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Is the Didache One Document or Three?

I have been discussing the interesting and important early Christian document called the Didache.  Yesterday I gave a translation of its first part, the “two ways” or the “two paths” section.  After that the topic and tone of the book changes, as it starts to talk about how Christian baptism and eucharist should be celebrated.  It ends on a completely different note, with a one-chapter description of the coming apocalypse.  Scholars have asked whether the book as we now have it was actually created by someone who took several disparate texts and cut and pasted them together.

Here is what I say about the matter in my edition of the Apostolic Fathers in the Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press, 2003).


The Didache obviously addresses several discrete topics: the two paths, the “church order” (which may comprise two distinct units, one on liturgical practices and the other on the treatment of itinerant “apostles and prophets”), and the apocalyptic discourse.  Moreover, there is no necessary connection between them, except that provided perhaps by an editor, for example, the indication in 7.1 that the teaching of the two paths was to be given prior to the performance of baptism.   For these reasons, scholars have long maintained that …

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Did Jesus’ Death Matter? The Intriguing View of the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter
The Ethical Teachings of the Didache



  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 23, 2017

    It seems like there was a lot of “cutting and pasting” in early Christianity. It reminds me of how I cobbled together different parts of the World Book when I turned in my first high school papers.

    Do we know whether or not this kind of editing was a common practice during the first three centuries?

    Merry Christmas!

    • Bart
      Bart  December 26, 2017

      It happened some — for example, with 2 corinthians and possibly Philippians in the NT. Think I’ll add the qeustion to the readers’ mailbag!

  2. Avatar
    Seeker1952  December 23, 2017

    Speaking of Christmas, my understanding is that, around the time of Nicaea, a big part of the importance of the incarnation was that “God became human so humans could become divine.” It seems like that conception was influenced by Platonic philosophy, ie, human nature itself–apart from individual humans–exists as an eternal “form” and, by becoming human, God’s divinity changed that eternal form which thereby changed individual humans.

    Since that understanding of the incarnation was strongly influenced by the “science” of the time, I’m wondering what the incarnation might mean in the light of current science–other than that it couldn’t have happened. Possibilities: a myth about the divine being the human (or vice versa); an evolutionary mutation (perhaps divinely-guided) to a higher form of life, including immortality (unfortunately, Jesus doesn’t seem to have passed on his mutated genes); a superior, immortal life form from another planet?

    Can you suggest any theologians or books that seriously address what the incarnation might mean in the light of contemporary science?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 26, 2017

      I’m not well read in the area, but you may want to read the books by Wendy Farley, James K. A. Smith, or, at a more popular level, Will Willimon

  3. Telling
    Telling  December 23, 2017

    I have a question only indirectly related to this discussion. I’m writing an historical novel centering on Paul, and my resources say Barnabas brought him to Antioch in AD 40, whereupon they spent a year organizing the church there, and in AD 44 they collected money for the Jerusalem famine This leaves 3 years (41 – 43) unaccounted for. Can you offer any explanation?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 26, 2017

      I don’t think we know about teh chronology with great detail, but Paul himself says that for the first three years he was in “Arabia,” which is presumably in the Nabatean community; I imagine he started his Christian mission there.

      • Telling
        Telling  December 27, 2017

        Thanks, Bart.

        It is a real puzzle. I’m trying to begin my chronology at the point where Barnabas fetches him. Or should I begin in Arabia, as you mention, which may be before Barnabas enters the picture? One chronology has Paul sitting in Tarsus making tents until AD 40. A second one has him actively building churches, with Tarsus his central church.That’s now my problem.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 27, 2017

          I’d suggest you do some research on Pauline chronology. You might look at the standard work by Gerd Ludemann and teh more recent and a bit more controversial Framing Paul by Douglas Campbell.

          • Telling
            Telling  December 27, 2017

            Great. Thanks, I’ll do that.

  4. Avatar
    AGarrow  December 23, 2017

    The story of the evolution of the Didache is a complicated but we can’t make the most of Philotheos Bryennios’ fantastic discovery (of the Didache) without giving attention to this topic. I’ve produce a short series of videos, based on my doctoral research, to show how I think that story should be told. These can be viewed at http://www.alangarrow.com/original

    Thanks for blogging about the Didache – it’s a great subject!

    • Avatar
      Tony  December 29, 2017

      Dr Garrow, thank you very much for sharing your research and insights. I listened to the three part presentation on the evolution of the Didache with interest. However, I have a concern and question about one area.

