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DIDACHE dĭd’ ə kĭ (Διδαχή, teaching). A writing of the Early Church.

The text.

The title of the document which is today commonly called the Didaché appears, at the beginning of the Gr. MS which is the primary text, as “The Teaching of the Lord by the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles.” It was quoted perhaps as Scripture, by Clement of Alexandria in his Miscellanes (I, 20). However, Eusebius classed it among the νόθοι (spurious books) in his History (III, 25, 4) and Athanasius said that it was not in the canon but among the books “to be read by those who newly join is” (Festal Letter 39). The last western indication of it before modern times seems to be a trace in Pirminius (d. 753). It is listed in the Stichometry of Nicephorus (c. 850) as a rejected book. It appears to have dropped out of learned discussion after that time. But in 1873 Philotheos Bryennios, metropolitan of Nicomedia, found the text of the Didaché in a MS dating from 1056. He published it in 1883 and quite a sensation was created as it appeared that it might be from the very early period of the Church. This MS still provides the basic Gr. text (H). There is a nearly complete variant Gr. text in the Apostolic Constitutions deriving from the 4th cent. and a fragment in Oxyrhynchus Papyrus No. 1782, from the late 4th cent.

Two Lat. VSS of some of the material in the first part of the Didaché are in existence, one dating from the 9th or 10th cent. and the other, much more extensive, from the 11th cent. E. J. Goodspeed of the University of Chicago considered this second Lat. MS, preserved at Munich and known as de Doctrina Apostolorum, to be the original form of the Didaché. This, however, does not seem to be quite the best way to solve the problem. There are also Coptic, Georgian, Ethiopic, and Arabic VSS of parts or most of the text.


Broadly considered the Didaché may be divided as follows: I. The Description of the Two Ways (chs. 1-6); II. Directions for Worship, including Baptism and the Eucharist (chs. 7-10); III. Directions concerning Officers and the Conduct of Congregational Affairs (chs. 11-15); IV. Eschatology (ch. 16). These subjects are of intense interest, if the Didaché is an early document as it appears to be (see below under Date).

a. The Description of the Two Ways is a document by itself. It forms the first part of the Didaché and the last part of the so-called Epistle of Barnabas (q.v.). This concept, of course, is an ancient one (cf. Deut 30:15). It may also be found in the OT prophets (Jer 21:8). The Qumran Manual of Discipline (3:13-4:26) presents a similar concept. In the Didaché the contrast is life/death as it is in the OT. In Barnabas and the Qumran Manual it is light/darkness. There are other forms of the contrast. Because of the close similarity of the text it has been thought by some that Barnabas borrowed from the Didaché (e.g., F. X. Funk, O. Bardenhewer) or, more frequently, the Didaché from Barnabas (e.g., R. H. Connolly, F. C. Burkitt, J. A. Robinson, J. Muilenberg). It is more likely that both took the idea from a third source circulating in the Gr.-speaking Jewish diaspora. This view is finding more and more favor.

The contrast between the two ways is an ethical one. It is set forth in a form for use in teaching catechumens. It clearly reflects the moral instruction of the OT. There is a section in the Didaché (I, 3-6) which does not correspond to anything in the Barnabas text, however, where the background is clearly that of the Sermon on the Mount. It is not obvious that the writer was using the text of Matthew or Luke. Probably some earlier form, perhaps oral, was the source.

b. One of the areas of greatest interest dealt with by the Didaché is worship, since it appears that there was early information concerning baptism and the Lord's Supper|Lord’s Supper. Chapter seven is devoted to baptism. Catechetical instruction is stated to be presupposed. Fasting is to precede the baptism (VII, 4). The formula of baptism is trinitarian “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (VII, 1). Cold running water was preferred, and prob. assumed the mode of immersion. An alternate mode was pouring (VII, 3).

The common word for the Lord’s Supper in the Early Church was Eucharist (ευχαριστία). Two sections of the Didaché use this term: IX, 1; X, 7; XIV. It has been thought (e.g., by Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, 90ff.; F. E. Vokes, The Riddle of the Didaché, 177-207) that the section beginning at IX, 1 describes an agape meal and ch. XIV the Eucharist proper. It is more likely that chs. IX and XIV represent an observance where the Eucharist and the agape meal are still celebrated together, while ch. XIV refers to a Sunday celebration of the Eucharist alone. Other interpretations are possible and have been defended. Assuming, as most likely, the suggestion just made, it may be noted that the thanksgiving prayers (IX, 2-4) are in the order cup-bread while the order, “eat...drink” (v. 5) follows and may well refer to the action. The cup-bread order, however, occurs in Luke 22:17-19 (parts of vv. 19 and 20 are omitted by the Western text) and in 1 Corinthians 10:16. The strong emphasis upon Thanksgiving and triumph in the prayers is noteworthy. The Eucharist is restricted to the baptized. Knowledge and holiness are stressed. The enjoyment of food and drink as gifts of God is noted.

