Nascent Messianic Judaism and its Gentile Adherents According to the Didache


Over two centuries ago, “a group of forty-one Jewish Christians met together in Jews’ Chapel in Spitalfields, London, to constitute themselves an association called ‘Bnei Avraham’ (Sons of Abraham).”1 As they met, the French Revolution was a recent memory and Napoleon Bonaparte was the emperor of France. Napoleon had conquered much of continental Europe and in the wake of his successes France had liberated the Jewish people from the ghettoes to which many had been confined. A significant number were converting to Christianity. As Bnei Avraham became an association on that day (9 September 1813), Jewish-Christians in London brought to relevance an issue of Jewish-Gentile relationships that persists in the Messianic Jewish world today. Since they were bringing into being a distinctly Jewish body, the question could be asked: Is there any valid distinction to be made between Jew and Gentile in the Church?

In that day, the history of “Jewish Christianity” (as scholars continue to call the Messianic Jewish Movement of the first centuries) was virtually unknown and unexplored. Ferdinand Christian Bauer had yet to write his famous article that claimed Paul and Peter represented an opposition between Gentile (Pauline) and Jewish (Petrine) Christianity, setting up a false dichotomy that remains popular and prevalent to this day, and has distorted the study of the first-century Jesus movement. As a result of more recent reevaluations, many scholars are in the midst of a course correction as Jewish Christianity and Gentile Christianity are less likely to be viewed as opposed to one another.2

In related study of Jewish Christianity, there has been an accelerating reclamation of the “Jewishness of Jesus,” so much so that it would be futile to try and list the recent studies on this subject.3 More recently the reclamation of the Jewishness of Paul has been gaining momentum. First in the “New Perspective on Paul” and more recently and thoroughly the “Paul within Judaism” schools.4 “Social-scientific” studies provide yet another avenue for reimagining the milieu of early Christians. While these developments are welcome, at least one other avenue of research remains to be reconceptualized, and that is the extra-canonical literature of the “Apostolic Fathers” and to a lesser degree the “Ante-Nicene Fathers.” While great effort has been expended in understanding the Jewish elements within these writings, there has yet to be any revolution similar to those brought about in Pauline, Jesus, and social-scientific studies.

The Apostolic Fathers, a collection of writings from the first two centuries, has traditionally been kept in a collection of its own. Among these writings is the Didache, which entitles itself The Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles. This first-century manual was not included in collections of the Apostolic Fathers until the 20th century. While scholars knew of it, it was a lost book. Fortunately, in 1873, a Greek Orthodox priest called Philotheos Bryennios found a manuscript of the Didache inside a small codex (book) in the library of the “Jerusalem Monastery of the Most Holy Sepulcher” in Istanbul. In this codex were a number of other ancient Christian writings that had been transcribed into it by “Leon, Scribe and Sinner” as he put it, in the year 1056 CE.

We owe a debt to Leon. Without his transcription of what seems to have been an incomplete copy of the Didache with the end torn off, we would not have the treasure that we have today. To be sure, much of what it contains can be found in other partial copies and later church documents and quotations, but here, without the later editing, the “Teaching of the Apostles” shines as a whole and unobstructed.

The Didache tells us of a day when Jewish disciples of Yeshua — the nascent Messianic Jewish movement — stood tall and proud, spoke with self-assurance and authority, and provided direction for at least some of the growing “Gentile mission.” Whereas even today many Messianic Jews are careful to frame their theological positions with a wary eye on the majority church and its concerns, the Didache speaks of a day when the rapidly growing church still looked to its Jewish leadership for direction.

In 1813 the situation was reversed, and Jewish believers in Jesus were beholden to the now established “majority” church. The inauguration of Bnei Avraham in 1813 was as revolutionary as any subsequent development in Hebrew Christianity or Messianic Judaism, coming as it did as a bold first step almost a millennium since the last signs of Nascent Messianic Judaism in Syrian Judeo-Christianity.5 They dared by their very association together — an exclusive one for Jews only, according to the historian Hugh Schonfield — to say “yes, but.” This after almost two millennia during which much of Christianity required any Jew who dared identify himself with Messiah Yeshua to completely disassociate himself from any Jewish associations, and in fact often to curse his own people. The very existence of Bnei Avraham as a community raised questions long put to rest by the church as to what the relationship of its Jews and Gentiles should be.

The Didache bears directly on this question. In its orientation it bears throughout the marks of an entirely Jewish composition. While redacted from various source materials with different origins, its Jewish nature is evident throughout. Secondly, in that context its Jewish authors’ presuppositions regarding the relevance of the Torah and its applicability to Jews and Gentiles can be seen. In addition, the evidence demonstrates respectful unity between the distinct parties. In this, the Didache provides perspectives for 21st century questions regarding Jews and Gentiles.

