The Didache (a Greek word for teaching), also known as “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” or “The Doctrine of the Lord to the nations through the Twelve Apostles”, is an important document because it is one of the earliest Christian writings and is thought to have been written during a time when some of the Apostles of Jesus were still alive and able to monitor the development of newly formed Christian communities. The information found in this document has been important to me in my research project of the first century church, because it could give ideas about the best model for Christian community, coming from such an early time. The Apostles were intimate with Jesus and if anyone understood what God intended for Christian assemblies they were at a great advantage.
Many scholars favor a dating between 50 and 70 AD. It is thought to have been written after the Gospel of Matthew and before the remaining Gospels, the Epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation. The author (or authors) is unknown, but because of the author’s familiarity with the Gospel of Matthew the writer is thought to have been a disciple of Jesus or of one of the Apostles. The Didache is quoted or referenced by many of the early, so-called church fathers, eg. Barnabas, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and others. Some of them thought it to be the inspired word of God and that it should be include in the Canon of the Bible. “The Didache was accepted by many early church fathers as scriptural. Among these were Athanasius, Rufinus, and John of Damascus. The book was also accepted into the Apostolic Constitutions Canon 85 and the 81- book Ethiopic Canon.” It was rejected, however, when the Canon of the New Testament that we now have was determined. “After the 5th century the Didache was no longer part of the church tradition and fell into obscurity”. The Didache was recovered in 1873 by Philotheos Bryennios, the “Head Master of the higher Greek school at Constantinople, but now Metropolitan of Nicomedia. He discovered a remarkable collection of manuscripts (which he termed the Jerusalem Codex) in the library of the Jerusalem Monastery of the Most Holy Sepulchre at Constantinople. This collection is bound in one volume and written by the same hand. It is signed “Leon, notary and sinner,” and bears the Greek date of 6564 = A.D. 1056. “Bryennios published the manuscript in Constantinople in 1883”. Since its discovery it has been the center of much academic interest and controversy. The Jerusalem Codex also contains the works of early church fathers such as Barnabas, Clement, Ignatius of Antioch and others.
The purpose of the Didache was to familiarize Gentile converts with the practices of first century Judaism in order to form a community of Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus. There are several places within the Didache where Jewish practices have been modified and incorporated, such as praying the Lord’s prayer three times per day which could have been intended to replace or add to the Jewish practice of praying the “Shema” (Dt. 6:4-5) three times per day. The Didache is written in two parts: the first is a code of Christian morals and the second a manual of church order. Within the two parts there are four distinct and separate sections: the Two Ways document in chapters 1-6, common church practices such as baptism in chapters 7-10, how to deal with itinerant ministers and how to identify false prophets, etc. in chapters 11-15 and chapter 16 is a section of eschatology that has similarities to Matthew 24. Each section is thought to have been written at different times and possibly by different authors due to the different styles of writing.
The Two Ways document in chapters 1-6 is very ancient and has its origin in the Essene community of Qumran as evidenced by the discovery of the scroll 1QS containing the “Manual of Discipline” found in cave 4 of Qumran, “…The contribution of Jean-Paul Audet, published in 1952, is of overriding importance. He demonstrated for the first time that a pattern of the Two Ways tradition – with the parenetic (persuasive) form of a double catalogue – was incorporated in the Manual of Discipline (1QS 3:13-4:26)”., The Qumran model has some differences that were not included in the Christianized version found in the Didache, but what is included in the Didache is quite similar to the Qumran model. “The first section (ch.1-6) is believed, by some, to be a heavily edited version of a Jewish tract entitled “The Two Ways”, which served as a handbook for Jewish converts in the Synagogue, however no such document predating the Didache has yet to be found, and is merely speculative”. “The Two Ways section is part of several other early documents such as Barnabas 18-20, The Doctrina (a Latin version), the 4th century Apostolic Church Order and three other manuals of the 4th century.” It was incorporated in the Didache to be used as a handbook to be read to new converts prior to baptism.
As you read through selections from chapters 1-6, printed below, you will notice many principals that can be compared with both the Old Testament and New Testament scriptures particularly the gospel of Matthew. Chapter 2:2 references Deuteronomy 18:10, but adds “do not murder children in abortion, nor kill that which is born.” In chapter 3:1-6 there is a warning against certain practices that lead to more serious sins enumerated in chapter 2. “In good rabbinic fashion the author is building a ‘fence around the law’ (cf. Mish. Pirke Aboth i.1) by avoiding even that which might lead to sin.” Chapter 4:14 could be compared to James 5:16, “Confess your trespasses to one another, that you may be healed.” Chapter 6:3 seems to reference Acts 15:29. In chapter 7:1,3 there are two references to the triune God, baptizing in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The entire document can easily be found on the internet at several different web sites by simply entering Didache in the search engine.
The Teaching of the Twelve copyright 1998 translated by Ivan Lewis from extant Greek manuscripts with consideration given to the Coptic and Latin text.
THE TWO WAYS; THE FIRST COMMANDMENT
1) There are two ways: one of Life – one of Death, each having great differences between them.
2) The way of life is this:
First, You must love the One who formed you;
Second, you must love your neighbor in the same manner as yourself. Do not do to others, what you yourself would not want done to you.
3) And these are our teachings:
Bless the ones who curse you. Pray for your enemies. Fast for your persecutors. Do you expect a great reward if you only love those who love you? Do the Gentiles not conduct themselves accordingly? But if you practice love to those who hate you, your enemies will vanish.
