Friday, October 07, 2011
Introduction to the Didache
The early Christian work known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles was widely recognized in the early church. It was known to Eusebius, the early historian, who felt it necessary to comment that it was not genuine (Church History 3.25). The Didache, as this work is often referred to today, was lost for centuries to Christians. It was recovered in 1873 by Philotheos Bryennios and published in 1883 . The Didache has provoked an enormous amount of scholarly interest, not only with reference to it the text but to its preservation of traditions from the first century on Christian faith and practice.
The document was not written by the apostles themselves. Rather it seems that the author(s) intention was to give a brief summary of Christian doctrine for new converts and to provide instruction in life. Quasten believes the Didache is the oldest source of ecclesiastical law which we posses . The argument for the Didache being quite early is summarized well by J. B. Lightfoot. He offers four lines of evidence:
1) itinerant prophecy has not yet been totally supplanted by permanent localized ministry
2) the episcopacy is not yet on the horizon 
3) the Agape feast appears to be part of the Eucharist
4) the archaic simplicity of its practical suggestions is consistent with the infancy of the church 
Schaff believes the document can be dated as early as AD 70 but prefers 90 to 100 . Mitchell has argued that the Didache reflects stages of growth or development. Stage One, chapters 1-6, are the earliest dating as early as AD 50 but no later than AD 70. Stage Two, chapters 7-15, the liturgical section dates from AD 80 to 100. Stage Three, chapter 16, does not receive a date as near as I can tell. The final form for the document, however, is no later that AD 100 . The date proposed by Schaff over a hundred years ago seems to be a near consensus though some scholars, as we noted, argue for a slightly earlier date . Thus apostolic in authorship or not the Didache is a witness to first century Christianity.
Along with the date, the make up of the community that produced the Didache has been of particular interest down through the years. What kind of church or congregation produced and used the Didache? What kind of theological ideas found a home in that congregation? If it is possible to answer these questions then that will help us toward establishing a context from which to understand such important texts as chapter 7 about baptism.
I tend to agree with those that see the Didache as preserving the witness of a congregation that has Jewish roots or perhaps a congregation though non-Jewish has not shunned its Jewish roots yet. To me even a casual reading of Didache 1-5 reveals a group consciousness that has strong Jewish grounding and connections with Judaism. This congregation adheres to the validity of the Torah as interpreted by Jesus - the Law has not been cast off (6.2) . There is abundant evidence even in the New Testament itself of Jews embracing Jesus as the Messiah yet remained culturally Jewish.
The Structure of the Didache
Because the Didache is so ancient, and at the very least preserves first century ideas and practices, it is important to understand the document and its teaching. The document is divided into sixteen short chapters that seem to be divided between preparing a candidate for baptism (ch's 1-10) and then church order material (ch's 11-15). Chapters 1-6 are dominated by the figure of the "Two Ways." For instance we read,
"Two ways there are, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the Two Ways. Now the Way of Life is this: first, love the God who made you; secondly your neighbor as yourself" (1.1-2)
The description of the Way of Death begins the fifth chapter,
"But the Way of Death is this: first of all it is wicked and altogether accursed: murderers, adulteries, lustful desires, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magical arts, sorceries, robberies, false testimonies, hypocrisy, duplicity, fraud, pride, malice, surliness, covetousness, foul talk, jealousy, rashness, haughtiness, false pretension, the lack of the fear of God" (5.1)
The Two Ways section of the Didache contains little explicit Christian teaching. By that we mean little on the person, work, mission of Jesus the Messiah. Rather it is material that is common moral teaching of both Judaism and Christianity. The Two Ways motif was common in the ancient world being used by Jews, Greeks and Jewish Christians . The Epistle of Barnabas also constructs his understanding of discipleship as "the Way of Light" and the "Way of Darkness" (18.1). In the Didache the Two Ways becomes the basic way of confronting the candidate for baptism with a fundamental choice: which path will he or she follow, baptism is the Way of Life and refusing is the Way of Darkness.
In the "plot" of the Didache, after the candidate is instructed in the Two Ways he or she is presented with baptism as if to say "choose life" (cf. Deut 30.19). Within the pages of the Didache there are only two sacraments attested to, baptism and the Lord's Supper. As Schaff noted a century or so ago the document knows nothing of infant baptism. Indeed the Two Ways militates against it . The "normal" mode of baptism was that of adult believers by immersion in water. However, the Didache did allow for effusion in emergency situations such as water simply not being available .