An Intra Muros Teaching

When the Didache was first published, its initial reception was as a Jewish document,6 but within 20 years that assessment was subject to widespread skepticism. Particularly in the English-speaking world, scholars argued that it was in fact a forgery based on the last chapters of Barnabas, a post-Apostolic writing that is usually dated to the mid-second century.7 Others, somewhat more kindly, considered it a “riddle.”8

Despite the early skepticism, the general consensus today is that the Didache is an intra muros “within the city walls” document written for those within the same milieu as the writers themselves, that of a widespread Jesus-movement highly influenced by its founding Jewish leadership. Among the characteristics of the Didache that substantiate this view are its literary affinity to the Serek, its adaptation of the birkat hamazon (blessing after meals), its instructions regarding tevilah (immersion), its model for prayer, and its commonalities with Matthew and James.

The Serek

The key to the reassessment of the Didache’s authenticity was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947–1956. One of the first discoveries, in the first cave, was the Serek Appropriately catalogued as scroll 1QS it was the rule of the community, most often presumed to be the community of the Essenes who are believed to have had a major communal center in Qumran, below the caves.

First to be found, it was natural that the Serek, the “Manual of Discipline,” was among the first to become available to scholars. The first person to vindicate the Didache was Jean-Paul Audet, a French-Canadian scholar, in an article called “Literary and Doctrinal Affinities of the Manual of Discipline.”10 While confining his comparisons to only part of the Didache and part of the Serek, Audet’s case was so strong that opinions changed overnight. Old views that the Didache was a spurious document were laid to rest. Following on from this, about 30 years later Jonathan Draper would write a thesis that in the form of a commentary compared every aspect of the Didache to the Dead Sea Scrolls that had been made available up to that time. Draper concluded that his analysis had “demonstrated that Did. [Didache] is close at all points to Judaism from which the earliest Christian communities emerged. It is unlikely for this reason that Did. was an archaising reconstruction of life in the early Church produced at a late date.”11

Draper’s analysis and conclusion reflected two developments. First, the Didache was increasingly being viewed as an early writing, perhaps as early as shortly after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, and most likely before Barnabas was written. Secondly, the Didache was no forgery. On the contrary, it was infused with Jewish content and had affinities to Jewish writings including the Gospel of Matthew, and addressed themes important for Second Temple Jews. Topically, this can be seen right away in the themes of the Didache’s 16 chapters.

Outline of the Didache

1: Introducing the Two Ways, incorporating Jesus-sayings.

2–4: The Way of Life.

5: The Way of Death.

6: Concluding admonitions.

7: Immersion and its connection to the Didache’s halakhahh.

8: Prayer.

9–10: Blessings for wine, bread, and the Birkat hamazon.

11–13: Hospitality for visiting apostles, prophets, and others.

14: Blessings for bread, wine, and the Birkat hamazon for Zichron Mashiach.

15: Respect for leaders and one another.

16: The eschatological context of Messiah’s return.

The Didache begins with the premise that there are two sharply divergent paths, one leading to life and the other leading to death. This echoes Moses’ admonition to Israel to choose life over death, blessing over the curse (Deut 30:15, 19), an admonition that is echoed by Jeremiah (21:8). Other variations of this metaphor such as light and darkness occur frequently in both the Hebrew Bible and contemporary literature (e.g. Serek 1.9–10; Barn. 18.1), but the specific use of “life” versus “death” closely associates the Didache’s instruction to that of the Moses’ Torah.12

The Serek was a manual for a Jewish religious community bearing notable literary affinities to the Didache. Predating the Didache, it is generally considered to have been created for a group closely associated with sequestering the Dead Sea Scrolls near Qumran. Interestingly, it refers to itself at one point as “the way,” a group led by an Instructor (Serek 9.18). This bears comparison to one of the names of the early Jesus movement in Acts 9:2, led by their messianic Teacher, Yeshua. Whether actually an Essene charter or not, the Serek addresses the issues of how to instruct and induct new members; how they ought to behave; how that standard should be maintained; and how the community should be organized. The Didache also exhibits an eschatological mindset.13

Outline of the Serek

Columns 1-2:

Introduction and initiation


The Two Ways.


Rules of individual conduct.


Punishments for infractions.


Concluding admonitions.


Rules for the Instructor.




Concludes with the eschatological Messianic banquet.

This is a broad-brush approach to outlining the content of each work, intended to show that the two documents follow the same pattern. Both begin with an introduction and a Two Ways teaching. In both cases the Two Ways teaching involves numerous prohibitions. In both there is a subsequent stress on the inductee’s commitment to the teaching, whether by immersion or by further prohibitions and punishments. Both documents then move to topics pertinent to the affairs of the community, including instructions regarding prayer. Both then conclude with an eschatological flair. The Didache does this with a depiction of Messiah’s return similar to Matthew 24, and the Serek in 1QSa (a separately catalogued fragment) with the image of the community banqueting in the presence of the Messiah.14

That the two documents share a common approach should not be surprising, as each was written within the context of both the Greco-Roman world and more closely, the world of Second Temple Judaism. While there is not enough data to conclude the Didache was redacted with the model of the Serek in mind, their similarities do point to a connection. As far as other examples of Two Ways teaching such as Barnabas, we can presume a similar source that as Audet said 70 years ago, “must have been in circulation in Syria-Palestine from the first half of the first century of our era.”15 It was, manifestly, a guide for a specific religious community.16


It is not in the broad approach of the Didache alone, but in its particulars that the intra muros nature of its instruction is made clear. The first and most definitive of these is in its instructions regarding the tevilah (immersion) of new members — in particular those who subscribed to the Didache’s previous instructions. The Didache teaches as follows:

Now about immersion, thus you shall immerse. All the preceding having been said, you shall immerse in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you do not have living water, immerse in other water. And if you are not able to do so in cold, then in warm water. But if you do not have either, pour out on the head three times in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.17

These instructions place a priority upon the necessity of the immersion rather than its form.