4) Refrain from the impulses of your selfish nature and the self-serving world. If someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the left to be likewise struck. This discipline will lead to your perfecting. If someone forces you to go one mile in service, go with him a second. If someone robs you of your robe, freely give him your coat. If someone takes anything from you, don’t ask that it be returned, for what good would that do?
5) Give to all who ask, and don’t expect return; for your Parent in heaven wills that everyone should be recipients of our free gifts. Great rewards await anyone who gives according to the commandment; for that person is guiltless. A negative return is given to the one who receives but has no need, for he will pay the penalty for why he received for nothing but greed, and under examination will be required to divulge everything concerning his choices, and will not be freed from his obligations until everything owed is paid.
6) On the other hand, the one who is in need and receives is guiltless. Let your gifts rest in in your sweaty hands, until you know to can discern to whom you should give.
THE SECOND COMMANDMENT: GROSS SIN FORBIDDEN
1) This is the second commandment of the Teaching;
2) You must not murder; nor given to adultery; nor molest children; nor practice immorality; nor theft; nor a practitioner of black magic; nor a practitioner of witchcraft; nor a terminator of unborn children; nor any sort of infanticide; nor one who unlawfully seek to take ownership of your neighbor’s possessions,
3) You must not commit perjury nor be given over to false testimony, nor speak evil, nor hold grudges.
4) You must not be deceitful nor fickle; for to be fickle is a snare of death.
5) Your speech must never be false, nor meaningless, but confirmed by action.
6) You must never be greedy, nor accumulate riches, nor a hypocrite, nor malicious, nor arrogant; nor given over to plot evil against your neighbor.
7) You must not hate anyone; but some you must correct, and pray for others, and some you must love even more than your own life.
OTHER SINS FORBIDDEN
1) My child, turn away from everything evil, even from anything that resembles it.
2) Control your anger, for anger leads to murder. Control your jealousy, and do not bicker, nor be hot-tempered, for all these these things are the roots of murder.
3) My child, don’t entertain lust in your heart; for lust leads to immorality. Do not be foul-mouthed, nor allow your eyes to roam; for all these are the roots of adultery.
4) My child, do not practice any part of omens, because this leads to idolatry. Do not practice enchantment, nor self-centered astrology, nor black magic, nor join with those who exhibit these things; for these all lead to idolatry.
5) My child, do not lie because lying lead to theft. Do not accumulate selfish wealth, nor build conceit because these all lead to theft.
6) My child, do not grumble because this leads to blasphemy. Do not be arrogant nor evil-minded because all of these lead to blasphemy.
7) Rather, be meek for they will inherit the Land of Promise.
8) Be humble, patient, merciful, gentle and good, always showing proper respect and reverence for that which you have heard.
9) Never seek self-exaltation, nor be over-confident in your own self. You must not be joined with the worldly upper class, but with the righteous and humble.
10) Whatsoever things that happen to you should be taken as good, after all we know that nothing happens apart from God.
1) My child, every night and day remember those who teach you; and you must honor him.
2) And you must daily seek the companionship of the saints, so that you may find support in their words.
3) Never cause division, but be an arbiter to those who quarrel. Always judge righteously, never showing partiality when mediating transgressions.
4) Always stand firm in your decisions.
5) Don’t be a habitual receiver, ever reluctant in generosity.
6) If you’ve earned something through work, your giving will be weighed as a ransom against your sins.
7) You must not hesitate to give, nor grumble afterwards, for one day you will face the reward of the Paymaster.
8) Never turn away those in need, but always share all things with your brother, and never say that your possessions exclusively your own, because if you share in eternal things, how much more in things that are temporary!
9) Never neglect your responsibilities concerning your son and daughter, but always teach them from their youth proper respect.
10) Never give orders in anger to your servant or maid, especially if their hope is the same, lest they are provoked to lose respect for God who is over you both. For He doesn’t come to people based on their appearance or reputation, but to the ones whom the Spirit has prepared.
11) And your servants must be subject to your own masters in respect and fear.
12) You must hate all hypocrisy and everything that is not positive.
13) Never turn away from practicing the commandments and always guard what you have received, being careful to never add to or take away from anything that was received.
14) In the assembly you should confess your transgressions, and be careful to never approach your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life.
THE WAY OF DEATH
1) The way of death is this: First of all, it is evil and cursed: full of murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magical arts, witchcrafts, robberies, false testimonies, hypocrisy, deceit, arrogance, depravity, self-will, greed, filthy talk, jealous, over-confidence, false-pride, boastful;
2) Persecutors of all things good, hating truth, loving lies, ignorant of the reward for righteousness, not clinging to good nor righteous judgment, being drawn to evil rather than good; from whom gentleness and endurance are distanced, loving vanities, chasing temporary reward, having no mercy for the poor, not working for the afflicted, not knowing their Creator, murderers of children, destroyers of creation, turning away from the needy, oppressing the afflicted, prejudiced in favor of the rich and against the poor, utterly sinful. Children, may all of you be delivered from all these abominations.
AGAINST FALSE TEACHERS, AND FOOD OFFERED TO IDOLS
1) Be on your guard for many would like to lead you away from the way of the Teaching, for their priorities have no regard.
2) If you are able to bear the yoke, you will be perfect; but if you can’t, you should make your best effort.
3) And concerning food, eat what is right but guard that you never eat that which is sacrificed to idols, for that is recognized as worship of the dead.
(This article was first published in the third series of Tishrei Journals, Number 3, December 2008)