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The Two Ways: An Early Christian Tract

The tract of the two ways has made it into several early Christian writings, under the title of either The Way of Light and Darkness or The Way of Life and Death.


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It can be found in The Letter of Barnabas, at the end, and The Didache, at the beginning. Both those writings belong to the early second century, but "The Two Ways" is incorporated in fourth-century church manuals as well.

The Letter of Barnabas refers to the two ways as "of light" and "of darkness." The Didache refers to them as "of life" and "of death." They are both clearly copying the same tract, however, as much of the wording is exactly the same.

The tract of the two ways is an important early Christian writing. The fact that it is included in documents from the early second through the fourth centuries indicates that it was widely accepted by the churches and is an accurate picture of early Christian thought. Remember, as with all the early Christian writings, the question is not whether they have Scriptural authority (which is equivalent to apostolic authority), they do not. The question is what was agreed on and understood to be true by all churches everywhere in the first century or two after the apostles. Anything widely accepted among these cooperative but independent churches is extremely likely to have come from the apostles or at least match apostolic teaching. As Tertullian argued in his Prescription Against Heretics, wandering from the truth does not produce the same result in many independent churches. When many scattered churches agree, it is the result of the faith handed down.

This is the version from The Letter of Barnabas. I have used the translation found in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, but I have updated the language as needed for easier readability.


The Two Ways

There are two ways of teaching and authority, the one of light and the other of darkness. There is, however, a great difference between these two ways. Over one are stationed the light-bringing angels of God, but over the other are the angels of satan. [God] is truly the Lord for ever and ever, but [Satan] is prince of the time of iniquity.

The Way of Light

The way of light, then, is as follows. If anyone wants to arrive at the place appointed for us, he must be zealous in his works. Thus, the following is the knowledge given to us for the purpose of walking in this way:

You will love the One who created you, and you will glorify the One who redeemed you from death.

You will be single-hearted and rich in spirit. You will not join those who walk in the way of death. You will hate doing what is displeasing to God. You will hate all hypocrisy, and you will not abandon the commandments of the Lord.

You will not exalt yourself, but you will be of a lowly mind [in everything]. You will not honor yourself. You will not listen to malicious advice against your neighbor. You will not allow arrogance in yourself.

You will not commit fornication; you will not commit adultery; you will not corrupt youth.

You will not allow the word of God to issue from your lips with any kind of impurity. You will not show partiality when you reprove anyone for transgression. You will be meek, and you will be peaceful. You will tremble at the words you hear. You will not dwell on negative reports about your brother.

You shall not waver in regard to whether something shall happen or not. You will not take the name of the Lord in vain.

You will love your neighbor as much as yourself.

You will not kill a child by procuring an abortion, nor will you destroy it after it is born. You will not withhold your hand from your son or your daughter, but from their infancy you will teach theme the fear of the Lord.

You will not envy what belongs to your neighbor, nor will you be greedy. You will not share the mindset of the haughty, but you will be counted among the righteous and the lowly.

Receive the troubles that come your way as blessings [knowing that nothing happens without God]. You will not be double-minded or two-faced, for a double tongue is a snare of death. With modesty and fear you will be subject to the Lord and to bosses as the image of God.

You will not issue orders to your employees with bitterness because they trust in the same God. You do not want to disrespect the God who is over both of you; he came to place people in his kingdom based on the position the Spirit prepared them for, not based on outward appearance.

You will share everything with your neigbor. You will not call things your own because if you participate together in imperishable things, how much more in those things which are perishable?

You will not be hasty with your tongue, for the mouth is a deadly trap. As much as possible, be pure in your soul. Do not be ready to reach out your hands to take while you draw them back to give.

You shall love, as the apple of your eye, everyone that speaks the word of the Lord to you. You will remember the day of judgment night and day. You will seek out the faces of the saints every day, either laboring in speech and going to exhort them, and meditating on how to save a soul by the word, or you will labor with your hands for the redemption of your sins.

You will not hesitate to give, nor complain when you give. Give to everyone that requests something from you, and you will know who is the good Repayer of the reward. You will take good care of things you are in charge of and neither add to it or take away from it.

To the last day you will hate the wicked one.

You will judge righteously. You will not create a schism, but you shall make peace among those who disagree by bringing them together. You will confess your sins; you will not go to prayer with an evil conscience.

This is the way of light.

The Way of Darkness

The way of darkness is crooked and full of cursing, for it is the way of eternal death with punishment. In this way ar the things that destroy the soul, such as idolatry, overconfidence, the arrogance of power, hyocrisy, a divided soul, adultery, murder, pillage, haughtiness, transgression, deceit, malice, self-sufficiency, poisoning, magic, greed, lack of the fear of God.

[In the way of darkness] are those who persecute the good, those who hate truth, those who love falsehood, those who don't know the reward of righetousness, those who do not cling to what is good, those who do watch over the widow and orphan with just judgment, and those who do not pay attention to the fear of God, resulting in wickedness. Gentleness and patience are far from such. [In the way of darkness] are people who love vanity, seek reward, don't pity the needy, will not work with the one who is overcome by their toil; those who are prone to speaking evil, who don't know the One that made them, who are murderers of children and destroyers of the workmanship of God, who turn away from the one in need, who oppress the unsuccessful, who are advocates of the rich, who are unjust judges of the poor, and who are transgressors in every way.

It is good, therefore, that the one who has learned the judgments of the Lord, as many as have been written, should walk in them. For the one who keeps these shall be glorified in the kingdom of God, but he who chooses other things shall be destroyed with his works.

For this reason there will be a resurrection; for this reason a retribution.


That is the tract of the two ways from chapters 19 and 20 of the Letter of BarnabasThe Didache, as I said, has a very similar version.

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