Regardless of its purpose, in Jewish understanding immersion required an appropriate attitude of heart. Without that, the immersion would be without meaning. We know this in part from the immersion of John the Immerser, which was not primarily a purification rite, although it was done in accordance with Jewish custom — with a witness and in “living” water.18 Contemporaries such as Philo were of the same mind. Philo, referring to the festivals of the Greeks and barbarians in Cher. 95 decried their practices, for “they cleanse their bodies with lustrations (λοθτρος) and purifications (καθαρσίοις), but they neither wash nor practise to wash off from their souls the passions by which life is defiled.” The same connection is made in Unchangeable 8, where Philo found it absurd that people would “cleanse their bodies but not their hearts.”19

In the context of a conversionary rite, the immersion and cleansing of the heart also required the convert to accept the yoke of the Torah. In terms of conversion at this time, immersion was in some ways less essential than circumcision (and thus functionally egalitarian). “If a proselyte has been circumcised but has not yet bathed [he is a proselyte]; if he has bathed but not yet been circumcised [he is not yet a proselyte]; everything depends on the circumcision. This is the view of R. Eliezer, but R. ‘Ak.iba said: Also [the lack of] bathing is a bar” (Tractate Gerim 1.6). This would seem to suggest that the Didache was not envisaging conversion to Judaism.

In terms of accepting the yoke of the Torah, however, the opposite argument could be made. Another text, b.Yeb. 47a, specifies that a convert must be “informed of the sin [of neglecting the commandments of] Gleanings, the Forgotten Sheaf, the Corner and the Poor Man’s Tithe.”

Furthermore, he is addressed thus: “Be it known to you that before you came to this condition, if you had eaten suet [i.e. unkosher food] you would not have been punishable with kareth [cutting off from Israel], if you had profaned the Sabbath you would not have been punishable with stoning; but now were you to eat suet you would be punished with kareth; were you to profane the Sabbath you would be punished with stoning.”

This is similar to the Didache’s requirement that the prospective immersee accept its teaching on the Two Ways prior to immersion. As in Judaism generally, the Didache requires acceptance of its rules and teachings.

Here in the Didache, accompanied by the teaching of the Two Ways in the previous chapters, there does seem to be a conversionary immersion but without circumcision. It was not a purification rite, thus also not following the Jewish conversion norm. Therefore, when living water — whether a Mikvah or a body of water such as a lake or stream — was not available, one could use cold water or even warm water, implying immersion in a bath house. Even more interesting is the option of pouring water thrice over the convert, implying that perhaps the immersion in living water was also three-fold. If the custom was the same in the first century as now, the presumption that immersion should be done three times is telling, since that is the number of times required for a mikveh. Nevertheless, it remains clear that the Didache’s immersion is not for the sake of ritual purity.

The Didache shows a specific adaptation of the Jewish rite, which even for conversion to Judaism is a rite of purification. Here, while abandoning the physical aspect of ritual purity, the Didache infuses the rite with theological import. Each immersion was to be done in one of the names: Father, Son, and Spirit. This reflects a practice of the early church that commends itself to us in some respects. As Philip Schaff wrote,

Tertullian [c. 160–220] represents it as a matter of indifference whether Baptism take place in the sea, or in a lake, or a river, or in standing water, but he insists on trine immersion. This was the universal practice of the ancient Church, and is still continued in the East. It was deemed essential with reference to the Holy Trinity. Single immersion was considered heretical or incomplete, and is forbidden by the Apostolical Canons.20

Once again, this divergence from Jewish practice shows that the early Church did not consider immersion to be a cleansing ritual, other than in a spiritual sense. Conversion in Judaism required a ritual cleansing. For conversion to Christianity, the rules that necessitated living water did not apply. This corroborates the impression that the redactor(s) of the Didache did not imagine that converts were becoming Jews. The rite was being prescribed according to Jewish custom but not Jewish law. It kept the convert within the orbit of Judaism but did not make the convert Jewish.

Fasting and Prayer

That the Didache spoke from and within the cultural world of Judaism is further evident from its instructions regarding fasting and prayer. Two prayer practices stand out in the Didache. The first is fasting on day four and day six (Wednesday and Friday) instead of day two and day five (Monday and Thursday) as was the custom of the “hypocrites” (Did. 8.1), who are presumably religious members of the Jewish community, perhaps the same oft-mentioned hypocrites of Matthew’s Gospel. Why did the Didache require a change? From this the reader can infer two things. First, twice-weekly fasting ensured a level of continuity with Jewish tradition, and presumably commonality with the converts’ Jewish neighbors. Secondly, the striking discontinuity would have made it impossible for the convert to keep his or her fast with them. In other words, it seems that the converts and communities the Didache addressed were within the orbit of the Jewish community but were nevertheless a distinct group.

