THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH - VOLUME 1 : by Philip Carrington, Archbishop of Quebec. Published by the syndics of the Cambridge University Press, 1957. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.


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We can now proceed to supplement our study of the early second century by the consideration of certain documents which are thought to belong to this period, though they come down to us without any author's name attached. They seem to contain the work of the teachers. We are not surprised to find that they concern the instruction of converts, catechism and baptism, continuation courses for the baptized, and participation in the prayers and eucharist.

Among the documents which originated in the apostolic period, and yet failed to get into the New Testament, except so far as they have been incorporated into some of the Epistles, were the catechisms. The Jews of the dispersion had been obliged to provide instruction in elementary piety for their converts and God-fearers; and when the church came to deal with its converts, who were often taken from this very class, it seems to have turned to the existing Jewish catechisms, which had already proved their usefulness. What these converts needed was a course in elementary Jewish piety, that is to say 'my duty towards God and my duty towards my neighbour'.

The proselyte catechisms were based on older forms of religious instruction, which were derived in their turn from the Hebrew scriptures. There was the fundamental commandment, for instance, called the Shema, which was to be repeated twice every day.

Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is One; and thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy strength.
(Deuteronomy vi. 4-5.)

And next in importance to this came the Ten Words or Ten Commandments, which were then a normal part of the synagogue service. There |482 was also the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus, « Leviticus xix is the basis of the catechetical portion of the 'Zadokite Fragment', which is closely related to the community which produced the 'Dead Sea Scrolls'. It was also drawn on by the Jewish author of the gnomic poem which is ascribed to Phocylides. the eighteenth verse of which was regarded by St Paul, and by Rabbi Akiba too, as the crown or summary of the whole Law.

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart;
But thou shalt rebuke thy neighbour and not suffer sin on his account.
Thou shalt not avenge or bear any grudge against the children of thy people;
But thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
(Leviticus xix. 17-18.)

The founder of Christianity had commended these texts to his disciples, and Christians accepted them as the fundamental documents of religious faith and practice.

Catechetical material was also derived from such non-canonical books as the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach, commonly called Ecclesiasticus. This book was rejected by the rabbinic canon-makers, but it remained firmly fixed in the affections of the Christian church, and lingered on in the archives of some of the Jewish synagogues. Its seventh chapter provides a catechism of social relations which contains many excellent counsels: among them were these:

With all thy strength love him who made thee: and forsake not his ministers.
Fear the Lord and glorify his priest: and give him his portion as it is commanded thee.
The first-fruits and the trespass-offering: and the gift of the shoulder.
(Ecclesiasticus vii. 29 – 31.)

The Christian book called the Didache made a very powerful use of this text, as we shall see.

These and similar pieces of ancient wisdom were built into the Jewish proselyte catechisms, and into one in particular which was called the Path of Life. In the course of time a little appendix was added to it which was called the Path of Death ; and so the whole document received the title of the Two Paths or Two Ways. The Two-Way symbolism is as old as Jeremiah and the Book of Proverbs. It was taken into the gospel, and there was a time and place early in the first |483 century when Christianity itself was called by this name – 'The Way'. The catechism called the Two Ways was adapted for use in the church, perhaps by the end of the first century, since Hernias may have made use of some form of it. It has been incorporated in slightly different forms into the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas.


It began with the two great commandments in an expanded form which differs slightly in each of the Greek texts which have come down to us. There is a Latin version which runs as follows:

First, thou shalt love the eternal God who made thee. (Ecclus. vii. 29.)
Secondly, thy neighbour as thyself. (Lev. xix. 18.)
Everything, therefore, which thou wishest not to be done to thee;
Do not do to another.

They are well-worn maxims from the old Jewish piety, which was called the fear of the Lord and was more ancient than any Pharisaism. The combination of the love of God with the love of one's neighbour is first found in the Gospels, it is true; but according to Luke it was a Jewish lawyer who gave this answer. The golden rule in its negative form is found in the apocryphal book of Tobit and was one of the sayings of Rabbi Hillel the Elder. The reviser of the Acts added it to the decree of the Jerusalem council.

After this come a number of prohibitions in the style of the Ten Commandments and including most of them. It is interesting to note that in this kind of literature they are never quoted completely or entirely or even without additions; and the fourth commandment, which sanctifies the Sabbath, is never quoted at all. This document begins with 'Thou shalt not commit adultery' and 'Thou shalt do no murder' and 'Thou shalt not bear false witness'; but continues with 'Thou shalt not corrupt boys, commit fornication, curse, practise sorcery', and so forth. The text in the Didache enlarges this list to include augury, magic, witchcraft, the exposure of new-born infants, and so forth, thus giving us a picture of the actual cases with which the Christian teacher had to do and the kind of renunciations which were required of incipient Christians.