      You identify the Didache referrals to, “the Gospel”, as likely being a written referenced document. It appears you follow Dr Neiderwimmer opinion who also concluded, as you do, that this Gospel document has to be the Gospel of Matthew. At first glance that might be a reasonable conclusion, as there are numerous points of similarity between Matthew and the Didache. Nevertheless, there are some puzzling disconnects, as you’ve identified.

      My concern is that a referral to “the Gospel” does not necessarily imply a written referenced document. For example, Paul repeatedly refers to a Gospel and it is not at all clear whether that was a generally known set of principles or a written document. Paul’s Gospel was obviously not any of the Canonical four as these had not, as yet, been written. Moreover, Paul adamantly states in Gal 1:11-12 that the Gospel he proclaimed was not of human origin, but a revelation of Jesus Christ. The Didache Gospel might well have been something similar or even identical.

      In light of the presumed use of Matthew by the author(s) of the Didache, the consistent use of the term “apostles” appear anachronistic. Matthew’s Gospel term is disciples. Surely the Didache writers knew that, yet they kept using the Pauline term ‘apostle(s)”. Also, we do not see any of Matthew’s Gospel contexts transferred to the Didache text.

      Have you considered the possibility that the Didache did not use Matthew, but that Matthew used the Didache? That makes the arrows on the slide connecting the Didache to Matthew go in the right direction! In my opinion, the Didache as a source for Matthew makes for a better fit.

      • Avatar
        AGarrow  January 7, 2018

        This is a response to Tony’s question ‘have I considered the possibility that … Matthew used the Didache?’
        Absolutely! This is the thesis I defend in *Matthew’s Dependence on the Didache* (Bloomsbury, 2004). I think it is slightly more complicated than this though. I suspect that after Matthew’s gospel has been ‘published’ someone noticed the slight differences between the two texts and so inserted four lines that say, in effect, where Didache and Gospel differ, do what the Gospel (of Matthew) says. It is possible, as Tony suggests, that ‘the Gospel’ is not Matthew’s- but I think the balance of probability suggests that it is.
        The videos to which Tony refers are available here http://www.alangarrow.com/original

        • Avatar
          Tony  January 9, 2018

          Thanks very much for your response. It is interesting to see my question rephrased as a book title – published some time ago. And here I thought I had an original notion!

  5. Avatar
    Tony  December 23, 2017

    Bart, I believe your Didache segue came from the Garrow/Powell identification of the Didache as Q. That hypothesis requires the Didache to pre-date Mt. & Lk. You disagree, and instead see evidence that the Didache copies from the Gospels – and therefore post-date the Gospels.

    Going with your hypothesis, why don’t we see any references to Jesus of Nazareth in the Didache? If the Didache writer(s) had the Gospels in front of them they surely would have have referred to him. On the other hand, if the order is reversed, and the Gospels used the Didache instead, the absence of Jesus of Nazareth in the Didache is explained.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 26, 2017

      I’m not sure what you mean. We do see references to Jesus in the Didache.

      • Avatar
        Tony  December 26, 2017

        Where do you see references to Jesus of Nazareth? I see Jesus Christ, Jesus your (God’s) child, and the Lord. No indication of the Nazarene with an earthly ministry, or a Jerusalem last meal/Crucifixion/resurrection anywhere. The familiar sounding sayings such as the dogs in 9:5 (Matt 7:6), and others, were likely taken by the Gospel writers from the Didache – and not the other way around.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 26, 2017

          Do you mean, why does he never call him Jesus of Nazareth? Why would that be weird? Hardly any early Christians called him Jesus of Nazareth.

          • Avatar
            godspell  December 26, 2017

            I would assume if you were talking to Christians about any Jesus other than the one from Nazareth, you’d have to make that clear in the context. Just like if you’re talking to fans of early rock & roll, you don’t say “Elvis of Tupelo.”

          • Avatar
            Tony  December 26, 2017

            You decided not to answer my question. Of course, there is no reference in the Didache to Jesus of Nazareth – or anyone resembling that Gospel character. In your Gospel centered approach to scripture has it ever occurred to you that you are consistently reading the Gospels back into Paul’s letters, the other NT letters, and the various apocrypha such as the Didache?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 27, 2017

            Sorry, I must have missed your question. I thought you were claiming that the Didache never mentions the Jesus that a few (not many) other sources call Jesus of Nazareth.