This, however, did not prevent the writer from commanding the Jewish practice of prayer three times a day, without a doubt Shacharit, Mincha, and Maariv (Did. 8.3).21 In this second aspect as well the Didache’s commands are both consonant and dissonant with general Jewish practice. They are not to “pray like the hypocrites, but as the Lord called you to in his gospel” (Did. 8.2). Subsequently and following the same wordage as Matthew, the Didache then teaches its disciples to use the Lord’s Prayer.22 Whereas there is nothing in this prayer that runs counter to Judaism, it is specifically to be used instead of the traditional prayers as a mark of distinction. So far, then, the Didache accords well with the testimony of Acts, in which the Nazarenes are described as a “sect” (Acts 24:5; 28:22), just as the Sadducees and Pharisees are described (5:17; 15:5; 26:5). As with the practice of immersion, the Didache is in both continuity and discontinuity with Jewish custom. Where there is discontinuity, it is in such a manner as to maintain the Gentile convert’s distinct identity.

Birkat Hamazon

The instruction of the Didache progresses step by step from instruction of the individual to that of the community. Beginning with teachings for the disciple on the ways of life and death, the Didache proceeds to the practice of immersion, which also involves the community to some degree. Following, it addresses practices of prayer which can be both individual and communal, and then proceeds to address the decidedly communal practice of common meals.

The Didache discusses blessings for meals in two passages, Did. 9–10 and 14. Partly (or mainly) because in both passages the word thanksgiving, or eucharist, is used, past scholars have more often than not looked at both passages as teaching about the Eucharist, the Christian remembrance of Messiah. Yet, while the two passages have much in common, they also contrast sharply. Those who hold that both passages teach regarding the Eucharist are both minimizing the differences between the two, and minimizing the sophistication of the redactor. It seems unlikely that in such a short book the redactor would treat the same topic twice. The more logical position to hold is that while the first (Did. 9–10) is discussing a regular communal meal, the second (Did. 14) is not. Johannes Betz writes of the second meal: “Here it is beyond doubt a matter of the sacramental Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s day, which is introduced by a confession of sins. It is described as a ‘pure sacrifice’ and as the salvation historical fulfillment of Malachi 1:11, 14.”23

This leaves the first teaching, in Did. 9–10, and it is this that we focus on here, the regular communal meal. Here the Father is first blessed for the wine (Did. 9.2), then the bread (9.3), prior to the meal. In these blessings, instead of the more familiar hagafen and hamotzi, the blessing is to the one who has “made known . . . Jesus your servant.” While this is not an Eucharist as in Did. 14, Messiah is clearly remembered at this meal. As Toby Janicki observes in his commentary, the “believers would have found it completely natural to remember Messiah every time they broke bread and drank wine in the context of a community meal.”24 In the context of a book that is named after the fashion of Acts 2:42 “The Teaching of the Apostles,” and Acts’ description of the early believing community as eating bread “from house to house,” that is the most natural explanation. Then as now, community meals began, as per Jewish custom, with a blessing of the Lord God, who is twice addressed as “Father” in contradistinction to “Jesus” the Son.

Following the meal, Did. 10 gives a “Messianic” blessing after meals. Like the blessings before the meal, it begins with the same formula thanking the Father for that “which you made known to us through Jesus your Servant.” As in the first blessing of Birkat hamazon, God the Creator is blessed in Did. 10.3. Then, following the line of development in the birkat, the blessing ends with a spiritual thanksgiving not for deliverance from Egypt, as would be applicable only to Jews, but for eternal life, which is applicable for both Jews and Gentiles. Just as the third blessing has a messianic bent and makes petitions, so Did. 10.5 proceeds to make petitions for the church (ἐκκλησία) and the Kingdom. As the birkat’s fourth blessing concludes with praise, so does the Didache’s conclusion in 10.6. In other words, the Didache’s

blessings follow the same lines of development, and often with similar phraseology, as Birkat hamazon.25

The Didache’s birkat shows particular sensitivity to its Gentile readership. Gone are any references to the Promised Land as the basis for God’s provision. Instead, in a more general sense there is reference to the “food and drink you have given to men.” Instead of a focus on the regathering of Israel to the Land for the messianic kingdom of David, there is a call for gathering of the church from the “four winds” (Zech 2:10; Matt 24:31). Once again, as in its instructions regarding immersion, as well as fasting and prayer, the Didache instructs continuity and also discontinuity with Jewish custom, in such a manner that the distinctiveness of the community addressed is maintained.

The Didache and the Torah

Having at least partly established that the Didache did not seek to unnecessarily impose Jewish customs on Gentile converts, a subsequent question emerges. What did it view as incumbent upon the nations? What was required of Gentiles who were becoming part of the community? One key answer proceeds from the phrase “the preceding having been said” in the instructions for immersion in Did. 7.1. This preceding matter is the Two Ways teaching of Did. 1–6, the way of life versus the way of death.