Christology and Baptism in the Didache
Christianity, in the Didache, is a moral and holy life rooted in the teaching of Jesus summed up in the law to love God and our neighbor. The picture is more that of Epistle of James than the book of Romans. Because of its emphasis on holiness and a lack of Christological reflection the Didache has been said to be theologically anemic. Schaff writes "compared with the New Testament, the Didache is very poor and meagre". Such a judgment seems unfair, however, when individual writings of the NT can be compared with our document itself. At any rate some feel the author does not develop or stress a doctrine of Christ like Paul's then the community did not stress faith IN Jesus. Hartman for example characterizes the community of the Didache as "believers who think of themselves first as Jews, and who perhaps did not yet believe IN Jesus" . George Buchman uses the term "apostolic christology" to describe such a position,
"Jews, like Samaritans, both before and after the time of Christ, believed that Moses was an apostle who mediated between Israelites and their heavenly Father. According to the rabbis, a man's apostle or agent was like himself, not physically but legally. The apostle had the power of attorney and could act in behalf of the one who sent him just as authoritatively as the sender himself. With this understanding, the author of Hebrews called Jesus the high priest and apostle of God (Heb 3.1) ... Apostolic identity which belongs to the sphere of prophets and courts, adequately explains Jesus' identity with God in the NT, and it is quite likely that Jewish-Christians held the same belief. The belief in God as Father who had a human agent, and was manifest through the Holy Spirit, was characteristic of Jewish concepts in pre-Christian times" 
The christology of the Didache may be rooted in this perspective on the relationship between Jesus' activity and God's reign. These believers saw in Jesus a signal that God's reign was in fact arriving in both word and deed. In the struggle of Jesus with the evil powers, God fights them and makes the divine power known. Thus Jesus' act of preaching and healing, with the associated demand of repentance, announce the advent of the kingdom. The appropriate response is conversion or faith. That is recognition that in Jesus' ministry God exercised victory over evil. Jesus' way of bring sinners into the kingdom is to pronounce forgiveness. But this forgiveness is understood in eschatological categories: the past reign of Satan was taken away and the arrival of God's presence among his people takes its place . The christology of the community of the Didache might be summarized as a community that sees itself as continuing the preaching ministry of Jesus .
But we must be careful of not reading too much in the lack of Christological reflection of the Didache. As Schaff noted silence neither implies opposition nor ignorance . Even Buchanan's "apostolic christology" does not necessarily mean that Jesus was not believed to be more. It seems hard to imagine a mere apostle being put on equal footing with his Sender and being baptized into "the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (5.1) and "those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord" (9.5). Jesus is called the "Son" and "Lord" several times throughout our text implying that this community saw Jesus as something more than just another Moses. In reflecting on the Eucharistic prayers one scholar writes insightfully that the Didache community could have a "demonstrably Christian prayer reenacting the ministry of Jesus ... without any explicit Christological references" .
Whatever the actual content of the christological beliefs of the Didache community it is what is omitted about baptism that draws the attention of most scholars. The Pauline doctrine of the sinners immersion into death and burial with Christ (Romans 6.1-11) is never mentioned, just as Didache 9-10 never links the Eucharist to the proclamation of Jesus death (1 Corinthians 11.26). Nothing is said about renouncing Satan and adhering to Christ (though this is surely implied in the teaching on the Two Ways). Nor are any of baptism's theological effects mentioned: forgiveness of sins, membership into one body, bestowal of the Spirit . In short none of the "classic" themes from the New Testamant are explicit in Didache 7.
The Baptismal Liturgy of Didache
"As for baptism baptise this way. Having said all this before hand, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. If you do not have running water, however, baptize in another kind of water; if you cannot do so in cold water, then do so in warm water. But if you have neither, pour water on the head thrice in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Before baptism, let the person baptizing and the person being baptized -- and others who are able -- fast; tell the one being bapitized to fast one or two days before" (Didache 7).
There can be little doubt, in the opinion of most contemporary scholars, that the material in chapters 1-6 is aimed at catechumens . The Two Ways invite decision: the hearer must decided whether to become a disciple or not. The choice to become a disciple is exercised through baptism in the "name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" and seems to mean to an eschatological way of life. The Way of Life means to live as Jesus lived and the Way of Death means judgment and ultimate destruction .
