The Didache (Διδαχὴ, Koine Greek for "Teaching") is the common name of a brief early Christian treatise (c. 50–160 C.E.), containing instructions for Christian communities. The text is possibly the first written catechism, with three main sections dealing with Christian lessons, rituals such as baptism and eucharist, and Church organization. It was considered by some of the Church Fathers as part of the New Testament but rejected as spurious by others, eventually not accepted into the New Testament canon with the exception of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church "broader canon." The Roman Catholic Church has accepted it as part of the collection of Apostolic Fathers.
Although the Didache was excluded from the canon of scripture because it could not be clearly linked to any one specific Apostle, the text remains immensely valuable and instructive as a window into the early Christian community and their struggles to adapt to a predominantly Hellenistic climate and world.
Once considered to be a lost text, the Didache was rediscovered in 1873, and published ten years later by Philotheos Bryennios, a Greek Orthodox metropolitan bishop of Nicomedia. Shortly after Bryennios' initial publication, the scholar Otto von Gebhardt identified a Latin manuscript in the Abbey of Melk in Austria as containing a translation of the first part of the Didache; later scholars now believe that to be an independent witness to the tradition of the Two Ways section (see below). In 1900, J. Schlecht found another Latin translation of chapters 1 through 5, with the longer title, omitting "twelve," and with the rubric De doctrina Apostolorum. Coptic and Ethiopian translations have also been discovered since Bryennios' original publication.
The Didache is mentioned by the early church historian Eusebius (c. 324) as the Teachings of the Apostles following the books recognized as canonical (Historia Ecclesiastica III, 25):
"Let there be placed among the spurious works the Acts of Paul, the Shepherd of Hermas and the Apocalypse of Peter, and besides these the Epistle of Barnabas, and what are called the Teachings of the Apostles, and also the Apocalypse of John, if this be thought proper; for as I wrote before, some reject it, and others place it in the canon."
Athanasius (367) and Rufinus (c. 380) list the Didache among Deuterocanonical books. (Rufinus gives the curious alternative title Judicium Petri, "Judgment of Peter".) It is rejected by Nicephorus (c. 810), Pseudo-Anastasius, and Pseudo-Athanasius in Synopsis and the 60 Books canon. It is accepted by the Apostolic Constitutions Canon 85, John of Damascus and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The Adversus Aleatores by an imitator of Cyprian quotes it by name. Unacknowledged citations are very common. The section Two Ways shares the same language with the Epistle of Barnabas, chapters 18-20, sometimes word for word, sometimes added to, dislocated, or abridged, and Barnabas iv, 9 either derives from Didache, 16, 2-3, or vice versa. The Shepherd of Hermas seems to reflect it, and Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen also seem to use the work, and so in the West do Optatus and the Gesta apud Zenophilum. The Didascalia Apostolorum are founded upon the Didache. The Apostolic Church-Ordinances has used a part, and the Apostolic Constitutions have embodied the Didascalia. There are echoes in Justin Martyr, Tatian, Theophilus of Antioch, Cyprian, and Lactantius.
The contents may be divided into four parts, which most scholars agree were combined from separate sources by a later redactor: the first is the Two Ways, the Way of Life and the Way of Death (chapters 1-6); the second part is a ritual dealing with baptism, fasting, and Communion (chapters 7-10); the third speaks of the ministry and how to deal with traveling prophets (chapters 11-15); and the final section (chapter 16) is a brief apocalypse.
While the manuscript is commonly referred to as the Didache, this is short for the header found on the document and the title used by the Church Fathers, "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" (Διδαχὴ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων). A fuller title or subtitle is also found next in the manuscript, "The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles" (Διδαχὴ κυρίου διὰ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων τοῖς ἔθνεσιν).