Another type of commandment is that which inculcates the virtues |483 which were expected of hearers and learners; lowliness and humility and receptiveness.

Thou shalt not exalt thyself but shall be humble-minded in all things:
Thou shalt not take glory upon thyself;
Thou shalt be meek: thou shalt be quiet:
And tremble always at the words thou hearest: (from Isaiah Ixvi. 2.)

The teacher is to be held in reverence as the spokesman of the Lord: 'Thou shalt love as the apple of thine eye every one who speaketh unto thee the word of the Lord.' Classes were held daily: 'Day by day shalt thou seek out the presence of the saints.' The learners must contribute to the support of their teacher from the work of their hands, a provision which we find as early as Galatians (vi. 6). Free-will offerings, not fees, were the rule.

There are counsels about family and social life, such as are found in several epistles: Colossians, Ephesians, James, 1 Peter, Clement, Polycarp, for instance.

Thou shalt love thy neighbour more than thine own soul: (Leviticus xix. 18.)
Thou shalt not lift thine hand from thy son or daughter, but shalt teach them the fear of the Lord: (compare Psalm xxxiv. 11.)
Thou shalt not rebuke thy slave or bondmaid in thine anger, seeing that they set their hope upon the same God, lest they fear not the God who is above both: (compare Ephesians vi. 9.)

These counsels, in their various forms, illuminate the important position of the household as a subsidiary unit in the local church.

Few indeed of the finer points of character are overlooked. The Two Ways sets a high value on such virtues as modesty, sincerity and consideration for others. Its central ideal is integrity of character or 'simplicity'. The divided or hypocritical soul is the enemy; and its natural sequels are the double mind and the double tongue, which is a snare of death; the very points in moral theology with which Hermas dealt so fully. The second part, or Way of Death is a catalogue of sins and offences. It begins with idolatry, which is the source and origin of all other sins in Jewish moral theology; it closes with partiality towards the rich and censoriousness towards the poor.

As traces of this document appear in Syria and Alexandria and Rome, we are justified in regarding it as being in something very like general |485 use, in one form or another, at the beginning of the century. It got the name, in due course, of being an apostolic document; it was doubtless a legacy from the apostolic period; but it seems that it was not of sufficiently high calibre or authority to find its way into the New Testament.


Another cycle of teaching which originated in apostolic times and yet never found its way into the New Testament except in substantial quotations was that which handled the Hebrew scriptures, and produced the Book or Books of Testimonies.

According to the classic theory on the subject, the Book was an anthology of Old Testament texts or passages transcribed under various heads, so as to prove or illustrate the gospel preaching. It has never been proved, however, that this hypothetical book ever actually existed; but doubtless there were numerous written transcripts or notes of' testimony' material, that is to say Old Testament prophecies which were believed to refer to the person and mission of Christ, or the interpretation and validity of the Law of Moses, or the status and destiny of the Jewish people, or the claim of the Christian church to be the true heir of the promises which had been made to the patriarchs of Israel. These prophecies were, in a certain sense, the title-deeds of the Christian church as the people of God and played an important part in theology and apologetics. They are the proper area of study in which to approach the development of Christian theology.

We have here an enormous and complicated body of learned thought, which came into existence in the first place in the frontier country, or no-man's-land, between Judaism proper and the apostolic church, in the days when the separation was not complete. It continued to grow in bulk as the relation between the two became increasingly hostile. Its leading idea may be expressed in testimony language as the doctrine of the two nations. When Rachel, the mother of all Israelites (and therefore of all Christians), was about to become the mother of Jacob and Esau, it was said, 'Two nations are in thy womb; and the elder shall serve the younger.' It was not in the purposes of God that the birthright should pass to the older son without reference to spiritual values; and God repeated himself in history. In Christian thought the church was the true son or successor of the old Israel 'according to the |486 spirit'. It was the younger son; but the younger form of Judaism would supersede the older.

This particular example of testimony interpretation appears as early as Galatians. The primary documents for this study, after the New Testament, are the so-called Epistle of Barnabas and the Dialogue with Trypho of Justin Martyr.


The Epistle of Barnabas sheds light on the controversy with Judaism which burned so fiercely in the days of Trajan and Hadrian. The Jews believed that the Hebrew scriptures, which both sides accepted, commanded everybody to be circumcised and observe the Sabbath and obey the various Levitical ordinances; but the Gentile Christians maintained that they were free. The yoke of the Law had been placed on the Jews for their discipline and as a preparation for the gospel; but now the old Law had come to an end; there was a new Law 'without the yoke of compulsion'.