In the liturgy of baptism the candidate is required to fast prior to immersion (7.4). It is stated that the baptizer must fast and suggested that the community join the fast. The catechumen seeks to be cleansed from past sins while the community gives support . The "living water" which is the preferred location for baptism in the Didache 7.1 is a Hebraism for fresh, flowing water, from a spring. This seems to reflect traditional Jewish concerns for ritual purity (Lev 14.5ff; 14.50ff also envisions "living water" for ritual purification). The movement in 7.2-3 is from good water for baptism to less suitable water for baptism.
When insufficient water was available for immersion the community allowed pouring over the head three times in the name of the Triune God, apparently with little or no second thoughts. Schaff states that threefold aspersion on the head was the nearest substitute since the head is the chief part of man. "There can be no Baptism without baptizing the head; but there may be valid Baptism without baptizing the rest of the body" . Here in the Didache, at the end of the first century, we have the oldest extent testimony for the validity of baptism by pouring. Schaff, always the ecumenist, states that Christians have a right to infer that at the end of the first century there was no rigid uniformity in regard to the mode of baptism though immersion was the norm. What Schaff does is infer that is this freedom (in exceptional cases) existed in the apostolic period as well. He says, "It cannot be supposed that the Twelve Apostles were less liberal than the writer of the Didache, who wrote as it were in their name" . It remains true, however, that pouring was seen as less desirable than immersion.
The most critical part of the liturgy of baptism in the Didache must be the baptismal formula. Willy Rordorf has argued that the formula actually has three variants with the Didache
7.1c into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
7.3 into the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit
9.5 in the name of the Lord
Rordorf believes that 9.5 preserves the most ancient of the formulas reflecting usage in such places as Acts 2.38. The formulas all point to the same reality however, and one should not makes razor sharp distinctions between them.
The formula that is given in 7.1 is is a nearly verbatim reproduction of Matthew 28.19. The wording is identical except the spelling of baptism. Schaff beleived that the author was quoting the Gospel of Matthew  and the evidence is, in my opinion, convincing. The question rather is does the formulae tell us anything about the Christology or trinitarian beliefs about the community of believers? Hartman has argued that "into the name (of Jesus, or of the Lord)" may have been "a definition, a phrase which mentioned the fundamental reference of Christian baptism which distinguished it from other rites," a formula which "delimited Christian baptism from that of John" . The formula was not primarily negative however or lacking Christological content. Rather as soon as baptism was performed "into the name of Jesus," it must have been combined with a message, and this message not only continued Jesus own preaching ... but ... was also preached with 'reference to Jesus,' which implies some sort of Christology too" . Though Mitchell rejects this reasoning arguing that such reasoning is not demanded by the Didache, however it fits quite well in my view even if it is not "demanded" . With the added weight of the uses of "Son of God" (9.2-3; 10.1, 3) it seems likely that this body of believers invested baptism with Christological significance: Jesus is God's Son. This theme just did not find development in the Didache.
Baptism and Table Fellowship in the Didache
James D. G. Dunn has argued that Jewish practice regarding table fellowship with gentiles was not uniform during the first century . He makes the case that there were ongoing debates between Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes with regard to the acceptable limits of table fellowship. Pharisaic influence put pressure on devout Jews to observe strict limits in the matter of who ate with whom, since the Pharisees believed that even outside the temple the laws governing ritual purity were obligatory. The Sadducees, on the other hand, held that the laws were not applicable beyond the temple precincts. The Essenes out did even the Pharisees. But for our purposes it is more important to note that the Pharisees believed in degrees of ritual purity in the practice of temple holiness. In practice one with a more strict view could not eat with one with a less strict discipline .
For early Jewish Christians from a Pharisaic persuasion would have been concerned about the acceptable limits of table fellowship. In large Diaspora communities like Antioch, Jews and Gentiles would have considerable social contact, especially those who were attracted to the Jewish faith as "God-fearers" . As Dunn writes specifically in regard to table fellowship:
[T]here was a broad range of attachments to Judaism and Jewish ways wherever Diaspora settlements had made any impact on the surrounding community -- from occasional visits to the synagogue, to total commitment apart from circumcision, with such matters as the sabbath and dietary laws being observed in varying degrees in between. Pari passu there would be a broad range of social intercourse between faithful Jew and God-fearing Gentile, with strict Jews avoiding table fellowship as far as possible, and those less scrupulous in matters of tithing and purity willingly extending and accepting invitations to meals where such Gentiles would be present .