The first section (Chapters 1-6) begins: "There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways." It is thought by many scholars to be taken from an existing Jewish tract of the same name, but with significant alterations, as the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906, notes:
The most acceptable theory among the many proposed on the character and composition of the Didache is that proposed by Charles Taylor in 1886, and accepted in 1895 by A. Harnack (who in 1884 had most vigorously maintained its Christian origin)—that the first part of the Didache, the teaching concerning the Two Ways (Didache, ch. i.-vi.), was originally a manual of instruction used for the initiation of proselytes in the Synagogue, and was converted later into a Christian manual and ascribed to Jesus and the Apostles.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, notes this view as well, and presents the perspective of other scholars:
It is held by very many critics that the Two Ways is older than the rest of the Didache, and is in origin a Jewish work, intended for the instruction of proselytes. The use of the Sibylline Oracles and other Jewish sources may be probable, and the agreement of ch. ii with the Talmud may be certain; but on the other hand Funk has shown that (apart from the admittedly Christian ch. i, 3-6, and the occasional citations of the N.T.) the O.T. is often not quoted directly, but from the Gospels. Bartlet suggests an oral Jewish catechesis as the source. But the use of such material would surprise us in one whose name for the Jews is "the hypocrites," and in the vehemently anti-Jewish Barnabas still more. The whole base of this theory is destroyed by the fact that the rest of the work, vii-xvi, though wholly Christian in its subject-matter, has an equally remarkable agreement with the Talmud in cc. ix and x. Beyond doubt we must look upon the writer as living at a very early period when Jewish influence was still important in the Church. He warns Christians not to fast with the Jews or pray with them; yet the two fasts and the three times of prayer are modelled on Jewish custom. Similarly the prophets stand in the place of the High Priest.
A more recent translation of the Apostolic Fathers notes:
The Two Ways material appears to have been intended, in light of 7.1, as a summary of basic instruction about the Christian life to be taught to those who where preparing for baptism and church membership. In its present form it represents the Christianization of a common Jewish form of moral instruction. Similar material is found in a number of other Christian writings from the first through about the fifth centuries, including the Epistle of Barnabas, the Didascalia, the Apostolic Church Ordinances, the Summary of Doctrine, the Apostolic Constitutions, the Life of Schnudi, and On the Teaching of the Apostles (or Doctrina), some of which are dependent on the Didache. The interrelationships between these various documents, however, are quite complex and much remains to be worked out.
The closest parallels in the use of the Two Ways doctrine is found among the Essene Jews at the Dead Sea Scrolls community. The Qumran community included a Two Ways teaching in its founding Charter, The Community Rule.
Throughout the Two Ways, there are many Old Testament quotes shared with the Gospels and many theological similarities, but Jesus is never mentioned by name. The first chapter opens with the Shema and the Golden Rule in the negative form (also found in the "Western" version of Acts of the Apostles at 15:19 and 29 as part of the Apostolic Decree). Then comes short extracts in common with the Sermon on the Mount, together with a curious passage on giving and receiving, which is also cited with variations in Shepherd of Hermas (Mand., ii, 4-6). The Latin omits 1:3-6 and 2:1, and these sections have no parallel in Epistle of Barnabas; therefore, they may be a later addition, suggesting Hermas and the present text of the Didache may have used a common source, or one may relied on the other. Chapter 2 contains the commandments against murder, adultery, corrupting boys, sexual promiscuity, theft, magic, sorcery, abortion, infanticide, coveting, perjury, false testimony, speaking evil, holding grudges, being double-minded, not acting as you speak, greed, avarice, hypocrisy, maliciousness, arrogance, plotting evil against neighbors, hate, narcissism and expansions on these generally, with references to the words of Jesus. Chapter 3 attempts to explain how one vice leads to another: anger to murder, concupiscence to adultery, and so forth. The whole chapter is excluded in Barnabas. A number of precepts are added in chapter 4, which ends: "This is the Way of Life." Verse 13 states you must not forsake the Lord's commandments, neither adding nor subtracting (see also Deut 4:2, ). The Way of Death (chapter 5) is a list of vices to be avoided. Chapter 6 exhorts to the keeping in the Way of this Teaching:
See that no one causes you to err from this way of the Teaching, since apart from God it teaches you. For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able to do this, do what you are able. And concerning food, bear what you are able; but against that which is sacrificed to idols be exceedingly careful; for it is the service of dead gods. (Roberts)
Many take this to be a general recommendation to abstain from flesh, not merely from the meats from sacrificial offerings, as some explain Romans 14:2. Others explain "let him eat herbs" of Paul of Tarsus as a hyperbolical expression like 1 Cor 8:13: "I will never eat flesh, lest I should scandalize my brother," thus giving no support to the notion of vegetarianism in the Early Church, even though, according to Epiphanius of Salamis, the Ebionites were vegetarians. More likely the Didache is referring to Jewish meats. The Latin version substitutes for chapter 6 a similar close, omitting all reference to meats and to idolothyta, and concluding with per Domini nostri Jesu Christi … in saecula saeculorum, amen, "by our lord Jesus Christ … for ever and ever, amen." This is the end of the translation. This suggests the translator lived at a day when idolatry had disappeared, and when the remainder of the Didache was out of date. He had no such reason for omitting chapter 1, 3-6, so that this was presumably not in his copy.