The Two Ways

Towards the end of his life, Moses summarized the Torah. Placing it before the children of Israel, he exhorted them to choose which way they would go (Deut 30:15). Other Hebrew scriptures such as Josh 24:15, Jer 21:8, Ps 1, and more follow a similar theme. As seen in the earlier discussion on the Serek, it is no surprise that the theme of the “two ways” should appear in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The first five chapters of the Didache are concerned with the “two ways” that confront every person. “There are two ways; one of life and one of death, and great is the difference between the two ways,” the reader is told (Did. 1.1). The reader of the New Testament will immediately recognize the source of the next words. “The way of life then is this. First, love God who made you; second your neighbour as yourself” (1.2). These are the words similar to those of Jesus himself (Matt 22:39). In this way the Didache begins with Torah — the Law of Moses — and also with Yeshua’s reaffirmation of it. This reaffirmation was in accord with Jewish teaching that would later link loving one’s neighbor to the fact that we are made in God’s likeness.26

The connection between the Torah and the Way of Life is close and dynamic. From its first words the Didache makes its precepts clear (Did. 2.2):

• Do not murder

• Do not commit adultery

• Do not corrupt boys

• Do not engage in sexual immorality

• Do not steal

• Do not practice magic

• Do not use potions

• Do not murder an unborn child in the womb or kill a newborn.

The commands from the second table of the Decalogue are immediately recognizable. These commands are from the first list, but typical of the entire Two Ways section of the Didache. There are other commands as well, some that are not explicit in the Torah but which proceed from it. This is Torah interpreted and mediated for an audience who need not only Torah but a halakhahh, directions on how to live, on which way they should go. This is the Way of Life taught in a particular way to benefit Gentiles from a pagan background who are entering a new state in relationship to God and a new form of peoplehood. The vices that the Didache prohibits are often vices seen as particularly afflicting Greeks rather than Jews. The reader is going to invite his disciples to transcend that pagan identity. Therefore, while the disciple is addressed as a Gentile in the title and elsewhere in the Didache, he is also told not to be “like the Gentiles” (1.3).27 While not Jews, Gentiles on the Way of Life are also not typical Gentiles but are distinctive. According to the Didache, this identity presupposes the observance of specific stipulations both specified in the Decalogue and arising from it.

The disciples are taught using a traditionally Jewish form enlivened by the words of the Messiah, which are interpolated into the mix. They are not to abandon the commandments of the Lord (4.13); they are to avoid unlawful deeds (4.14); and like Israel in the wilderness, if they live this way they will be “perfect” (1.4; 6.2). Throughout the “two ways” section of the Didache the author does exactly what you would expect of a devout Second-Temple period Jew. He teaches righteousness, and knows of no other standard of righteousness than the Torah.

As seen, in employing the Decalogue as the standard of righteousness, the Didache applies specific, limited aspects of it to the reader, yet at the same time adds numerous prohibitions that function as halakhahh. Remarkably, there is a notable leniency in how these precepts are imposed. Thus, the Didache states, “if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able, do that which you are able” (Did. 6.2). In this respect the Didache’s instructions are aspirational and forgiving. What is of preeminent importance is the worship of the one true God, creator of heaven and earth, and love for one’s neighbor (1.2). Therefore, special care must be taken not to involve oneself in anything that smacks of idolatry or participation in the worship of false gods (3.4; 6.3). Idolatry is to be shunned, or even anything that leads to it (3.4). Food sacrificed to false gods must especially be avoided as it is a “service to dead gods” (6.3).

The Second Table

While it is common for scholars to recognize a relationship with the Decalogue, not enough attention has been paid to the implications of the structure of the Didache’s Two Ways section and the way in which that structure reinforces the Didache’s dependence on the Decalogue. Niederwimmer’s commentary is representative, as regarding Did. 2.1ff he simply notes, “If necessary, one may further acknowledge the second table of the Decalogue as furnishing the basic structure for the whole.” While acknowledging the way the Decalogue carries through the Two Ways material, he states that “The catalog of vices in 5.1–2 is (not in form but certainly in content) a doublet of this one.”28 In other words, Niederwimmer’s approach seems to minimize the role of the Decalogue in the Didache’s Two Ways.

The Decalogue’s key role is undeniable however, particularly in the Two Ways section’s three lists. The Way of Life is described twice, and then (as Niederwimmer noted above) following the same pattern, the Way of Death is described once more. The Two Ways of the Didache are not simply a way of making the Torah out to be an ethical code, nor a mere adaptation of the Torah. Something else is at play. Remarkably, the first table is not addressed at all in this triple repetition. Some of these commands are alluded to in the Two Ways material and elsewhere in the Didache, but their relevance for the Gentile convert is not systematically treated.

For the reader today, the Didache’s distinct and purposeful structure provides insight into the redactor’s reception of the Torah. This structure has been acknowledged and recently surveyed at length in Shawn Wilhite’s dissertation on apocalypticism in the Didache’s Two Ways.29 Wilhite’s summary pays particular attention to the framework of the Two Ways, with the introduction to the Way of Life in 1.2a and its conclusion in 4.14c, then the introduction to the Way of Death in 5.1a and its conclusion in 5.2b.30 This overall framework provides an entrée to the yet more intricate structure within the Two Ways. For our purposes, such a careful structure directs attention not so much to the means by which it might have been refined — through oral repetition or careful redaction — but to the authorial intent in its redaction.

