All citations taken from Niederwimmer, K., & Attridge, H. W. The Didache: a commentary (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998).
Didache (pronounced DID-uh-kay) means “teaching.” This is an abridged title for the longer title: “The Lord’s Teaching through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations.” Historians believe that this was a manual for new believers coming into the church, as well as early Christian leaders for how to run the local church.
We have only one complete Greek text of the Didache, and one Greek fragment. This single complete text was discovered in 1873. Before this discovery, scholars knew of the Didache, because Athanasius and Eusebius (4th c. AD) both mention its existence.
We do not know who wrote the Didache. The author’s name never appears in the text. The author (commonly called the “Didachist”) may have been a single individual or a group of people. Since the book emphasizes the Jewish Scriptures, Jefford writes, “Such details suggest that the Didachist was an early Jewish Christian whose religious perspective was still closely allied with the synagogue and traditional Jewish beliefs.”
Scholars date the Didache anywhere from AD 70-150, though Jefford dates it anywhere from AD 80-110. Jefford writes, “The present form of the Didache does not appear to have been written at a single point in time but rather to have evolved into the document we know today. Scholars are relatively certain that different parts of the text were added over the course of many years. It is most important, therefore, to offer a general framework of time for the earliest and latest editions of the text.”
Niederwimmer and Attridge hold that the Didache was edited and redacted considerably. However, they write, “In general, one can say that the sources, that is, the predidachistic traditions, should probably be located in the first century c.e., most likely toward the end of the century. It is impossible to make any more precise determination.” These two scholars date it tentatively around AD 110-120.
Location of composition
Scholars debate whether the Didache was composed in Egypt, Syria, or Palestine. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of consensus on its origin.
Important teachings in this letter
What does the Didache contribute to the study of post-apostolic Christianity? There are a number of valuable teachings which shed some light on the post-apostolic church. The Didache teaches:
- Legalism and formalism (4.6; 8.1, 3).
- Adult baptism—not infant baptism (7.4).
- A Trinitarian formula for baptism (7.1).
- The purpose for the Lord’s Supper: “thanksgiving,” not transubstantiation (9.1-4).
- The importance of evangelism (ch.10)
- The Old Testament bondage of the church. Old covenant concepts spilled over into the new covenant. The NT prophets were seen as similar to the OT high priests (13.3).
- The meeting time for Christian fellowship. These Christians met on Sundays to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (14.1).
- Local churches should govern themselves (ch.15). A monarchical episcopate is not in view in the Didache. Instead, churches select their own bishops and deacons (15.1).
- Futurism—not Preterism (ch.16). The decline of spirituality, morality, and theology are all future to the Didachist.
Why doesn’t this ancient Christian source call Jesus God?
Skeptics of Christianity sometimes appeal to the Didache as evidence that Christians did not believe Jesus was God, because the Didache doesn’t call him God. However, this objection doesn’t hold weight:
First, the NT documents are earlier than the Didache—not later. The NT documents are replete with reference to Jesus’ deity (see “Defending the Deity of Christ”).
Second, the purpose of the Didache was not Christology, but ethics and church practice. We can’t expect the Didache to expound a full theology of Jesus, because this wasn’t the author(s)’ intent in writing the document. Niederwimmer and Attridge write, “The Didache is not a ‘theological’ work but a rule for ecclesiastical praxis, a handbook of church morals, ritual, and discipline.”
In fact, very little is written about Jesus at all in the Didache. Jefford writes, “There is no mention of Jesus as the Son of God or the significance of that relationship, no understanding of the nature of Jesus as preacher, healer, miracle-worker, or savior. Jesus is called the ‘child’ of the Father, but this does not distinguish him from the lineage of Israel’s great king, David.”
Chapters 1-6 (called “The Two Ways”)
This section is parallel with The Epistle of Barnabas (ch.18-20). Scholars believe that this section was given to Christian converts to explain the nuts and bolts of basic Christian living. Many believe that this section (along with chapter 16) is very ancient—though this is hard to determine with any level of certainty (see “Date” above).
(Chapter 1) The Didache opens with Christian moral instructions about loving God and your neighbor. It consists of a number of citations from Jesus in the Gospels.
(Chapter 2) The Didachist quotes five commands from the Ten Commandments. He states that abortion or infanticide are both immoral (v.2).
(Chapter 3) He condemns a list of other sins, alluding or quoting extensively from the NT.
(Chapter 4) Legalism is already creeping into the church: “If you have [something] through the work of your hands, you shall give [it as] redemption of your sins” (v.6).
Slave masters were commanded to be kind to slaves (v.10).
(Chapter 5) More moral commands about vices and virtues.
(Chapter 6) They didn’t agree with Paul’s teaching on eating meat sacrificed to idols. Is this a Jewish community? The text states, “As for food, bear what you can, but be very much on your guard against food offered to idols, for [to eat it] is worship of dead gods” (v.3).
Chapter 7-15 (Church practice and structure)
(Chapter 7) This describes adult baptism—not infant baptism. The text states, “Before the baptism, let the person baptizing and the person being baptized—and others who are able—fast; tell the one being baptized to fast one or two [days] before” (v.4). How could babies fast for one or two days?
Baptism is in a Trinitarian formula: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This “three-part formula is identical with that in Matt 28:19.”
It prescribes loose practices for the water used in baptism: running water, cold or hot, or pouring on the head.
(Chapter 8) Here is another element of legalism: “Let your fasts not [take place] with [those of] the wicked. They fast on Monday and Thursday; you, though, should fast on Wednesday and Friday” (v.1). Remember, Jesus condemned the Pharisee for fasting “twice a week” (Lk. 18:12).
