Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Didache and the Deity of Christ

A First Century Witness to a Non-Islamic Christology

A Response to Paul Williams Pt. 3

Sam Shamoun

We continue from where we left off in regards to the Didache’s witness to the Deity of Christ.

Worshiping Jesus as God

Contrary to Vermes’ statement that the Didache never applies the term God to Jesus, there may actually be one place where it does exactly that.

The Didache sources Jesus’ words, as found in Matthew’s Gospel, as commands from the Lord, and also records prayers that were to be offered in the name of Jesus:

Chapter 8. Fasting and Prayer (the Lord's Prayer).

But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week. Rather, fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday). Do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, like this:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, evil); for Thine is the power and the glory for ever. (Roberts-Donaldson translation; italic and underline emphasis ours)


Chapter 9. The Eucharist.

Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup:

We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever.

And concerning the broken bread:

We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.

But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, "Give not that which is holy to the dogs."

We will have more to say concerning the observance of the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, a little later on.

For now, however, we want to focus on the fact that the Didache exhorts Christians to offer thanksgiving to God through Jesus Christ, which is precisely what we find in the NT itself:

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17

“If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 4:11

Suffice it to say, such devotional practices are unprecedented and incompatible with Williams’ Islamic beliefs. Williams cannot show a single place in the Hebrew Bible (or the Quran for that matter) where believers offer up praise and worship through a human intermediary such as Moses.

That’s not at all. The following example actually contains an invocation to Jesus in Aramaic!

Chapter 10. Prayer after Communion.

But after you are filled, give thanks this way:

We thank Thee, holy Father, for Thy holy name which You didst cause to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Thou, Master almighty, didst create all things for Thy name's sake; You gavest food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to Thee; but to us You didst freely give spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Thy Servant. Before all things we thank Thee that You are mighty; to Thee be the glory for ever. Remember, Lord, Thy Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in Thy love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for Thy kingdom which Thou have prepared for it; for Thine is the power and the glory for ever. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen. (Italic and underline emphasis ours)

Here is how Ehrman renders the last part of this section:

6 May grace come and this world pass away. Hosanna to the God of David. If anyone is holy, let him come; if any one is not, let him repent. Maranatha!12 Amen.” (Lost Scriptures, p. 215; italic emphasis ours)

21Cf. 1 Cor 16:22. (Ibid)

Several things stand out from this act of praise. First, here is a prayer that is offered to God the Father at the commencement of the thanksgiving meal, thanking him for revealing and granting eternal life through Jesus Christ to all the believers.

Second, the Didache employs an Aramaic word found in one of Paul’s epistle, namely Maranatha:

“If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” 1 Corinthians 16:22-23 KJV

This is basically an invocation to the risen Lord Jesus to return or come again from heaven.

As such, this not only demonstrates that the communities which the Didache was written to were calling out to Jesus in their corporate worship, it also shows that this practice of calling on the risen Christ started, not among Gentiles, but among Jesus’ Aramaic-speaking Jewish followers!

Evangelical Christian scholar R. T. France explains:

“It is striking first to note the ‘definition’ of Christian in 1 Corinthians 1:2 as ‘those who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’. Not only does the phrase in itself indicate that prayer to Jesus was a normal and distinguishing characteristic of Christians in the 50s, but ‘to call on the name of the Lord’ is a regular Old Testament formula for worship and prayer offered to God (Gn. 4:26; 13:4; Ps. 105:1; Je. 10:25; Joel 2:32; etc.). Thus the phrase as a whole suggests that Pliny’s description of Christian worship about 115 as singing ‘to Christ as God’ could have already been an outsider’s impression sixty years earlier. Indeed this characteristic is apparently earlier still, for the use of the Aramaic formula of prayer to Jesus, Maranatha (‘Our Lord, come’), in 1 Corinthians 16:22 when writing to a Greek-church can only indicate that this formula, like such foreign expressions as ‘Hosanna’ and ‘Hallelujah’ today, was hallowed by long usage. When it originated in the Aramaic-speaking church can only be guessed, but to be familiar in Corinth in the 50s it is likely to date from the very early days of the Jerusalem church; in that case Jesus, not long after his death, was being ‘called upon’ by Christians from his own cultural background.” (France, “The Worship of Jesus: A Neglected Factor In Christological Debate?”, Christ The Lord: Studies in Christology presented to Donald Guthrie, edited by Harold H. Rowdon [Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, Il 1982], p. 50; bold emphasis ours)

Renowned NT scholar Larry W. Hurtado concurs with France’s assessment:

“… It is also clear that acclaiming and invoking Jesus as Lord was done in Aramaic-speaking Christian circles as well as in Greek-speaking ones, as indicated by the invocation formula, maranatha, preserved by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:22. This Aramaic formula was so familiar already by the date of this epistle that no translation of it was required for his Greek-speaking Gentile Christian readers in Corinth…” (Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI/ Cambridge, U.K. 2003], p. 21; bold emphasis ours)


“… To reiterate a point made earlier: surely Judean Jewish Christians, shaped by the well-attested Jewish concern about avoiding the worship of any figure other than the one God, could not have countenanced the cultic reverence of Jesus practiced in Corinth and characteristic of Pauline Christianity if it were not also part of their own corporate devotional life. Yet, to judge by the issues that Paul is constrained to engage in the Corinthian correspondence, there was no objection on this matter. The more reasonable conclusion, therefore, is that there was no objection because this cultic reverence of Jesus was in fact a shared devotional pattern among Judean and Pauline circles.

