I’ve spent many late evenings over the past month translating and researching an intriguing early Christian manuscript called the Didache. Greek for teaching, this first century Greek manuscript reveals the life and heart of the early Church. It has been the center of much academic interest and controversy since its rediscovery in 1883. Prior to this, it was once thought lost to history, although many early church fathers including Athanasius, Rufinus, and John of Damascas cited the book as inspired scripture. It was also accepted into the Apostolic Constitutions Canon 85 and the 81-book Ethiopic Canon. Many early church fathers including Barnabas, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen either quote or reference the Didache.
What’s intriguing about the Didache is its date and possible origin. Dated approximately 49-79 AD, it is widely debated that the Didache may be one of the oldest Christian writings in history – before three, possibly all of the Gospels, John’s Epistles, the book of Revelation, and many other New Testament books were written. There is strong evidence to suggest that the earliest layers of it may have seen their origin during the time of the Jerusalem Council (around 50 AD). This would have it playing a role in the early church’s controversy surrounding salvation of the Gentiles (Acts 15). If this is the case, then the Didache could have been a collaborative work of some council members as a proposed draft for the letter finally sent out (Acts 15:22-29). This seems to be supported by the key points made in Chapters 1-6, which elaborate on the more simplified points that were made in the final letter. Some instruction (4:8, 6:3, 8:8) also appears to overlap with events in early chapters of Acts, and there is also some terminology used in tandem with events unraveling during the time of Acts, such as your servant, Jesus (9:3, 9:5, 10:3), and one use of the term Christian (12:4), although this is often used to give the Didache a much later dating by some.
More interesting are the clues that the author (or authors) of the Didache were close to either Jesus, or possibly the understudy of an apostle. The author clearly shares in Jesus’ opinion of the Pharisees as hypocrites (8:1), and is confident in their authority to call any other teachings perverse (11:2). The author also had somewhat intimate knowledge of either the Gospel of Matthew, or “Q”, due to the overwhelming number of resemblances to Matthew, and makes reference to what appears to be the feeding of the 5,000 (9:7). To merely be able to read and write during this time period puts the author(s) in the light of being well-educated, but to posess a copy of the Gospel of Matthew in a time when its circulation was very limited adds to the implied authority and sicnerity of the document.
There has been a strong need for a clean, unindoctrinated translation and a more modern interpretation. Because most evangelicals have predispositions against non-canonical writings, the Didache has formerly been found only in academic and liturgical settings. This seems strange to me, as these same evangelicals will rush to the Christian bookstore to buy the latest self-help book, yet who better to give advice on Christian living than first century Christians? These were clearly well-educated people, as they could read and write, close to either Jesus or the apostles, and had authority to address the churches (otherwise, it wouldn’t have ended up in the Jerusalem Codex or quoted by so many church fathers). So it is not unreasonable to suggest that these early writings should be given at least as much, if not considerably more credibility than the latest purpose driven something or other.
I present a clean, flowing translation in PDF format below, along with all the study notes and cross-references anybody should need to understand this document thoroughly. If the Didache has any scriptural value at all, one shouldn’t have to ascribe to the Catholic persuasion in order to receive it; therefore balancing the neutrality of doctrine was one of my goals in this new translation. On first read, the beauty and spirit of this teaching should be apparent. The Didache is, at the very least, a great Christian work of literary beauty that should be enjoyed by every believer.