This is how the Holy Spirit showed me that the DIDACHE is the truth.
I had first learned of the DIDACHE’s existence in 1999, via an Internet discussion group. From the net, I downloaded and read it. At the end the text file gave a brief survey of scholarly opinions, and these put the DIDACHE’s date and provenance as around the early 2nd century, giving it some credibility, but hinting that it was perhaps not apostolic but Jewish-Christian sectarian.
I found the DIDACHE mildly intriguing but largely redundant of other New Testament works; and I assumed the consensus of scholars must likely be correct in giving it a post-Apostolic dating. So, I filed it and went on to other studies. Nevertheless, certain teachings stuck in my mind and came back to mind from time to time.
Then, on Sunday 7 October 2007 as I was tidying up, I thought I should purge the file drawer, and this led me to re-discover the copy I’d put there eight years earlier. In that intervening time I had gone through tremendous personal changes and a maturation in my Christian faith, from a position of relatively unorthodoxy (a kind of Christian gnosticism) to a more conventional but still inadequate understanding. The major difference had come in 2002. At about that time I had gone back to church after staying away almost 20 years, and I soon made a complete turn-about regarding belief in the Resurrection. For nearly all my life since my teens, I had believed in the soul’s immortality, and that Christ had appeared to the disciples as a spirit, rather than as flesh; and I had assumed that the accounts describing the Risen Lord in physical terms (as to Doubting Thomas) must have had some midrashic or esoteric meaning rather than literal. But, around Easter 2002 I changed my mind and came to believe that the Lord was raised in a new body of some kind, which was neither ordinary flesh or merely an apparition, but something else which was presented as real and immortal.
For the next half-dozen years, I visited many churches, seeking ‘the right one’ but always ending up in frustration and disappointment. This failed quest for the right one has turned out to be a big theme of my life, going back 40+ years to my first encounter with the Lord; and, now that I have found the DIDACHE, the frustration makes perfect sense: the churches were all wrong, in some degree, because none is founded on the authentic DIDACHE Gospel.
At any rate, from 2002 to the present, I have also taken a voracious quest through ancient texts and scholarly works, seeking in them some wisdom to help me understand what the Lord actually taught, in its true context, and how it fits with my life and salvation (and why it should be so difficult to be assured and confident about churches and the Bible.)
All of this culminated, then, in October 2007. This was sort of a dramatic time in the collective life of my community, San Diego, Calif., because at that time many wildfires were raging to the east, south and north, and the air was filled with smoke and ashes, making the world feel dirty and almost apocalyptic. And so, as the fires were still burning, I pulled open the file draw to weed through and discard old things; and my hand came upon the DIDACHE.
As I re-read it after 8 years, I had the benefit of much not only a strong belief in the Resurrection, which I’d not had before, but also greater general knowledge of ancient Christian texts and of the broader history surrounding Christian origins and its later evolution. So, I was much more awake and cognizant and sensitive to the implications of things. Over the next couple days, as time allowed, I re-read the DIDACHE again and again, savoring and appreciating it more and more each time. I also visited websites and surveyed assorted current scholarship on it, most notably that of Alan Garrow, a British churchman who has written a book arguing the dependence of the Gospel of Matthew on the Didache (see Didache-Garrow.info). Garrow is one of a growing number of scholars who consider major portions of the DIDACHE to be very early (mid-first-century) and apostolic.
10/10/2007: The Lord Gives Me a Sign
Late Tuesday night I was reading Garrow’s powerful English translation of the DIDACHE, yet again, and as I drifted off to sleep, I was praising and thanking God, for it had hit me forcefully that the DIDACHE was indeed the true apostolic witness to Christ. And in an instant, a great many things made sense to me. I realized what the Lord had actually taught and intended, as opposed to what He didn’t teach and didn’t intent. With the help of my reading of history, I fit this together with an understanding about ensuing events in the Church: the coming of false apostles, the corruption of Christ’s message, widespread error, fierce competition among sectarians and apostolic rivals; the struggle, over the next several centuries, over defining orthodoxy and heresy, leading to the seven councils of the post-Constantine Church, and culminating in the Council at Laodicea. It was here that the canon of Scripture was define–and the DIDACHE, although authentically apostolic was rejected. This was quite a momentous turn. More on that, later.
