First Fruits of Zion is proud to announce the completion of a Messianic Jewish translation and commentary on the Didache entitled The Way of Life: The Rediscovered Teachings of the Twelve Jewish Apostles to the Gentiles. The Didache is sixteen chapters long, and there are exactly sixteen Sabbaths between Shavu’ot and Rosh HaShanah. In turn, it presents a perfect opportunity to study one chapter of the Didache per week throughout the summer. We will be presenting a blog each week previewing some of the commentary of The Way of Life.

Nor should you pray like the hypocrites but just as the Lord commanded in his good news. (Didache 8.2)

The Didache moves into instructions on prayer. As with fasting (8.1), the audience of the Didache is urged not to act in accordance with the hypocrites but instead to follow the instructions of the Master.

We have discussed in other places that “Lord” is the Greek word kurios. Both the New Testament and the Didache sometimes use the word kurios to mean “master” and sometimes as a circumlocution for the name of God. In the context of Didache 8.2, when coupled together with “good news,” the word clearly refers to the Master, that is, to Yeshua as teacher.

The term “good news” comes from the Greek word euanggelion, which is often translated “gospel.” It translates the Hebrew term besorah, which appears in the Prophets to refer to the good news of Israel’s future redemption—when her enemies will be vanquished, the exiles will return to the land, and the Lord will establish his kingdom on earth. This is the broader meaning of Yeshua’s message of “the gospel of the kingdom.” Additionally, while believers often do not think of the gospel message as including practical instructions for living, the Qumran community viewed preparing the way of the Lord and his good news as the path of “the study of Torah.” [1] In the Didache, then, “good news” does not refer to a specific written gospel but rather to the living oral tradition of the teachings of the Master. His teachings included not only the message of the coming kingdom but practical instructions on how to prepare for and live in that kingdom. This included instructions on prayer.

Most scholars feel that when the Didache states, “Nor should you pray like the hypocrites,” and then instructs believers to pray the Our Father, it means to replace the traditional recitation of the Shmoneh Esreh with the Our Father. That is to say that when believers “pray three times a day,” they should not pray the traditional prayers of the synagogue, according to most scholars, but instead should simply pray the Our Father. However, this misses the point of the Didache’s instructions.

Evidence indicates that the early believers prayed the Shmoneh Esreh. The Master and the disciples attended synagogue services and participated in the Temple worship, where the Shmoneh Esreh was prayed regularly. In the book of Acts, we read that the apostles were dedicated to “the prayer,” which was another name for Shmoneh Esreh, that is, HaTefillah. Furthermore, we find a Christianized form of the Sabbath version of the prayer in the Apostolic Constitutions right after the section that contains a reworked version of the Didache. [2]

Additionally, the Didache is addressing new Gentile believers. Rather than supplanting Jewish liturgical traditions, the Didache offers God-fearing Gentile believers the option of praying the Our Father three times a day as a way to meet their minimum obligation to the liturgical traditions. This does not replace longer liturgical forms of synagogue liturgy for Jewish believers; it simply provides the individual Gentile believer with a reasonable minimum threshold.

Once again, “hypocrite” in the Didache should be defined not as a disingenuous pretender who says one thing and does another but in the sense of an actor or performer—one who uses good deeds to bring glory to himself and not God. As was the case with instructions on fasting, the Didache’s instructions about prayer and the identification of “hypocrites” should be linked back to the Master’s halachah on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount. Our Master Yeshua teaches:

When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others … But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret … When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. (Matthew 6:5-7)

The Master’s rulings on prayer are much the same as they are for fasting. We are not to make an ostentatious show of our prayer life. Furthermore, the hypocrites that Yeshua criticized as those who “heap up empty words” were Gentiles, not Jews. It is hypocrisy and showmanship that the Didache urges us to avoid, not traditional Jewish prayer, worship, or liturgy. In turn, the Didache’s instructions “Nor should you pray like the hypocrites but just as the Lord commanded in his good news” should be viewed as a stand-alone teaching that is not directly clarified by “This is what you should pray.” The Master’s teaching on prayer in Matthew 6 follows this same order and train of thought.

  1. Community Rule (1QS) viii, 14-15.
  2. For a discussion of the Shmoneh Esreh in the Apostolic Constitutions and the use of the Shmoneh Esreh in the early believing community, see Toby Janicki, “The Apostolic Constitutions: A Christian Sabbath Amidah,” Messiah Journal 114 (Fall 2013): 76-88. Also see Yehudah Liebes, “Who Makes the Horn of Jesus to Flourish” (Immanuel 21 [1987]: 55-66), in which he argues that disciples of the Master attending synagogue influenced the wording of the Malchut Beit David blessing in the Shmoneh Esreh.

Source: First Fruits of Zion