In preparation for the SBTS Greek Reading Group (Click here and here for more details), I wrote a basic introduction highlighting elementary information about the Didache. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be posting portions of that text.
For more information about the Didache reading group email swilhite at sbts dot edu
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The Didache: A Basic Introduction
The discovery of the Didache in 1873 has been acclaimed in many a eulogy, in many a language and by many a scholar. And rightly so. For this work has cast a spell over even the most cautious who, finding its magic irresistible, seek time and again to prise its secrets.
Joan Hazelden Walker
Discovery and Textual Status
The textual manuscripts of the Didache are not well preserved. A Christian Greek Orthodox cleric, Philotheos Bryennios, provided oversight of a large seminary in Constantinople, Turkey. Mining libraries in hope of finding better texts from early Christendom, in 1873 Bishop Bryennios discovered a manuscript in the Jerusalem Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre at Phanar, though having disregarding it several times before. In his own words, “I had looked over them many times beore, but on this occasion my eye chanced to fall on a small thick, black volume which had always escaped my notice. Though I was about to go from the library, I said to myself, ‘I will give just one glance at that book.’” In this small codex, Bishop Bryennios discovered a text known as the Synopsis of the Holy Scriptures by John Chrysostom, 11th century Codex Hierosolymitanus. Residing in this discovery were the Letter of Barnabas, the complete Greek texts of 1–2 Clement, the long version of Letters of Ignatius (thirteen letters), an explanation of the genealogy of Jesus, and a few others. Also in this codex, prevalent to our study, is the Didache. This is the only extant manuscript containing the entire Greek text of the Didache. Because the Didache has an abrupt ending, some think several lines from the end of chapter 16 are lost.
Bishop Bryennios only examined, at length, the Letter of Barnabas and 1–2 Clement. When Codex Hierosolymitanus was discovered, Bishop Bryennios did not give devoted attention to the Didache for seven years. In 1880, he finished editing these previous three letters and was thus able to devote consideration to a new portion of the document. Upon realizing his discovery, the Bishop proclaimed, “This! This! This! This! This must be the Διδαχη, the book that so many ancient fathers quote, the book that was lost, that the church mourns over to this day, the foundation of part of the Apostolic Constitutions. Εὓρηκα εὓρηκα εὓρηκα.” The finished edition was released to the public in Greek in 1883; the first facsimile appeared in 1887.
Several fragments of the Didache have also been preserved in other manuscripts.
- Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1782—found in Egypt and published in 1922. This manuscript preserves sixty-four words from the Didache (Did. 1:3b–4a; 2:7b–3:2a).
- British Library Oriental Manuscript 9271—a Coptic manuscript containing 10:3b–12:1a.
- In 1932, a complete version of the Didache was found in Georgian language. It was discovered in Constantinople, being dated as a fifth-century document. Unfortunately, it was never published and eventually lost.
“Reflections on a New Edition of the Didache,” VC 35 (1981): 35.
Thomas O’Loughlin, The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010) 3–4.
William Varner, The Way of the Didache: The First Christan Handbook (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007), 8.
 Clayton N. Jefford, Reading the Apostolic Fathers: A Student’s Introduction, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 24.
Varner, Way of the Didache, 10.
Jefford, Apostolic Fathers, 24.
Varner, Way of the Didache, 9.
O’Loughlin, The Didache, 5.
Jefford, Apostolic Fathers, 24.