The Didache and its Relevance for Understanding the Gospel of Matthew

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In this article, Professor Huub van de Sandt introduces readers to the fascinating treatise called the Didache, and discusses how this early Christian document, which was based on an earlier Jewish source, helps us understand the Gospel of Matthew.

The image featured above, intended to symbolize the Two Ways of Life and Death, which are of central importance to the Didache, was photographed by Imen Bouhajja in Ghar Elmelh, Tunisia (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

1. The Didache

A portrait of Philotheos Bryennios found opposite the title page of Philip Schaff’s The Oldest Church Manual Called The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (1885). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1873, Philotheos Bryennios, the metropolitan of Serres (Serrae) in Macedonia, discovered a Greek parchment manuscript in the monastery of the Holy Sepulchre in Constantinople. The document contained several early Christian writings, including the text of the famous Didache. Bryennios edited the treatise in 1883. In 1887, the manuscript was transferred to the Greek patriarchate in Jerusalem where it is still preserved today as Hierosolymitanus 54. In the colophon of the manuscript (folium 120, front side) the name of the scribe and the date are preserved. “Leon the scribe and sinner” was the one who produced this codex, which he completed on Tuesday, 11 June 1056.

The ancient textual basis of the eleventh-century minuscule copied by Leon should be narrowed down to its central part only (fol. 39front-80back). The source of this text, extending from the Letter of Barnabas to the end of the Didache, may have originated in the patristic period.[1] In this article, the text of the Didache (fol. 76front-80back) is studied in isolation from the other works contained in the Jerusalem Manuscript. Of course, there are also a few smaller and fractional witnesses to the text of the Didache. For the establishment of the text of the Didache, however, the bearing of these fragments is meagre.

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  • [1] Huub van de Sandt and David Flusser, The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity, (Compendia rerum iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum 3/5; Assen: Van Gorcum-Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), 16-24.

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  3. JP Staff Writer
    1. Huub van de Sandt Post
  4. Huub van de Sandt Post

    Section 3 (General Conclusions) contains an error in the 4th paragraph: the title “Twelve Patriarchs” (italics) should be replaced by “Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs” (italics).
    Huub v d S.

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  • Huub van de Sandt

    Huub van de Sandt

    Huub van de Sandt of Tilburg University in the Netherlands is a professor of New Testament Studies. Two important foci of his research are the Didache and its place in early Christianity, especially in relation to the Gospel of Matthew, and the use of the…
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