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Didache 5

"And the way of death is this: First of all it is evil and full of curse: murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rapines, false witnessings, hypocrisies, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing requital, not pitying a poor man, not labouring for the afflicted, not knowing Him that made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him that is in want, afflicting him that is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners. Be delivered, children, from all these."

In Didache 5 the author is describing a range of evil acts and attitudes, and suddenly invokes a rather striking and unusual term which doesn't make clear sense to me. This phrase in Greek is:

οὐ γινώσκοντες μισθὸν δικαιοσύνης

How would this be understood by early Christians, and why is it important?

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    Because the sinner does not know Jesus the loving Savior, they will not know the reward of the righteous and thus are not motivated by God's grace and the reward that it brings. Therefore, they have no motivation other than self-gratification in this life.
    – Dottard
    Sep 30, 2022 at 21:32
  • The proverbs must be full of such descriptions of the fools or wicked. I thought it could be interpreted as punishment or wages of justice but that's unlikely. It should have been wages of adikias not dikaios in that case.
    – Michael16
    Oct 6, 2022 at 5:09

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Μισθός means wages, remuneration. See 2 Peter 2:13,15. (who loved wages of unrighteousness)

2 Peter 2:15: ὃς μισθὸν ἀδικίας ἠγάπησεν

However, in the didache verse, it's wages of righteousness. The points from that verse are listing their ignorance of not knowing the righteousness; not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good. Thus, you should not be confused. Doing evil things and not knowing the way of righteousness are naturally to be listed together. They are parallel & complementary attributes.

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Wages of righteousness

Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? (‭‭Luke‬ ‭16:11‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

How we manage our money is first observed to see our heart status

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate. (‭‭Psalms‬ ‭127:3-5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

Blessed is every one who fears the Lord, Who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands, You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine In the very heart of your house, Your children like olive plants All around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed Who fears the Lord. (‭‭Psalms‬ ‭128:1-4‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

After God sees we manage our house according to His Word, He provides the rewards of righteousness and a healthy family flourishing in the home.

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Rewards result from the Way of Life

The phrase is not so surprising if one considers the tone of Didache from the beginning. It juxtaposes two ways: the Way of Life and Way of Death, promising blessedness and happiness as rewards for those who follow the former, and implying punishments for the latter. There follows a long list of both positive and negative Christian commandments, many related to OT equivalents. Chapter 4 cautions:

Do not in any way forsake the commandments of the Lord; but keep what you have received, neither adding thereto nor taking away therefrom... This is the way of life.

The implication is clear: those follow the Lord's commandments are rewarded. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:6 - “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Those who habitually violate Jesus' commands never know the blessedness that results from consistent moral behavior.

Why this was important

The OP asks why this was important. The answer probably lies in the attitude that Paul warns against in 1 Cor. 6, where certain members of the church had misunderstood his teaching to imply that, because Christians were not saved by obedience to the Law, they could simply ignore its dictates:

“All things are permitted for me,” but not all things are beneficial... The body is meant not for sexual immorality but for the Lord and the Lord for the body... Shun sexual immorality!... Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. (6-20)

Early Christians would understand the moral teaching of Didache in a straightforward manner. Those who follow Jesus' moral commands are rewarded with with blessings and happiness. These follow the Way of Life. Their opposites are "persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil." These follow the Way of Death, and do not know the rewards that come from the Way of Life. The teaching was important as a warning against the antinomianism that resulted from misunderstanding the Pauline doctrine of freedom from the Law.

Note: Those Christians who accepted Paul's teachings would understand this section of Didache as an encouragement to manifest the fruits of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23) However some commentators hold that Didache is a Jewish-Christian document that did not accept the Pauline doctrine of salvation by faith alone.

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