Liturgy and Didache?

What is the Authority of a Non-Canonical and Apocrypha?

Jack P. Oostveen



The Didache [1] is a Non-Canonical document discovered in 1873 as a 1057 copy of an ancient writing. Why was this document, whose author is unknown, copied and then lost for so many centuries? Anyway, the Didache must be considered according to what it is. On the one side it is not a canonical writing and on the other hand its subtitle called it: "The Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations", a kind of catechetical document. This latter is more or less confirmed by the order of the sixteen chapters, divided into three main parts, namely: the first is the "Two Ways", the way of life and the way of death; the second part deals with baptism, fasting, the Eucharist and Holy Communion; the third speaks of ministry.

Its Origin

  1. Apocryphal
    The Didache is mentioned by Eusebius of Caesarea (265-340) [1] after the books of Scripture: "Let there be placed among the spuria the writing of the Acts of Paul, the so-called Shepherd and the Apocalypse of Peter, and besides these the Epistle known as that of Barnabas, and what are called the Teachings of the Apostles, and also . . . the Apocalypse of John, if this be thought fit . . ." [2, #III.25.4]. A list of the books that Eusebius considered as the canonical books. However, on the contrary St. Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373), the opponent of Eusebius regarding the Arianism, did not consider the Didache as belonging to the New Testament Canon [10].
    Finally it is the Council of Rome (382) that after deliberated discussion decided for the definitive list of the Canon of the New Testament without the Didache. Which has been confirmed there after by the Synod of Hippo (393), two Councils of Carthage (397 and 419) [10] as well as the Council of Florence (1431-1449) as an article of Faith and again by the Council of Trent (1545-1563).
    Herewith the Didache has to be considered as a Non-Canonical and Aprocyphal book and therefore it lacks any form of authority.

  2. Dating
    Apparently, while no other specimens have survived the test of time, it is the similarity between the two (sub)titles "Teachings of the Apostles" and "Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations" by which the identity is considered. Therefore, with regard to this identity it should be written before Eusebius.
    Further dating of its origins, which depends fundamentally on human interpretation, generally dates back to the end of the first century. While some date back to the second century, others prefer its origins to be around the middle of the first century. More of less depending on what one wants to prove!
    Because the "Two Ways" also occurs in Barnabas' Epistle (96-98) [3, #XVIII-XX] the date determination mainly concerns the question "who copied who?". If Barnabas copied the "Two Ways" from the Didache, then the Didache must be from before 96-98, but if the Didache copied it from the Epistle of Barnabas then the Didache is from after 96-98. However, because the identity between these documents is sometimes word for word, sometimes added to and dislocated [1], these documents may also have a same source via different routes and thus more uncertainty about the dating. In any case, the determination of its origin is mainly based on Chapter 1 of the Didache, the "Two Ways".

Overviewing the Didache

The Didache firstly taught about the Christian life [1, #I-#V] and a warning against false teachers [1, #VI]. Then continuing, after the lesson on baptism [1, #VII] with fasting and the Lord's Prayer, which should be prayed three times a day [1, #VIII]. Then it continues with prayers of Thanksgiving concerning the Cup and the Broken Bread respectively [1, #IX] , after which it goes on with the Thanksgiving after one has been filled. Then it moves on about the teachers, apostles and prophets. This is mainly about how to recognize false prophets and how to receive and support the true Prophets [1, #XI-#XIII]. After which it continues with the Christian Assembly on the Lord's Day [1, #XIV] with reference to the prophecy of Malachi 1:10 [1, #XIV], the Bishops and Deacons [1, #XV] and the eschatolic expectation of the Coming of the Lord [1, #XVI].

