COUNTING THE WAYS
March 24, 2014 By Philip Jenkins 0 Comments (Edit)
Early Christians referred to their movement as The Way, Hodos. No later than the early second century, the converts’ manual that we call the Didache, the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, began by declaring that “There are two Ways [Hodoi], one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the two Ways.”
As I have suggested, references to the Way occur throughout the New Testament, particularly in the Gospels and Acts, but even the best English translations tend to pass over these references, usually by using multiple words – way, road, journey, and so on. I showed how extensive, and how subtle, were the uses of Way in Mark’s Gospel. Other writers were just as enthusiastic.
As Luke and Acts constitute a two volume series, we note that this one author accounts for forty percent of uses. Occurrences are correspondingly rare in the epistles and Revelation.
I honestly don’t know why we find this imbalance, but it does have interesting implications for the emphases at work in different parts of the New Testament.
I’m speculating, but might this reflect the particular function of the gospels/Acts, which were intended as introductory materials for new Christians who needed to be led into the Way, so to speak? Other texts, like the epistles, were intended for consumption by the already instructed. Or maybe the gospels/Acts were intended for more public reading, and that was a message the authors wanted to present to a general public?
Partly, we owe “Way”-talk to Mark himself, who used the concept repeatedly. That also meant that uses proliferated in Matthew and Luke, who incorporated most of Mark’s text.
But beyond using Mark, both added their own meanings. Matthew quotes Jesus as warning his listeners that “the gate is wide and the way [hodos] is easy that leads to destruction… for the gate is narrow and the road [hodos] is hard that leads to life.” This is exactly the parallel of dual ways that we have already seen in the Didache.
Sometimes, we really don’t know whether Luke meant the word solely as “road” in an uncomplicated literal sense, or if we are meant to have other implications in our minds. In the story of the Good Samaritan, for instance, we hear of the priest passing him by. The text actually reports that “a priest was going down that road [hodos] and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.” Is the reader meant to think that the priest was going down the wrong Way, rather than the one Jesus was advocating?
The word, and the implications, recur frequently. Later in his career, Paul faced trouble in Ephesus, where “no small difficulty had broken out concerning the Way.” In Jerusalem, the Jews plot to kill him “along the way.” Possibly the passage just states where they plan the ambush, but perhaps there is an additional level of meaning: they plan to kill him as he pursues his mission.