Didache, Epistle to Diognetus and Martyrdom of Polycarp

Didache, Epistle to Diognetus and Martyrdom of Polycarp give readers valuable insights to the life of the Early Church. For example, Didache portrays a strong emphasis, commitment and dependence on the teachings of Jesus, especially on Jesus’ sermon on the mount (cf. Did. chs. 1, 2, 8, 16 ; Matt 5-7), and on the teachings of the Apostle Paul (cf. Did. chs. 5, 6, 15; Gal 5:19-21, 1 Cor 8, 1 Tim 3:1-13), but there are also many allusions to the teachings of other New Testament writers and to the Hebrew Scriptures (cf. Did. ch. 2; Ex 20).  

Didache reveals an emphasis by the Early Church on the broken body and shed blood of Jesus by giving instructions on the eucharist ( i.e. chs. 9,10,14). This appears to be central to the Lord’s Day gathering (ch. 14), and a vital part in experiencing the ongoing presence of Jesus among the faith community.  

Furthermore, Didache provides instructions regarding traveling teachers and Christians (chs. 11,12) which gives readers a glimpse into the robust itinerant missionary activity of the Early Church but also of the challenges of false teachers. Overall, Didache presents as an Early Church catechism, and so it demonstrates the Early Church’s commitment to providing instructions about Jesus and about the life of “the Way” (John 14:6; Acts 9:2, 22:4).

Epistle to Diognetus and Martyrdom of Polycarp help readers understand the contextual background and some of the issues that confronted the Early Church. Epistle to Diognetus addresses the Greco-Roman culture’s emphasis on the gods and idols. The writer explains that the Christians are distinctly different because they refuse to acknowledge and worship the Greco-Roman gods, and while they live within the Greco-Roman world, their citizenship is in heaven. Due to these differences, the writer explains that “persecution is carried on against them by the Greeks” (5:17). Likewise, Martyrdom of Polycarp depicts Polycarp being compared to an “atheist” (3:2) because he refused to endorse and worship the gods as well as bow down to Caesar as lord (8:2). The Christian distinctive of neglecting to worship the gods and refusing to say “Caesar is Lord, and offering incense” (8:2)  ultimately led to Polycarp’s martyrdom (15:1-18:2). Therefore, both of these writings tell of the harsh persecution that confronted the Early Church.

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