Ephesians 4-6 and Colossians 3-4: An Apostolic Didache?

It can be argued that the material in Ephesians 4-6 and Colossians 3-4 reflect an early form of apostolic teaching or catechism material. The terms kerygma and didache are used to distinguish between two types of apostolic message.  Kerygma is the “preaching” material of the gospel for sinners (Christ’s death and resurrection), while didache is the teaching material aimed at the person that has already accepted this message and is concerned with the living out of that message in terms of ethical behavior.

This may imply some pre-existing documents that eventually are used in the production of the New Testament books, although these types of materials also circulated orally.  The kerygma material, for example, may include 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 or Phil 2:5-11.  But this is not to say that there was any single document called “kerygma” – the word simply refers to the material that was used in evangelism by various preachers in the early church.

The same applies to the term didache.  There would have been a core of teaching that Paul used in establishing churches and training leaders.  That material would have been generally the same in every church (i.e. qualifications for elders and deacons) but flexible enough to adapt to a slightly different cultural situation (the difference between the qualifications list in 1 Timothy and Titus, for example, show some adaptation for the situation on Crete where Titus was to appoint elders).

This core of teaching is found as early as Acts 2:42, where we are told that the new converts were devoted to the daily instruction of the apostles.  Since all of these converts in the early part of Acts are Jews, and likely observant Jews in Acts 2, the need for ethical instruction would have been less of a priority than instruction in the teachings of Jesus (i.e. doctrine – Christology (who was Jesus, what did he teach) and Eschatology (the Christ is returning very soon).  It is not unlikely that at this stage that the stories of Jesus’ acts and his teachings began to be passed from the Apostles to their disciples.

Some bibliography: E.  G.  Selwyn, The First Epistle of St.  Peter, 363-466; Philip Carrington, The Primitive Christian Catechism; A. M. Hunter, Paul and his Predecessors; C. H. Dodd,  The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments;  Everett F.  Harrison, “Some Patterns of the New Testament Didache” BSac V119 #474 (Apr 62) 118-129; V. P. Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul, 68-111.

18 thoughts on “Ephesians 4-6 and Colossians 3-4: An Apostolic Didache?

  1. I do not mind calling Eph. 4-6 and Col. 3-4 a didache, when it has the definition that P. Long wrote, because that is what Paul was doing. He was teaching the Ephesians and the Colossians more about their faith, and was encouraging them in the faith. I originally thought that it was kind of odd to call it a catechism, but as I re-read the blog, I understood a little more why it could be related to a catechism. We use these letters just as the Ephesians or Colossians would have used them, all except for the fact that we have to put it into context. We take the words of Paul/God and try to apply them to our lives and our churches. So could we consider the whole Bible a catechism to us? Then, I would think that if we labeled the Bible a catechism, then it would loose the essence of being a book written by God and not man. Because a catechism is something that men take from the Bible, and write themselves.

    • I like where you went with this Elyse. I think we sould be causious in reading the scripture just as a book for teaching. In fact, teaching is just one of four reason’s for scripture, as stated in 2 Tim. 3:16. However, I think that the three other uses of scripture can in also fit into the category P. long gives for didache. In case of Ephesians and Collossians, it seems that Paul is far more mellow in regard to church issues. His main focus in these two letters seems to be teaching the churches doctrine. In other letters, Paul seemed to teach doctrine for the purpose of correcting bad thinking. In Collossians and Ephesians the main focus seems to be on giving the apostles a firm foundation so they can “stand firm.”

    • >causious . . . Collossians

      Maybe you want to look for a spell check for your browser

  2. I can see where these passages would come under the form of “didache” or a teaching setting. How to live as children of light, imitators of God, living lives devoted to holiness… these aspects of Paul’s message fit the “core of teaching that Paul used in establishing churches and training leaders.” These messages seem to be not only good for the new believers of those times as P Long pointed out, but for Christians of all times and maturity to strive for, and therefore all the more to teach their importance to others…

  3. There is a great deal that can be drawn from Polhill that would agree with this definition of a didache. The opening verses of Colossians 3 are in fact teaching of doctrine: eschatology and a live filled with the Spirit. As Polhill states: “Here (Col. 3:1-4) Paul enunciated a basically ‘realized eschatology,’ emphasizing Christ’s exaltation to God’s right hand and the believer’s new life being ‘hidden’ with the risen Christ…he introduced the future coming of Christ in verse 4, when the believer’s resurrection will take place.” (Polhill 344). Polhill promptly continues by elaborating on the work of the Spirit in believers. Therefore, it is safe to say that these passages are very much a didache (teaching doctrine to believers).

  4. I think that Paul had to use and say different things to different churches. Yes, I think that every letter, each church could get something from it and apply it to their church. You can never stop growing. But I do not think that we should just say that the the letters that were written to those church should just apply to them. Paul needed to address different things for different churches. I think that these letters that were written to them, can still apply to us. We as Christians today still have some of the same problems as they did back then. We can learn from what Paul wrote them.

    • I like where Jessica seems to be going with this observation of kerygma and didache. Especially with the emphasis on all letters to all churches. (Sounds like the basis for a sermon series on what applies to the saved specifically and what goes beyond “baby steps.” And then we need to logically progress to James, Peter, John and the author of Hebrews and he do we categorize to whom they were addressing.) Anyway, I think that this might have been what was meant by the concept of having the letters circulate throughout their respective districts. Makes sense.

