THE Didache is a church-manual of primitive Christianity or of some section of it. It is called 'The Teaching of the Apostles' or 'The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.' The latter appears in the manuscript; but the former is the designation in several ancient writers who refer to it. It is therefore adopted as the title here. The manual consists of two parts : (1) a moral treatise founded on an ancient work called 'The Two Ways,' and setting forth the paths of righteousness and unrighteousness, of life and death respectively. This first part is not necessarily altogether of Christian origin; indeed there is reason to believe that some portions of it were known to the Jews, and perhaps also to the Greeks, though it has undoubtedly gathered by accretions. (2) The second part gives directions affecting church rites and orders. It treats of baptism, prayer and fasting, the eucharist and agape, the treatment of apostles and prophets, of bishops and deacons, the whole closing with a solemn warning to watchfulness in view of the second coming of Christ.
The work is obviously of very early date, as is shown by the internal evidence of language and subject-matter. Thus for instance the itinerant prophetic order has not yet been displaced by the permanent localized ministry, but exists side by side with it as in the lifetime of S. Paul (Eph. iv.11, 1 Cor.xii.28). Secondly, episcopacy has apparently not yet become universal; the word 'bishop' is still used as synonymous with ' presbyter,' and the writer therefore couples 'bishops' with 'deacons' (§ 15) as S. Paul does (1 Tim.iii.1-8, Phil.i.1) under similar circumstances. Thirdly, from the expression in § 10 'after ye have been filled' it appears that the agape still remains part of the Lord's Supper. Lastly, the archaic simplicity of its practical suggestions is only consistent with the early infancy of a church. These indications point to the first or the beginning of the second century as the date of the work in its present form.
As regards the place of writing, opinion in the first instance had been strongly in favour of Egypt, because the Teaching was early quoted by Egyptian writers; but from the casual allusion in § 9 to the 'corn scattered upon the mountains' it will appear to have been written either in Syria or Palestine.
The Didache was discovered by Bryennios in the same ms with the complete copy of the Epistle of Clement mentioned above (p. 4) and called the Constantinopolitan or Hierosolymitan ms. Besides the Teaching and the Genuine and Spurious Epistles of Clement in full, this document contained Chrysostom's Synopsis of the Old and New Testament (incomplete), the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Long Recension of the Ignatian Epistles. The ms is dated a.d. 1056. But though a list of the contents of this document was announced by Bryennios in 1875, eight years elapsed before the Didache itself was published. Meanwhile, as a work of this name is mentioned by Eusebius and others among early apocryphal writings, a hope was excited in the minds of those interested in such studies that this might be the book alluded to, and that it would throw some light on the vexed question of the origin of the Apostolical Constitutions. When at length in 1883 it was given to the world, its interest and importance were proved to exceed the highest expectations. It has been generally admitted to be the work mentioned by Eusebius and also quoted by Clement of Alexandria as 'scripture.' It is the basis of the seventh book of the Apostolical Constitutions. In language and subject-matter it presents close affinities to many other early documents, notably the Ecclesiastical Canons and the Epistle of Barnabas. A fragment of a Latin translation has also been discovered by Gebhardt, and is printed below (p. 225). Thus though there is but one extant ms of the Didache in its present form, the incorporation of a great part of it into patristic writings and early church-manuals renders the problem of its origin and development a peculiarly interesting one.