The Didache



What is the Didache?

Didache manuscript

The Didache, or Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles, has long been known to exist due to quotes and references found in the writings of church fathers including Pseudo-Barnabas, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, the Apostolic Constitutions, Eusebius and Athanasius.

However, the exact contents of the Didache were unknown until 1873, when manuscripts of the Didache and other early Christian documents were discovered by Philotheos Bryennios, Orthodox metropolitan of Nicomedia, in a monastery at Constantinople. This Didache manuscript dates to 1056 AD, but comparison with earlier quotations of the work have demonstrated the accuracy of the surviving copy.

The Didache is a brief work, shorter than Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. It is unsophisticated in style and practical in intent. It begins with moral instructions, organized in terms of "Two Ways" (the Way of Life and the Way of Death). It goes on to give instructions concerning prayer, fasting, baptism and the Eucharist, as well as guidelines for dealing with itinerant preachers and recognizing false prophets. The Didache concludes with warnings to be vigilant in light of Christ's immanent second coming.

The Didache is significant because it gives us a glimpse into an early Christian community, revealing its basic teachings, emphases, discipline and organization. However, at least one scholar has cautioned that " the work represents… only a very small fraction of the Christians during the second century, and that, while it casts some light upon usages of that period, it cannot be regarded as an authoritative witness concerning the universal faith and practice of believers at the date usually assigned to it." {1}




Author(s) of the Didache

Little is known about the author or date of the Didache. The work is anonymous and the text makes no reference to a date or to any external event that can be dated. With regard to the author, it has been proposed by some that the Didache was actually a composite work of several authors. For example, John S. Kloppenborg Verbin contends:

Marked divergences in style and content as well as the presence of doublets and obvious interpolations make plain the fact that the Didache was not cut from whole cloth. The dominant view today is that the document was composed on the basis of several independent, preredactional units which were assembled by either one or two redactors (Neiderwimmer 1989:64-70, ET 1998:42-52). Comparison of the "Two Ways" section with several other "Two Ways" documents suggests that Didache 1-6 is itself the result of multistage editing. The document began with rather haphazard organization (cf. Barnabas 18-20), but was reorganized in a source common to the Didache, the Doctrina apostolorum, and the Apostolic Church Order and supplemented by a sapiental meditation on minor and major transgressions (3.1-6) (Kloppenborg 1995c). {2}

The Didache's Date of Composition

The Didache's date of composition is a bit easier to determine than the author(s). Several factors point to an early date of mid- to late-first-century AD. The influence of Jewish customs (e.g., fasting and prayer three times a day), the probable use of the Babylonian Talmud (especially in Didache chapter 2), the Old Testament quotations and the view of prophets as replacements for the high priest may point to an early period of the church when it was still closely related to Judaism.

Other evidence suggesting an early date includes the simplicity of the rituals of baptism and the Eucharist, the primitive nature of church leadership and organization, and the expectation of an immanent second coming of Christ. There is also a notable absence of any mention of pagan persecution or heresy, which were central features of most second-century Christian writings.

The Epistle of Barnabas shares some material with the Didache, and those who would date the latter work later (in the second century) do so in part because they view the Didache as based on Barnabas and not the other way around. Some have also suggested that both used a common source.

Following are some excerpts of scholarly opinion on the matter of the Didache's date of composition:

Although several scholars have assigned the Didache to the first century, and others have dated it to the third or even fourth century, most prefer a date in the first half of the second century. {3}

The dates fixed upon by critics for the composition of the Didache fall between the years 50 and 160. The work was probably composed between 80 and 110. The basis for such a conclusion is the fact that the liturgy and hierarchy which the author describes, are quite primitive; there is no trace in the work of a creed or a canon of the Scriptures, and no allusion is made to pagan persecution or Gnosticism. On the other hand, the writer is acquainted with the gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke and entertains an obvious mistrust towards wandering Christian teachers who visit the communities. This state of affairs is characteristic of the end of the first century. {4}

Bryennios and Harnack assign, as the date, between 120 and 160; Hilgenfeld, 160 and 190; English and American scholars vary between A.D. 80 and 120. Until the priority to Barnabas is more positively established, the two may be regarded as of the same age, about 120, although a date slightly later is not impossible. {5}

Beyond doubt we must look upon the writer as living at a very early period when Jewish influence was still important in the Church…. On this ground [the form of church leadership] therefore the Didache must be set either in the first century or else in some backwater of church life.… There is no instance in Holy Scripture or in early literature of the existence of an order called apostles later than the Apostolic age.… Since in that work [the Didache] 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 80. The limit would seem to be from 65 to 80.… Bartlet agrees with Ehrhard that 80-90 is the most probable decade. Sabatier, Minasi, Jacquier, and others have preferred a date even before 70. {6}

The Didache's Place of Origin

The Didache's place of composition, other than that is was in the East, is also unclear. Following are some scholarly speculations:

Many suggest Egypt because they think the "Epistle of Barnabas" was written there. The corn upon the mountains does not suit Egypt, though it might be a prayer borrowed from Palestine. There are really no materials even for a conjecture on the subject. {7}

It is impossible to determine precisely the place where this work was composed. It was certainly written in the East, but nothing warrants our saying with certainty whether its birthplace was Syria, Palestine, or Egypt. {8}

It is not unthinkable that both the Didache and the Gospel of Matthew stem from the same or closely related communities, though at slightly different times in their histories. . . it would be easy to imagine a social location in some district of southern Syria or northern Palestine where a small group of congregations had formed. {9}

Recommended for You


More on Christianity


More Religious Texts


World Religions - Main pages


Christian beliefs

Christian denominations

Christian fast facts

Christian history

Christian holidays

Christian biographies

Christian practices

Christian symbols

 

Christian writings

Bahai writings

Buddhism writings

Hinduism writings

Islam writings

Jehovah's Witnesses writings

Judaism writings

Mormonism writings

Taoism writings

Buddhism

Christianity

Confucianism

Hinduism

Islam

Jehovah's Witnesses

Judaism

Mormonism



References
  1. M. B. Riddle, "Introductory Notice to the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," Ante-Nicene Fathers.
  2. Excavating Q, pp. 134-135.
  3. Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, pp. 49-50.
  4. J. Tixeront, "The Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles." Handbook of Patrology.
  5. Introductory Notice in Ante-Nicene Fathers.
  6. John Chapman, " Didache." Catholic Encyclopedia.
  7. Ibid.
  8. J. Tixeront, " The Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles." Handbook of Patrology.
  9. Burton Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament?, pp. 241-242.
More Online Resources on the Didache