his scenario, he has convinced me that the Didache probably belongs to the 1st century, that there probably was a one on one relationship between teacher/mentors and novices in the community, and that the idea of an atoning death of Jesus was not a major part of their understanding..

I will try to sum up my impressions tomorrow.

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About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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