As I lay in bed reflecting, I began thanking God very deeply, from my innermost being, for revealing the truth to me at last about the authentic gospel, and the false tangents that ensued against it. I was so grateful to have discovered the truth at last, even so belatedly, 40 years (almost to the precise day, as I recall) from the first conscious prayer to God I had prayed in the autumn of 1967, a prayer which God answered dramatically and which convinced me to put my faith in Him.
And so, I fell asleep. And in the early morning hours, God gave me a wonderful dream (one of many He has given me throughout my life). I will recount it because it is my testimony of God and His Goodness.
In this dream I was back in a place where I’d lived 2 decades ago, a small quaint island called Anna Maria, off the Florida Gulf coast. When I had lived there, I worked near a pet store called Island Critters. On my lunch break I (and others) often visited the store, just to enjoy being with the animals. The center of attraction was a magnificent blue and gold macaw, several feet long, named Baby. Baby and I became friends, and when I visited every day, Baby would perk up in anticipation. I would come over and put my arm out to Baby, and Baby (he or she, I never learned the sex) would put one taloned foot and then the other on my forearm. Baby could say a few words, so I tried to converse, and gave Baby snacks that the owner allowed. (My wife Barbara was the store manager.) After the lunch hour it was back to work.
Unfortunately, one day a few years later, Baby came to a very sad ending, which Barbara told me about. A new owner, a retiree from the cold north, bought the store. He visited occasionally and, like everyone, got to know and love Baby too. On one of these visits, the owner let Baby mount his forearm, as Baby would do. Because Baby’s wings were clipped, the owner felt confident in carrying Baby outside the store into the daylight and open air. Baby’s wings had been clipped, but Baby perhaps didn’t realize that the implications, and so, as the owner stepped outside, Baby soon attempted to fly. The store fronted on a street, and Baby took off from the arm, fluttering desperately to fly, but instead making it just far enough to reach the street, where a passing car struck this magnificent creation and broke its body and ended its life.
The loss was so unbearable to the owner that he sold the store and left.
That was about 20 years ago. In my dream I was back on the island, outside on the sandy ground, with the living Baby standing tall on my forearm. I thought to myself, ‘Baby is going to fly,’ but didn’t think this was something to try to stop. Sure enough, Baby took off and flew up into the dream sky, into a beautiful cloud. After a moment, Baby re-emerged very beautiful and fluttered down again, landing on my outstretched arm. I moved my arm with Baby close to me, and up against my chest, where Baby entered into me. I awoke.
This dream, with all its meaning and pathos for me, was something I could not have thought up myself, and I knew this was a gift from God. It was so much like the story of Jesus’ baptism followed by the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. But of course, I was no saint, so say the least. And yet, here was a wonderful dream about a bird broken and with clipped wings, somehow flying and going to heaven, and then, instead of remaining there with God, descending again to be with me and in effect to save me. This has so many other overtones and was connected with another dream I’d had in 2003 in which Christ descended from heaven and picked me up literally out of a deep deep hole in the earth, and carried me to heaven. There, I got to meet God.
So, these dreams really happened, vividly and unforgettably, as signs to me from God.
So, upon awakening from such a wonderful dream, I soon found myself led to do a bible study. I was quickly directed to Galatians, where I was amazed at the insights and what seemed to be obvious intertextuality with the DIDACHE. This theme became a catalyst bringing enlightenment regarding the writing of early Christian texts in a back-and-forth apostolic rivalry. The results became New Testament canon, supplanting the DIDACHE. More elsewhere.