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The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E.

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"The works by Milavec have revolutionized my own understanding of the Didache and I recommend them as the best introduction to a new and more profitable way of studying the document."  -- John Dominic Crossan

“Aaron Milavec’s new work is a groundbreaking study of the origins, the meaning, and the use of the Didache, not only in the earliest Jewish-Christian communities, but even for today’s Church.  Milavec’s application of the lessons of the Didache—its ecclesiology, political theology, and spirituality—to our own day is completely original.”  -- Dennis D. McManus (Georgetown University & Managing Editor, Ancient Christian Writers)


The object of this commentary is to reconstruct the pastoral genius of the framers of the Didache.  This pastoral genius consisted in establishing a comprehensive, step-by-step program of formation that would transform the settled habits of perceiving and of judging of non-Jewish candidates seeking perfection in their new religious movement.  Throughout, the framers of the Didache gave detailed norms and practical descriptions of what was to be done.  Behind these particulars, however, lie the concerns and the anxieties, the experience and the successes of senior mentors who, over a period of time, worked with candidates and fashioned a training program which transmitted, in measured and gradual steps, the operative values and theological underpinnings which knit together their individual and collective lives.  Undoubtedly the framers of the Didache were well aware that any community that did not effectively pass on its values, its rites, its way of life would flounder and eventually perish from the face of the earth.  Thus, while the Didache focuses upon the transformation of an outsider into an insider, at every point one learns much more of the insiders themselves‑-what they cherished, what they expected of themselves, and what they expected of God. 


  • The analytic, Greek-English, gender-inclusive translation enables one to glimpse the internal logic and progression of topics upon first reading.  Women's voices and women's issues surface throughout.
  • The introductory material allows the user to become aware of how recent developments have opened the way to rediscovering the compositional unity and the early dating of the Didache.  An origination hypothesis is developed and tested.                
  • The commentary combines literary criticism and sociological analysis in order to reconstruct the faith and hope, the discipline and rituals, the anxieties and challenges facing the communities presupposed by the Didache.  The roles played by women, prophets, and slaves receive their due sociological and theological weight.

  • Over three hundred specialized discussions in boxes enable the non-expert to become acquainted with the social, religious, and political dimensions of the first-century environment while the expert finds conflicting scholarly concerns addressed without impeding the smooth flow of the commentary.
  • Flow charts give a bird's eye view of the progression of events (a) within the Didache as a whole, (b) during the training prior to baptism, and (c) during the End Times.


    Aaron Milavec holds a doctorate in Systematic and Historical Theology, with a concentration in New Testament Studies, from the Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley, CA).  He has been a seminary and university professor for twenty-five years, and currently serves as Chair of the new program unit of the Society of Biblical Literature: “The Didache in Context.”


           In the course of the last sixteen years, my ideas regarding the Didache have changed many times.  During this period, three discoveries have emerged that have guided my studies:

    1.      Unity of the Didache -- Up to this point, a unified reading of the Didache has been impossible because the prevailing assumption has been that the Didache was created in stages with the compiler splicing together pre-existing documents with only a minimum of editing.  The end result, therefore, was a complex (or even a haphazard) collage that joined together bits and pieces of traditional material coming from unidentified communities and unknown authors.  Thanks to the impact of Jacob Neusner during our 1988 summer seminar on "Religious Systems," I have slowly come to the conviction that the Didache has a marvelous unity that, up to this point, has largely gone unnoticed. 

    2.       Independence of the Didache from the Gospels -- The Didache has been widely understood as citing either Matthew's Gospel or some combination of the Matthean or Lucan traditions.  From this vantage point, it followed that the date of composition had to be set beyond the 80s and that the Synoptic material could be used to help interpret and understand the Didache.  Thanks to my work with Willy Rordorf during the summers of 1990 and 1992, I came to an early appreciation of the possibility that the Didache might have been created without any dependence upon any known gospel.  My extensive study of this issue demonstrates that the internal logic, theological orientation, and pastoral practice of the Didache runs decisively counter to what one finds within the received gospels.  The repercussions of this conclusion are enormous: (a) I am encouraged to return to a mid-first century dating for the Didache, and (b) I am prohibited from using Matthew's Gospel by way of clarifying the intent of the Didache.

    3.      The Didache's Oral Character -- Given the manifest clues of orality within the Didache itself, one can be quite certain that it was originally composed orally and that it circulated on the lips of the members of this community for many years before any occasion arose that called for a scribe to prepare a textual version.  The Didache was created in a culture of high residual orality wherein “oral sources” attached to respected persons were routinely given greater weight and were immeasurably more serviceable than "written sources".  Furthermore, recent studies have demonstrated that oral repetition has a measure of socially maintained stability but not the frozen rigidity of a written text.  As such, any methodology circumscribed by the bias of textuality and ignorant of orality can no longer be relied upon to explain the origin, the internal structures, and the use of the Didache.