1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Didachē, The

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DIDACHĒ, THE, or Teaching of the (twelve) Apostles, — the most important of the recent recoveries in the region of early Christian literature (see Apocryphal Literature). It was previously known by name from lists of canonical and extra-canonical books compiled by Eusebius and other writers. Moreover, it had come to be suspected by several scholars that a lost book, variously entitled The Two Ways or The Judgment of Peter, had been freely used in a number of works, of which mention must presently be made. In 1882 a critical reconstruction of this book was made by Adam Krawutzcky with marvellous accuracy, as was shown when in the very next year the Greek bishop and metropolitan, Philotheus Bryennius, published The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles from the same manuscript from which he had previously published the complete form of the Epistle of Clement.[1]

The Didachē, as we now have it in the Greek, falls into two marked divisions: (a) a book of moral precepts, opening with the words, “There are two ways”; (b) a manual of church ordinances, linked on to the foregoing by the words, “Having first said all these things, baptize, &c.” Each of these must be considered separately before we approach the question of the locality and date of the whole book in its present form.

1. The Two Ways. — The author of the complete work, as we now have it, has modified the original Two Ways by inserting near the beginning a considerable section containing, among other matter, passages from the Sermon on the Mount, in which the language of St Matthew’s Gospel is blended with that of St Luke’s. He has also added at the close a few sentences, beginning, “If thou canst not bear (the whole yoke of the Lord), bear what thou canst” (vi. 2); and among minor changes he has introduced, in dealing with confession, reference to “the church” (iv. 14). No part of this matter is to be found in the following documents, which present us in varying degrees of accuracy with The Two Ways: (i.) the Epistle of Barnabas, chaps. xix., xx. (in which the order of the book has been much broken up, and a good deal has been omitted); (ii.) the Ecclesiastical Canons of the Holy Apostles, usually called the Apostolic Church Order, a book which presents a parallel to the Teaching, in so far as it consists first of a form of The Two Ways, and secondly of a number of church ordinances (here, however, as in the Syriac Didascalia, which gives about the same amount of The Two Ways, various sections are ascribed to individual apostles, e.g. “John said, There are two ways,” &c.); (iii.) a discourse of the Egyptian monk Schnudi (d. 451), preserved in Arabic (see Iselin, Texte u. Unters., 1895); (iv.) a Latin version, of which a fragment was published by O. von Gebhardt in 1884, and the whole by J. Schlecht in 1900. When by the aid of this evidence The Two Ways is restored to us free of glosses, it has the appearance of being a Jewish manual which has been carried over into the use of the Christian church. This is of course only a probable inference; there is no prototype extant in Jewish literature, and, comparing the moral (non-doctrinal) instruction for Christian catechumens in Hermas, Shepherd (Mand. i.-ix.), no real need to assume one. There was a danger of admitting Gentile converts to the church on too easy moral terms; hence the need of such insistence on the ideal as in The Two Ways and the Mandates. The recent recovery of the Latin version is of singular interest, as showing that, even without the distinctively Christian additions and interpolations which our full form of the Teaching presents, it was circulating under the title Doctrina apostolorum.[2]

2. The second part of our Teaching might be called a church directory. It consists of precepts relating to church life, which are couched in the second person plural; whereas The Two Ways uses throughout the second person singular. It appears to be a composite work. First (vii. 1-xi. 2) is a short sacramental manual intended for the use of local elders or presbyters, though such are not named, for they were not yet a distinctive order or clergy. This section was probably added to The Two Ways before the addition of the remainder. It orders baptism in the threefold name, making a distinction as to waters which has Jewish parallels, and permitting a threefold pouring on the head, if sufficient water for immersion cannot be had. It prescribes a fast before baptism for the baptizer as well as the candidate. Fasts are to be kept on Wednesday and Friday, not Monday and Thursday, which are the fast days of “the hypocrites,” i.e. by a perversion of the Lord’s words, the Jews. “Neither pray ye as the hypocrites; but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel.” Then follows the Lord’s Prayer, almost exactly as in St Matthew, with a brief doxology — “for Thine is the power and the glory forever.” This is to be said three times a day. Next come three eucharistic prayers, the language of which is clearly marked off from that of the rest of the book, and shows parallels with the diction of St John’s Gospel. They are probably founded on Jewish thanksgivings, and it is of interest to note that a portion of them is prescribed as a grace before meat in (pseudo-) Athanasius’ De virginitate. A trace of them is found in one of the liturgical prayers of Serapion, bishop of Thmui, in Egypt, but they have left little mark on the liturgies of the church. As in Ignatius and other early writers, the eucharist, a real meal (x. 1) of a family character, is regarded as producing immortality (cf. “spiritual food and drink and eternal life”). None are to partake of it save those who have been “baptized in the name of the Lord” (an expression which is of interest in a document which prescribes the threefold formula). The prophets are not to be confined to these forms, but may “give thanks as much as they will.” This appears to show that a prophet, if present, would naturally preside over the eucharist. The next section (xi. 3-xiii.) deals with the ministry of spiritual gifts as exercised by apostles, prophets and teachers. An apostle is to be “received as the Lord”; but he must follow the Gospel precepts, stay but one or two days, and take no money, but only bread enough for a day’s journey. Here we have that wider use of the term “apostle” to which Lightfoot had already drawn attention. A prophet, on the contrary, may settle if he chooses, and in that case he is to receive tithes and first-fruits; “for they are your high priests.” If he be once approved as a true prophet, his words and acts are not to be criticized; for this is the sin that shall not be forgiven. Next comes a section (xiv., xv.) reflecting a somewhat later development concerning fixed services and ministry; the desire for a stated service, and the need of regular provision for it, is leading to a new order of things. The eucharist is to be celebrated every Lord’s Day, and preceded by confession of sins, “that your sacrifice may be pure ... for this is that sacrifice which was spoken of by the Lord, In every place and time to offer unto Me a pure sacrifice. Appoint therefore unto yourselves bishops and deacons, worthy of the Lord, men meek and uncovetous, and true and approved; for they also minister unto you the ministration of the prophets and teachers. Therefore despise them not; for they are your honoured ones, together with the prophets and teachers.” This is an arrangement recommended by one who has tried it, and he reassures the old-fashioned believer who clings to the less formal régime (and whose protest was voiced in the Montanist movement), that there will be no spiritual loss under the new system. The book closes (chap. xvi.) with exhortations to steadfastness in the last days, and to the coming of the “world-deceiver” or Antichrist, which will precede the coming of the Lord. This section is perhaps the actual utterance of a Christian prophet, and may be of earlier origin than the two preceding sections.