The author of 'Barnabas' felt that the Jewish propaganda was making headway, and that there was a danger of some Christians making a shipwreck of themselves upon it. His epistle is generally assigned to the early years of Hadrian. The references to current history are vague enough, but it seems clear that the fatal war of 131-5 had not been fought, and that it reflects the conditions of the hundred-and-twenties. Its author is unknown, but it is not a pseudonymous book. The author does not impersonate anyone. He makes no claim to be an apostle or apostolic man. He is a church teacher who has spent some time with the congregation which he is addressing. He is moving on now, but has consented to leave a written record of some of his teachings which have been much admired. We do not know how his epistle came by its name. Perhaps the author's name was Barnabas?

The burden of the introductory remarks is the importance of' gnosis' or knowledge, as an addition to faith, hope and charity; that is to say as a continuation course after the elements of Christianity have been learned. But this gift of 'gnosis' was a very special thing. It was the gift of extracting a spiritual meaning from the Hebrew scriptures by means of allegorization. This kind of interpretation was a well-established literary and critical tradition at Alexandria, and it is considered |487 probable that the author of this epistle was an Alexandrian. His point of view is Alexandrian, and he pleased Clement of Alexandria, who said, 'There are few who comprehend these things.' If this conjecture is correct, we have our first piece of documentary evidence from this centre of Jewish and Greek learning.


To enter into the thinking of 'Barnabas' and his tradition requires great patience and a touch of imagination. It is very easy to be repelled by his hostility to the Jews, and by his artificial handling of the Jewish scriptures, which he claims exclusively for the Christians. The scriptures are ours, he says, and not theirs ; the covenant is ours and not theirs; they had an opportunity of receiving the covenant, but they lost it by turning to the worship of idols, and so the covenant of the Beloved Jesus was sealed in our hearts.

It was a serious principle of Christian theology or controversy that the Jewish people fell from grace when they made the golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai and Moses broke the tables of the Law. Something of the same sort is found in the contemporary rabbinic tradition, in Mekilta for instance. The whole subject is discussed in the Talmud treatise Abodah Zarah, where perhaps we have the Jewish answer to the Christian polemic. « A suggestion which came to me from Rabbi Abraham Brachman of Fort Worth, Texas. There was a Jewish fast-day at midsummer, we read in Taanit, on Tammuz 17, which commemorated the golden calf incident and other dark days in Israelite history.

In other words the line of thought which we find in Barnabas goes back to an area of religious tradition which Jew and Christian both occupied, the area in which the Jewish scriptures were interpreted by both sides in their ancient liturgical setting. Barnabas continues along these lines. He goes on to consider other calendar days and other rituals of various kinds.

Barnabas was the heir of the author of Hebrews in his affiliation to the Jewish (and Christian) liturgy; he was the heir of Ignatius in his conviction of a complete separation from Judaism, and also, as it happens, in his theology of a manifestation of the Son of God 'in the flesh'; a theme which had been announced in Hebrews too.


The manifestation of the divine nature 'in flesh' is a principle which should not be too exclusively limited to the doctrine of the incarnation. The word 'flesh' was used to include the whole life and nature of man. Even in the Old Testament God is revealed through human lives. The emphasis on flesh and blood in Hebrews, John, Ignatius, and Barnabas, was an emphasis on the existential character of the gospel; the Son of God had entered personally into the tragedy of human existence; he had suffered; he had shed blood; he had died.

Barnabas inherited this tradition, which was affirmed more and more defiantly, in opposition to the Docetics who resolved everything into myth. In their system spirit expressed itself in the realm of ideas and aspirations; it remained immaterial. In the catholic authors it expressed itself in material and historic terms; in a human life which is lived 'in the flesh'; in a martyr's death; and in a bodily resurrection. There is nothing impalpable about it at any point.

The expression 'in flesh' does not stop here; for the terminology is sacramental as well as evangelical; the one category passes imperceptibly into the other. The references to flesh and blood in these four authors are all connected, explicitly or implicitly, with the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, and the new covenant which Jesus made there with his disciples in his body and his blood. That word covenant, which he chose, supplied the connecting link with the Jewish paschal tradition of the exodus of Israel from Egypt and the making of the old covenant at Mount Sinai, which was also sealed with blood These events were commemorated every year at Passover and Pentecost, and so the principle of manifestation 'in flesh' was extended into the corporate life of the church, along the line of the sacramental liturgy, in its Paschal setting, and with its old Jewish associations.

Barnabas came to his understanding of the work of Christ through this Judaeo-Christian medium.


Barnabas believed, of course, that the actual rites and ceremonies of the old religion were no longer binding. They had been given to the Jews because of the 'hardness of their hearts', and were superseded now by |489 the advent of the Messiah Jesus, who was the true Law and the true covenant, to which the greater prophets, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, had looked forward. The 'New Covenant of the Beloved Jesus' had been sealed in our hearts, Barnabas says, and the phrase has more in it than barren controversy. The thoughts of the love of God in Jesus, and the religion implanted in the heart, are favourite ideas with him. They rose out of his own devotional and spiritual experience.

