Do not in any way forsake the commandments of the Lord; but keep what you have received, neither adding thereto nor taking away therefrom. Didache, Chapter 5, Roberts-Donaldson translation
Adding/ taking away – The Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) is one of the earliest Christian documents, dating from the late 1st or early 2nd century. It is the oldest surviving written summary of church doctrine and was undoubtedly used to instruct Gentiles coming into the faith. What is important about the Didache is its very close connection to themes in the Tanakh, not least of which is this instruction based on the Torah commandment of Moses. Our efforts to recapture the thought of the earliest assemblies of Messianic believers recognizes just how crucial this instructional manual is for it clearly connects the early “church” to the existing Torah-observant Jewish community. With this background, we might reasonably ask, “When did the believing community decide that Torah no longer applied?” It certainly wasn’t true of the 1st century and early 2nd century instructions. So, what happened?
The answer is that Marcion happened. Marcion was the first to suggest that the “Old” Testament was obsolete. In fact, as far as Marcion was concerned, all of the Bible was useless and unnecessary except Luke and the letters of Paul. In other words, whatever contradicted Marcion’s theology was deemed unfit for spiritual consumption. For the first time, one of Christianity’s own theologians questioned the continuing authority of the sacred text. And even though the Church officially condemned Marcion, the seed for the distinction between the “old” and the “new” testaments was planted. Marcion believed that the God of the Old Testament was angry, vindictive and legalistic. In order to combat this Jewish, Old Testament God, it was necessary to jettison the documents that portrayed Him in this way as obsolete and culturally-dependent. Christians were not Jews and should not live according to Jewish customs.
It didn’t take long before men like Justin Martyr began to assert that the “Church” had replaced Israel and the “new” covenant of the Church made the covenant of the God of the Old Testament with the nation of Israel a thing of the past. Irenaeus capped off the trend with the connection between Adam and Christ, bypassing all of the history of Israel in one fell swoop. By universalizing the Genesis story so that it no longer presented a tribal storehouse of memories as exemplars for living but was now the grand principles of creation, God’s “intermission” with Israel could be rejected as a failed experiment subsumed under the Adam-Christ connection. Irenaeus shifted the foundation of the Old Testament by reinterpreting the prophecies of the Tanakh as though they applied to the Church. Soulen, Dacy and Dozier all document this transition. Amazingly, in spite of the good beginnings, it appears as if Christian thinking today is much more in line with these early Greek/Gentile fathers than it is with the Messianic Jews and Gentiles of the first century. Did you ever wonder why the Reformation didn’t really reform much of anything?
Topical Index: Marcion, replacement theology, Deuteronomy 4:2, Didache 5