Flusser, David. “Paul’s Jewish-Christian Opponents in the Didache” pp. 195-211 in Draper, Jonathan (editor). The Didache in Modern Research. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996.
Flusser sets out “to show that Didache 6:2-3 reflects the position of the majority in the Mother Church towards the Gentile Christian believers while Paul’s attitude was more unusual and therefore revolutionary” (Flusser 1996, 195). In Flusser’s opinion there is a dispute between Paul and Peter as well, with Peter taking a position more similar to that of the Didache. At issue is the interpretation of the decree articulated in Acts 15:20, 28-29, and 21:25.
20th century scholarship has affirmed that in the Western text tradition of Acts, the decree omits the prohibition against eating strangled animals. The three remaining prohibitions were “idolatry, bloodshed, and fornication” (Flusser 1996, 196). These three sins were considered as “capital sins” in the rabbinic writings, meaning it would be better to die than to participate in those sins. Flusser observes that these three sins were, in the apostolic period, consistent with well-known prohibited behaviors among Gentiles with Jewish sympathies, the “Noachites” (Flusser 1996, 196).
Flusser concludes that the first six chapters of the Didache re actually a Jewish document, and that this “passage clearly reflects the Jewish Christian understanding of the obligations of Gentile Christians towards Judaism, a position which was utterly unacceptable for Paul” (Flusser 1996, 196-197). Flusser refers the reader back to various texts, particularly a treatise he wrote, for the idea that the Two Ways document itself was a known Jewish document (Flusser 1996, 197). Flusser does not precisely explain how the alleged Jewish document received the insertion of a Christian passage describing a particularly Christian point of view (Flusser 1996, 199). Flusser also seems puzzled by the fact that a Christian would say that keeping God’s law is required but that failure could be forgiven. Flusser fails to explain why this solution to the problem of incomplete obedience to a particular law is so astonishing. His examples of conversion to Judaism, however, depict converts being held to a very high standard. Keep the prescribed law or don’t bother trying to convert (Flusser 1996, 201).
Flusser makes several arguments which are surprising to me. They are predicated on the concept that “(T)oday the Jewish code strictly forbids a non-Jew to observe any Jewish commandment, no matter how minor” (Flusser 1996, 202). He then states that this was also Paul’s attitude toward Gentile Christians. They were not to observe any Jewish laws unless they converted to the entirety of the Jewish law. Flusser goes on to describe Paul as assuming that those who lived according to Jewish law prior o conversion would continue in it, as he says Paul did, while people from outside the bounds of Judaism would not take on any of Jewish law (Flusser 1996, 203).
Flusser concludes that the laws of the Apostolic Decree would be seen as a minimal standard for those interested in Judaism, but that Paul’s teaching would say a Christian could not take on any more obligations (Flusser 1996, 205). At root, Flusser appears to think Christianity, and specifically Paul’s articulation of Christianity, is an attempt at applied Judaism, with virtually no discontinuity (Flusser 1996, 206-207). He also seems to take Didache 6:2-3 as a non-Pauline illustration of Christianity which has a high degree of discontinuity (Flusser 1996, 207-208). Here the assumption is that Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians alike have completely departed from all Jewish observances.
Flusser shows the roots of his argument, when he cites Paul’s words in Galatians 5:3, indicating that those who receive circumcision are bound to the whole law of Moses (Flusser 1996, 209). Flusser fails to account for the greater argument of Paul in Galatians, where he argues that attempts to gain righteousness before God through works of the law are futile. Rather, Flusser takes Paul to reject the validity of the law. This misunderstanding on Flusser’s part amplifies the issue of Paul’s apparent rejection of law and the Didache’s apparent embrace of the Apostolic Decree. For this reason, he sees the Didache and Peter as calling for works of the law so the Gentile will live as a Jew. Flusser makes this conclusion based on Galatians 2:11-14, where Paul criticizes Peter for holding a double standard. Flusser takes the criticism to be that Peter would try to have Gentiles live like Jews, but not by full obedience, only partial obedience (Flusser 1996, 210). From this line of reasoning, Flusser draws a sharp dichotomy between followers of Paul and followers of Peter, with the Didache representing Peter’s view.