The second part (chapters 7 - 10) begins with an instruction on baptism, which is to be conferred "in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" in “living water” (that is, natural flowing water), if it can be had — if not, in cold or even warm water. The baptized and the baptizer, and, if possible, anyone else attending the ritual should fast for one or two days beforehand. If the water is insufficient for immersion, it may be poured three times on the head. This is said by C. Bigg to show a late date; but it seems a natural concession for hot and dry countries, when baptism was not as yet celebrated exclusively at Easter and Pentecost and in churches, where a columbethra and a supply of water would be unavailable. Fasts are not to be on Monday and Thursday "with the hypocrites" — presumably non-Christian Jews — but on Wednesday and Friday (chapter 8). Nor must Christians pray with their Judaic brethren, instead they shall say the Lord's Prayer three times a day. The text of the prayer is not identical to the version in the Gospel of Matthew, and it is given with the doxology "for Thine is the power and the glory for ever," whereas all but a few manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew have this interpolation with "the kingdom and the power," etc. Chapter 9 runs thus:
These prayers correspond with the Christian practices of Consecration and Communion. Chapter 10 gives a thanksgiving after Communion, slightly longer, which mentions the "spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Thy Servant." After a doxology, as before, come the apocalyptic exclamations: "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." The prayer is reminiscent of the Hosanna and Sancta sanctis of the liturgies, but also of Revelation 22:17, 20, and 1 Corinthians 16:22. These prayers reflect aspects of the Catholic view of the Eucharist and eternal Life, although (as Owen Chadwick notes) there is no reference to the redemptive death of Christ as formulated by Paul. The mention of the chalice before the bread (opposite of the Catholic tradition) is found in Luke 22:17-19, in the "Western" text (which omits verse 20), and is apparently from a Jewish blessing of wine and bread, with which the prayers in chapter 9 have a close affinity. The words in thanksgiving for the chalice are echoed by Clement of Alexandria in "Quis Dives Salvetur?":"It is He [Christ] Who has poured out the Wine, the Blood of the Vine of David, upon our wounded souls"; and by Origen, "In i Judic.," Hom. vi: "Before we are inebriated with the Blood of the True Vine Which ascends from the root of David."
