In the previous article I discussed the history and the importance of the Didache and why it is still relevant to the church in our day. It was written before much of what we now have in the New Testament and while some of the Apostles of Jesus were still alive and able to monitor the development of new Christian communities being formed. The Didache gives us insight into the development, life and practices, beliefs, and concerns of the first and second century churches. The Didache is not the inspired word of God and does not change the Scripture in any way, but it expounds some of the principals found in Scripture. There are similarities with the Gospel of Matthew as well as the Old Testament and certain practices found in Judaism during the first century.
Didache 7:1-4 addresses the practice of baptism saying, “baptize into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water.” This is the same formula that Jesus gave in Matt. 28:19. I believe living water refers to fresh running water like a stream or river. The rite of baptism has its origin in Judaism possibly as far back as the first Temple period (1 Kings 7:23, 2 Chronicles 4:2) and definitely during the time of Jesus during the second Temple period. Proselytes were required to be circumcised, immerse themselves in a bath of purification called a Mikveh, and offer a burnt offering of cattle. “The applicant was circumcised, and then led to be baptized after which he was considered a Jew.” The proselyte’s conversion was referred to as new birth. Verse 2, “but if you have not living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot in cold, in warm. But if you have not either, pour out water thrice upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.”
Didache 8:2-7 contains a version of the Lord’s Prayer that is very similar to the Lord’s Prayer in Matt. 6:9-13. Thus pray: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us to-day our daily bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil; for Thine is the power and the glory forever. Thrice in the day pray.”
Praying three times a day could be in addition to or instead of the Jewish practice of praying the Shema (Dt. 6:4,5) three times a day.
In chapter 9 I was quite surprised to find the word Eucharist in a document of the first century, but when looking at the Greek meaning of the word found that it simply means thanksgiving. The first century church thought of the Lord’s Supper as a thanksgiving offering like that of Lev. 12-15. The thanksgiving offering was one of the free will offerings in which one would offer it in thanksgiving to the Lord out of a grateful heart for prayer answered such as a the birth of a child or some other favor granted for which they had been seeking the Lord for in prayer. Those providing the offering would then invite friends and family and the priesthood to share in a celebration meal from the thanksgiving offering with the Lord being guest of honor. The First Century Church related the sharing of the Lord’s Supper to this thanksgiving offering.
Chapter 9:The Thanksgiving (Eucharist)
“Now concerning the Thanksgiving thus give thanks. First, concerning the cup: we thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which Thou made known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory forever.” It is interesting to note that thanks is given for the cup before the bread as in Luke 22:17-19 and 1 Corinthians 10:16. “And concerning the broken bread: We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou made known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory forever.”
Chapter 11: Concerning Teachers, Apostles, and Prophets
“Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turn and teach another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not; but if he teaches so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord.” “Let every apostle that comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain except one day; but if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when he goes away let him take nothing but bread until he lodges; but if he asks for money, he is a false prophet.” The previous verses concerning apostles could not have been referring to the Apostles of Jesus, but is evidence of the apostleship being passed on to others beyond the original twelve. It is possible that there had been some itinerant teachers, apostles, or prophets who had taken advantage of some of the Christian communities and thus the reason for the warning.
Chapter 13 makes provision for the support of prophets and teachers in verses 1 and 2: “But every prophet that wills to abide among you is worthy of his support. So also a true teacher is himself worthy, as the workman, of his support.”
Chapter 14: Christian Assembly on the Lord’s Day
“But every Lord’s Day do gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.” I believe that it is generally accepted that the reference to “the Lord’s Day” refers to Sunday, however, there is no directive in Scripture to worship on any particular day, one may worship on any day and/or every day the only day that God has set aside as special is the Sabbath and on that day we are to rest from our customary work.
Chapter 15: Bishops and Deacons; Christian Reproof
“Appoint for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers.” In the first century church bishops and deacons were recognized and chosen from those who were members of their local assembly of believers.
The eschatology of chapter 16 has many parallels with 1 and 2 Thessalonians and Matthew 24 and the fact that it does not make any mention of the destruction of the Temple gives support to dating the Didache before 70 A.D.
Chapter 16: Watchfulness; The Coming of the Lord
“Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, not your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord comes. But often shall you come together, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you be not made perfect in the last time. For in the last days false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for when lawlessness increases, they shall hate and persecute and betray one another, and then shall appear the world-deceiver as the Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning. Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall and shall perish; but they that endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. And then shall appear the signs of the truth; first, the sign of an outspreading in heaven; then the sign of the sound of the trumpet; and the third, the resurrection of the dead; yet not of all, but as it is said: The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.”
Because of the space allowed I have not included all of the chapters in the Didache or every verse in the chapters that are included here, but several different translations of the entire document may be found on the internet by simply entering Didache in the search engine.
(This article was first published in the third series of Tishrei Journals, Number 4, March 2009)