The Didachist cites from the Lord’s Prayer (v.2), but he adds the requirement to pray “thrice daily” (v.3).
(Chapter 9) The practice of the Lord’s Supper is a thanksgiving and remembrance celebration—not transubstantiation. The text says, “As for thanksgiving, give thanks this way. 2 First, with regard to the cup: ‘We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David your servant, which you made known to us through Jesus your servant. To you be glory forever.’ 3 And with regard to the Bread: ‘We thank you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you made known to us through Jesus your servant. To you be glory forever. 4 As this [bread] lay scattered upon the mountains and became one when it had been gathered, so may your church be gathered into your kingdom from the ends of the earth. For glory and power are yours, through Jesus Christ, forever. 5 Let no one eat or drink of your thanksgiving [meal] save those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord, since the Lord has said concerning this, ‘Do not give what is holy to the dogs.’”
(Chapter 10) During the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, they would pray for people to be reached for Christ across the world (v.5).
(Chapter 11) They were to discern false teachers based on what they read in chapter 1-10.
The teachings should conform to Scripture: “In the matter of apostles and prophets, act this way, according to the ordinance of the gospel” (v.3). Niederwimmer and Attridge write, “What is meant is either the viva vox evangelii [the “living voice” or oral tradition] or a written gospel whose text the Didachist can presume to be extant among his readers and hearers.”
In the early years of Christianity, teachers (like Paul) would travel from city to city, or more likely from town to town. The Didachist set up one way to test a true apostle: If the person was trying to get rich off of his itinerant (i.e. travelling) ministry, then he should be considered a false teacher (vv.4-6).
(Chapter 12) Travelling preachers should be judged based on their laziness or willingness to work. The author(s) is worried that people could be preaching the gospel to bilk people of their money.
(Chapter 13) The Didachist compares NT prophets to the high priests of the OT. We’re already seeing a blending of old covenant concepts into the new covenant: “When you take any firstfruits of what is produced by the winepress and the threshing floor, by cows and by sheep, you shall give the firstfruits to the prophets, for they are your high priests” (v.3). Niederwimmer and Attridge write, “They are entitled to the aparche, the firstfruits, the gifts that were originally dedicated to God and then belonged to the temple, that is, to the priests…. the Didachist deliberately adopts a term from Old Testament cultic language. He decrees that the cultic demand of Scripture (the OT) that the aparche be surrendered as an offering is now translated into an obligation toward the Christian prophets active in the community.”
(Chapter 14) They met on Sunday to celebrate the Lord’s Supper (v.1). The “sacrifice” mentioned here can either refer to the Lord’s Supper or to the prayer offered at this time. This would fit with the author of Hebrews who refers to the “sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15; cf. 1 Pet. 2:5). Niederwimmer and Attridge write, “The sacrifice that is spoken of so often here would then be the eucharistic prayer offered by the congregation.” Whatever the sacrifice is, it isn’t clear from the text itself.
(Chapter 15) There is no mention of a monarchical episcopate in Rome, which chooses bishops and deacons for local churches. Instead, we read, “Select, then, for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord” (v.1).
There is also plurality in leadership (“bishops”), rather than a single bishop; thus Niederwimmer and Attridge write, “There is not yet a monepiscopate [single overseer]…. the function of bishops and deacons is therefore not ordered to the whole church, but to the needs and tasks in the individual congregation by whom they were elected.”
Chapter 16 (Eschatology)
(Chapter 16) The text teaches that Christ has not yet come (vv.1-2), and the false prophets, persecutions, and moral decline hasn’t happened yet (vv.3-4). This is all contrary to Preterism. If Jesus “appeared” via the armies of Rome in AD 70 and was preceded by false prophets and persecutions in Jerusalem, then the Didache apparently didn’t make this connection.
 Jefford, C. N. (2012). Reading the Apostolic Fathers: A Student’s Introduction (Second Edition, p. 23). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
 Eusebius, History of the Church, 3.25; Athanasius, Thirty-ninth Easter Letter of Athanasius of Alexandria.
 Jefford, C. N. (2012). Reading the Apostolic Fathers: A Student’s Introduction (Second Edition, p. 27). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
 Jefford, C. N. (2012). Reading the Apostolic Fathers: A Student’s Introduction (Second Edition, p. 29). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
 Jefford, C. N. (2012). Reading the Apostolic Fathers: A Student’s Introduction (Second Edition, p. 28). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
 Niederwimmer, K., & Attridge, H. W. (1998). The Didache: a commentary (p. 52). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
 Niederwimmer, K., & Attridge, H. W. (1998). The Didache: a commentary (p. 52). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
 Niederwimmer, K., & Attridge, H. W. (1998). The Didache: a commentary (p. 2). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
 Jefford, C. N. (2012). Reading the Apostolic Fathers: A Student’s Introduction (Second Edition, p. 34). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
 Niederwimmer, K., & Attridge, H. W. (1998). The Didache: a commentary (p. 126). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
 Niederwimmer, K., & Attridge, H. W. (1998). The Didache: a commentary (p. 173). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
 Niederwimmer, K., & Attridge, H. W. (1998). The Didache: a commentary (p. 191). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
 Niederwimmer, K., & Attridge, H. W. (1998). The Didache: a commentary (p. 197). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
 Niederwimmer, K., & Attridge, H. W. (1998). The Didache: a commentary (p. 200, 201). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.