The Didache

By Hagner, Donald A. | Journal of Biblical Literature, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

The Didache


Hagner, Donald A., Journal of Biblical Literature


The Didache, by Kurt Niederwimmer. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998. Pp. xxviii + 288. $52.00.

This is an English translation, with some slight editing, of a commentary that appeared in the series Kommentar zu den Apostolischen Vatern, published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht in a second edition in 1993. For nearly the last quarter century Kurt Niederwimmer held the chair in New Testament in the Evangelisch-theologische Fakultat at the University of Vienna. The translation of the Didache provided in the commentary is that of Aelred Cody, "modified to reflect Professor Niederwimmer's exegetical decisions" (p. xxvii). As a concession to English readers, translations of Greek and Latin quotations are added.

It was a good decision by the Hermeneia editors to adopt Niederwimmer s masterful commentary for the series. One sees here the steady hand of a seasoned exegete who is not only extremely well acquainted with the secondary literature, but whose judgments reflect an exceptional balance and maturity. Niederwimmer is a reliable guide for those who want to understand this fascinating document of early Christianity-"The teaching of the Lord through the twelve apostles to the nations," as the first line of the text has it (the so-called long title)-which, although indirectly known from the fathers, was discovered in a monastery library in Constantinople by Philotheos Bryennios only in 1873, in a manuscript dating from the year 1056.

A full quarter of the commentary is given over to introductory questions. Niederwimmer presents a full review of the attestation of the Didache in early canonical lists and Christian writings, the textual tradition (the main Greek manuscript, the Oxyrhynchus fragment and versions), the indirect tradition contained in the Apostolic Constitutions, and the relation of chs. 1-6 to the "Two Ways" tractate reflected in a number of other documents. As for the sources underlying the Didache, Niederwimmer refers to the following four items: an originally Jewish "Two Ways" document, already "superficially Christianized," an archaic baptism and eucharistic tradition, an archaic tradition concerning itinerant charismatics, and a brief apocalyptic account of the end time. These materials the author redacted and applied to his own community in a fresh way. The author constantly adopts and adapts, as Niederwimmer repeatedly indicates.

In contrast to more complicated theories concerning the redactional history of the Didache (e.g., as in R. Audet' s commentary), Niederwimmer posits a single redaction of the materials by the author, who lived in a Jewish-Christian milieu and was imaginably "a respected and influential bishop" (p. 228). The resultant work is described as "not a `theological' work but a rule for ecclesiastical praxis, a handbook of church morals, ritual, and discipline" (p. 2).

On the difficult question of the date of the Didache, although Niederwimmer allows that the traditions contained in it derive from the first century, he concludes that "there are as yet no compelling reasons to dismiss" a date of around 110 or 120 c.E., and that regarding its provenance "we are completely in the dark" (p. 53). On another point of interest, Niederwimmer denies any dependence of the author on the writings of the NT. The most likely possibility is the Synoptic Gospels, but in his opinion the most we may conclude is dependence on Synoptic tradition rather than any of the Synoptics themselves. …

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