          • Avatar
            Tony  December 28, 2017

            Bart, based on our recent exchange it occurred to me that I may have been less than clear in specifying the basics of Mythicism.

            The key to the mythicism hypothesis is that he Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus of Paul are not one and the same. Since they are both called “Jesus” this puts the onus on the mythicist to clearly differentiate between the two. As I stated, I may have failed to do so.

            So, from here on, I’ll call the Pauline Jesus, who has never been on earth, “Paul’s celestial Jesus”. The Gospel Jesus of Nazareth character, who was a literary invention by Mark, I’ll call “the Gospel Jesus”.

            Bringing this back to the Didache, it is my opinion that the Didache Jesus is Paul’s celestial Jesus. The Gospel writers used the Didache, (and many other sources), to put words on the lips of their Gospel Jesus.

            I hope this helps.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 28, 2017

            You do know that I wrote a book about Mythicism don’t you? And that for my research I read every significant discussion of it by all the main representatives of the view?

          • Avatar
            Tony  December 28, 2017

            “You do know that I wrote a book about Mythicism don’t you? And that for my research I read every significant discussion of it by all the main representatives of the view?”
            Gee Bart, don’t get your knickers in a twist. (bit of English expression seeing you were just there). Of course, I read DJE – twice. Then I became a mythicist… Which brings up the question why you seemed to have so much difficulty understanding the point I was making. So I put the blame on me.

            Btw, my mythicism is the orthodox view. The others are total nonsense.

        • Avatar
          Pattycake1974  December 27, 2017

          Why should we expect the Didache to mention where Jesus was from when the title/subtitle specifically says it’s about the teachings of the Lord by the twelve apostles? It doesn’t mention any of the apostles’ names either, only what was taught by them. Where he was from isn’t the purpose of the document.

          Something I just noticed in the Didache is that it says to receive the teachings of an apostle as the Lord. Paul wrote that he received commandments from the Lord, including the Lord’s Supper. That would mean Paul did not get the Eucharist through revelation; rather, he was (maybe?) taught it by an apostle. Paul’s letters seem to make a distinction between what he received through visions and revelations and what he received from the Lord.

          Also, it’s not impossible for Jesus to have said the words Paul quotes from the Last Supper and still not know he was going to die. He could have meant his body was for servitude for God’s kingdom and his blood was from the line of David and the new covenant. Once he died, it took on an entirely different meaning to his apostles.

          • Avatar
            Tony  December 27, 2017

            It would be logical to see more information about the Gospel Jesus if the Didache author based his Jesus on the Gospels. If instead the Didache writes about the Pauline celestial Jesus, who communicated by revelation only, the Didache would show no knowledge about the Gospel Jesus. We see the latter.

            Going reverse, and assuming that the Gospels got their Jesus information from the Didache celestial Jesus commandments, we would expect to see many of the Didache Jesus commandments repeated in the Gospels. And that’s exactly what we find.

  6. Avatar
    jmaclean  June 6, 2018

    Bart – you have written several books on forgery. The Didache was claimed to be a forgery in 1912 by Joeseph Robinson, “The Problem with the Didache,” JTS 51, no. 3 (1912). Do you agree with that assessment?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 7, 2018

      I don’t remember the article specifically, but often people use ‘forgery’ to mean ‘fabrication’ (i.e., “made up”). I use it to refer to a claim by an author to be someone other than who he is. By that definition, no, it is not a forgery.

      • Avatar
        jmaclean  June 8, 2018

        Yes, you are correct. Robinson contends that it was a fabrication.

  7. Avatar
    Peyman  June 21, 2018

    Hi Bart, Did you write anything regards to Apostle Cree? I believe I have most of your writings yet I was not able to find that particular thing. Please let me know if you have anything. Thanks

  8. Avatar
    alikaraca  September 8, 2018

    Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity of Walter Bauer was not translated into English until 1971. Might the reason be peer pressure?

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    Nexus  January 16, 2019

    Hi Bart,
    I’m pretty ignorant of how jews prayed and performed ceremonies in the first century. It leaves a hole in my comprehension when you discuss the analogous things that early christians did. I’d like to see a blog post on that sometime 🙂

    My question now is: how would have Jews regarded Christians anointing each other with oil? Does it have a messianic overtone to it?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 17, 2019

      That’s a great question. I don’t know. My sense, though, is that there were lots of occasions for anointing with oil in antiquity, even for healing, and it was not thought to be an act necesssarily connected with messianism.

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