“As reinforcement of this judgment, I return to that particularly striking piece of evidence that Jesus was invoked in the cultic setting of Aramaic-speaking believers, the appeal to Jesus cited by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:22, maranatha. Though a small artifact of early devotional practice, its importance and meaning justify more extensive discussion. First, this expression obviously derives from the cultic life of Aramaic-speaking Christians, AND IS LIKELY A PRAYER/INVOCATION-FORMULA. This is consistent with its appearance at the end of this epistle, for Paul characteristically used liturgical expressions in the opening and closing of his epistles. Furthermore, the same expression appears also in our earliest extant collection of Christian worship material, the Didache, as part of a prayer to be offered at the end of the Eucharist meal (10.6). Also, an equivalent Greek expression appears in Revelation 22:20 (‘Come, Lord Jesus’), where it, too, is obviously a prayer-appeal.

“Secondly, this cultic appeal is addressed to the exalted Jesus. The maranatha expression is thus clearly evidence of corporate cultic devotion to Jesus in Aramaic circles where the expression first emerged. More important than philological arguments over the connotation of the Aramaic term mar (lord) and whether it was used as a divine title (IT WAS) is the fact that the expression represents the cultic invocation of Jesus. For this shows that he was a recipient of devotion in the worship gathering of Aramaic-speaking believers in the earliest decades of the Christian movement.” (Ibid, 3. Judean Jewish Christianity, pp. 172-173; bold and capital emphasis ours)

The other significant aspect of this prayer is that it uses the phrase Hosanna (“salvation”) to praise God, i.e. “Hosanna to the God of David.” This is the very same word which was employed to praise Christ as he entered into Jerusalem riding on the foal of a donkey:

“When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, ‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’ Hosanna in the highest heaven!’” Mark 11:7-10

This seems to suggest that the God whom the Didache ascribes salvation to is actually the Lord Jesus Christ!

Since the author(s) were familiar with the traditions found in Matthew’s Gospel, as evidenced from the citations quoted here and others which appear all throughout the Didache, he/they would surely have known of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem where the children ascribed hosanna directly to him. In light of this, the compiler(s) must have known that the readers would have naturally taken the statement “hosanna to the God of David,” as an ascription of praise to Jesus himself. In fact, according to one of the leading authorities on the Didache, this is precisely how at least one critical scholar understood it:

“… With a solemn ‘hosanna’ the community rejoices in God,86 who sends the Messiah, the son of David.87 Future and present eschatology are intertwined.88” (Kurt Niederwimmer, The Didache (Hermeneia: A Critical & Historical Commentary on the Bible) [Augsburg Fortress Publishing, 1998)], pp. 162-163)

87 Differently Knopf, Lehre, 29: “Here Christ is the God of David.” (Ibid, p. 162; bold emphasis ours)

To argue that such honor is simply too developed and incompatible with the Christology of the author(s) not only begs the question, but also ignores the fact that the Didache identifies Jesus as Yahweh God who shall come with his holy ones to judge the world. See the second part of our reply for the details.

At the very least, the use of hosanna for God would have led the readers to the conclusion that the Gospels present Jesus as receiving the worship that belongs to God, a point brought out more clearly in Matthew:

“The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hosanna TO THE SON OF DAVID!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’ Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘“My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are making it “a den of robbers.”’ The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna TO THE SON OF DAVID, they were indignant. ‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked him. ‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read, “From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise”?’” Matthew 21:15-16

Jesus justifies the worship that the children were giving him by citing the following Psalm which refers to Yahweh receiving praise from infants:

“[For the end, concerning the wine-presses, a Psalm of David.] O Lord, our Lord, how wonderful is thy name in all the earth! for thy magnificence is exalted above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou perfected praise, because of thine enemies; that thou mightest put down the enemy and avenger.” Psalm 8:1-2 LXX

Jesus’ point is quite clear. The children were reacting precisely the way that the Psalter said they would when in the presence of God. However, Jesus’ response only makes sense if he was claiming to be Yahweh God, since this is the only way that a Psalm, which speaks of babes worshiping Yahweh, could be used to justify the adoration that Christ was receiving from children.

With the foregoing in perspective, does Williams really expect us to believe that such worship and adoration is incompatible with Paul’s Christology and yet completely in line with the teachings of Islam?

Does he really think that invoking Jesus as Lord in corporate worship, and beseeching him to come again, is perfectly acceptable in Islamic theology when the Quran forbids taking any prophet as one’s Lord, and restricts all invocations to God alone?

It is not conceivable that a human being unto whom God had granted revelation, and sound judgment, and prophethood, should thereafter have said unto people, "Worship me beside God"; but rather [did he exhort them], "Become men= of God by spreading the knowledge of the divine writ, and by your own deep study [thereof]." And neither did he bid you to take the angels and the prophets for your lords: [for] would he bid you to deny the truth after you have surrendered yourselves unto God? S. 3:79-80 Muhammad Asad

And your Lord has said, "Invoke Me and I will respond to you. Surely the ones who wax too proud to do Me worship will soon enter Hell utterly abject."… He is The Living One; there is no god except He. So invoke Him, making the religion His faithfully. Praise be to Allah, The Lord of the worlds. S. 40:60, 65 Muhammad Mahmoud Ghali

Williams’ problems are far from over, as we shall see in the next part of our reply.