The Didache is unique amongst early Christian texts by its emphasis on itinerant ministers, which it describes as apostles and prophets; while it provides for a local ministry of bishops and deacons, these are described in far more detail in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch and Clement of Rome. This section warns the reader about the morals of these travelling ministers: they are to be received if they teach the above doctrine; and if they add the justice and knowledge of the Lord they are to be received as the Lord. However, while every apostle is to be received as the Lord, and he may stay one day or two, if he stay three, he is a charlatan or false prophet. On leaving he shall take nothing with him but bread; if he ask for money, he is a false prophet. Likewise with those prophets: to judge them when they speak in the spirit is the unpardonable sin; but they must be known by their morals. If they seek gain, they are to be rejected. All travellers who come in the name of the Lord are to be received, but only for two or three days; and they must exercise their trade, if they have one, or at least must not be idle. Anyone who will not work is a Christemporos (translated by C. Bigg as "Christmonger")—one who makes a gain out of the name of Christ. Teachers and prophets are worthy of their food. First fruits are to be given to the prophets, "for they are your High Priests; but if you have not a prophet, give the firstfruits to the poor." The breaking of bread and Thanksgiving [Eucharist] is on Sunday, "after you have confessed your transgressions, that your Sacrifice may be pure," and those who are at discord must agree, for this is the clean oblation prophesied by Malachi, 1:11, 14. "Ordain therefore for yourselves bishops and deacons, worthy of the Lord . . . for they also minister to you the ministry of the prophets and teachers." The final chapter (16) exhorts to watching and tells the signs of the end of the world.
There are other signs of the text being from the 1st century: the simplicity of the baptismal rite, which is apparently neither preceded by exorcisms nor by formal admission to the catechumenate; the simplicity of the Eucharist, in comparison with the elaborate quasi-Eucharistic prayer in Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians, chapters 59 - 61; the permission to prophets to extemporize their Eucharistic thanksgiving; the immediate expectation of the second advent. As we find the Christian Sunday already substituted for the Jewish Sabbath as the day of assembly in Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 and called the Lord's day (Book of Revelation 1:10), there is no difficulty in supposing that the parallel and consequent shifting of the fasts to Wednesday and Friday may have taken place at an equally early date, at least in some places. But the chief point is the ministry. It is twofold: local and itinerant.
J.-P. Audet in La Didache, Instructions des Apôtres argues for a date of 70, of which J.B. Lightfoot et al., Apostolic Fathers, say "he is not likely to be off by more than a decade in either direction."
The local ministers are bishops and deacons, as in Paul's epistle Philippians (1:1) and Pope Clement I. Presbyters are not mentioned, and the bishops are clearly presbyter-bishops, as in Acts, 20, and in the Pauline Epistles. However, when Ignatius wrote in 107, or at the latest 117, the three orders of bishops, priests, and deacons were already considered necessary to the very name of a Church, in Syria, Asia Minor, and Rome. It is probable that in Clement's time there was as yet no monarchical episcopate at Corinth, though such a state did not endure much past Clement's time in any of the major Christian centers. On this ground, the Didache is most likely set either in the first century or a rural church. The itinerant ministry is obviously yet more archaic. In the second century prophecy was a charisma only and not a ministry, except among the Montanists.
The itinerant ministers are not mentioned by Clement or Ignatius. The three orders are apostles, prophets, and teachers, as in 1 Corinthians 12:28f: "God hath set some in the Church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors [teachers]; after that miracles, then the graces of healings, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all doctors?" The Didache places teachers below apostles and prophets, the two orders which Paul makes the foundation of the Church (Ephesians 2:20). The term apostle is applied by Paul not only to the Twelve, but also to himself, to Barnabas, to his kinsmen Andronicus and Junia, who had been converted before him, and to a class of preachers of the first rank. There is no instance in the New Testament or in early Christian literature of the existence of an order called apostles later than the Apostolic age. There is no evidence for a second-century order of apostles, which suggests the Didache is earlier, perhaps no later than about 80. Adolf Harnack, on the other hand, gives 131-160, holding that Barnabas and the Didache independently employ a Christianized form of the Jewish Two Ways, while chapter 16 is citing Barnabas—a somewhat roundabout hypothesis. He places Barnabas in 131, and the Didache later than this. Those who date Barnabas under Vespasian mostly make the Didache the borrower in chapters 1 - 5 and in 16. Many, with Funk, place Barnabas under Nerva. The more common view is that which puts the Didache before 100. Bartlet agrees with Ehrhard that 80-90 is the most probable decade. Sabatier, Minasi, Jacquier, and others have preferred a date even before 70. Owen Chadwick wryly dates the Didache to "the period between about 70 and 110. It may be odd there, but it is much odder anywhere else." The earliest suggested dating is 44 or 47.
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