A work, also known as The Teaching of the Apostles, discovered in 1873 by the Metropolitan Bryennios in a Greek manuscript written in 1056 (now Codex 54 in the Library of the Greek Patriarch in Jerusalem), which also contains the Epistle of Barnabas and the Epistles of Clement of Rome. The Greek text is otherwise represented only by Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1782, written at the end of the fourth century, which contains no more than sixty- four words. In addition, there have survived excerpts of a Coptic version and of an Ethiopic version. The value of the complete Georgian version as an ancient textual witness of the work has been questioned recently, and it is said that it is, in effect, a modern version that probably goes back only to the first half of the nineteenth century.
The Didache may be described as a church manual. It consists of two parts. The first six chapters contain a moral treatise based on an ancient Jewish work called “The Two Ways.” It sets forth the way of righteousness and life, on the one hand, and the way of unrighteousness and death, on the other. There are obvious affinities with the teaching of the Wisdom literature, the Qumran writings, and rabbinical teaching. An ancient Latin translation (Doctrina apostolorum) of a Greek work no longer extant contains these six chapters without the Christian accretions (1.3b-2.1), thus confirming the existence of an earlier, pre-Christian work, which scholars had suspected. This part of the Didache, without Christian interpolation, appears in a number of ancient Christian writings, including the Apostolic Church Order, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Arabic version of the Life of Shenute, while the whole work is used in the Didascalia and in the Apostolic Constitutions.
After the moral teaching of the first six chapters, there follow liturgical directions and regulations relating to the ministry of the church. Chapter 7 deals in some detail with the rite of BAPTISM. Preferably it should be administered in running water, but alternatively, the use of any other water, cold or warm, is permitted, and even the pouring of water on the baptismal candidate’s head is allowed. Chapter 8 enjoins fasting on Wednesday and Friday, not on Monday and Thursday when the hypocrites, that is, the Jews, fast, and orders the praying of the Lord’s prayer three times daily. The original setting of the prayers in Chapters 9-10 has been much discussed, for it is not altogether clear whether they refer to the Christian agape or to the EUCHARIST. It has been suggested, with some cogency, that the prayers in 9.1-10.5 preceded and followed the agape, while 10.6 introduces the liturgy of the celebration of the Eucharist that followed. But it should be noted that this is only one of a number of possible interpretations.
At the end of Chapter 10, the Coptic version adds a sentence that is not attested in the Greek, and it is, therefore, convenient to introduce the Coptic version at this point a little more fully. The papyrus leaf that contains the excerpt of the Didache (10.3-12.2) belongs to the British Library (Oriental 9271). It is thought to have been written in the fifth century, and the Coptic dialect of the text has been described as Middle Egyptian with Fayyumic influence. There is no firm evidence to enable us to say whether this excerpt has been translated directly from the Greek, or whether it has had a history within the Coptic tradition and was therefore translated earlier. It has even been suggested that the Coptic version was translated directly from the Syriac.
Of special interest is the passage in the Coptic version which has no parallel in the Greek. It is a prayer of thanksgiving for the “perfume,” which has often been interpreted as the fragrant oil, the myron, with its possible baptismal associations. More recently it has been suggested that it is rather a prayer over incense that was burned at the communal meal. Not only is the interpretation of the prayer in doubt, but so also is its authenticity, for it appears only in the Coptic version and in the recension of the Didache contained in the Apostolic Constitutions (VII.27), where it might be secondary.
Chapters 11-13 contain regulations about teachers, itinerant apostles, and prophets, while Chapter 14 gives instructions about the observance of Sunday. The celebration of the Eucharist is to be preceded by the confession of sins. Chapter 15 deals with the appointment of bishops and deacons, and the concluding Chapter 16 contains eschatological exhortations to watchfulness.
The primitive conditions reflected in the Didache suggest that it was written at an early date, perhaps the first half of the second century, although earlier and later dates have been put forward. The place of writing is generally thought to be Syria, but Egypt has been considered a possible place of origin by some scholars.
- Adam, A. “Erwägungen zur Herkunft der Didache.” Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 68 (1957):1-47.
- Altaner, B., and A. Stuiber. Patrologie, pp. 79-82. Freiburg, 1966. Audet, J.-P. La Didachè: Instructions des apôtres. Paris, 1958.
- Gero, S. “The So-called Ointment Prayer in the Coptic Version of the Didache: A Re-evaluation.” Harvard Theological Review 70 (1977):67-84.
- Kahle, P. E. Bala’izah, Vol. 1, pp. 224-27. London, 1954.
- Lefort, L.-T. Les Pères apostoliques en copte. CSCO 135-36; Scriptores Coptici 17, 18. Louvain, 1952.
- Rordorf, W., and A. Tuilier. La Doctrine des douze apôtres (Didachè). Sources chrétiennes 248. Paris, 1978.