Within this overall framework, the Two Ways section of the Didache exhibits a tripartite form, marked by the orderly repetition of prohibitions from the second table of the Decalogue, evidencing a consistent underlying structure based upon it. A summary of the commands in the tripartite Two Ways section, compared to those of the LXX for Exod 20:13–17, is given in the following chart to further illustrate the Decalogue’s place in the Two Ways instruction. These commands, specifically from the second table of the Torah, are shown in each of the Didache’s three lists in the order that they occur, minus intervening commands (or halakhot) that are not found in the Decalogue.

As seen above, in all three lists, Did. 2, 3, and 5, the commandments regarding murder (φόνος), adultery (μοιχεία), and theft (κλοπή) are presented in the same sequential order (albeit with intervening commands in Did. 3 and 5), and in the order of the original Hebrew text as represented by the extant Masoretic Text (MT). In contrast, the Septuagint (LXX) records the order as μοιχεία, φόνος and then κλοπή. The natural implication is that the Didachist may have been more familiar with the Hebrew version than the Greek. This brings to mind Draper’s assertion that the variation of order in the Didache’s five prohibitions is in fact due to the difference between the Hebrew and Greek Decalogue.32 The picture is somewhat more complex, however, for as the Didache’s lists uniformly follow the Hebrew text for the first three commands it then uniformly reverses the order of both the Hebrew and the Greek for the final two, making coveting (ἐπιθυμία) precede false witness (ψευδομαρτυρία) each time.

The apparent order in the Didache’s lists, where the first three commands of the Decalogue as attested to in the MT never go out of sequence, even though the final two are reversed and interspersed between them, is intriguing. This is all the more so, for as Gerald Lanier’s comprehensive tabulation of the Decalogue in other ancient versions and citations demonstrates, the first three commands frequently occur in various sequences, but the other seven (the five of the first table and the final two) do not.33 The final two commands, as noted in the case of ἐπιθυμία, disrupt the order, and in doing so are independent of both the Hebrew MT and LXX. The consistent order of the first three commands therefore suggests that the redactor is most comfortable with the order of the Hebrew text and has followed it. Even though other commands intervene in Did. 3 and 5, the order of the first three does not deviate.

In terms of the Decalogue’s use in the New Testament, Ulrich Schmid writes that such passages “had been taught, recited and probably memorised. Therefore, most certainly they involve issues of orality.”34 On this point, it is apparent that since it is arguable that the Didache is fundamentally an oral production that was later committed to writing, rather than a literary production that formed the basis for oral instruction, its relationship to the established Hebrew order of Exod 20:13–17 and Deut 5:17–19 is quite probable.

In other words, as Kloppenborg points out,35 following on from Jefford,36 the Didache follows the Masoretic Text. What needs to be noted is that, like Matthew and Mark, it has done so instead of following the LXX, which makes adultery the sixth command preceding murder, suggesting the Didache’s affinity to the Hebrew source.37 There is yet a further reason to believe that the established text the Didachist had in mind was the Hebrew rather than that of the LXX.38 The Hebrew text has mnemonic features that make it easy to memorize. In the Hebrew Decalogue the phonetic similarity between לא תנאף and לא תגנב, both with a lingual (נ) and ending in a labial (פ and ב) would have been a natural mnemonic aid. On the other hand, if the Didachist were working with the text of the LXX foremost in his mind, there would have been no such aural sequence to help keep the commands in order.

In summary, all three lists in the Two Ways include all five commands of the second table of the Decalogue. This indicates distinct and purposeful intent. The omission of the first table of commands in this repetition, commands which to a greater or lesser degree are based in God’s relationship with the people of Israel, is striking. While the lists vary somewhat in the order in which they replicate the commands in the second table, there is a discernible inner consistency and structure. In conjunction with the permanent order of the first three commands of the second table of the Law, the final two are variously placed among them, but never displacing the first, φόνος. These two, despite their varying placement in the lists, are consistently in the same order. In all three lists, none of the five are omitted. This careful and consistent adaptation of the second table of the Decalogue demonstrates the Didache’s concern to emphasize it and use it as the basis of its instruction, and in conjunction with that, to particularly emphasize the prohibition against desire, or coveting.


The Didache demonstrates a consistent concern for the instruction of the Gentile convert who may not have a clear understanding of Torah-based morality. In its affinity to the Serek, its instructions regarding immersion, fasting and prayer, and blessings before and after meals, the Didache accords with the witness of Luke as to the consensus the early church reached regarding Gentiles.39 Similarly while maintaining and often reinterpreting Jewish customs for the Gentile, the Didache also sometimes discourages the adoption of others. Seemingly this is to maintain distinctiveness from the Jewish community.

The Didache is by definition a document of inclusion. Composed somewhat after the pattern of the Serek, the charter of a Jewish, presumably Essene, society, it established norms: Norms for induction of individuals into the community via an immersion signifying acceptance of its rules and theology; norms for prayer and fasting, and for thanksgiving at communal meals. Constructing its moral instructions closely after the pattern of the commandments in the second table of the Decalogue, it underscored both the gravity of those commands and also their somewhat aspirational nature. Written for an intra-muros community that was within the orbit of the Jewish world, it provided an affirmation of the Gentile disciple’s place and obligations vis-à-vis the Torah.

