A Buddhist Didache? The Way of Life in Chinese

Scholars believe that the author of the Sutra of Hearing the Messiah must have had a copy of the Didache from which he was working.


DidacheNov 23, 2017

DidacheNov 23, 2017


    Picture of the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, China where the Sutra of Hearing the Messiah was found. (Image: Zhangzhugang - Own work, GFDL, Link)

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One of the most fascinating aspects of studying the Didache is seeing how the text was used and reworked in different documents throughout church history.

One of my favorites is chapter 7 in the Apostolic Constitutions where we find a gemara-like commentary on the Didache’s text. Although the Apostolic Constitutions as a whole dates to the sixth century it is clear that the material in chapter 7 is very Jewish and goes back to a much earlier period.

However, the most curious case of the use of Didache material has to be in the Sutra of Hearing the Messiah, which is part of the Jesus Messiah Sutras. This Chinese manuscript was found in the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, China and dates somewhere around 635-638 CE. The document consists of 206 verses and delivers the fundamentals for faith in Messiah Yeshua. It begins with a prayer to the One True invisible God and ends with a description of the death of Messiah. Scholars believe that the document was used by early missionaries to China, and there is even some Buddhist influence throughout the document as the author attempts to articulate the tenets of biblical faith and discipleship in language familiar to people of the area.

In the middle section (69, 103-134) we find material that is so strikingly similar to the Didache that scholars believe that the author of the Sutra of Hearing the Messiah must have had a copy of the Didache from which he was working. This shows us once again that the Didache was widely used and circulated during the early years of the church. So much so that it was even used in a document to introduce Chinese people to Yeshua in the seventh century.

Below you will find a complete translation of the Didache-like sections of the Sutra of Hearing the Messiah. Based on the work of P.Y. Saeki I have added relevant cross-references to the Didache itself. [1] The bulk of the translation was created by Herbert Chan, who is a good friend of First Fruits of Zion and lives in Hong Kong. His translation has been edited slightly based upon Saeki’s work. [2]

[69] These short views, however, may well teach all people what is good and what is bad. (cf. Didache 1.1)

[103] All the people who gain the Heaven Way will make their abode there when life ends, if they honor their father and mother and do not fail to obey what is commanded by them. (cf. Didache 1.2)

[104] So should we serve our father and mother for there are no creatures living that have not come into existence without father and mother.

[105] The fourth desirable type of person: If anyone professes to receive the commandments, he ought to be kind and good to all living creatures, and do not keep hatred or desire for anything evil in his mind. (cf. Didache 1.2)

[106] The fifth desirable type of person: All people should not take away life by themselves, and should not incite others to do so, for the life of all living creatures is equal in value to the lives of human beings, and thus do not murder. (cf. Didache 2.2)

[107] The sixth desirable type of person: Do not commit adultery with another’s wife. Nor should she be persuaded thereof. (cf. Didache 2.2)

[108] The seventh desirable type of person: Do not steal. (cf. Didache 2.2)

[109] The eighth desirable type of person: In regards to wealth, don’t covet another’s fortune, properties, slave, or maidservant, and look up to the heavens with jealousy. (cf. Didache 2.2, 2:6)

[110] The ninth desirable type of person: Don’t forge a false testimony against someone for the sake of acquiring a good wife or a good house. (cf. Didache 2.5)

[111] The tenth desirable type of person: When you are entrusted something by someone, you should not consume it or utilize it for yourself.

[112] The Exalted One in Heaven cares for many different things, and looks after so many weak people.

[113] Therefore, don’t oppress the others.

[114] When you see a poor child, don’t turn your face away from him.

[115] Even when your adversary is the one who is in hunger, give him much to eat and drink, and forgetting and forgiving whatever caused him to be your adversary.

[116] When you see a man who is laboring very hard, you should assist him by giving of your own power labor, and give him a drink of pure milk.

[117] When you see someone who lacks of clothes, give him clothes immediately.

[118] Don’t keep the wages of the laborer even for one day.

[119] They deserve that amount based on the laboring rules. There is no exception in the cold and freezing days.

[120] If you happen to see any hired laborer abused you must also remember that all gods have their dignity and power (to punish), and that he who abused the laborer would be sure to be visited with fire from Heaven. (cf. Didache 4.10)

[121] If a poor man asks you for some money, give it if you have some.

[122] If you have little money to give, then explain to him and send him away, giving him only whatever you can spare from your pocket. (cf. Didache 1.4-5)

[123] If you see someone suffering from chronic diseases or sickness, make sure you do not laugh at him, for it is not of his own choosing that he should be suffering from such a disease.

[124] If such diseases happened to someone who is a poor child, or someone who lacks of clothes, or someone whose life is broken, make sure you don’t call him with such description “the poor one.”

[125] Do not bully someone and take his belongings. Do not be unjust to the others.

[126] If someone is being accused, you should judge according to facts and do not pervert. (cf. Didache 2.4, 4.3-4)

[127] If a person who has no brother or sister, or who is an orphan, or a widow, brings a complaint against someone, don’t pervert for that person. Don’t condemn the blameless and create perversion. (cf. Didache 2.4, 4.3-4)

[128] Make sure you are not arrogant, and do not boast. (cf. Didache 3.2)

[129] Do not gossip and encourage telling stories that will create quarrel and fight between two parties. (cf. Didache 1.3, 4.3)

[130] Seek not the things of this world. Do not bring your complaint before the magistracy from the province or the district.

[131] Even if you know the details of the matter you need not give any information thereof.

[132] Those who have received the commandments should all be humble-minded and not hate another. (cf. Didache 2.7, 3.7)

[133] Let everyone be awakened to good deeds and stop contemplating doing any wicked deeds. (cf. Didache 5.2)

[134] In this way, if we do much good, we shall have less condemnation.

For more on the Didache check out First Fruits of Zion’s new Messianic Jewish translation and commentary on the Didache entitled The Way of Life: The Rediscovered Teachings of the Twelve Jewish Apostles to the Gentiles.

Footnotes:
  1. P.Y. Saeki, The Nestorian Documents and Relics in China (Tokyo, Japan: The Toho Bunka Gakuin, 1951), 122-123, 153-156.
  2. Verses 69, 103-104 are almost verbatim from Saeki’s work.
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About the Author: Toby Janicki is the director of the 12-21 youth initiative, as well as a teacher and writer for First Fruits of Zion. He contributes regularly to Messiah Journal and has authored several books including God-Fearers and a comprehensive commentary on the Didache titled: The Way of Life. More articles by Toby Janicki