The Beloved Jesus was the eternal Son of God who had shared in the creation of the world. He had been manifested to the world in the flesh. He had been rejected by hard-hearted men. He had associated with the sinful, choosing twelve apostles from that class, and revealing his glory to them through the flesh. He had offered his flesh, his whole human self, for his new people on the cross; he had set his flesh like a stone; he had endured the blows and the nails and the death. He was the true sacrifice which the men of old had spoken of in figures of speech, and prefigured in the poor beasts who were buffeted and slain in the Temple ceremonies.

The thought of Barnabas runs on immediately into Christian baptism. The great paschal commemorations of the creation, and the exodus, and the entry into the promised land, are inextricably confused in his treatment of it. We are created over again; we are new-born children; we taste the milk and honey of the promised land, which is made to signify the 'flesh' of Jesus; and the milk and honey are the new life which he bestows upon us. We are within the circle of sacramental ideas which were touched on in Hebrews, and provided the material of the Christian baptismal ritual, as we see it in Hippolytus and Tertullian and later writers; a ritual which was closely associated with the paschal season.

Barnabas goes on to find some mystical meaning in all the Jewish rites and ceremonies and legal enactments. The rite of circumcision is interpreted mystically of the circumcision of the ears and heart to which the greater prophets had looked forward. The unclean birds and beasts and fishes are regarded as symbols of evil and predatory human beings. Texts are found which prefigure the association of the cross with the waters of baptism. The relations between the 'two peoples' and the meaning of the covenant are more fully expounded. The Sabbath is interpreted as a perpetual Sabbath, or as a seventh age of a thousand years at the end of the world; and authority is found for |490 keeping the 'eighth day' instead of the seventh. The last section deals with the Temple itself, for which he substitutes the spiritual temple which is now being built upon the name of the Lord; it is the Christian church; 'he himself dwelling in us who were once enslaved to death, and opening to us the door of the temple which is not made with hands'.

The exposition thus ends on the note of a real presence of Jesus in the Christian heart and in the universal church. It goes on to give a version of the 'Two Ways', and a few counsels for the elders of the community.


The modern reader finds this exegesis artificial and unreal. It seems to make it possible for the Christian teacher to make the Old Testament mean whatever he wants. This criticism is not entirely just; for if it was, the different teachers would each have gone his own way, and the result would have been chaos and confusion, whereas they reproduce the same ideas rather monotonously. There were principles of interpretation which were widely accepted among them. There was a body of allegorical or mythological interpretation which had a common origin and was promoted by teachers who had graduated in it. It was an organic part of the massive Judaeo-Christian tradition, and had relations with apocalyptic on one side and gnosis on the other which would be interesting to study.

One interesting example is the saga of Moses and Joshua. Moses prays on the hill-top with his hands extended in the form of a cross; and Joshua defeats Amalek while bearing the divine name of Jesus; for Joshua and Jesus are the same name. Moses makes a brazen serpent, and hangs it on a 'sign' or standard, which is thought of as having the form of a cross; and all Israel looks to it for healing. Joshua brings the old people through the River Jordan into the promised land, and divides the inheritance; Jesus brings the new people through the waters of baptism into the land of eternal life.

This sequence of testimonies is found again and again in the repertoire of the Christian teacher, and a rather similar exegesis is found in the contemporary Mishnaic tractate Taanit. It is explained that it was not the holding up of Moses' hands, or the lifting up of the serpent, that saved Israel; but the people looked at these things and were moved to |491 direct their hearts towards their heavenly Father. This seems to be the rival 'spiritual' interpretation of these Old Testament pictures. Both sides used them to promote the religion of the heart. The Old Testament provided pictures and stories whose inward meaning was eternally relevant, and that is 'gnosis'.

Of course Barnabas can be artificial, irritating, and censorious; but it would not be fair to judge him by his less fortunate expositions. His interpretation of the unclean beasts and fishes was in line with the thought of his time, being found in the Letter of Aristeas, for instance. His numerology was also a fashionable mode of thought, though the modern scholar is often impatient with it. In reading the story of Abraham circumcising his household, his eye fell on the figure 318 which appeared in the scroll as T I H . Now I H was a familiar contraction of the sacred name of Jesus, and is so written in the Alexandrian papyri of the period; and the letter T looked like the cross. 'Barnabas' is inordinately proud of this discovery.


Barnabas concludes his treatise by appending a version of the Two Ways, which he calls another kind of teaching or 'gnosis'. Another full-length version of it is to be found in the Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles which is usually called the Didache for short. This elaborate title is only an indication of the subject-matter which it contains, and hardly ranks the book as a pseudonymous work. The apostles are not represented as speaking in it.