The potential for blurring the lines between Jew and Gentile was a point of contention in the first century that speaks to the internal Jewish conflict (reflected in Acts 21–24) centering on the incendiary idea that Paul and those like him were bringing Gentiles into the Temple. In that light, while not addressed in this paper, the Didache’s omission of any command concerning circumcision, kashrut, purifications, Jewish feasts, the Sabbath, and other identity markers peculiar to the Jewish people is far from coincidental. Against the background of a consistent adaptation rather than imposition of Jewish customs upon the Gentile convert, the Didache reflects the thrust of the apostolic decree in Acts 15.

Daniel Nessim, a third-generation Jewish believer in Yeshua, lives in the Seattle area with his wife Deborah, and leads Kehillath Tsion in Vancouver, British Columbia. Daniel completed his PhD in Theology and Religion at England’s University of Exeter, and is the author of Torah for Gentiles? What the Jewish Authors of the Didache Had to Say. He can be reached at

1 Hugh Schonfield, The History of Jewish Christianity (London: Duckworth, 1936), 219.

2 Matt Jackson-McCabe, Jewish Christianity: The Making of the Christianity-Judaism Divide (New Haven: Yale, 2020). McCabe provides an extensive history and theological analysis of this conception. Baur’s original article has been translated and republished as “The Christ Party in the Corinthian Community,” Early Christianity and Its Literature, ed. David Lincicum (Atlanta: SBL, 2021).

3 Popular works by renowned scholars include Daniel Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ (New York: New Press, 2012); Phillip Sigal, The Halakhah of Jesus of Nazareth According to the Gospel of Matthew, Revised ed., Studies in Biblical Literature (Atlanta: SBL, 2007).

4 Many see E.P. Sanders as the first major scholar in this field with his study Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977). A representative work was recently published by Paula Fredriksen, When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018).

5 Patricia Crone, “Islam, Judeo-Christianity and Byzantine Iconoclasm,” From Kavād to al-Ghazālī: Religion, Law and Political Thought in the Near East, c.600-c.1100 (London: Routledge, 2004), 74.

6 This is represented by the work of Adolf von Harnack and Oscar von Gebhardt, Die Lehre der zwölf Apostel : nebst Untersuchungen zur ältesten Geschichte der Kirchenverfassung und des Kirchenrechts (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1884).

7 Joseph Armitage Robinson, “The Problem of the Didache,” JTS 51, no. 3 (1912); Barnabas, Hermas and the Didache (London: SPCK, 1920).

8 Frederick Ercolo Vokes, The Riddle of the Didache: Fact of Fiction, Heresy or Catholicism? (London: SPCK, 1938).

9 The Serek is alternatively known as 1QS, 1QRule of the Community, the Community Rule, the Manual of Discipline, or even the Charter of a Jewish Sectarian Association as per The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, (San Francisco: Harper, 2005), 112.

10 Jean-Paul Audet, “Affinités littéraire et doctrinales du «Manuel de discipline»,” RB 59 (1952 1952). Republished in English as Jean-Paul Audet, “Literary and Doctrinal Affinites of the ‘Manual of Discipline’,” The Didache in Modern Research, ed. Jonathan A. Draper, AGJU (Leiden: Brill, 1996).

11 Jonathan A. Draper, “A Commentary on the Didache in the Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Documents” (PhD Dissertation, Cambridge, 1983), 329.

12 A more extended discussion of this is found in my book Torah for Gentiles? What the Jewish Authors of the Didache Had to Say (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2021), 78–88.

13 Did. 8.2; 10.5–6; 14.3; 16.1–8.

14 Matthias Klinghardt has likewise compared the Serek and the Didache, noting that the “existence of … theological legitimation for ordinances in 1QS marks the difference between Jewish-Christian associations on the one hand and pagan ones on the other, but it is certainly not a ‘Qumranic’ particularity. The early Christian statutes (i.e., 1Cor and the Didache) certainly contain ‘religious-moralistic rhetoric’ along with ordinances, and the dualistic teaching about the two ways in Did. 1-6 is clearly similar to the passage about the two spirits in 1QS I11 13-IV 26.” Matthias Klinghardt, “Methods of Investigation of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Khirbet Qumran Site: Present Realities and Future Prospects,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 722, no. 1 (1994): 257.

15 Audet, “Literary and Doctrinal Affinities,” 147.

16 While citing Marinus de Jonge’s position that the Didache’s material “May be Jewish and Christian in a Christian document,” Zangenberg states “With regard to the material presented, it indeed seems beyond doubt that the schema employed in Did. 1.1-6.1 is of Jewish origin.” Jürgen K. Zangenberg, “Reconstructing the Social and Religious Milieu of the Didache: Observations and Possible Results,” Matthew, James, and Didache: Three Related Documents in Their Jewish and Christian Settings, eds. Huub van de Sandt and Jürgen K. Zangenberg, Symposium Series (Atlanta: SBL, 2008), 54–55. Van de Sandt and Flusser agree that “Most scholars agree that the version of the Two Ways in the Didache goes back to an originally Jewish basic model.” The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity (Assen: Royal Van Gorcum, 2002), 49.

