Belated Greek Wednesday: Didache 9: Is Jesus God’s “Child” or His “Servant”?

Here’s the Eucharist liturgy from the Didache, an early Jewish-Christian text, composed somewhere in Syria or Palestine, between 60-110 CE. It was highly regarded early on, and was considered Scripture by many early Christian groups. (As a sidebar, I’m of the opinion that it was composed relatively early, maybe 60-80 CE, in Palestine.)

Περὶ δὲ τῆς εὐχαριστίας, οὕτω εὐχαριστήσατε.

Πρῶτον περὶ τοῦ ποτηρίου· Εὐχαριστοῦμέν σοι, πάτερ ἡμῶν, ὑπὲρ τῆς ἁγίας ἀμπέλου Δαυὶδ τοῦ παιδός σου, ἧς ἐγνώρισας ἡμῖν διὰ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ παιδός σου· σοὶ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας.

Περὶ δὲ τοῦ κλάσματος· Εὐχαριστοῦμέν σοι, πάτερ ἡμῶν, ὑπὲρ τῆς ζωῆς καὶ γνώσεως, ἧς ἐγνώρισας ἡμῖν διὰ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ παιδός σου· σοὶ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας.

Ὥσπερ ἦν τοῦτο τὸ κλάσμα διεσκορπισμένον ἐπάνω τῶν ὀρέων καὶ συναχθὲν ἐγένετο ἕν, οὕτω συναχθήτω σου ἡ ἐκκλησία ἀπὸ τῶν περάτων τῆς γῆς εἰς τὴν σὴν βασιλείαν· ὅτι σοῦ ἐστιν ἡ δόξα καὶ ἡ δύναμις διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας.

——————————

Concerning the Eucharist, give thanks like this.

First, concerning the cup:

“We give thanks to you, our Father, for the holy grapevine of your pais David, which you made known to us through your pais Jesus. May you be glorified forever.”

And concerning the piece of bread:

“We give thanks to you, our Father, for the life and knowledge that you made known to us through your pais Jesus. May you be glorified forever. Just as this broken bread was scattered on the mountainsides, but was gathered together and made one loaf, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. For the glory and the power are yours through Jesus Christ forever.”

The problem in this text rests on two points: 1) Pais can mean both “child” and “servant” [why? they come from similar roots that merged into one form]; 2) The author uses pais to describe both David and Jesus. In the LXX, whenever David is explicitly described as God’s pais, it always translates the Hebrew ebed (“servant,” “slave”); in the NT, David is servant-pais twice (Lk 1:69; Acts 4:25), but never a child-pais. In the NT, Jesus is a child-pais once (Lk 2:43) and a servant-pais five times (Mt 12:18; Acts 3:13, 26; 4:27, 30). So, the biblical evidence weighs heavily in favor of reading pais here in Didache 9 as “servant.”

At two other places in the Didache (7:3; 16:4)  Jesus is called God’s huiosa term that unambiguously means “son”; of course, he is called God’s huios all throughout the NT, he is called David’s huios three times in the NT (Mt 1:1; Mk 10:47; Lk 18:38), and he is called Joseph’s huios twice (Jn 1:45; 6:42). However, David is nowhere in the LXX or the NT called God’s huios. In other words, for the authors of the Bible, David’s paternity is strictly human, while for the NT authors, Jesus has both human and divine paternity.

So, the nitty-gritty aside: how should we translate pais in Didache 9? Should David’s role as God’s pais take precedence, meaning that both David and Jesus are called “servant” here (a meaning that seems strange, to say the least, in a Eucharistic liturgy)? Or should Jesus’ sonship take precedence, giving David the strange and somewhat awkward title of child-pais? Or, even less likely, is the author making a pun here, between David as servant-pais and Jesus as child-pais?

Personally, I think the best interpretation is to read pais here as “servant.” Thus, the emphasis in the Didache‘s Eucharist liturgy is primarily on God the Father, with the role of Jesus the Son placed decidedly in the background. This emphasis is profoundly different than that of Paul’s Eucharist liturgy (1 Cor 11:23-32), which focuses solely on Jesus. I’d hesitate to make a full-blown Christology from this one section of the Didache, but I certainly find it telling that, in the celebration of Jesus’ death, Jesus is put in the background and is called God’s servant, not God’s son. In fact, in this prayer before the meal that celebrates Jesus’ death, Jesus’ death is not even mentioned! In his death, then, Jesus is only carrying out God’s commands, and has no choice of his own. Very interesting stuff!

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Belated Greek Wednesday: Didache 9: Is Jesus God’s “Child” or His “Servant”?

  1. Some really great work you are doing here. Thanks for sharing and keep it up. May God bless you and keep you strong as you work towards your purpose and move swiftly towards your destination.

  2. Ahmed

    So Jesus is God’s servant which means that the Trinity is false and God is ONE… I’m just going to say what has been known to around 1.3 Billion people for the last 14 centuries… Told you so. -Muslims

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