The celebration of the Eucharist is appointed for each Lord’s Day (XIV, 1). The use of the word θυσία, G2602, (sacrifice) in this connection is not to be understood as a reference to the sacrifice of Christ. The word was a common description of prayers, alms and gifts in the usage of the time. It is the “sacrifice” of the people to which reference is being made.

c. Life and discipline. The prescriptions for conduct are, of course, influenced by the OT law and by Jewish development of that law. There is to be mutual oversight of, and assistance to, one another in the community (XV, 3). Love and prayer for others are commanded (II, 7). Division is to be avoided (IV, 3). Gifts to others are commended (I, 5; XIII, 3, 4). Hospitality is proper, both toward the leader (XI, 4) and the ordinary stranger (XII, 1, 2). Food is restricted. It may not include that offered to idols (VI, 3), and fasting is to be practical (VIII, 1). The presumption throughout appears to be that the community is a relatively poor one economically. The members are not influential in this world. They are subject to the temptations to be quarrelsome which often afflict such groups (XV).

d. The Official titles used are apostle (XI, 3-6), prophet (X, 7; XI, 3-11; XIII, 1-4; XV, 2), teacher (XI, 2; XV, 2), bishop (XV, 1), and deacon (XV, 1). The first three are applied to itinerant individuals whose stay in the community is expected to be very short. The possibility that a prophet might wish to remain is provided for, however (XIII), and is welcomed. In such a case they are to be as high priests to the community (XIII, 3). The bishops and deacons, on the other hand, are thought of as the resident equivalents of the traveling prophets and teachers, and are to be honored by the group (XV, 2).

e. The return of Christ in the future is expected (XVI, 8). The hour is unknown (XVI, 1), but there will be indications of its approach. False prophets and corrupters will increase in number and the allegiance of some people will change (XVI, 3). An individual claiming to be the Son of God will arise whose evil and deceptive actions will mislead (XVI, 4). The coming itself will be preceded by a sign extended in the sky, a trumpet peal and the resurrection of the saintly dead (XVI, 6, 7). The visible coming will follow and, according to the Georgian VS, the last judgment (XVI, 8). It behooves Christians to be watching and ready (XVI, 1).

Place of origin.

It is impossible to be dogmatic about the locale where the Didaché was written. It seems likely that it did not originate in a large city where the stay of a traveling prophet or apostle might be expected to be longer than is contemplated (XI, 5; cf. XII, 2). The reference to mountains (IX, 4) may reflect the environment. Possibly it contained warm baths or springs (VII, 2). Syria is perhaps as likely a place of origin as any, in the light of these considerations.


Speculation concerning the date has ranged over a wide period. It is clear that the references to church officers presuppose a relatively early state of affairs when traveling apostles and prophets were not too rare. There is no indication of a monarchical episcopate. The eucharistic practices seem comparatively primitive. While, therefore, speculation has ranged over the period from about a.d. 50 to the early 3rd cent., it seems most likely that a date between a.d. 70 and 110 is to be preferred.


R. Knopf, Die Lehre der zwölf Apostel, die zwei Clemensbriefe (Handbuch zum neuen Testament, Ergänzungs-Band, Die apostolischen Väter, I) (1920); J. A. Robinson, Barnabas, Hermas and the Didache (1920); J. Muilenberg, The Literary Relations of the Epistle of Barnabas and the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (1929); F. E. Vokes, The Riddle of the Didache (1938); E. J. Goodspeed, The Apostolic Fathers (1950), 1-18; J.-P. Audet, La Didachè, Instructions des Apôtres (1958); R. M. Grant, The Apostolic Fathers, I (1964); R. A. Kraft, Barnabas and the Didaché (ed. R. M. Grant, The Apostolic Fathers, III (1965). See also Apostolic Fathers, esp. for texts and trs.

See also

  • Sub-apostolic Literature