Archbishop Bryennios of Nicomedia discovered a copy of the text in a manuscript of the eleventh century, and published it in 1883 with learned notes and illustrative material. Its documentation previous to the fourth century is meagre. Some form of it left its traces apparently in a third-century Syrian church order; and Clement of Alexandria was familiar with its catechetical material, and quotes a sentence from it as 'scripture'. It is referred to by Eusebius and Athanasius as an extra-canonical book. The compiler of the Apostolic Constitutions incorporated it into his seventh book and, in spite of many editorial changes, we can recognize fairly clearly the document published by Bryennios.

The romantic enthusiasm which greeted it when it first appeared has |492 somewhat faded, and few scholars now would assign it to the first century. It can hardly be older than the hundred-and-twenties or thirties, since it relies so heavily on Matthew as a written authority. Some of its source-material was undoubtedly older; some of its special features may be later; for it has been much edited. Some scholars place it far down the second century.

There is a ministry of teachers who pass from church to church, but no teacher is to be accepted who does not conform to the Two Ways. Their authority stands very high. They are to be honoured as the Lord; for wherever the Lordship is spoken of, there the Lord is; a sentiment which is almost exactly reproduced in the rabbinic document Pirke Aboth. Ignatius said much the same about the bishop.

The Two Ways was to be read or recited as a preliminary to baptism, which recalls the reference in Ignatius to the 'commandments which you enjoin when you are making disciples', and the Jewish custom of reciting commandments at proselyte-baptism, and the baptismal formula of Elkhasai. There are also some relics of directions about food-laws, which are reminiscent of the 'decree' of the Jerusalem council in Acts xv.

And concerning food, bear what thou canst, but be very careful to avoid meat sacrificed to an idol; for it is a worship of dead gods. (Didache, vi.)

This is the Bryennios text, but Apostolic Constitutions reads: 'Thou shalt pour out the blood.' Evidence for the continuation of this Jewish custom is also to be found in Irenaeus, the Acts of the Gallican martyrs, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria.

With the allusion to baptism, another source seems to be welded on to the Two Ways which gives an outline of the sacramental order, and in this source the teachers fade out of the picture, their place being taken by prophets. Their authority stands even higher than that of the teachers; too high in fact. The sacramental order begins with baptism, which is to be preceded by prayer and fasting. Baptism is normally administered in 'living water' in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with Matthew's Gospel. Living water means running water, which was also preferred by the Jews for their proselyte-baptisms. The Jewish custom of immersion is advised as the regular procedure; but pouring three times on the head is sufficient.

|493 The references to prayer and fasting follow. The fasting-days are to be Wednesday and Friday, not Monday and Thursday according to the custom of the hypocrites, as the compiler unkindly describes the Jews or Judaizing Christians. The Lord's Prayer is given in its Matthaean form, with the addition of a doxology: 'For thine is the power and the glory unto the ages', very like the one which became traditional in the east. « It was adopted by the Protestant churches from late Greek manuscripts. Blessings and prayers are then supplied for the eucharistic service which succeeded the baptism. They resemble the benedictions or doxologies of the synagogue service and the Jewish domestic rituals. The cup comes first.

First concerning the cup:
We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the holy vine of thy servant David, which thou hast made known to us through thy servant Jesus: Thine is the glory unto the ages.

Then concerning the fraction (the broken loaf):
We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the Life and Knowledge which thou hast made known to us through thy servant Jesus: Thine is the glory unto the ages.
For as this fraction was once scattered upon the mountains, and was gathered together and became one, so may thy church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy Kingdom: For thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ unto the ages.
(Didache, ix.)

None are to partake except those who have been baptized into the Name of the Lord.

A thanksgiving is added, after the reception of the communion, for the holy Name which the holy Father has caused to dwell in us, and for the knowledge and the faith and the immortality. Further prayers follow, and here the text is in some confusion, since the prayer for the unity of the church is repeated in a different form, and the final refrains seem to be intended to precede the communion.

May Grace come!
May this world pass away!
Hosanna to the God of David! (or 'son of David' in The Apostolic Constitutions).
If any man is holy, let him come: if any is not, let him repent.
Maranatha: Amen. (Come, O Lord: Amen.)

We seem to have a Hellenized version of some old Jewish-Christian devotions which are highly valued, but imperfectly understood.

They are followed by directions for the reception of apostles, prophets, and teachers, and other visitors, which have been much elaborated in the interest of the prophets, who are not bound to adhere to the set prayers which have been given. Directions are given for the regular Sunday eucharist, which is preceded by a confession of sins, and in this connexion we have a free quotation from Malachi, which is the only contact of Didache with the Testimony tradition. It was widely used as the charter of the universal worship of the Gentile churches.

In every place and time to offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, saith the Lord, and my name is great among the Gentiles.
(Didache, xiv. Malachi i. 11 and 14.)

