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The Didache or "Doctrine" or "Teachings of the Twelve Apostles" is a short treatise, considered by some of the Church Fathers as part of the New Testament but rejected as spurious by others. Considered lost, it was rediscovered in 1883 by P. Bryennios, Greek Orthodox metropolitan of Nicomedia, in a codex written in 1053, from which he had already published in 1875 the full text of the Epistles of Clement. The title in the manuscript is Didache kyriou dia ton dodeka apostolon ethesin, but before this it gives the heading Didache ton dodeka apostolon.
Shortly after Bryennios' publication, the scholar Gebhardt identified a Latin manuscript in the Abbey of Melk in Austria as containing a translation of the first part of the Didache, but later scholars now believe it to be an independent witness to the tradition of the "Two Ways" section (see below). Dr. J. Schlecht found in 1900 another Latin translation of chapters 1 through 5, with the longer title, omitting "twelve", and has a rubric De doctrina Apostolorum. Coptic and Ethiopian translations have also been discovered since Bryennios' original work.
The Didache is mentioned by Eusebius after the books recognized as canonical (Historia Ecclesiastica III, 25): "Let there be placed among the spurious works the Acts of Paul , the so-called Shepherd 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 and Rufinus also add the "Didache" to the Apocryphal books. (Rufinus gives the curious alternative title Judicium Petri, "Judgment of Peter".) It has a similar place in the lists of Nicephorus, Pseudo-Anastasius, and Pseudo-Athanasius (Synopsis). The Pseudo Cyprianic "Adversus Aleatores" quotes it by name. Unacknowledged citations are very common, if less certain. 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 is from Didache, 16, 2-3, or vice versa. Hermas, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen 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 ordinance has used a part, the Apostolic Constitutions have embodied the Didascalia. There are echoes in Justin, Tatian, Theophilus, Cyprian, and Lactantius.
The contents may be divided into three parts: the first is the "Two Ways", the Way of Life and the Way of Death; the second part is a ritual dealing with baptism, fasting, and Communion; the third speaks of the ministry. Doctrinal teaching is presupposed, and none is imparted.
The Two Ways
The first section is taken from an existing Jewish tract of the same name, but with significant alterations. We first find the Golden Rule in the negative form (cf. the "Western" text of Acts, 15:19 and 29). Then short extracts from the Sermon on the Mount, together with a curious passage on giving and receiving, which is cited with variations by Hermas (Mand., ii, 4-6). The Latin omits ch. 1, 3-6 and ch. 2, 1, and these sections have no parallel in Barnabas; they may therefore be a later addition, Hermas and the present text of the Didache may have used a common source, or Hermas may be the original. The second chapter contains the Commandments against murder, adultery, theft, coveting, and false witness -- in this order - and additional recommendations depending on these. In chapter 3 we are told how one vice leads to another: anger to murder, concupiscence to adultery, and so forth. The whole chapter is passed over in Barnabas. A number of precepts are added in chapter 4, which ends: "This is the Way of Life." The Way of Death -- chapter 5 -- is a mere list of vices to be avoided. Chapter 6 exhorts to the keeping in the Way of this Teaching: "If thou canst bear the whole yoke of the Lord, thou wilt be perfect; but if thou canst not, do what thou canst. But as for food, bear what thou canst; but straitly avoid things offered to idols; for it is a service of dead gods." Many take this to be a recommendation to abstain from flesh, as some explain Romans 14:2. But the "let him eat herbs" of St. Paul is a hyperbolical expression like 1 Corinthians 8:13: "I will never eat flesh, lest I should scandalize my brother", and gives no support to the notion of vegetarianism in the Early Church. 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 d. n. j. C . . . . in saecula saeculorum, amen, "by our lord Jesus Christ ... for ever and ever, amen". This is the end of the translation. We see that 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 hot water. The baptized and, if possible, the baptizer, and other persons must fast for one or two days previously. If the water is insufficient for immersion, it may be poured thrice on the head. This is said by 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 not be wanting. Fasts are not to be on Monday and Thursday "with the hypocrites" — that is, the Jews — but on Wednesday and Friday (chapter 8). Nor must Christians pray with their Judaic brethren, instead they shall say the Lord's Prayer thrice a day. The text of the prayer is not quite that found 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: "Concerning the Eucharist, thus shall you give thanks: 'We give Thee thanks, our Father, for the holy Vine of David Thy Child, which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus Thy Child; to Thee be the glory for ever'. And of the broken Bread: 'We give Thee thanks, our Father, for the Life and knowledge which Thou hast made known to us through Jesus Thy Child; to Thee be glory for ever. For as this broken Bread was dispersed over the mountains, and being collected became one, so may 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.' And let none eat or drink of your Eucharist but those who have been baptized in the Name of Christ; for of this the Lord said: 'Give not the holy Thing to the dogs'." These are clearly prayers after the Consecration and before Communion. Chapter 10 gives a thanksgiving after Communion, slightly longer, in which mention is made of the "spiritual food and drink and eternal Life through Thy Child". After a doxology, as before, come the remarkable exclamations: "Let grace come, and this world pass away! Hosanna to the Son of David! If any is holy, let him come. If any be not, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen". We are not only reminded of the Hosanna and Sancta sanctis of the liturgies, but also of Revelation 22:17, 20, and 1 Corinthians 16:22. In these prayers we find deep reverence, and the effect of the Eucharist for eternal Life, though (as Owen Chadwick notes) there is no reference to the redemptive death of Christ as formulated by the apostle Paul. The words in thanksgiving for the chalice are echoed by Clement of Alexandria, "Quis Dives Salvetur?", 29  "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 mention of the chalice before the bread is in accordance with 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 rite the prayers in chapter 9 have a close affinity.
The Didache is unique amongst early Christian texts by its emphasis on itinerant ministers 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.
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 chapter 2 with the Talmud may be certain; but on the other hand Funk has shown that (apart from the admittedly Christian 1, 3-6, and the occasional citations of the New Testament) the Old Testament 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, chapters 7-16, though wholly Christian in its subject-matter, has an equally remarkable agreement with the Talmud in chapters 9 and 10. Beyond doubt we must look upon the writer as living in the first two centuries of the Common Era when Jewish influence was still prevalent amongst Christianity. The author 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.
Date of the Didache
There are other signs of early date: 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.
The local ministers are bishops and deacons, as in St. Paul (Philippians 1:1) and Clement. Presbyters are not mentioned, and the bishops are clearly presbyter-bishops, as in Acts, 20, and in the Pauline Epistles. But 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. If it is probable that in Clement's time there was as yet no monarchical bishop at Corinth, yet such a state of things cannot have lasted long in any important Church. On this ground therefore the Didache must be set either in the first century or else in some backwater of church life. 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. But apostles must have "seen the Lord" and have received a special call. 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. We have no right to assume a second-century order of apostles, who had not seen Christ in the flesh, for the sake of bolstering up a preconceived notion of the date of the Didache.
On the assumption that the visit of an apostle or of a pretended apostle is contemplated as a not improbable event, we cannot place the book later than about AD 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."
This article uses text from The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908)
- Draper, J. editor. 1996. The Didache in Modern research (Leiden, New York and Cologne)
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