  1. Chapter XIII

    But as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, thus pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, evil); for Yours is the power and the glory forever. Thrice in the day thus pray [1, #VIII].
  2. Chapter IX

    Concerning to the cup: "We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David Your servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory forever" [1, #IX];
    Concerning to the broken bread: "We thank You, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory forever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom; for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever. But let no one eat or drink of your Thanksgiving (Eucharist), but they who have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, Give not that which is holy to the dogs. (Matthew 7:6)" [1, #IX];
  3. Chapter X

    And as thankgiving after receiving the Communion, after you are filled: We thank You, holy Father, for Your holy name which You caused to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory forever. You, Master almighty, created all things for Your name's sake; You gave food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to You; but to us You freely gave spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Your Servant. Before all things we thank You that You are mighty; to You be the glory forever. Remember, Lord, Your Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in Your love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for Your kingdom which You have prepared for it; for Yours is the power and the glory forever. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maran atha. Amen. But permit the prophets to make Thanksgiving as much as they desire [1, #X];
  4. Chapter XIV-a

    After Malachi 1:10 the Didache recited what was spoken by the Lord: "In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations" [1, #XIV];
  5. Chapter XIV-b

    But every Lord's day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. [1, #XIV].

Lord's Prayer

Curiously the Lord's Prayer, which should be prayed three times a day, is mentioned together with the Fast [1, #VIII], while it is not mentioned regarding to the liturgical use during the full gathering of "Breaking of Bread" every Lord's day [1, #XIV]. In any case, this indicates a confirmation that all Christians to this day have adopted the custom of the Jews, namely: praying before and giving thanks after every meal. But the prayer before the meal has been replaced by the Lord's Prayer.


A most curious aspect here concerns to the Thankgiving over Bread and Wine that are set in a wrong order, namely, first the Wine and then the Bread. Why this illogically order [1, #IX]?

Further none of these Thankgiving prayers are mentioning the Words of the Institution. They also lacks to mention the Body or Flesh of Christ to be eat and the Cup of the Blood of Christ to be drink. Although many defended these prayers by calling it Christianized Jewish Sabbath prayers for Thankgiving, this wrong order must really be considered as another curiousity. [1, #IX].

This also concerns the Thanksgiving after being saturated [1, #X].
Moreover, this latter prayer, that also is suggested to be a Christianized Jewish Sabbath prayer of Thankgiving mentions both, physical and spiritual food and drink. It does not clearly state what was to be eaten and drink by whom and when: "You gave food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to You; but to us You freely gave spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Your Servant". Is the Didache talking here about two meals, distincted into physical food and drink for the one ("men") and spiritual food and drink for the other ("us") or is it talking about one meal that is distinguished into two different kind of meals, a physical meal for the one ("men") and a spiritual meal for the other ("us"), who abstained from the physical food and drink?
So, if the Didache[1, #X] ambiguously describes here two different meals, a physical meal separated from a spiritual meal, it should be clear that these separated meals were never combined in the ancient Christianity. But otherwise what do we have to understood by this Spiritual meal? Can that indeed be considered being the liturgical Eucharist, while the "Body and Blood of Christ" to be eaten are truly physical present in the Eucharist! What is the Didache telling us so ambiguously. Why the unclearness about the Words of Institution and the Substantiation of the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ as true physical Food and Drink in Chapter IX of the Didache [1, #IX].
And else, also clearly ambiguous, if it has to be understood as one and the same meal to be distincted into two types of meals, in which the one ("men") eats and drinks the physical type of meal. While the other ("us") abstained from eating this physical type of meal by claiming that they have the true "spiritual" food and therefore do not need to eat that physical food and drink. Would this mean that the physical meal for which the one ("men") who "might give thanks to You" concerns in fact the true Eucharist, eating and drinking the "Body and Blood of Christ". While otherwise the other ("us") abstained from eating the Eucharist. And does the spiritual meal means the abstaining of the true Eucharist Bread and Wine, eating and drinking the "Body and Blood of Christ" because they do not beleive in it;