Willi Rodorf, among others, sees some significance to the fact that it is precisely these concerns about ritual purity with respect to foods (6.3) that surface immediately before the Didache's description of baptism. The significance is heightened because 6.3-7.1 are thought to be a literary unit . In effect what the Didache would be outlining is the minimum conditions and limits of acceptable table fellowship between these Jewish disciples and Gentiles disciples. Mitchell argues that both 6.2 ("the whole yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect, but if you cannot, do what you can") and 6.3 ("bear what you can, but be on guard against food offered to idols") shows the influence of the Pharisaic belief in degrees of ritual purity. The implication for community of the Didache would be that torah observant Jewish Christians should associate only with God-fearing Gentile converts who are willing to maintain at least a minimum of the ritual law. As Mitchell notes this obliterates Paul's egalitarian emphasis that all barriers have been removed by baptism . Not only is the Table fenced but the baptismal pool as well.
Baptism int he Didache is a rite of eschatological import though not devoid of Christological meaning. The theology of being immersed with Christ in death is not explicit. Baptism brings one into the community of faith where God's holy Presence is enjoyed. The community is, seemingly, committed to minimum levels of ritual purity which focuses upon the Table and Baptism. Some scholars argue that the Didache is actually trying to take a middle road between extremes as they were perceived at the time: Refusing to follow the libertine Paul and also the hardliners who have gone back to the synagogue.
 Philip Schaff, The Oldest Church Manuel Called the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1885), 9-10.
 Johannes Quasten, Patrology, vol 1: The Beginnings of Patristic Literature (Westminster, Maryland: Newman Press, MCMLXII), 30.
 Clayton N. Jefford, "Presbyters in the Community of the Didache," Studia Patristica (1987), p. 126. Jefford's points out that the Didache is a "witness to a ministry in transition" from prophecy to local elders that would later develop into the monarchical bishop.
 J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 121-122.
 Schaff, The Oldest Church Manuel, 119-122.
 Nathan Mitchell, "Baptism in the Didache," in The Didache in Context: Essays on its Text, History, and Transmission, ed. Clayton N. Jefford (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995), 227-230.
 Robert A. Kraft, "Didache," in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 2: 197.
 Mitchell, "Baptism in the Didache," p. 232.
 Quasten, Patrology, 30
 Aelred Cody, "The Didache: An English Translation, " The Didache in Context, ed. Clayton N. Jefford, pp. 3-14.
 Kurt Niederwimmer, The Didache: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), pp. 59-63 for an extended discussion of the adoption of the Two Ways by our author.
 Schaff, Church Manual, 22. See also Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 201-206.
 Schaff, 31-32, Quasten, Patrology, 31, statest "This is the sole reference from the first or second centuries regarding baptism by effusion."
 Schaff, Church Manual, 22.
 L. Hartman, "Baptism 'Into the Name of Jesus' and Early Christology," Studia theologica 28 (1974), 44.
 G. W. Buchanan, "Worship, Feasts and Ceremonies in the Early Jewish-Christian Church," New Testament Studies 26 (1979-80), 280-281.
 Hartman, "Baptism," 34.
 Mitchell, "Baptism in the Didache," 233.
 Schaff, Church Manual, 23.
 J. W. Riggs, "From Gracious Table to Sacramental Elements: The Tradition History of Didache 9-10," Second Century 4 (1984), 95.
 Willy Rodorf, "Baptism According to the Didache," in The Didache in Modern Research, ed. Jonathan A. Draper (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996), 212-222.
 Niederwimmer, Didache: A Commentary, 88.
 Mitchell, "Baptism in the Didache," 251.
 Niederwimmer, Didache: A Commentary, 127.
 Schaff, Church Manual, 33.
 ibid., 34.
 Schaff, Church Manual, 184. There are good reasons to believe the author and community knew the Gospel of Matthew. The Lord's Prayer in ch. 8 is virtually the same as in Matthew 6.9-13 and the logion in 9.5 is verbatim Matthew 7.6. However in each of these cases Niederwimmer consistently has an allergy to allowing the Didache to have knowledge of the canonical Gospel, Didache: A Commentary, pp. 127-127; 135-137; 153.
 L. Hartman, "Into the Name of Jesus," New Testament Studies 20 (1974), 440.
 Hartman, "Baptism 'Into the Name of Jesus and Early Christology," 36.
 Mitchell, "Baptism in the Didache," 253.
 James D. G. Dunn, "The Incident at Antioch (Gal 2.11-18)," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 18 (1983), 12-25.
 ibid., 17.
 ibid., 21f.
 ibid., 23.
 Rordorf, "Baptism according to the Didache," 215f.
 Mitchell, "Baptism in the Didache," 239-240.