3. It will now be clear that indications of the locality and date of our present Teaching must be sought for only in the second part, and in the Christian interpolations in the first part. We have no ground for thinking that the second part ever existed independently as a separate book. The whole work was in the hands of the writer of the seventh book of the Apostolic Constitutions, who embodies almost every sentence of it, interspersing it with passages of Scripture, and modifying the precepts of the second part to suit a later (4th-century) stage of church development; this writer was also the interpolator of the Epistles of Ignatius, and belonged to the Syrian Church. Whether the second part was known to the writer of the Apostolic Church Order is not clear, as his only quotation of it comes from one of the eucharistic prayers. The allusions of early writers seem to point to Egypt, but their references are mostly to the first part, so that we must be careful how we argue from them as to the provenance of the book as a whole. Against Egypt has been urged the allusion in one of the eucharistic prayers to “corn upon the mountains.” This is found in the Prayer-book of Serapion (c. 350) but omitted in a later Egyptian prayer; the form as we have it in The Didachē may have passed into Egypt with the authority of tradition which was afterwards weakened. The anti-Jewish tone of the second part suggests the neighbourhood of Jews, from whom the Christians were to be sharply distinguished. Either Egypt or Syria would satisfy this condition, and in favour of Syria is the fact that the presbyterate there was to a late date regarded as a rank rather than an office. If we can connect the injunctions (vi. 3) concerning (abstinence from certain) food and that which is offered to idols with the old trouble that arose at Antioch (Acts xv. 1) and was legislated for by the Jerusalem council, we have additional support for the Syrian claim. But all that we can safely say as to locality is that the community here represented seems to have been isolated, and out of touch with the larger centres of Christian life.

This last consideration helps us in discussing the question of date. For such an isolated community may have preserved primitive customs for some time after they had generally disappeared. Certainly the stage of development is an early one, as is shown, e.g., by the prominence of prophets, and the need that was felt for the vindication of the position of the bishops and deacons (there is no mention at all of presbyters); moreover, there is no reference to a canon of Scripture (though the written Gospel is expressly mentioned) or to a creed. On the other hand the “apostles” of the second part are obviously not “the twelve apostles” of the title; and the prophets seem in some instances to have proved unworthy of their high position. The ministry of enthusiasm which they represent is about to give way to the ministry of office, a transition which is reflected in the New Testament in the 3rd Epistle of John. Three of the Gospels have clearly been for some time in circulation; St Matthew’s is used several times, and there are phrases which occur only in St Luke’s, while St John’s Gospel lies behind the eucharistic prayers which the writer has embodied in his work. There are no indications of any form of doctrinal heresy as needing rebuke; the warnings against false teaching are quite general. While the first part must be dated before the Epistle of Barnabas, i.e. before a.d. 90, it seems wisest not to place the complete work much earlier than a.d. 120, and there are passages which may well be later.

A large literature has sprung up round The Didachē since 1884. Harnack’s edition in Texte u. Unters. vol. ii. (1884) is indispensable to the student; and his discussions in Altchristl. Litteratur and Chronologie give clear summaries of his work. Other editions of the text are those of F. X. Funk, Patres Apostolici, vol. i. (Tübingen, 1901); H. Lietzmann (Bonn, 1903; with Latin version). Dr J. E. Odgers has published an English translation with introduction and notes (London, 1906). Dr C. Taylor in 1886 drew attention to some important parallels in Jewish literature; his edition contains an English translation. Dr Rendel Harris published in 1887 a complete facsimile, and gathered a great store of patristic illustration. Text and translation will also be found in Lightfoot’s Apostolic Fathers (ed. min.) The fullest critical treatment in English is by Dr Vernon Bartlet in the extra volume of Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible; the most complete commentary on the text is by P. Drews in Hennecke’s Handbuch zu den N.T. Apocryphen (1904). Other references to the literature may be found by consulting Harnack’s Altchristl. Litteratur.


  1. The MS. was found in the Library of the Jerusalem Monastery of the Most Holy Sepulchre, in Phanar, the Greek quarter of Constantinople. It is a small octavo volume of 120 parchment leaves, written throughout by Leo, “notary and sinner,” who finished his task on the 11th of June 1156. Besides The Didachē and the Epistles of Clement it contains several spurious Ignatian epistles.
  2. The word twelve had no place in the original title and was inserted when the original Didachē or Teaching (e.g. The Two Ways) was combined with the church manual which mentions apostles outside of the twelve. It may be noted that the division of the Didachē into chapters is due to Bryennius, that into verses to A. Harnack.