This latter can indeed be recognised as an historical heresy within the era that the Didache is dated, at which the mentioned "us" did not beleive in the real, material presence of the Lord in the Eucharist Bread and Wine. This is precisely the heresy against which the Apostle John wrote his Gospel with the Proloog and about which his disciple Ignatius of Antioch wrote: "They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ" [4, #7]. Then the Didache should be a Docetism, heretic text, closely related to Gnosticism. And as preserved by the Holy Spirit it is correctly set away as an Apocryphal writing. Isn't this, why these Thankgiving prayers do not mention the Words of the Institution and lack to mention the Body or Flesh of Christ to be eat and the Cup of the Blood of Christ to be drink [1, #IX-#X]. Is the prologue of the Gospel of St. John (John 1:1-18) the final word against the curious and ambiguous text of Chapters IX and X of the Didache?

In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum ...
. . . ET VERBUM CARO EST . . .


The use of Christianized Jewish Sabbath prayers for the Thankgiving in a wrong order and without any reference to the words of Institution should immidiately have raised questions. Alarmbells should have rung. One should have been very careful to conclude on this non-canonical, apocryphal and clearly ambiguous writing from an unknown author, which certainly has not any authority.
It is very clear that this document did not pass the selection procedure for the New Testament Canon and therefore has to be considered as an Apocryphal book. This fact alone disqualifies the Didache as a fallible source for interpreting the Liturgical Fragments of the New Testament. Consequently, what does it mean, when theologians and liturgists acts as follows: "The Didache, the oldest Christian writing preserved apart from the New Testament canon, seems to indicate . . ." [6, p54].
Is not this an accusation against Christ and the Holy Spirit for not well preserving the "Written Revelation" by the Church at the Council of Rome (382) and all others Councils that had confirmed the New Testament Canon since then?


Referring to a quote by Edmund Bishop from 1899 [6, p45 note *]: "Because the Didache was rediscovered after so many centuries, it immediately became from the 1890s, the field of liturgical studies experienced a flurry of activity in gathering editing and publication of primary documents. From an increasing recognition of all importance of the documents results that almost crazy activity in search of what has been hitherto unknown; that inquisitiveness as to inedited which chararacterizes our time, and not infrequently is the cause of amusement or disdain according to disposition of the onlooker".
Apparently, many liturgists became so enthusiastic after the discovery of the Didache that they lost sight of reality and came to the most remarkable conclusions, which they claimed were based on this archaeological, non-canonical and apocryphal document. A document that actually had no authority whatsoever.
Based on the first words of [1, #X] "thanksgiving after receiving Communion, after being filled" they biasedly interpreted the Didache as if chapters #IX and #X were about a physical meal combined with the Eucharist as the original form of the Sacred Liturgy. But, what does it mean "being filled", filled with what? Filled with a physical meal like "men" or filled by a spiritual meal like "us", at which obviously this thanksgiving concerns "us".
In doing so these liturgists actually denies the Eucharist Fast as being an Apostolic Custom. But what is this argument worth in case of the so-called spritual meal as Communion? Even if it would be understood as a description of the physical Eucharist receiving the Body and Blood of Christ then it is still true that even the smallest crumb of the Body of Christ and a smallest drop of the Blood of Christ will completely satiate one?

They reinterprete the Written Tradition through the lenses of their subjective interpretation of the Didache, by which they sought to replace the Tradition for what they, as acheologists, consider the origin of the Liturgy: the Synagogue with the Last Supper. And putting aside the organic growth through refutation of heresies for archeology with all that entails. Namely a reintroducing of those heresies that were refuted by the process of organic grown.
Besides that they also negotiated the entirity of Christ's fulfilment of the Law as given in the Old Testament books of Law and Prophets.
Can this come from the Holy Spirit?

See below some examples on the way the Didache has been interpreted:

  1. Fortescue (1874 - 1923) [5]
  2. In 1917 Fr. Fortescue published in his book a rather ambiguous narrative as interpretation of the Didache [5, p4-11]. After speaking about Christianized Synagogue services in contrast to Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 3:1, he came forth with the suggestion of which any proof lacks that we meet the "Love Feast" or "Agape" in the Didache. Then, he goes on 'but soon (after the first century) (it) disappear(s). It was open for abuses. . . We may then leave them aside (this) feature and consider only the normal elements that remained and still exist in all liturgies" [5, p4-5].

