The Didache, Lesson 1: Introduction

The Didache: Lesson 1, Introduction

January 1, 2012

“Didache” (pronounced: dih-dah-KAY) is the Greek word for “doctrine” or “teaching” (as a noun).  It has two titles: “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” followed by “The Lord’s teaching to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles.”

Today, many Christians, including Lutherans, view the Bible as the final authority for the Church.  Early Christians, however, did not have such a worldview.  Why?  The Bible as we know it did not yet exist!  The Church did not firmly fix the list of what books formed the Bible, both Old and New Testament, until 397 AD!

Before that time, a core of books began to circulate, which had unquestioned authority: The Old Testament, not including the Apocrypha; the four Gospels; the letters of St. Paul; and 1st and 2nd John.  Some local congregations recognized a looser assortment of works, which others did not recognize.  Of this non-unanimous group, the works finally recognized as biblical included Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, Jude, 3rd John, and Revelation, as well as the later Old Testament writings called the Apocrypha (Deuterocanon or Anagignoskomena).


For this latter, non-unanimous group of books, the Lutheran Church considers them biblical, but chooses not to treat them as canonical.  That means the Lutheran Church chooses not to use these “contested” books to make doctrine.

Some books that a few earlier councils wanted to make biblical, but were finally rejected, included the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Revelation of Peter, and some others.


–          1 Corinthians 11:2: Paul writing to the church in Corinth, “I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold to the traditions just as I delivered them to you.”

–          2 Thessalonians 2:15: Paul writing to the church in Thessalonica, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, whether by our spoken word or by our letter.”

 –          Discuss how a text like the Didache may have some “authority” in today’s Church.



So we see the early New Testament Church used the Didache in her everyday life.  As far as we know, it is the oldest New Testament Church document apart from some scriptural texts.  However, after the council of Carthage in 397 AD, the Didache began to fall into disuse for two main reasons:

  1. The Church, through her councils, rejected the book as not biblical (not because of doctrine but because it lacked proof of apostolicity).  So it was no longer valuable enough to spend many painstaking hours copying it.
  2. The Church was no longer ethnically Jewish.  This made the need for teaching Gentiles into a Jewish-Christian Church unnecessary.

So the Didache became lost in the dustbins of history.

However, in 1873, an Eastern Orthodox Metropolitan, Bryennios, discovered a manuscript of the Didache dating back to 1056.  Since the Didache’s discovery, other fragments of the Didache have been found in Latin, Coptic, Ethiopic, Syriac–and a full translation of the Didache in Georgian!


Date of the Didache

Most scholars agree the Didache, in its earliest form, may have circulated as early as 60 AD.  However, I give the Didache an even earlier date—the mid-50s.  Why?  It comes down to three reasons.

Reason 1: We find the Didache quoting and/or referencing the Gospel of Matthew 31 separate times–but not the other Gospels!  The other Gospels don’t have a direct influence on the Didache text, although some common subject matter is discussed (such as the likeness of Didache 1:5a and Luke 6:30).

 Here are the general dates of the 4 gospels.

  • Matthew: 50 AD
  • Mark: 50-60 AD
  • Luke: Luke 55-60 AD
  • John: 90 AD

 The Didache only quotes the Gospel of Matthew–and it only references the existence of one Gospel (8:2).  So, it had to be written after Matthew wrote his Gospel, but before Mark or Luke were widely circulated.  This makes the decade of 50 AD the most likely.

Reason 2: Why else could the Didache be mid-first century?  The Greek vocabulary of the Didache is typical of Koiné Greek from the mid-first century.  The Greek text of The Didache contains 552 different words.  The New Testament contains 504 of them, 497 are found in Classical Greek, 15 words occur only in later documents, and one word (prosexomologein, a form of “confess”) occurs only in the Didache.

Reason 3: Outside the title, the Didache itself never mentions the 12 apostles.  When it does mention the subject of “apostles,” it applies to an apostle possibly stopping by to visit (11:3-6).  This means the Didache was written at a time when one or more of the Apostles were alive and could visit!  Considering Nero’s persecution of the Church from 64 to 68AD, a date earlier than that for the Didache seems to be likely.  For the number of living Apostles greatly dwindled after 70 AD.

  • James: Date of Martyrdom: 44-45 AD
  • Philip: Date of Martyrdom: 54 AD.
  • James (the Lesser or Younger) Date of Martyrdom: 63 AD.
  • Peter: Date of Martyrdom: ca. 64 AD.
  • Matthew: Date of Martyrdom: 60-70 AD.
  • Andrew: Date of Martyrdom: 70 AD.
  • Thomas: Date of Martyrdom: 70 AD.
  • Nathanael: Date of Martyrdom: 70 AD.
  • Judas Thaddeus: Date of Martyrdom: 72 AD.
  • Simon: Date of Martyrdom: 74 AD.
  • Matthias: Date of Martyrdom: 70 AD.
  • John: 95 – 100 AD.


Early Church References to the Didache

When we look at the writings of the post-Didache Church fathers, we find they had referenced the Didache.  Although there are few direct quotations, scholars find many similarities with the Didache in the Epistles of both Ignatius of Antioch (died, 98-117) and Polycarp (died, 155).  The Shepherd of Hermas (late 1st century-early 2nd) reflects its teachings, and Ireneaus’ Against Heresies (180) seems to have used the work.

The Epistle of Barnabas (130-131 AD) 4:9 quotes Didache 16:2-3.  Clement of Alexandria, Clement II (180-190) quotes Didache 3:5.  Athanasius in his Easter letter (367 AD) listed the books of the Bible (which the Council of Carthage affirmed in 397 AD).  In that letter, Athanasius also mentioned two other classes of writings:

  1. those rejected by the Church, and
  2. those to be read aloud, which the Church may use in baptismal instruction.  The Didache fell into this category.


Outline of the Didache

1. The Two Ways (1:1-6:3)

a. The Way of Life

b. The Way of Death

2. Rituals of the Church (7:1-10:7)

a. Instructions on Baptism

b. Instructions on Fasting and Prayer

I. Fast days

II. The Lord’s Prayer

c. Instructions on the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist)

III. Prayer over the cup

IV. Prayer over the bread

V. The Eucharistic Prayer

VI. Invitation to Receive

 3. The Office of the Holy Ministry (11:1-15:4)

a. Visiting Teachers, Apostles, and Prophets

b. Christians Coming to the Community

I. Transient Christian visitors

II. Christians seeking to join the community

c. Material Support for the Clergy

d. Assembly on the Lord’s Day

e. Church Hierarchy

 4. Final Words (16:1-8)


 To go to Lesson 2, click here.