Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.
Chapter 10 “Purifying Fire, Selective Resurrection, and God’s Coming” pp. 619-690, part 4.
The final sign of Didache 16 is a resurrection of the dead (Milavec 2003, 659). Milavec understands the resurrection to be, in effect, a re-creation of a body and soul which have died together (Milavec 2003, 660). Based on the statement in Didache 16:7 and a parallel in Zechariah 14:5 that the Lord will come, Milavec asks whether this refers to “God” or to “Jesus.” Milavec thinks, based on a similarity to Matthew 24:30, the Didache is referring to a Messianic hope here, therefore “the Lord Jesus” (Milavec 2003, 661). As has been observed before, my opinion is that Milavec maintains an artificial distinction of the first and second persons of the Godhead. This clutters his argument. A related question, that of an early Christian expectation of a second cominog of Jesus, does bear consideration. Milavec suggests that early Christians simply took over a Jewish expectation of the Day of the Lord, and read Jesus into it as the Lord who would actually come (Milavec 2003, 662). Based on Milavec’s dating suspicions, he concludes that the Didache was closer to having an Old Testament expectation about the coming of the Lord (God) rather than a New Testament Messianic view (Milavec 2003, 663). Milavec goes on to maintain that context should be consulted in each instance of a reference to a “Lord” to see whether it refers to God or to Jesus. He makes the same distinction with the word euangelion for “good news” or “gospel” (Milavec 2003, 663). His conclusion is that “it would appear that all of the instances of “Lord” in the Didache ought to be understood as referring to the “Lord God” (Milavec 2003, 665). At the end of his argument, Milavec observes that Didache 7:1 has a trinitarian formula. However, he considers that the Didache does make a sharp distinction between Jesus and God. Milavec does no state an argument, but refers the reader to works by Raymond Brown and James D.G. Dunn which purport to demonstrate that the New Testament does not consider Jesus to be God (Milavec 2003, 666).
The image presented of the Lord’s return in the Didache as well as in Christian Scriptures is that of a Lord coming from heaven visibly on clouds (Milavec 2003, 667). Milavec notes that other texts from the early Christian period tend to take the scenes of judgment and destruction and enhance them with very particular comings and goings of God (Milavec 2003, 668).
Milavec questions whether there was a lost ending of the Didache. Apparently “there is some suspicion that Leon, the eleventh-century copyist may have left seven blank lines because the end of the text before him was broken off or lost” (Milavec 2003, 670). However, Milavec does not think any omission would include a judgment scene. God’s final purpose seems to be to raise the elect from the dead and to establish a beneficent reign (Milavec 2003, 671).
In his conclusion, Milavec considers Didache 16 to be not the work of the prophets, but that of some who were at least slightly suspicious that prophets were trying to manipulate a vision of the end so as to fit their preferences (Milavec 2003, 671). However, the prophets are not condemned. They are useful to the community as those who could inspire commitment and a sense of future hope (Milavec 2003, 672).
Milavec asks an interesting question about eschatology. Often we consider eschatological expectations solely in terms of Jewish traditions. How might these compare with Gentile views? He finds that Gentile sources show hopes which are similar to those in Jewish writings (Milavec 2003, 674). This could be important in terms of the Didache communities because Gentile converts to Christianity were confronted with some sort of eschatological hope (Milavec 2003, 675). The cultures of expectation and of a time of peace to come after strife were sufficiently similar that a Christian eschatology could be adopted by a Gentile.
Within Judaism there were a variety of eschatological models. Milavec notes one, found in Tobit from the third century B.C., with a focus on a restoration of the temple and a conversion of many gentiles (Milavec 2003, 676). A later eschatology, found in the Babylonian Talmud from about 600 C.E., has a smilar view of an ingathering and restoration of Jerusalem (Milavec 2003, 677).
Milavec notes that in 2 Esdras, dating from the late 1st century, the Messiah is expected, and has an increasingly important role (Milavec 2003, 679). Counter to the development of a messianic hope in Jewish eschatology, Milavec finds “the Didache clearly runs against the grain by having no Messiah and no messianic age” (Milavec 2003, 680). This assertion is predicated on Milavec’s understanding that “The Lord” in Didache does not refer to Jesus. Milavec theorizes that the neglect of a Messianic hope in the Didache is related to the rejection of the temple culture which he finds in the text (Milavec 2003, 681).
Milavec draws a parallel between the Didache communities and the modern Nation of Islam movement (Milavec 2003, 683). Both groups took on an identity which was based on ideological uniformity. Milavec finds both to have sprung from those left behind by society. He also considers both to have created a social movement of non-violence in a hostile culture. Milavec traces the theological teachings of the Nation of Islam in brief (Milavec 2003, 684). The eschatology looks for rescue of a racially pure group and the destruction of all that was not part of the racial and religious minority associated with Nation of Islam (Milavec 2003, 686). Milavec thinks the Didache communities were also isolated and dedicated groups who would similarly have rejected the rest of the world so as to pursue their pure idological vision.
Milavec concludes this portion of the book with a reflection on the way different theological presuppositions can lead to radically different interpretations of eschatological statements (Milavec 2003, 688).