    And then after explicitly referring to the Didache [1, #IX-X] he stated that some people think that it is not about the H. Eucharist at all but only about an Agape. While others think it concerns a private Eucharist. But Fortescue himself found it, in contrast to his first claim above, an incomplete description of an abnormal type of Eucharistic service [5, p8-9]. And above all he supposed that the Thanksgiving prayers are Christian re-modelled Jewish prayers for blessing bread and wine on the eve of the Sabbath [5, p10].

  3. Baumstark (1872 - 1948) [6]
  4. In 1922 Fr. Baumstark hypothetically speculated in contrast to the fragments of the New Testament that "It was during this period (breach with Judaism), in the home setting, that the word service (of the Synagogue) joined itself to the Eucharistic meal" (acts 20:7-12) [6, p54] and "The Didache, the oldest Christian writing preserved apart from the New Testament canon (so non canonical), seems to indicate that, alongside the congregation's Sunday worship, with its Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Eucharist was also celebrated as of hold in home" [6, p54].

  5. Parsch (1884 - 1954) [7]
  6. In 1937 Fr. Pio Parsch (1887-1968) also hypothetically argued from the Didache that "They (the first Christians) now knew that the Lord performed the "Breaking of Bread" at the ritual meal par excellence, namely that of the Paschal lamb, and they thought that the "breaking of bread" must be connected with a meal; this is how the love meal, the Agape, was born" [7, p18 (#II.2)].

  7. Jungmann (1889 - 1975) [8]
  8. In 1948, immediately after his deduction from the New Testament that we cannot conclude from the words "Breaking of Bread" that the Eucharist is bound up with a meal [8, p11], Fr. Jungmann went on by referring to the Didache and speculating in a very unscientific and hypothetical way about the "Love Feast" or "Agape" as follows:

    "But several other arguments do lead to this conclusion (hypothetical concept of memorial meal). When we see the Apostles gathered together after our Saviour's resurrection, it seems to be the common table that brings them together (speculation 1) . That could also have been the case after Pentecost (speculation 2). This was then the opportunity at set times to combine with it the memorial meal of the Lord (conclusion, based on speculations), just as He Himself had combined it with a meal (projection). (This is followed by a "smoke-screen" of suggestions in which nothing is said, because, up to the present era, all Jewish and Christian meals are beginning with a prayer and ending with a thankgiving) Every meal was already impressed with a reverential character, since it was always begun and ended with prayer. Especially the Sabbath meal - the meal on Friday night which initiated the Sabbath - possessed a highly religious stamp. An expansion of the table company beyond the family circle was a well-loved practice on this day just as at the Easter meal. Like these Sabbath meals in character were the community banquets which were held on certain occasions for one's circle of friends (Chaburah)" [8, p11] after which he stated "that the meal included the sacramental Eucharist is hardly likely" [8, p12].

    Then under the header "Meaning of the Mass - the Mass and the Church" [4, p175-195] he argued (1948):

    "Thus the Eucharistic institution does more than commemorate our Saviour. In it the communion and society of the faithful with their Lord is continually renewed. The meal is a sufficiently striking proof of that. And we can therefore safely say that, aside from external activity, the meal is still in our time the basic form of Eucharistic celebration.. However even in the biblical sources, this meal is distinguished as sacrificial meal." [4, p179]

    By refering to the book "Mysterium Fidei" of Fr. De la Taille (1921) [8, p182 note 21] he clearly questioned the Doctrine of Trent. Here he refered to the idea that the H. Mass refers to both, the "Sacrifice of Christ" and the "Sacrifice of the Church" (1951):

    "If, by way of contrast, we skim through the pertinent writings of the Fathers even casually, we are surprised to note that they use similar terms in reference to Christ's oblation in the Eucharist and in reference to our own. They emphasize with equal stress the fact that we (or the Church or the priest) offer up the Passion of the Lord, indeed that we offer up Christ himself" [8, p181/2].
    "We want to know how Christ's institution is to be understand as a sacrifice of the Church, in what relation it stands to the life of the Church in all its fullness, and especially what principles of liturgical formations are taken for granted it. To be more precise, how is this sacrifice with which the Church is supposed to offer up - how is it brought about?" [8, p182].