17 Did. 7.1–3. Author’s translation.

18 Matt 3:6; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; John 1:26–28.

19 Nessim, Torah for Gentiles?, 212.

20 Philip Schaff, The Oldest Church Manual called the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, 3rd Ed. (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1889), 32.

21 Schaff (126) writes that the Didache imitates “the Jewish hours of prayer,” but it is more reasonable to suppose that the writer knows no other custom.

22 Interestingly, the Didache includes the textually dubious conclusion of Matt 6:13, “For yours is the power and the glory forever.”

23 Johannes Betz, “The Eucharist in the Didache,” The Didache in Modern Research, ed. Jonathan A. Draper, AGJU (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 243–44. The second time thanksgiving is mentioned there are clear indications of distinction. First, the meeting is on the Lord’s Day. This is one of the earliest references to Sunday worship. There is no certainty, but if Samuele Bacchiocchi is correct, this could be a reference to a transition period during which Christians worshiped on Motzei Shabbat, after the workday for slaves, so that slaves could also take part. From Sabbath to Sunday: A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity (Rome: Pontifical Gregorian University, 1976). That alone sets it apart from the blessings in chapters 9 and 10. However, twice, to the delight of some, there is a reference to this thanksgiving being a “pure sacrifice” (41.1, 3). In addition, this is a sacrifice that must not be desecrated by the partaker’s broken relationship with his neighbor, which echoes the Apostle Paul’s warning in 1 Cor 11:27 (CJB), “Therefore, whoever eats the Lord’s bread or drinks the Lord’s cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty of desecrating the body and blood of the Lord!”

24 Toby Janicki, The Way of Life: The Rediscovered Teachings of the Twelve Jewish Apostles to the Gentiles (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2017), Commentary, 341. Whether this tradition was part of the chain of historical development to the Eucharist of Did. 14 and later Christian practice is beyond the scope of this paper, but worth considering.

25 It should be noted that the form is not unique. As Susan Marks notes, “parallels between Roman and other libations and birkat hamazon are truly remarkable.” Yet it is not only the form but the content of the Didache’s birkat hamazon that substantiates its affinity to the then nascent Jewish prayer. “In the Place of Libation: Birkat hamazon Navigates New Ground,” Meals in Early Judaism: Social Formation at the Table, eds. Susan Marks and Hal Taussig (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 71.

26 Audet, “Affinités littéraire et doctrinales,” citing Ber. Rab. 24:7.

27 Thus the disciple is in the world but not of it, as in John 15:19; 17:14. David Horrell provides an informative analysis of identity boundaries in the early church in Ethnicity and Inclusion: Religion, Race, and Whiteness in Constructions of Jewish and Christian Identities (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2020).

28 Kurt Niederwimmer, The Didache: A Commentary, ed. Harold W. Attridge, trans. Linda M. Maloney, Hermeneia — A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), 88–89.

29 Shawn Joseph Wilhite, “‘One of Life and One of Death’: A Critical Assessment of Apocalypticism in the Didache’s Two Ways” (PhD Dissertation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2017), 139–63.

30 Wilhite, 163.

31 BHS = the Masoretic text reproduced in “Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia,” (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft., 1977).

32 Jonathan A. Draper, “Vice Catalogues as Oral-Mnemonic Cues: A Comparative Study of the Two Ways Tradition in the Didache and Parallels from the Perspective of Oral Tradition,” Jesus, the Voice, and the Text, ed. T. Thatcher (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008), 120.

33 Gregory R. Lanier, “Scriptural Inspiration and the Authorial ‘Original’ Amid Textual Complexity: The Sequences of the Murder-Adultery-Steal Commands as a Case Study,” JETS 61, no. 1 (2018): 71 no. 1 (2018)

34 Ulrich Schmid, “Old Testament and New Testament Versions of the Mosaic Law: The Intersection of Oral and Written Tradition,” XIV Congress of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies, Helsinki, 2010, ed. Melvin K. Peters, Septuagint and Cognate Studies (Atlanta: SBL, 2013), 587–88.

35 John S. Kloppenborg, “The Transformation of Moral Exhortation in Didache 1–5,” The Didache in Context: Essays on Its Text, History and Transmission, ed. Clayton N. Jefford, NovTSup (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 100.

36 Clayton N. Jefford, The Sayings of Jesus in the Teachings of the Twelve Apostles, eds. A.F.J. Klijn et al., VCSup, (Leiden: Brill, 1989), 55–56.

37 Contra William Varner “The Didache’s Use of the Old and New Testaments,” The Masters Seminary Journal 16, no. 1 (Spring, 2005 2005): 139–40, this is also true of the two key Hebrew Bible quotations later in the Didache, in Did. 14.3 (Mal 1:11, 14) and Did. 16.7 (Zech 14:5).

38 It is worth noting that the extant MT, of course, post-dates the LXX by the greater part of a millennium.

39 Specifically, Luke portrays Peter, James, and Paul as both affirming the ongoing distinctiveness of Israel and the importance of the expansion of the Messianic Kingdom throughout the world. Acts 3:25–26; 15:13–17; 21:27–29; 24:6, 13–15.