The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles

The Didachē

This fascinating document carries the Greek title The Teaching [didachē] of the Twelve Apostles.

The Didachē is a short catechism, probably written in Syria during the second half of the 1st century. Eusebius in the fourth century counts it among the spurious books, along with the Acts of Paul, the Shepherd, and the book of Revelation. Rufinus, Athanasius, and other writers give it a place among the deuterocanonical works. Other writers reject it entirely, though the Ethiopian Orthodox Chruch counts it as canonical.

The text is paraphrased and quoted extensively among the early fathers, but the work itself was considered lost until in 1873 Philotheos Bryennios, Metropolitan of Nicomedia, rediscovered it in the Greek Codex Hierosolymitanus, written in 1053. Bryennios published it ten years later. He had earlier published the full text of the Epistles of Clement from the same manuscript in 1875.

Shortly after Bryennios’ initial publication, the scholar Otto von Gebhardt identified a Latin manuscript in the Abbey of Melk in Austria as containing a translation of the first part of the Didache; later scholars now believe that to be an independent witness to the tradition of the “Two Ways”” section. Dr. J. Schlecht found in 1900 another Latin translation of chapters 1 through 5. Coptic and Ethiopian translations have also been discovered since Bryennios’ original publication.

The Didachē is concerned with practical discipline and does not deliberately teach doctrine, but from the writer’s assumptions we learn a great deal about the development of the early Church in his generation.

It is divided into three parts. The first part is a moral teaching called the “Two Ways,” which also comprises the eighteenth to twentieth chapters of the Epistle of Barnabas. Regarding this section, the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) says:

The most acceptable theory among the many proposed on the character and composition of the Didache is that proposed by Charles Taylor in 1886, and accepted in 1895 by A. Harnack (who in 1884 had most vigorously maintained its Christian origin) — that the first part of the Didache, the teaching concerning the Two Ways (Didache, ch. i.-vi.), was originally a manual of instruction used for the initiation of proselytes in the Synagogue, and was converted later into a Christian manual and ascribed to Jesus and the Apostles.

The third chapter of the Didachē, especially, resembles very closely passages in the Babylonian Talmud.

Beginning in the seventh chapter, the second part of the Didachē addresses baptism, fasting, prayer, and the Eucharist. Its proscription regarding fasting “with the hypocrites” refers obliquely to the Monday and Thursday fasts described in the Mishnah, and substitutes for the Christian a fast on Wednesdays and Fridays (a discipline which survived until the twentieth century in the West and is still current in the Christian East.)

Christians are to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times a day, as the Jews prayed the Shema thrice daily. Interestingly, the Lord’s Prayer here is not quite St Matthew’s version, and includes the added doxology: “For Thine is the power and the glory for ever” while the doxology in most manuscripts is added to Matthew with “…the Kingdom and the power and the glory.” The Eucharistic prayers in chapters nine and ten are reminiscent of the Jewish blessings over bread and wine, and are echoed in later centuries by Clement of Alexandria and Origen.

The third part of the Didachē, beginning in chapter eleven, gives instruction regarding itinerant teachers and prophets, who in the writer’s generation, still exist in parallel to the offices of the local congregation: “Appoint, therefore, 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.” The presence of these wandering prophets, and the final chapter’s expectation of the Lord’s return in the writer’s generation, are typical of the Church of the late first century.

Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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