Bishops and deacons are to be appointed by the congregations and to receive due honour, since they perform the functions of the prophets and teachers. References are made to admonishing offenders, disputes among the worshippers, prayer, and almsgiving, but without much detail, since information on these points is to be found in 'the Gospel'. All must keep watch and vigil. There must be frequent assemblies. There will be false prophets; love will be turned to hate; lawlessness will increase. It is the conventional apocalyptic material of this tradition. The 'world-deceiver' will appear as son of God; the whole creation will go through the ordeal of burning fire; and not till then will come the three signs of the truth, the sign of a spreading out in the heavens, the sign of the voice of the trumpet, and the sign of the resurrection of the dead.

Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.


The interesting point about the Didache is the preservation of what were originally Jewish-Christian forms in a Gentile document which is fully catholic in the sense of visualizing Christianity as a world religion. The tradition which it preserves had had a long history, and the document itself has passed through various stages. As it stands it is designed to meet the requirements of certain Gentile Christians who lived as farmers in a mountainous region where they were in contact with Jews or Judaizing Christians, from whom it was vitally necessary to distinguish themselves. They possessed copies of Matthew, which they |495 called 'the Gospel', and referred to it as a sacred authority, the same situation that we found in the case of Ignatius; and for this reason it must be placed in a Matthew area, that is to say an area where Matthew was accepted as a one-gospel canon in line with the Hebrew scriptures. This is likely to be Syria, though Palestine or eastern Asia Minor should not be excluded. The land of Egypt seems to be ruled out by the reference to mountains in the prayer for the church; nobody scattered seed on the mountains in Egypt.

It was put out as a manual of guidance in church procedure and as a supplement to Matthew. From the same centre, wherever it was, it would appear that apostles, prophets and teachers were also sent out, since it lays down authoritative rules for their behaviour and reception. The arrival of an apostle is not seriously considered, but prophets are well-known visitors to the churches. Their association with the apostles may be explained as a memory inherited from earlier times, and a means of bringing them under the directions for apostles in the tenth chapter of Matthew, where prophets are mentioned with apostles as if partaking of their missionary office; and this suggests that there was some sort of commissioning or sending out in the case of the Didache prophets, like the service in Acts xiii which took place at Antioch.

The local churches had a ministry of bishops and deacons which they were directed to appoint for themselves, the first and indeed the only case in which appointments are said to be made by the congregation. In the Acts, the seven 'deacons' were nominated by the congregation for ordination by the apostles, and possibly the Didache visualized a similar procedure, but it says nothing about the manner of ordination. It is usually assumed that these were plural bishops such as we find mentioned in Clement; but this assumption is not free from doubt. In addressing a number of churches with single bishops, it would be perfectly natural to say, 'Appoint your bishops' as the Didache does. On the other hand, no elders are mentioned. If the Pauline system of plural bishops still lingered in the Didache country, it would explain why they were dependent upon a superior order which had a quasi-apostolic character. The system of plural bishops never appears without some higher authority on which it depends.

The Didache maybe regarded, therefore, as a supplement to Matthew, taking its title and inspiration from the last verses of that Gospel, in which the apostles are commissioned to go out and 'make disciples' of |496 the Gentiles, baptizing them and teaching them to observe what the Lord had commanded; that is to say, what he had commanded in that Gospel.


The devotions for the baptismal eucharist in the Didache are followed by a comparatively detailed passage which explains what persons may be admitted to the eucharist, and what persons may offer it; and it is here that we find directions about the prophets which cause us to raise our eyebrows. The liberty to criticize the prophets, which Paul had freely permitted to the Corinthians, is withheld. There is no sign of the spirit-endowed ecclesia in which every one had his gift of grace, and all might prophesy. It is a sin against the Holy Spirit, the irremediable sin, to criticize a prophet; and yet it is granted that there are undesirable prophets who prey on the churches, and are Christ-mongers rather than Christians. They ask for money in the Spirit, or 'order a table'. Even an approved and true prophet may 'perform a cosmical mystery of the ecclesia', whatever that may be; but as the great 'mystery' of the ecclesia in St Paul is that she is the bride of Christ, it is to be feared that the prophet was accompanied by a virgin of some sort. The sentence also informs us that there were unidentified prophets travelling about, who were not approved or true. It is a sad fact that the deterioration of the prophetic order is attested on all hands; by Matthew and Jude and Hermas, for instance, as well as by this document.

A very practical object of this little pamphlet was to provide the prophets with more regular financial support. These prophets, unlike some others, travelled from village to village, though they may have had a permanent home in some centre from which they were sent out, if we are right in assuming that this was the system. They depended, during their travels, on free hospitality and free-will offerings, like the teachers; and they were inclined to outstay their welcome. A man who stayed more than three days was stigmatized as a false prophet; and even if we visualize a large area with a large number of villages, the system would still provide very meagre and uncertain support.

