ECA: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles

This post is part of our ongoing series considering Early Christian Authority.
The Apostolic Fathers

The Apostolic Fathers

The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (hereafter, the Didache, it’s more common name) is one of the earliest non-canonical extant texts of the Christian tradition. Almost certainly a praxis oriented church “manual,” the Didache has two main sections: an exposition on the Path of Life and Path of Death (Chapters 1-5) and then an extended church manual detailing proper practices for the Christian community (Chapters 7-16). The date and place of origin of the Didache are debated amongst scholars, though in general it is believed to have been composed in the early second century in or around Syria. The Didache’s early date of composition and highly practical contents offer a number of notable contributions to a contextualized understanding of early Christian faith and practice, including the treatment of traveling charismatic’s, the Eucharist celebration, baptism, and the Lord’s Prayer. Also noteworthy is the Didache’s relationship with the Gospel of Matthew, which will be discussed in more detail below.

The Didache has no specifically formulaic introductions of scripture from either Testament. There are five “saying” introductions, one of which comes from an unknown source, and two semi-formal uses of material (1.2). The other twenty-seven uses of material are used non-formulaically, often by simply using a passage (typically a saying of Jesus) in an instructive and practice oriented approach. The author of the Didache uses clear Old Testament passages three times, unknown or apocryphal material twice, and material that could come from either Testament twice. The bulk of the material used comes from the New Testament, with twenty-seven citations or allusions. Of these, the vast majority find direct parallels in the Gospel According to Matthew. Overall, aside from eight potential references (I Peter [1.4], Luke [1.5], Isaiah [3.8], Sirach [4.5], Acts [4.8], and Deuteronomy [4.13] are very likely allusions. Malachi [14.3]—“mentioned by the Lord”, Zechariah or I Thessalonians [16.7]—“it has been said”, and the unknown source [1.6]—“said concerning this”, appear to be more directly known), every citation in the Didache finds a direct parallel in the Gospel of Matthew, clearly demonstrating that some form of relationship exists between the two writings. Either both accounts used similar oral traditions, or the Didache relied heavily upon Matthew’s gospel in writing a practically oriented church manual. Questions concerning the dating of both Matthew’s Gospel and the composition of the Didache must be addressed before any serious conclusions concerning this relationship may be answered.

Papyrus 75a

Papyrus 75a

To offer some tentative conclusions concerning authority in the Didache: the form of faith and worship that the Didache seeks to inform its readers about was clearly centered in the life and teachings of Jesus and the development of the community of faith surrounding his teachings. The author’s knowledge of these teachings appears to have come from either the Gospel of Matthew or a closely related source. Other sources or writings that may have a played a role are hard to determine, though the author appears to have had some knowledge of the prophecies of Malachi and likely Zechariah. The lack of citations, from either Old or New Testament, may reflect an early dating or a practical orientation in writing that precluded use of non-Matthean or oral material. The practices of the Didache reflect a growing Christian community that emphasized liturgy and “apostolic” teaching, and may have been designed as supplementary material.

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