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Didache

At a Glance
Apocryphon
Genre:
(1/5) *
Reliability of Dating:
(2/5) **
Length of Text:
Greek
Original Language:
Ancient Translations:
Modern Translations:

Estimated Range of Dating: 50-120 A.D.

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Information on Didache

Jonathan Draper writes (Gospel Perspectives, v. 5, p. 269):

Since it was discovered in a monastery in Constantinople and published by P. Bryennios in 1883, the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles has continued to be one of the most disputed of early Christian texts. It has been depicted by scholars as anything between the original of the Apostolic Decree (c. 50 AD) and a late archaising fiction of the early third century. It bears no date itself, nor does it make reference to any datable external event, yet the picture of the Church which it presents could only be described as primitive, reaching back to the very earliest stages of the Church's order and practice in a way which largely agrees with the picture presented by the NT, while at the same time posing questions for many traditional interpretations of this first period of the Church's life. Fragments of the Didache were found at Oxyrhyncus (P. Oxy 1782) from the fourth century and in coptic translation (P. Lond. Or. 9271) from 3/4th century. Traces of the use of this text, and the high regard it enjoyed, are widespread in the literature of the second and third centuries especially in Syria and Egypt. It was used by the compilator of the Didascalia (C 2/3rd) and the Liber Graduun (C 3/4th), as well as being absorbed in toto by the Apostolic Constitutions (C c. 3/4th, abbreviated as Ca) and partially by various Egyptian and Ethiopian Church Orders, after which it ceased to circulate independently. Athanasius describes it as 'appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of goodness' [Festal Letter 39:7]. Hence a date for the Didache in its present form later than the second century must be considered unlikely, and a date before the end of the first century probable.

Draper states in a footnote (op. cit., p. 284), "A new consensus is emerging for a date c. 100 AD."

Stephen J. Patterson comments on the dating of the Didache (The Gospel of Thomas and Jesus, p. 173): "Of course today, when the similarities between the Didache and Barnabas, or the Shepherd of Hermas, are no longer taken as proof that the Didache is literarily dependent upon these documents, the trend is to date the Didache much earlier, at least by the end of the first century or the beginning of the second, and in the case of Jean-P. Audet, as early as 50-70 C.E."

Udo Schnelle makes the following remark about the Didache (The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings, p. 355): "The Didache means by 'the gospel' (8.2; 11.3; 15.3, 4) the Gospel of Matthew; thus the Didache, which originated about 110 CE, documents the emerging authority of the one great Gospel."

Jesus the Healer: Buy at amazon.com! Stevan Davies comments on the Didache (Jesus the Healer, p. 175): "The Didache is a text that gives instruction on how a Christian community should treat itinerant Christian prophets. It was written sometime in the late first or early second century and gives good evidence for a structured church's shift in orientation away from spirit-possession. The Didache is written from the view point of a community leadership that distrusts, and yet respects, Christian prophets, one that wishes the prophets to leave town as quickly as possible, yet would have them welcomed in town when they arrive. The Pastoral and Petrine epistles stem from a slightly later time, when authority in the Christian movement was based on the prerogatives of office rather than on prophetic powers."

Crossan observes the following on the text of the Didache (The Birth of Christianity, p. 364):

The scribe who copied those seven texts signed the last leaf as "Lean, notary and sinner," and dated that completion to June 11, 1056. . . The Didache, then, was a small text, fifth among others mostly larger than itself, lost in a small library in the Fener section of Istanbul, halfway up the west side of the Golden Horn. Now known as Codex Hierosolymitanus 54, that volume was removed to the Patriarchate at Jerusalem in 1887, where it remains.

The Birth of Christianity: Buy at amazon.com! Earlier Coptic and Ethiopic versions also exist for a few chapters of this text. Especially important are two Greek fragments, Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1782, dated to the "late fourth century" and published by Greenfell and Hunt in 1922 (12-15). These tiny scraps, about two inches by two inches apiece, contain verses 1:3c-4a and 2:7-3:2. Despite small differences, the wording on those scraps is very close to Byrrenios's text. That is very important confirmation for the basic accuracy of Codex Hierosolymitanus 54, given the gulf of centuries between it and the earlier fragments.