The suggestion of the Didache is that they should settle down as village priests. 'They are your high priests', it says, the first instance of any Christian minister being given this title. It refers back to the verse out of Ecclesiasticus, a part of which was quoted at the beginning of the |497 document and may have been more fully quoted in the original text; for this passage (which we have given in full earlier in this chapter) provides for the support of the priests out of the first-fruits, and orders the people to give according to the commandment. The Didache now makes use of these phrases. The prophets, in their capacity of high priests, are entitled to the first-fruits of the winepress and the threshing-floor, and of oxen and sheep (the gift of the shoulder?); of bread and wine and oil; and even of money and clothes. The people are to give according to the commandment. The Jewish Levitical order is the pattern for the Christian ministry, as it is in Clement.

Although he could no longer offer animal sacrifices in Jerusalem, the Jewish village priest still performed many functions under the Law of Moses, and Jesus had recognized his position in the case of the cleansing of the leper. The priest was not to be done out of his offering. Many priests had become Christians, we are told in Acts, and there may have been Jewish-Christian communities in which they still functioned. It would appear, too, from the Epistles of Ignatius, that the Judaizing Christians at Philadelphia wanted to have, or possibly did have, priests in connexion with that church. The Didache suggests a way by which that demand might be met. The prophet, who was a liturgical expert and knew how to offer the appropriate benedictions, could take the place of the village priest in Judaism and officiate at the offering of the first-fruits of the harvest and the vintage, presumably at the appointed seasons of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. The bishops and deacons performed the same functions as the prophets and teachers, the Didache says. We remember that the bishops and deacons at Corinth performed the duty of 'offering the gifts', and that Clement says that they should be offered at the correct Levitical seasons. Hip-polytus preserves a first-fruits ritual which was still in use at the end of the second century.

We have a background now against which we can place the euchar-istic benedictions and the permission to the prophets to offer them as they thought fit. That background was the old Jewish village life, the round of agricultural festivals, the offering of the first-fruits, the ministry of the priests and the old Hebrew rituals. The prayer after the fraction in the Didache looks like a harvest prayer. Traces of this rural background lingered in the liturgy for a long time. « Papias seems to have derived his 'eschatology' from sources of this kind. Fifty or sixty |498 years later, when Irenaeus was narrating the institution of the eucharist at the Last Supper by Jesus, he says that the Lord was counselling his disciples how to offer the first-fruits to God from his creatures; and the eucharist is associated by the second-century writers with the offering of all kinds of food. The development of Christian liturgy is in part the gradual loss of rural and agricultural features, as the worship of the church became more civilized and urbanized.


No doubt the sacramental order of the Didache contains some first-century traditions with regard to the baptismal and eucharistic ritual. Jewish liturgical forms have been christianized and then Hellenized in churches which were situated on the spiritual frontier between the Jew and the Gentile. They are in such a condition that they could easily be adapted for gnostic use. The stress on knowledge or gnosis is reminiscent of Barnabas; the emphasis on the name could pass into magic; the use of the word immortality, instead of life eternal, recalls Menander and Ignatius; the invocation of grace was taken over by gnostic heresy in Ephesus. There is obviously something rather peculiar about this document as it now stands, but it still remains a version of a widespread tradition of considerable antiquity. It is, at the same time, primitive and sophisticated, Hebraic and Hellenistic; but its primitive features have an authentic pedigree.

In considering the primitive eucharist, it should be noted first that the typical Jewish benediction does not bless the food in so many words. It blesses God for the food or for whatever gift is being considered; in Barnabas, for instance, we have benedictions in this form for the gift of wisdom or gnosis. The mind is directed upward to God, not downward to the gifts. An ancient second-century form of the eucharistic prayer, preserved by Hippolytus, begins with the admonition, 'Lift up your minds.' (Compare Colossians iii. 2: 'Set your minds on things above.')

Yet there is a real presence and an effective benediction; for the solemn naming of God, or 'invocation of the Name', is rewarded by a special presence where it is uttered. That is why the three names are invoked over the candidate at his baptism; and there is a special thanksgiving in the baptismal eucharist for the Name which God has caused |499 to tabernacle in our hearts; and the great Malachi testimony assures the catholic church that in every place where the Gentiles offer the pure sacrifice of the eucharist, the presence of the Great King is vouchsafed through the Name. « The Great King is a title of Christ in Hermas and Elkhasai; but see Matt. v. 35. The presence of God which was once localized in the Temple worship is transferred now to the Christian liturgical order. The covenanted presence which once existed in Jerusalem,' the city which God chose to put his Name there', is granted to his new people universally; his Name is great among the Gentiles.