  5. To quote a great Philosopher, (PJ) “It’s all about the definition of terms.” When Elyse mentioned the definition given in the blog, she was right. When didache is defined in such a way, there really is not getting around the fact that these passages were written to inform the body of believers in how they were to act.

    However, there was something that was a little confusing to me. “Since all of these converts in the early part of Acts are Jews, and likely observant Jews in Acts 2, the need for ethical instruction would have been less of a priority than instruction in the teachings of Jesus (i.e. doctrine – Christology (who was Jesus, what did he teach) and Eschatology (the Christ is returning very soon).” – PLong

    This situation doesn’t seem to fit the definition that is given in the beginning of the post. Is didache at this point extended to more than just the moral teaching or is this not particularly didache, but just general teaching based on the same core that the didache would have been based on?

  6. I understand what you are saying Casey, that is confusing once you pointed it out. I would think that, based on the definition given, that doctrine/Christology would not necessarily fit into the definition. But also, teaching and learning about what God says to us, and what Jesus taught or did, should all be material that we can apply to our lives in some way or another. If what we learn from God and his servants doesn’t do anything to change the way we live or think, then its head knowledge, and it needs to be worked out in our lives. So maybe all teaching is a didache…

  7. I agree with Zach and 2Tim.3:16 that this passage can be used for teaching, rebuking, correcting, & training. The Colossians church has a foundation of Jesus the Christ, Paul is reinforcing the foundation. This is a way reminding and encouraging them to follow what they have been taught by Epaphras.

  8. It is hard to argue against the fact that eph. and col. both fall into the category of didache. Zach said it right that Paul does seem to be speaking more on teaching others doctrine rather than writing it himself. Emphasizing to the two churches they need to train people and teach people this stuff rather than Paul himself teaching the churches.

    I really like the distinction between these two types of teaching. I feel that when we distinguish between the two it gives us an area to focus on. Splitting the idea of “preaching” into preaching to unbelievers and preaching to disciples is a huge difference and both need to be studied individually. One can know how to “preach” but that changes depending on the situation and the audience. Leading a youth group with well-churched students is different from leading a youth group with people who have never accepted Christ. You discuss different issues, you speak in different vocabulary, and you speak with a different approach to things. The term “preach” really does need to be separated in this way.

  9. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 has been mentioned here and I wonder if many suppositions of this passage referring to Old Testament literature and not to any New Testament is as thorough as has been thought. Obviously the Cannon had not been determined in Paul’s time, yet as the suspected date for writing Timothy is among the most latter of all his letters, might he have suspected that all the previous years of his writing letters to the churches were scripture.

    P. Long makes reference to the possible implication of pre-existing documents that eventually formed the New Testament books. Certainly there were issues that were raised which were not so “Jewish” yet the Old Testament is of a Jewish historical background and context. P. Long suggested that the Jewish believers in Acts 2 did not obtain such dire need for ethical instruction. But Gentile converts from very pagan backgrounds sure did. So 2 Tim. 3:16-17 might very well have implied Paul’s own writings i previous letters to other churches, still maintained in some documented form.

  10. I agree with Elyse in that I don’t have a problem calling Eph. 4-6 and Col. 3-4 a didache by P-long’s definition of it. I also agree that we need to be careful never to look at the Bible as a textbook to teach out of. Scripture has a much deeper purpose, and a much greater power. But yes this section of scripture definitely seem to fall into that category as Jarrod said it seems hard to argue against that fact.

  11. “There would have been a core of teaching that Paul used in establishing churches and training leaders.” -P. Long

    On the topic of a core of Paul’s didache for Christians to grow in maturity, wouldn’t Paul have a very Jewish background for his teachings on maturity? Isn’t Christian maturity almost the same as Jewish maturity in the law?

    Perhaps it is just because I just wrote a paper for Pentateuch that I am seeing the Law all over these advanced teaching in Ephesians 4-6 and Colossians 3-4, but a lot of what Paul says seems to have correspondence to the Law.

    In Ephesians Paul calls for unity, love, and speaks of family relations. These are topics found in Deuteronomy; family- 21:10-22:30; love- 6:4-5; and unity- 6:1-3.

    That is just a small and quickly assembled example of what it would look like for Paul to be connected to the Law in his teaching. It would be interesting to see if there is a relationship between the Law, Wisdom lit., and Paul’s teaching for the Church.

    • Definitely agree with your insights here. Seems as though we get back to the question of what is Christianity and where does it stem from. It seems as though Paul would have definitely had that exact scripture in mind, encompassing every part of who you are to love the Lord.

      didache is the teaching material aimed at the person that has already accepted this message and is concerned with the living out of that message in terms of ethical behavior. – Plong. This makes sense for the discussion we are having on whether or not the passages would be applicable.

  12. interesting insight Ben. I would like to agree with your sentiments to a large extent on Christian maturity being very similar to Jewish maturity int he law. Just because something was right in the law does not mean it was not right after Christ came. When you think about the law as a moral code and the moral and ethical code of Christianity they would be mostly the same.

    However, I can sum the maturity of Christians up into two laws. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. 😉

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