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Beyond Religious Dogmatics

Didache - a Teaching of the Apostles

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The Didache is a pastoral handbook that dates from the second century and was written either in Syria or Egypt. Its pages include ethical teachings, ritual practices, and descriptions of leadership offices, giving us a glimpse of what church life was like for Christians in this part of the world.


Didache 9-10 contains prayers for what it describes as Eucharist, and, on the first hand, it seems that the ritual meal described in the book concerns a celebration of Lord’s Supper like it is in the New Testament tradition as it shares common characteristics with it that include the prayers for the bread and for the wine that were shared in the Christian community, as well as the whole celebration revolves around bread and wine in general. Both of the elements are brought into connection with Jesus Christ and considered as holy and spiritual. On the other hand, having looked into Didache’s Eucharist, one might notice details that differ from the New Testament meaning or metaphorical association of these two elements. Firstly, the cup has been “moved” from the end of the meal to the beginning. Secondly, and the most importantly, in my opinion, the metaphorical associations of the bread and wine seem to have different meaning for the Christian community of the day or, the community to whom Didache was addressed, than the New Testament traditional meaning. Instead of associating the wine with sacrificial blood of Jesus, it rather seems to refer to a divine life or knowledge revealed through Christ and the blessing over the bread seems to repeat the Jewish custom of grace before the meal, associating it rather with the body of the church scattered and then to be gathered together from the ends of the earth. Thus, the whole meaning and accent of the ritual shifts from the symbols of sacrificial blood and body of Jesus to the Holy Communion meal of the body of the insiders, those who were baptized and accepted into the holy church.

Although, the whole book of Didache shares a lot of commonalities with the New Testament texts, especially, with the Gospel of Mathew, it seems to be a fragmental piece that was put together based on the “pre-didachichal” traditions and it even contradicts Paul’s and Luke’s proclamations of the Eucharist as described in the Gospel of Luke 22:19-20 and the 1st Letter to Corinthians 11:23-26 where both describe or recall the night when Jesus was betrayed and his own metaphors for the bread as his body and the wine as his sacrificial blood that clearly declares the meaning of the Eucharist in the New Testament tradition. The problem here is – which text and/or version we should consider as a true Apostolic tradition – Paul’s, who didn’t receive the tradition directly from Jesus Christ, in spite of his claims for the opposite, or the one that is described in Didache and considered to be a true Apostolic teaching?

Another topic for discussion in Didache is the way it presents the leadership in the early church that is “more charismatic and egalitarian… when the ministry of wandering prophets is still recognized and affirmed, although it warns that those who seek any form of payment for such ministry are false ones.”[1]The bishop is hardly mentioned in the book making it seem to be addressed to all the churches to read as a general teaching about Christian living when most of them, probably, lacked even a basic church leadership. There is an emphasis only on the authority of prophets, apostles and teachers while mentioned “church assembly” is most likely all believers but not only any kind of leadership. However, other writings that were, supposedly, composed around the same time with Didache present a little bit different picture of the organization of the early church with already pretty well-established roles of the leadership, when, for example, bishop is given a mystical role representing God and the presbyters sitting in the Council of Apostles. We notice it, for instance, in the Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Magnesians: “I exhort you: - Be zealous to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God and the presbyters in the place of the Council of the Apostles and the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ.”[2] More interestingly, Hippolytus of Rome in his Apostolic Tradition is not only mentioning bishop and giving him a special role at the Eucharist, but also ascribes a Pauline-Lukan-Mathean meaning to the Eucharist itself adding also milk and honey to represent the promised to the fathers land flowing with these two substances that indicates a Jewish Christian tradition: “Then the bishop, laying his hand upon them, shall pray… and signing them on the forehead…  And then the offering is immediately brought by the deacons to the bishop, and by thanksgiving he shall make the bread  into an image of the body of Christ, and the cup of wine mixed with water according to the likeness of the blood, which is shed for all who believe in him. And milk and honey mixed together for the fulfillment of the promise to the fathers, which spoke of a land flowing with milk and honey; namely, Christ’s flesh which he gave, by which they who believe are nourished like babes, he making sweet the bitter things of the heart by the gentleness of his word. And the water into an offering in a token of the laver, in order that the inner part of man, which is a living soul, may receive the same as the body”.[3]

Unfortunately, by the end of the second century the egalitarian form of the organization of the Christian community that is addressed in Didache lost to the hierarchical Episcopal way of the  early church fathers whose “rules” we are following to the present days.




-          John W. Coakley, Andrea Sterk, Readings in World Christian History, Volume 1 Earliest Christianity to 1453 (New York: Orbis Books, 2004)

-          Dale T. Irvin, Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement (New York: Orbis Books, 2001)

-          Huub van de Sandt, David Flusser, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002)




[1] Dale T. Irvin, Scott W. Sunquist, History of the World Christian Movement (New York: Orbis Books, 2001) p. 62


[2] John W. Coakley, Andrea Sterk, Readings in World Christian History, Vl. 1 Earliest Christianity to 1453 (New York: Orbis Books, 2004) p. 4


[3] John W. Coakley, Andrea Sterk, Readings in World Christian History, Vl. 1 Earliest Christianity to 1453 (New York: Orbis Books, 2004) p. 17


Created December, 2007