Crossan writes concerning the Coptic manuscript (op. cit., p. 379):

A Coptic papyrus containing Didache 10:3b-12:2a, dated to the end of the fourth or start of the fifth century, was bought in 1923 for what was then the British Museum and catalogued as British Library Oriental Manuscript 9271. F. Stanley Jones and Paul A. Mirecki offer a photographic reproduction along with an excellent transcription, translation, and commentary on this document. They conclude that "this sheet was originally cut from a roll of papyrus in order to serve as a double-leaf in a codex," but instead it was used "as a space for scribal exercises" (87). It was, in other words, a rather casual copying of that section of the Didache for purposes of writing practice. Stephen Patterson, on the contrary, considers it the end of an earlier edition of the Didache, which concluded precisely at 12:2 (1995:319-324).

Jones and Mirecki argue against Patterson's view (The Didache in Context, pp. 82-83):

The assumption that the scribe's copy of the Didache actually ended with Did 12.2a, though such cannot be absolutely dismissed, is thus an unnecessary and excessive extrapolation. The following two points speak against this assumption:

1) There are no decorations which mark the end of the text.

2) The proposed elimination of all of the material after Did 12.2a is a rather radical solution to the open question of the disposition of the Didache. It does not really remove many "difficulties" in the logical flow of the text, and it hardly leaves an adequate ending for the writing.

To these points, Crossan adds the consideration that the reading of the Coptic text of 11:11 is likely to be secondary, while the Greek text is more difficult and earlier, and that this "would render doubtful Patterson's proposal that the Coptic fragment represented an earlier and shorter edition of the Didache" (op. cit., p. 380).

Crossan comments on the provenance of the Didache (op. cit., pp. 372-373):

. . . the Didache may derive from a rural rather than an urban situation. It may stem from the consensus of rural households rather than the authority of urban patrons. Willy Rordorf and Andre Tullier, writing in a major French series, located the Didache in northern Palestine or western Syria, but not in the capital city of Antioch. They noted that the text is addressed to "rural communities of converted pagans" (98). It "reveals a Christianity established in rural communities who have broken with the radicalism of earlier converts" (100). It "speaks principally to rural milieus converted early on in Syria and Palestine and no doubt furnishing the first Christian communities outside of cities" (128). Kurt Niederwimmer, however, writing in a major German series, considered it still possible that "the Didache could derive from an urban milieu," but he agreed that it was not from the great metropolis of Antioch (80). It is not enough, in any case, simply to note the mention of "firstfruits" in Didache 13:3-7, since that could indicate urban-based landowners. My own preference for a rural over an urban setting comes not from those few verses but from the Didache's rhetorical serenity, ungendered equality, and striking difference from so many other early Christian texts.

Robert A. Kraft says about the provenance of the Didache (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 2, p. 197): "That most commentators now seem to opt for Syria (Audet 1958; Hazelden Walker 1966; Rordorf and Tullier 1978) or Syro-Palestine (Niederwimmer 1977) as the place of origin is not in itself an indication that the supporting evidence is compelling; Egypt (Kraft 1965) and Asia Minor (Vokes 1970) also have their supporters."

On source criticism of the Didache, Kraft observes (op. cit., p. 197):

There seems to be a general consensus that the 'two ways' material in chaps. 1-6 has a prehistory that connects with Jewish ethical concerns (see Harnack 1896) which probably took shape in both Greek and Semitic formulations. This helps to explain the similarities and differences between the two ways in Didache, Barnabas, Doctrina, and elsewhere (e.g., Goodspeed 1945; Rordorf 1972). To this basic substratum, the Didache form of the two ways has attracted addititional sections in 1:3b-2:1 (gospel sayings and related admonitions; see especially Latyon 1968; Mees 1971) and 3:1-6 (the 'fences' tradition).

Similarly, the apparent intrusion of such sections as 12:1-5 (compare 11:4-6) and 14:1-3 into the flow of the community instructions, and the evidences of developmental language even within the existing instructions (e.g., the concessions in 6:2 and 7:2-3, the change from itinerant to local ministry in 15:1-2) illustrate the evolving nature of this material even outside the two-ways section.

John S. Kloppenborg Verbin comments on the Didache (Excavating Q, pp. 134-135):

Excavating Q: Buy at amazon.com! The Didache, an early second-century Christian composition, is also clearly composite, consisting of a "Two Ways" section (chaps. 1-6), a liturgical manual (7-10), instructions on the reception of traveling prophets (11-15), and a brief apocalypse (16). 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). In addition to this "Two Ways" section it is also possible to discern the presence of a mini-apocalypse related to someo f the materials that eventually found their way into Matthew 24-25 (Kloppenborg 1979).

