The Didache is one of the earliest writings by believers in Yeshua that some feel was written as early as 50 CE. It is a manual of practical-living instructions written for new Gentile believers in Messiah. It may even contain material older than many of Paul’s epistles and the Gospel of John.
The Didache offers believers today an incredible window into the life of Yeshua-believers at a time in which believers functioned as a sect within Judaism and not as a separate religion.
Let’s explore the first two verses of the Didache and what this ancient writing can teach us about living for the Messiah.
The Way of Life and the Way of Death
Let’s begin with the Didache’s opening verse:
There are two ways: one of life and one of death; however, there is a great difference between the two ways. (Didache 1:1)
All disciples of Messiah have a choice: the way of life or the way of death. A biblical worldview supports the fact that life is about choices. The path we choose each day will ultimately determine our destiny. Yet not only is life full of choices, it is also a progressive journey that never stops. Biblical metaphors that speak of life as a way, a path, a road, or a journey imply movement, the progress of time, and our daily freedom to choose.
The Didache is a manual to aid Gentile believers in Messiah in making correct choices on the path of discipleship, our journey through life. It reminds us of Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” When we find Yeshua and truly take up his cross daily, we certainly take the road less traveled.
This theme of two ways can be linked to the Master’s words about the narrow path:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13‒14)
There is little doubt that Yeshua drew upon the Torah itself in his teaching:
I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 11:26‒28)
Every day we have a choice as to the path we will take. There is no middle road. The Didache states, “There is a great difference between the two ways.” We walk either on the path that leads to life and blessing or on the path that leads to destruction and cursing. While the way of death is often easier and more attractive, the way of life leads to true blessing and lasting happiness. Our Master Yeshua calls us to make the tough choice to walk the difficult trail of discipleship.
Love of God and Neighbor
The second verse of the Didache lays out two defining and foundational principles regarding the way of life: love of God and love of fellow.
The Way of Life is this: first, you shall love God who made you; second, you shall love your fellow as yourself. Whatever you do not want to happen to you, do not do to one another. (Didache 1:2)
This concept, too, goes back to the teachings of Messiah. When asked what commandment he considered greatest of all, Yeshua responded,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)
When Yeshua says that all the Torah depends upon these two commandments, he means that they form the foundation for all Torah instruction. In the same spirit, the Didache points to these two commandments as the direction for the way of life. It is on these injunctions that the path to blessing rests.
These two injunctions permeate the New Testament, and they had a deep impact upon the early believing community. The Apostle John urged his readers “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).
The rest of the Didache, then, is really an exposition of the two great commandments of loving God and loving one’s fellow—the essence of biblically living. The authors of the Didache knew that it was imperative for new Gentile converts to learn the greatest commandments. Their words ring true to new believers even today.
In the first two verses of the Didache, we learn about two ways—one of life and one of death. This early work of literature for Gentile believers in Yeshua inspires us to choose life. We also learn that the way of life is grounded in two principles: love of God and love of our fellow man. These guiding principles are found throughout the Didache’s instructions to first-century believers. This work gives us a deep connection to the earliest believers and to what they were learning of the words of our Master. These guiding principles are as foundational for us as disciples of Messiah today as they were to our spiritual brothers and sisters two thousand years ago.