The Didache (Greek, ‘The Teaching’) is an ancient Christian writing generally dated towards the end of the 1st Century AD. For centuries its existence was only known through sporadic references in the works of the early church fathers, and scholars believed it was lost forever.
In 1873 Greek Orthodox bishop Philotheos Bryennios discovered the 11th Century Codex Hierosolymitanus during his tenure at the Patriarchal School of Constantinople. Within its pages he found a copy of the Didache, and scholars were able to study it for the first time.
The Didache has been called an early church manual. It affirms essential doctrines, and provides detailed instructions on morality, baptism, fasting, the memorial meal, and ministry.
Most of these are clearly taken from the NT, but the moral code—a section called ‘the Two Ways’—has ancient Jewish roots and a pre-Christian Jewish literary pattern, reflecting theological continuity between Judaism and the Didache community.
The Didache’s extensive use of gMatthew and the Pauline epistles indicates good familiarity with authoritative NT documents, while its warning against false apostles claiming to possess Holy Spirit gifts is widely interpreted as a sign that such gifts were increasingly rare. This pushes the date of composition towards the turn of the century.
Scholars have been struck by the simplicity of the Didache’s doctrinal statements. It is explicitly Unitarian, with no reference to the immortality of the soul, the deity of Christ, or a supernatural Devil.
Baptism is described in NT terms, with immersion normative; though understandably, some allowance is permitted when water is scarce (‘If you have very little, pour water three times on the head in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit’).
The Didache community recognised baptism as a precursor to communion (‘Allow no one to eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptised in the name of the Lord’) and encouraged spiritual preparation prior to immersion (‘Before the baptism, both the baptiser and the candidate for baptism, plus any others who can, should fast. The candidate should fast for one or two days beforehand.’)
The Didache’s advice on fasting reflects ongoing friction with the non-Christian Jewish community (‘Your fasts should not be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays. You should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.’)
Likewise the advice on prayer, drawn from gMatthew (‘And do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in the gospel: Our Father in heaven, holy be your name…’ etc.)
This valuable document provides unique insights into beliefs and practices of the early church at a time when apostolic leadership was dying out. Its consistency with NT Christianity makes it essential reading.
A good English translation of the Didache is available here.
An academic paper on the Didache’s use of the OT & NT is available here.