Didache 1.3–4, Matthew's Sermon on the Mount, and the Ethics of Persecution
I've spent a good amount of time reflecting on a variety of concepts in the Didache. Here is a small section from a forthcoming commentary that I am writing on the Didache. It is in rough draft form and, thus, still a bit choppy and I'm still reflecting on Didache critical scholarship.
Below is a small section on Did. 1.3–4. Here, I reflect on the Didachist's ethic of persecution and the Didache's relationship to the Gospel of Matthew.
Love for God, as one feature of the flourishing way of life, involves personal ethics towards enemies and persecutors, personal refrain from passions, and generosity with the “gifts” from the Father. Much of the ethics are quite reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tradition. Thus, to love God, for the way of life, extends to blessing, praying, and fasting for ones enemies and persecutors (Did. 1.3b; cf. Matt 5:44).
As compared with the Sermon on the Mount tradition, fasting on behalf of enemies is not one of the features. Albeit, it certainly increases the focused attention of petitioning on behalf of enemies and is certainly an aspect Jesus’s ethics. To “bless those who persecute you” (Did. 1.3) is more reminiscent of the staccato ethics of Pauline tradition in Rom 12 and Jesus tradition of loving one’s enemy in Matt 5:44.
The motivation of extending such actions to ones opposition is that it demarcates you from others. Loving those who love you back (Did. 1.3c) is easy, and, thus, credits nothing (cf. Matt 5:46; Luke 6:32, 34). The Didachist’s reference to Gentiles—especially here—signifies those outside the community. Thus, loving others in a community of others who love in return is also a marker of common morality. Even if this is part of the teaching of “loving God,” it does not exclude the love of ones neighbor. So, an integral aspect of loving God includes love of neighbor. The teaching of Jesus offers a great reward (Luke 6:35) and sonship (Matt 5:45; Luke 6:35) to those who fulfill such actions to an enemy. However, in Did. 1.3d, the Didachist offers love as an appeasement of hostility, so that, if you love your enemy, then, you shall lack enemies.
To love one’s enemy, for the Didachist, results in lacking any enemies. The blessings given and prayers offered on behalf of one’s enemy (Did. 1.3) relates to the love offered to those hating them (Did. 1.3). The identity language of “enemy” and “hating you” offers a form of oppressive language to the Didache community. A group, outside of them, possesses a threat to their expression of the way of life. If this is so, then it aids in the persecution motifs in Did. 1.4 and Did 5.2 and the socially oppressive categories in Did. 5.2.
The following command in Did. 1.4 exhorts the “love of God” to reflect an abstinence from particular vices. It is quite possible to have multiple implications for the abstinence of “fleshly and bodily passions” (Did. 1.4a). It could refer to sexual ethics and abstaining from such way of life. This would cohere to the sexual ethic in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:27–30). However, the Didachist engages sexual ethics later in the way of life (Did. 2.2; 3.2) and in the way of death (Did. 5.1). The command of abstinence (ἀπέχου) may refer to the subsequent four conditional clauses. So, abstinence from fleshly and bodily passions may cohere with abstinence from revenge and greediness.
The abstinence of such passions reflects the retaliation ethic of Matt 5:38–42 and the lex talionis. First, if someone strikes you on the right cheek, the Didachist exhorts to turn to them also the other (Did. 1.4b; Matt 5:39). If one is able to do so, “you will be perfect” (ἔσῃ τέλειος). Unlike Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, to be τέλειος for the Didachist comes as a result of the anti-retaliation ethic and not the imitation of God (Matt 5:48). If a blow on the cheek is given, an anti-retaliation ethic not only results in a lack of enemies (cf. Did. 1.3), but also form of wholeness (τέλειος) is given to the individual.
The theme of perfection/wholeness (τέλειος) in the Gospel of Matthew reflects a personal ethic, much like that found in the Didache. Matthew 5:48 attributes perfection as an attribute of the Father as well as a goal for personal ethics. Perfection is attained when one is able to love one’s neighbor even undergoing persecution and hatred (Matt 5:43–47). Moreover, perfection is also attained when a rich man can forgo all his riches, give to the poor, and unreservedly follow after Jesus (Matt 19:21). The Didachist, likewise, continues this similar rendition in that perfection is attained when one is able to abstain from their passions of personal retaliation and offer their other cheek when struck by a persecutor (Did. 1.4a). Moreover, if one can bear the entire yoke of the Lord, they will also attain perfection (see comments on Did. 6.2). The latter days will be useless to a person if they are not found perfect (Did. 16.2).
The next three conditional clauses move from retaliation motifs and correspond to generosity when persecuted (Did. 1.4c). Thus, when others approach you for travel, a cloak, or belongings, the Didachist calls for bountiful generosity (Did. 1.4c). One ought to respond with an extra mile to travel (cf. Matt 5:41) or a tunic (cf. Matt 5:40). By implication, moreover, the verbs “force” (ἀγγαρεύω) and “takes away” (αἴρω) may signify motifs related to forms of persecution. Both of these terms are also reminiscent of compelling someone against their will (Matt 5:41; 27:32; Mark 15:21), taking someone to their death (Luke 23:18; John 19:15; Mart. Pol. 3.2; 9.2), or the forceful capturing of personal items (Matt 13:12; 25:28; Luke 6:29; 11:22). Thus, when the persons undergo persecution, the corresponding ethic may veer to complete passivity and appeasement when faced by their persecutors. Blessings, prayers, fasting, extending love, and now abundant generosity reflects the ethic of persecution and appeasing one’s enemy.
 It is interesting to note how different Matt 5:40 is with the Did.'s instruction. Matthew seems to envision a law court scene whereby a person is sued. The Didachist offers no such suggestion but hints towards thievery or request of one’s cloak in Did. 1:4.