    Then in 1963 he wrote more explicit

    "... the declining Middle Ages followed the wrong track of regarding the Mass ..." and "Thinking of the Mass almost exclusively as a Sacrifice is a one-sided attitude resulting from the doctrinal controversies of the 16th century" [9].

    Herewith, he blames the Church of the Middle Ages for a one-sided emphasis on the "Sacrifice of Christ", which allowed the opposite reaction of the Reformation to arise. And above all he felt that the response of the Council of Trent was too influenced by the defence of the "Sacrifice of Christ" against the Reformation, as a result of which the "Sacrifice of the Church" remained unexposed [8, p183]. In doing so, he implicitly blames the Holy Spirit for not properly preserving the Sacred Liturgy of the Church, implicitly claiming that he is knowing it better than the Holy Spirit.

    Fr. Jungmann ambiguously, after allready hypothetically projecting the preparatory part of the H. Mass as a Christianized Synagogue service, he hypothetically projected the Last Supper as the original form of the second part of the H. Mass not only as a commemoration of our Saviour, but as "a memorial meal of the Last Supper with a the Eucharist proper as its nucleus". Despite the instruction by our Lord: "Do this in commemoration to me", he projected the institution of the Eucharist as a memorial meal, which would be a continuing renewal of the communion and society of the faithful with their Lord. In this he divided the full commemoration of our Savior into two contradictory and competing commemorations, namely that for our Savior and that for the faithful, i.e. ourselves.

    Contrary to the hypothetical speculation above by Fr. Jungmann and others, in every Holy Mass it is Christ, who in His Mystical Body - the Church - through the Priest "in personna Christi" and His Sacramental Body, offered the one Sacrifice of His Body on the cross of Golgotha. This is to be commemorated. This means that the commemoration of Christ includes the commemoration of the Church through Christ in His "Mystical Body". Apparently, "the meal as the basic form of the Eucharistic celebration" is an unnecessary hypothetical and misleading issue that contradicts the full commemoration of Christ.

    6    References

    1.   "The Didache, Unknown author, New Advent:;
    2.   "Church Hystory, Eusebius of Caesarea (265-340), New Advent:;
    3.   "The Epistle of Barnabas, Barnabas, New Advent:;
    4.   "The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, Ignatius of Antioch (~50-107), New Advent:;
    5.   "The Mass: a study of the Roman Liturgy", Adrian Fortescue, second edition of 1913 and printed 1917 [public domain on the internet (print of 1914):];
    6.   "On the Historical Development of the Liturgy, Anton Baumstark (1921), reprint by Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minesota (2011), ISBN 978-0-8146-6096-6, [an internet link to the pdf version can be found here: [];
    7.   "Het Heilig Misoffer, het middelpunt van onze eredienst", Pio Parsch (Dutch translation from 1937), Wed, J.R. van Rossum, The Neterlands;
    8.   "The Mass of the Roman Rite: its origins and development" (Missarum Sollemnia, Volumes 1 and 2), Rev. Joseph A. Jungmann, S.J., 1951, ISBN-13 978-0-87061-274-9 [an internet link to the pdf version can be found here: Jungmannstudy-roman-rite-mass-pdf/];
    9. "The Eucharist", Rev. Joseph A. Fr. Jungmann, S.J. (1963), From "Announcing The Word of God", pp. 110-126 [an internet link can be found here:];
    10.   "Canon of the New Testament, New Advent:;