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June 16, 2010

The Didache

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The Didache could be described as a guide book for the Christians of the first century. Its short title in Greek is “Διδαχὴ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων”, or “The Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles”. It is listed alongside the Scriptures by Eusebius and used as a basis for other Church writings by the Fathers and others. It is worthy to note what the Catholic Encyclopedia says, “Doctrinal teaching is presupposed, and none is imparted.” In other words, this document doesn’t establish dogma, but simply explains what Christians were already doing.

The Didache is so short, there is no reason to not read it. Therefore, the summary of the chapters herein are somewhat sparse.


The author of the Didache is not known and may have been compiled and edited by several redactors. The Catholic Encyclopedia article includes a discussion about the date of authorship. It cites various points against which the date may be judged. The simplicity of the rituals, comparison of details with writings of the Fathers, and the descriptions of the ministry in specific terms lead to the conclusion that the Didache was written between AD 65 and AD 80. Wikipedia adds that by AD 100, the Didache was widely disseminated. Some scholars of the twentieth century date the book in the second century. It also notes a very Jewish tone, at least in part of the text, despite the very-Christian subject matter. Insufficient information exists to know where the text was written.


Catholic Encyclopedia. The article on the Didache divides the sixteen chapters into three parts. The first part (chapters 1-6) explains the “two ways”, the ways of life and death, the second (chapters 7-10) concerns Christian rituals, and the third part (chapters 11-16) discusses aspects of the ministry.

Wikipedia. This article agrees with the above, except it isolates chapter 16 as apocalyptic, undoubtedly based on one or more sources.


Chapter 1: The Two Ways The way of life inlcudes the two great commandments (Mt 22:35-40), the Golden Rule (Mt 7:12, Mt 22:39, Lk 6:31), and other advice from Scripture, namely: pray for your enemies (Mt 5:43-48, Lk 6:27-28), turn the other cheek (Mt 5:38-42,Lk 6:29), and it is better to give than to receive (Mt 5:26, Acts 20:35).

Chapter 2: Gross Sin Gross sins include violations of the commandments, namely murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness and coveting possessions (Ex 20:13-17), but also pederasty, fornication, practicing magic or witchcraft, murder by abortion or infacticide specifically, swearing oaths (Mt 5:34-36), speaking evil, holding grudges, being two-faced, failing to keep promises, covetousness, hypocrisy, haughtiness, conspiracy, and hate. Others should only be reproved, prayed for, and loved.

Chapter 3: Other Sins Lesser sins include anger, jealousy, quarrelsomeness, a hot temperment, lust, filthy speech, superstitiousness, lying, greed, and vainglory. These lead to greater sins. Be meek (Mt 5:5) and humble (Lk 18:14) instead and consider all things that happen as if by fate as from God (Eph 1:11).

Chapter 4: Precepts Honor those who speak the word of God. Work for peace. Judge righteously. Be resolute (Sir 1:28-29). Give easier than you take (Sir 4:31), especially to those in want. Teach your children the fear of God (Eph 6:4). Slaves and masters should have a Christian relationship (Eph 6:5,6:9, Col 3:22,4:1). Hate hypocrisy and what doesn’t please Lord. Keep the commandments, neither adding to nor taking away from them (Deut 12:32; 13:1 in Hebrew text). In church, acknowledge transgressions and don’t pray with an evil conscience.

Chapter 5: The Way of Death This is a litany of evil ways, mostly the sins forbidden in chapters 2 & 3.

Chapter 6: False Teachers & Idol Food Offerings Don’t be led astray be false teachers, bear as much of the yoke as you can and don’t eat the food sacrificed to idols (Acts 15, esp vv1-5,10,28-29).

Chapter 7: Baptism Baptize using the Trinitarian formula (Mt 28:19) in living water if available [this may refer to immersion in a river], or at least by pouring water three times on the head. The baptized should fast for a day or two before, as well as the baptizer and others for some length of time if possible.

Chapter 8: Fasting & Prayer Do not pray (Mt 6:5) or fast (Mt 6:16) with hypocrites. Pray as the Lord commanded (The Lord’s Prayer, Mt 6:9-13 + doxology!), three times a day.

Chapter 9: The Thanksgiving It is evident from the text that ‘Thanksgiving’ herein means the Eucharist. Words of thanksgiving to be said over wine and bread are provided (cup before bread, as in Lk 22:17-20). Only the baptized may partake in the Thanksgiving (Mt 7:6).