The forms of benediction in the Didache are similar to those used by the Jews, but there is a striking difference; the name of Jesus is associated with the name of the Father, as it is in the various apostolic and sub-apostolic precedents; for numerous examples could be given of blessings, praisings, glorifyings and thanksgivings, addressed through Jesus, or in the name of Jesus, to the God and Father. It will be sufficient to quote the rule on the subject which St Paul included in the catechism which he sent to the Colossians.

Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; singing with grace in your hearts unto the Lord; and whatever you do, in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father through him. (Colossians iii. 16-17.)

The Christian benedictions, then, were to be on Hebrew lines, with the name of Jesus added.


The Didache is quite silent about the Christian mysteries, thus falling into line with other didactic literature, like James and Hermas. The name of Jesus is not mentioned except in the doxologies, and even there nothing is said about his crucifixion and resurrection, or his body and blood. The narrative of the Last Supper is never referred to. Jesus is called the Messiah, but more often the child or servant of the Father, never the son, except of course in the baptismal formula. The word translated 'servant' is the greek word pais, which can mean boy or child. It is used about Jesus by Peter in the Acts of the Apostles; he also uses it of David, as the Didache does. It continued for a long time |500 in the liturgical tradition of the church. It was connected, apparently, with old prophetic texts by means of which Jesus the Messiah was linked with David the king, or with Israel his people, or perhaps with the Song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. The word has special sacred associations, the nature of which is not known now. The paradox of the situation is that these associations are certainly Jewish, whereas there is said to be no Hebrew or Aramaic word which has the double meaning of child and servant.

Could the tradition have originated in the testimony from Isaiah: 'Unto us a child is born: Unto us a son is given', which is Davidic in character?

It must not be forgotten, however, that our document is an appendix to Matthew, to which the readers of the Didache are explicitly referred no less than four times. Any provision which it makes in the way of church order is supplementary to that Gospel. Turning to Matthew, then, we read that as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and uttered a benediction, and broke it and gave it to his disciples, and said,' Take, eat; this is my body.' The words of the benediction which were uttered by Jesus are not given, and this is the deficiency which the Didache seems to supply. We read next that he took the cup, and uttered another benediction before he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink ye all of this; for this is my blood of the new covenant.' Again the words of the benediction are not given, and the Didache appears to supply the deficiency.

Why the Didache supplies the eucharistia over the cup before the eucharistia over the fraction, we are unable to say, though guesses can be made. If the narrative of the Last Supper was read without any break, the last point mentioned would be the cup, so that the eucharistia for the cup might naturally follow. If the bread was broken then, the eucharistia over the fraction would be in order at that point. And this is the shape of the liturgy as it appeared later. No ritual actions were interpolated into the narrative of the Last Supper.

The same order is followed by St Paul in writing to Corinth:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of the Messiah?
The loaf which we break, is it not the communion of the body of the Messiah?
For we, being many, are one loaf, one body; for we are all communicants in the one loaf.
(1 Corinthians x. 16-17.)

|501 It will be noted that the third clause in Paul, like the third prayer in the Didache, regards the loaf as a symbol of the unity of those who share in it as communicants or partners. We are not suggesting that the Didache prayers were derived from 1 Corinthians; but it appears highly probable that they are reproducing the same pattern.

The fact is that we do not know how the benedictions and prayers of the Didache were combined with the Matthaean text; but of course they must have been, since the authority of Matthew was paramount. It is possible that a perfect unification did not take place all at once. Paul does not quote the Last Supper narrative until his succeeding chapter; Justin quotes it separately from his account of the eucharistic action; the disjunction is found as late as Cyril of Jerusalem in the fourth century.

The reader will not be surprised to hear that there is a theory that there were two 'types' of eucharist in the apostolic church, one of which was purely 'Jewish', and had no memorial of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah; it was not inspired by the Last Supper narrative, it is claimed. The Didache is the main support, indeed the only reputable support, of this theory; and even so it has to be divorced from Matthew if the argument is to be taken seriously. Indeed, it has to be made as early as Matthew; or earlier.

On the other hand, there may by now have been two types of holy meal in the church order, the 'agape' or love-feast, and the 'eucharistia' or sacramental rite; for Ignatius says that it is wrong to celebrate either the eucharist or the agape without the presence or consent of the bishop; and 2 Peter, which may be about contemporary with the Didache (though the date of both is uncertain), speaks of 'the false teachers who are blots upon your love-feasts' (agapai). We have no evidence for this distinction earlier than the second century; in fact it would appear that the difficulties which are dealt with in 1 Corinthians arose from the fact that the distinction had not been made, and the eucharist took place in connexion with a community supper.

It has been suggested, therefore, that the eucharistic benedictions in the Didache were intended for use at the agape; but in view of their connexion with the baptismal rite, and their high mystical quality, this is not generally accepted.

The matter may now be left to the liturgiologists.
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