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The Didache

A Greek handbook of instruction in morals and church order, of which the full title is “The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles through the Twelve Apostles.” It was first discovered in modern times by Philotheos Bryennios,* Greek metropolitan of Nicomedia, who found it in a library at Constantinople in a manuscript dated 1056 which contained also the epistles of Barnabas and Clement. Its discovery immediately provoked a flood of literature about it, but it has not been possible to give it a precise setting with any confidence. It was probably known to Clement of Alexandria and was considered by Eusebius to be almost a canonical NT book. It was used as a basis for part of the fourth-century Apostolic Constitutions as well as other “Church Orders.” There is a close relationship between the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas, normally now accounted for by their use of a common source.

Various views about its dating have been put forward, ranging from the idea that it is a first-century document to the suggestion that the author was writing in the third century and consciously archaizing. On the whole, a date in the earlier part of that range seems likely, but it is impossible to pin down either its date or place of origin with certainty.

The first six chapters present a Christian moral code under the headings “The Way of Life” and “The Way of Death.” While there are references to the Sermon on the Mount, this section may be dependent upon a Jewish source. Chapters 7-10 deal with baptism, fasting, and the Eucharist. They specify immersion in the threefold name in running water, but other water and affusion are allowed if this is not possible. Fasting was not to be done “with the hypocrites; for they fast on the second and fifth days of the week, but you must fast on the fourth and on the Preparation.” The Eucharistic prayer is strongly eschatological, using the phrase “Let grace come, and let this world pass away” and the Aramaic Marana tha. Chapters 11-15 are largely concerned with the ministry, special emphasis being placed upon prophets as well as bishops and deacons. Tests are given to discover who are false prophets. The final chapter deals with the Second Coming and the end of the world.

Ed. with facsimile by J.R. Harris (1887); numerous other editions and translations; F.E. Vokes, The Riddle of the Didache (1938); C.C. Richardson (ed.), Early Christian Fathers, I (1953), pp. 161-79; J.-P. Audet, La Didachè, Instructions des Apõtres (1958).