The Didache Pt. 4: Date, Place, and Use of Scripture

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 past two weeks, I have been posting portions of that text. Here is the final post of Didache introduction. Later this week, there will be a list of bibliographic resources.

The Didache Pt. 1: Why Read the Didache

The Didache Pt. 2: Modern Discovery and Textual Status

The Didache Pt. 3: Canon and the Didache

For more information about the Didache reading group email swilhite at sbts dot edu

I may be in the minority in this, but the following arguments claim a 1st or 2nd generation date (AD80–AD100) after the composition of three Gospels (Matt, Mark, Luke) and Pauline literature because there are a few places in the Didache where there appear to be Pauline influence. I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts (either in agreement or disagreement).

*     *     *     *     *

Date and Place

Modern scholarship is divided on dating the Didache. Some opt for an early date, thereby depicting a primitive church; while others prefer a late date, consequently having the Didache portray an archaic faction.[1] It was assumed that the Didache dated from AD 80 to AD 100 prior to any historical investigation. Until 1912, no real solution to dating the Didache had been provided and is still contested.[2]

The dating of the Didache is determined not only by what concepts are discussed but also by what topics are neglected. For example, the Didache is probably an early document because of its baptismal ceremony. Baptisms must include running water (Did. 7.1). Baptisms must include cold water; but if absent, other provisions are possible (Did. 7:2). Fasting is prerequisite for the baptizer and baptizee (Did. 7:4). Furthermore, a baptismal confession, consecration of water, and the laying on of hands during the liturgy are absent, which was prevelant in later baptismal ceremonies.[3] By the time of Tertullian (d. AD 225), the type of water used during baptism is periphial.[4]

Another example for an early date is the Two-Ways tradition (Did. 1–6). This tradition is reminiscent of the Proverbs “Way of Wisdom” and “Way of Folly”, the narrow and wide gate (Matt 7:13–14), and other Qumranic bifurcation.[5] Therefore, this “Two Way” theology represents early traditions, and is, as some contest, contemporaneous with Paul’s early ministry.[6]

Several scholars argue for various dates. William Varner offers five reasons for an early date (i.e., first Jewish generation subsequent to AD 70): 1. The primitive simplicity of the Didache’s teaching about the person and work of Jesus; 2. The absence of any warning about specific doctrinal aberrations; 3. The continued existence of itinerant apostles and prophets; 4. A simple pattern for the church’s leadership (overseers and deacons); and 5. Its silence about any persecution experienced by its readers or writer(s).[7] Moreover, as Thomas O’Loughlin alludes to, because there is such a close relationship between the Didache and the Gospel of Matthew, how Matthew is dated will influnce dating the Didache.[8] If redactional characteristics are present, according to Niederwimer, the original sources are located in the first century, whereas the final composition of the Didache must be dated in the early second century (AD 110–AD 120).[9]

The apathy of O’Loughlin is quite convincing when determining the place of composition. The Didache is composed in Greek, quotations appear in multiple languages, and, most likely, had a wide appeal. “Therefore, attempts to isolate its place of origin are fruitless! The alternative is to say that it belongs to the Graeco-Roman world or the Mediterranean world – but the same can be said about every early Christian document.”[10]

With the continued debate over date and place, scholarship desires to see more external data prior to making a solidified position. The earliest date given can be AD 50 and latest is AD 120.[11] “Others, this seems on the whole to be the most probable view, think that the book came into existence in Syria some time in the first third of the second century. But we have to admit that we simply do not know.”[12] Ultimately, the Didache represents the first or second generation of Christians.[13]

The Didache and the Use of Scripture

The Didache is plush with biblical allusions. The predominant similarities are with the Synoptic tradition. It is important to note how the Gospel of Matthew and Luke appear to influence the composition of the Didache, though the Didachist does not directly quote from these books.[14] As Christopher Tuckett asserts, the Lord’s Prayer (Did. 8:2//Matt 6:9–13) appears to have enough discrepencies to conclude the Didachist is alluding, rather than copying, to Matthew.[15] With Matthean prevalency, “the Didache has turned this writing into a sort of catechetical summary of the first gospel.”[16]

Scholars debate whether or not Pauline and other NT literature (excluding the Gospels) influence the Didache’s composition. “There is no echo,” claims Niederwimmer, “of the corpus Paulinum in the Didache.”[17] Tuckett observes Pauline influence but attributes any allusion to a Jesus tradition, not literary influence.[18] Some evidence may prove otherwise. Did. 16:7, while having similarities to Matt 24, seems to allude to 1 Thess 3:13. No Jesus tradition (as it is found in the Gospels) contains the phrase “The Lord will come, and all his saints with him.” Moreover, Did. 16.6 seems to display Pauline theology (1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16). Lastly, Did. 10:6 follows a pattern similar to 1 Cor 16:22. Therefore, to say there are no Paulinisms may not be totally accurate and calls for further research.