The most obvious insertion in the Didache is a catena of sayings of Jesus (1.3-6) which interrupts the continuity between 1.1-2 and 2.2. The same hand that added 1.3b-6 (and the transitional phrase in 2.1) appears also to be responsible for a transition in 6.2-3 and for the introduction to the apocalypse (16.1-2), which like 1.3b-2.1 Christianizes the earlier document by affixing sayings designed to evoke the sayings of Jesus. It seems clear, then, that the composition history of the Didache involves at least two originally independent documents (Did. 1.1-2; 2.2-6.1; and Did. 16.3-8) which were combined with other materials by an editor into a church manual, and "Christianized" by the interpolation of sayings of Jesus.

A. D. Howell-Smith writes about the Didache (Jesus Not a Myth, p. 120):

The simple Christology of Acts confronts us again in the so-called Teaching of the Apostles, a composite work, of which the first six chapters seem to be a Christian redaction of a Jewish document entitled The Two Ways, while the rest is the work of several Christian writers, the earliest belonging to the first century and the latest perhaps to the fourth. The Jesus mentioned in this book's account of the celebration of the Eucharist is just the "Servant" (PaiV) of God, who has made known the "holy vine" of God's "Servant" David; nothing is said of the bread and wine being the body and blood of Jesus. The formula of baptism in the name of the Trinity, which is given in Chap. VII, must come from a later hand, though possibly earlier than Justin Martyr, who is familiar with it.

Burton Mack notes two interesting features of the text of the Didache. One concerns alms, and the other concerns the Eucharist. Of the first, Mack writes (Who Wrote the New Testament?, p. 240):

Who Wrote the New Testament?: Buy at amazon.com! There are several interesting features of this manual of instruction. One is an overriding concern with the practice of alms, gift giving, and the support of dependents, itinerant teachers, and others who may ask for a handout. Generosity was obviously thought to be a prime Christian virtue, but in practice one had to be careful, for others could easily take advantage of the Christian. This was especially the case with "false" prophets who showed up and wanted the congregation to feed them. The instruction was not to "receive" any prophet who asked for food or money while speaking "in a spirit" (Did. 11:12), and not to allow any "true" prophet (who did not do that) to stay longer than two or three days unless he was willing to settle down, learn a craft, and "work for his bread" (Did. 12:2-5). It is obvious that the Didache was written with resident congregations in mind and that their overseers and deacons had grown weary of the hype and hoopla characteristic of an earlier period of itinerant teachers and preachers. The pattern of congregational life over which they presided was sufficient. They had gotten together and agreed upon the practices, prayers, and rituals that defined the Christian way.

On the second, Mack continues (op. cit., pp. 240-241):

The prayer of thanksgiving (eucharist) for the community meal in chapters 9 and 10 are also significant. That is because they do not contain any reference to the death of Jesus. Accustomed as we are to the memorial supper of the Christ cult and the stories of the last supper in the synoptic gospels, it has been very difficult to imagine early Christians taking meals together for any reason other than to celebrate the death of Jesus according to the Christ myth. But here in the Didache a very formalistic set of prayers is assigned to the cup and the breaking of bread without the slightest association with the death and resurrection of Jesus. The prayers of thanksgiving are for the food and drink God created for all people and the special, "spiritual" food and drink that Christians have because of Jesus. Drinking the cup symbolizes the knowledge these people have that they and Jesus are the "Holy Vine of David," which means that they "belong to Israel." Eating the bread symbolizes the knowledge these people have of the life and immortality they enjoy by belonging to the kingdom of God made known to them by Jesus, God's child. And it is serious business. No one is allowed to "eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptised in the Lord's name" (Did. 9:5). We thus have to imagine a highly self-conscious network of congregations that thought of themselves as Christians, had developed a full complement of rituals, had much in common with other Christian groups of centrist persuasions, but continued to cultivate their roots in a Jesus movement where enlightenment ethics made much more sense than the worship of Jesus as the crucified Christ and risen son of God.

Mack states on the provenance of the Didache (op. cit., pp. 241-242): "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."

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