The Didache 16 – Do Not Engender Bitterness

This series is reflecting on the Didache if you want to read it separately.

Do not remove your hand from your son or daughter; rather, teach them the fear of God from their youth. Do not enjoin anything in your bitterness upon your bondman or maidservant, who hope in the same God, lest ever they shall fear not God who is over both; for he comes not to call according to the outward appearance, but to them whom the Spirit has prepared. And you bondmen shall be subject to your masters as to a type of God, in modesty and fear.

I’ve been around American evangelicalism long enough to know how many in that tradition will interpret the first sentence above. Does it help you at all to know that it is also interpreted “Do not remove your heart”? How about the caution in the next sentence against enjoining anything in your bitterness? Ring any bells with what Paul tells fathers in Ephesians? Sigh. I really don’t have anything I feel like saying. I would be “preaching to the choir” as they say in Baptist circles. The ones who actually need to hear what I might say never would, even if it is part of the way of life.

Christianity was already putting limits on the treatment of slaves in the first century. In Roman culture the head of the household held the power of life and death over children, over wives, and over slaves. It’s hard for us to imagine today. To be fair, in some part these limits did flow from the limits God had worked to place within Torah and within the life experience of all Jews. Christianity just took it to its conclusion in Jesus. Eventually the Church would hold that no baptized Christian could be a slave to another man. While there were issues with the treatment of serfs and other peasants beholden to the Lord of the manor, slavery as such had almost vanished in the West before the introduction of African slaves in the early modern era. It was a huge step backwards for Christians and took centuries to correct. My own denomination, the SBC, was formed in a schism in support of slavery.

Again, sigh.

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