On a much different note, the Didache is relevant to our understanding of the development of the NT canon. Εὐαγγέλιον occurs four times in the Didache (Did. 8:2; 11:3; 15:3, 4). Two references may have a connection to a written Gospel (Did. 15:3, 4). Did. 15:3, 4 contain the same phrase ὡς ἔχετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ, and one has a genitive modifier τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν (Did. 15:4; “in the Gospel of our Lord”).  However, Did. 8:2 has the clearest reference to Matthew’s Gospel. The Didachist calls the reader to pray ὡς ἐκέλευσεν ὁ κύριος ἑν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ αὐτοῦ (“as the Lord has commanded in his Gospel”) and immediately follows with the “Lord’s Prayer” as found in Matthew 6:9–13. If these are allusions to the Gospels, or at least the Gospel of Matthew, there is possible “evidence of an emerging written canon by the turn of the century.”[19]

Matthew 6:9–13

Did. 8:2

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς·

ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου·

10 ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου·

γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου,

ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς·

11 τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον·

12 καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν

τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν,

ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν·

13 καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν,

ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τῷοὐρανῷ,

ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου,

ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου,

γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου

ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς.

Τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν

ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον,

καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν

τὴνὀφειλὴν ἡμῶν,

ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν,

καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν,

ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ·

ὅτισοῦἐστινδύναμιςκαὶδόξαεἰςτοὺςαἰῶνας.


[1]Michelle Selle, The Church in Antioch in the First Century CE: Communion and Conflict, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Series 244 (New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003), 57–58.

[2]Édouard Massaux, The Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Christian Literature Before Saint Irenaeus: Book 1 The First Ecclesiastical Writers, New Gospel Studies 5/1, trans. Norman J. Belval and Suzanne Hecht (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 3.

[3]Selle, Church in Antioch, 60. Also consult Will Rordorf, “Baptistm According to the Didache,” in The Didache in Modern Research, Arbeiten zur Geschichte des Antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums 37, ed. Jonathan A. Draper (New York: E.J. Brill, 1996), 212–22.

[4]Nathan Mitchell, “Baptist in the Didache,” in The Didache in Context: Essays on Its Text, History and Transmission, Supplements to Novum Testamentum 77, ed. Clayton N. Jefford (New York: E.J. Brill, 1995), 252. Cf. Turtullian, De Baptismo, 4:3. “And so there is no difference whether a person be washed in a sea or a pool, a stream or a fountain, a lake or a trough.”

[5]For status quaestionis of the Didache and Dead Sea Scroll studies, consult Jonathan A. Draper, “The Didache in Modern Research: An Overview,” in The Didache in Modern Research, Arbeiten zur Geschichte des Antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums 37, ed. Jonathan A. Draper (New York: E.J. Brill, 1996), 13–16.

[6]Jefford, Apostolic Fathers, 28–29.

[7]Varner, Way of the Didache, 4.

[8]O’Loughlin, The Didache, 26.

[9]Kurt Niederwimmer, The Didache, Hermeneia, trans. Linda M. Maloney (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), 52–53.

[10]O’Loughlin, The Didache, 24.

[11]Bart Ehrman argues for a date around 100ad. Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003),48.

[12]Stephen Neill and Tom Wright, The Interpretation of the New Testament 1861–1986, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 64.

[13]O’Loughlin, The Didache, 27; Jefford, Apostolic Fathers, 30.

[14]Niederwimmer, The Didache, 48–49.

[15]Christopher M. Tuckett, “The Didache and the Writings that later formed the New Testament,” in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, ed. Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 86.

[16]Édouard Massaux, The Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Christian Literature before Saint Irenaeus: Book 3 The Apologists and the Didache, New Gospel Studies 5/3, trans. Norman J. Belval and Suzanne Hecht (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1993), 179.

[17]Niederwimmer, Didache, 48.

[18]Tuckett, “Didache and the Writings,” 92.

[19]Kruger, Canon Revisited, 213.

Paul Foster, noting various Gospel parallels, concludes about the Didachist’s use of the Gospels, “Even the ‘original text’ of the Didache does not seek to produce a scribal copy of the NT passages it parallels, and the authorial freedom in reshaping gospel traditions means that it cannot be used to determine the form of the Gospel text that may have been before the Didachists, even if he drew directly from the Gospels, and that possibility is itself highly contested.” The freedom in quoting texts aids in viewing authoritative literature, but may not be as authoritative in matters of textual criticism. Paul Foster, “The Text of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers,” in The Early Text of the New Testament, ed. Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2012), 285–88.

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2 thoughts on “The Didache Pt. 4: Date, Place, and Use of Scripture

  1. Pingback: The Didache Pt. 5: Selected Bibliography | Doctrinae Coram Deo

  2. Pingback: Reflections on the Διδαχή Reading Group | Doctrinae Coram Deo

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