Chapter 10: Post-Communion Prayer The prayer provided has some elements of the Lord’s Prayer. Of interest is the notion that those who are holy may come, but those who are not should repent – this being said in the context of the Eucharistic feast. Also, prophets should be allowed to “make Thanksgiving as much as they desire”, possibly indicating that the practice was (as it is) to limit the frequency at which the laity may partake of the Eucharist.

Chapter 11: Teachers, Apostles & Prophets Receive only those who teach the discipline or teach to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord. Apostles and prophets should always be received, though false ones will stay three or more days, take more than bread when they leave and ask for money. He is not forgiven who judges a true prophet, that is, one who speaks in the Spirit and holds the ways of the Lord (Mt 7:15-23).

Chapter 12: Reception of Christians Receive, then prove, one who comes in the name of the Lord. Assist the traveller, but see to it that he who stays also works (2 Thess 3:10).

Chapter 13: Support of Prophets True prophets and teachers are worthy of their support (Mt 10:10, Lk 10:7). Give first-fruits according the the commandment to the prophets and the poor (text resembles Deut 14:22-27).

Chapter 14: The Lord’s Day Gather, confess sins so the sacrifice may be pure (the clean oblation, Mal 1:11,14) and then break bread and give thanks.

Chapter 15: Bishops & Deacons; Christian Reproof Appoint worthy and proven bishops and deacons (1 Tim 3) and honor them. Reprove one another according to the Gospel (Mt 18:15-17). Pray, give alms, and do deeds according to the Gospel.

Chapter 16: Watchfulness; The Coming of the Lord Watch and prepare for the Lord’s coming (Mt 24:42). Seek often what is good for the soul. A life of faith will be wasted if the person is not made perfect at the end of it (Mt 24:9-13). Only one deceiver (Mt 24:24) is described here (the antichrist perhaps, or Satan?), then the signs of the true second coming (Mt 24:30-31).

Notes & Observations

  • Paraclete Press hosts a copy with verse numbers added.
  • Here is another Greek text adding the alternate title Duae Viae. It has some other interesting info.
  • This page cites various other sources on various topics about the Didache. It also displays a great close-up of some of the text (assuming that IS the text).
  • The Catholic Encyclopedia entry also contains interesting history and references on the text, when it was rediscovered and published, etc.
  • This entry also makes several references to the “Western Text” of the Scriptures.
  • The Jewish Encyclopedia Didache article claims that the text is based on an older Synagogue intruction manual for proselytes. (if link breaks, do an onsite search)
  • It also notes that the negative form of the Golden Rule (Chapter 1) is a traditional Jewish interpretation.
  • Here is an entry for the Didache from the Encyclopedia Britannica, 11 ed. (1911), hosted by Interesting, but hard to read. Seems to indicate that no evidence extists to support the claim that the Didache was based on an earlier Jewish document.
  • The Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that the Didache was written in a time when Jewish influence was still very strong, but that the comparative number of OT & NT quotations suggest that this is not of Jewish origin.
  • The Wikipedia entry for the Didache notes that a derivative work, the Didascalia Apostolorum, is included in the Ethiopian Orthodox canon of Scripture. This is repeated in the entry for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
  • CARM, though generally anti-Catholic, admits that the Didache is “valuable as an early church document”.
  • George G. Delo of Power For Today Prophetic Ministries doesn’t mind relying on the didache, at least as an accurate historical record for early Christian beliefs. He uses it to illustrate how false prophets have always been a problem for the Church.
  • The “Whole” Bible project dedicates a short page to the Didache on which it states, “The work was never officially rejected by the Church, but was excluded from the canon for its lack of literary value.” Does the author think that the Didache should have been rejected? Since it is almost completely based on Scripture passages from the canon, I cannot see how this would happen. I’d also like to find out what source claimed that the Didache was excluded from the canon because it lacked literary value — not that I disagree, mind you, since I have already stated that it is almost a copy of existing Scriptures — but it would be interesting to know.
  • As I read the Didache and cross-referenced the Scripture passages, I noticed that the bulk of the references were from the Gospel of Matthew, many from Luke, and only a few from Pauline Epistles and various OT books. I assumed that the author drew heavily from Matthew because that was the text available to him; however, the Wikipedia article notes that “virtually nothing” taken from Matthew can be found in Mark, whose Gospel Matthew relied upon heavily. The “most likely” hypothesis is that Matthew drew from the Didache, not the other way around.


  • The Didache article from the Caholic Encyclopedia, hosted by New Advent
  • The Didache hosted by New Advent
  • The Didache entry for Wikipedia
  • Greek text of the Didache from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College


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