Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Didache: The Teaching of the 12 Apostles? (Responding to FFOZ and James Pyles)

So there are some in the Messianic movement who cite to the Didache as evidence that the Apostles taught a different way of life for the Gentiles, a way of life distinct from Judaism.  James Pyles', a blogger promoted by the UMJC, says this:

"I’m convinced that the Didache was a guide for Jewish disciples to make Gentile novices into disciples of Yeshua, but obviously, it fell into disuse when Gentiles exited the ancient Messianic Jewish community," from the comments section of his post found here:
But what do the actual scholars say?  Here's the reality about the reliability of the Didache:
"There is only one complete text of the Didache, that manuscript which was discovered by Archbishop Philotheos Bryennios in 1875 in the Patriarchal Library in Constantinople (Hierosolymitanus 54).  This eleventh-century manuscript is the standard text upon which most scholarship on the Didache is based.  In their reliance upon a single manuscript, and such a late one at that, scholars understand themselves to tread upon very thin certain can we be that the Didache manuscript of Bryennios represents the text as it was known in the first century?"  Jefford, The Didache in Context:  Essays on Its Text, History, and Transmission
Does that sound reliable to any of you?

Here's the real question:  why would FFOZ and James Pyles promote such an unreliable text?



  1. The only thing I'm going to say is that I am not "promoted" or otherwise affiliated with either the UMJC or FFOZ. I've done some freelance writing for FFOZ a few years back, but I've also written or contributed to publications for other publishers including Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill Osborne, and Sybex, to name a few (look me up on Amazon or Google me to find out more).

    While I may refer to information sources from the aforementioned organizations, that doesn't make me anymore affiliated with them than I am with Fortress Press, the publisher of the Nanos and Zetterholm book "Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle," which I'm currently reviewing on my blog.

    I'm an independent blogger. No one owns my content except me.

    I just thought that disclosure was necessary given the way you've worded some information on this blog post.

    1. I think he stated such, because David Rudolph promotes you on a website called, thus the line "UMJC promoted". Maybe not though.

    2. James,

      The UMJC is represented by its Rabbis. As Zion mentioned, one of those UMJC rabbis promotes you on his site.

      And when you write for someone (FFOZ) most folks consider that an affiliation.



  2. FFOZ, and if I remember correctly, James believes as well (and obviously correct me if I am wrong James), that the Apostolic Writings, leaves the gentiles in the dark as to what exactly their role is in the family of God, giving way to an interpretation, that has gentiles with one foot in the door and one foot out, and since they interpret the scriptures this way, they believe they must look elsewhere to the find answers, since they believe the scriptures, do not hold the answer.

    So in my opinion and what I understand those who hold this understanding to be saying, in regard to your question Peter, it is a quest to find answers to the gentile dilemma outside of scripture, thus the Didache. Another Joseph Smith story.

    1. Zion,

      Well put as always. Which reminds me, a friend asked me to send you his email address as he has some questions for you. I'll send you the email now...

  3. I have come to understand the Didache as wanting the Gentiles to follow the complete Torah so as to reach perfection. I wrote a little on this a few months ago:

    1. Thanks for the link to your post. Your exegesis violates several major rules of exegesis. We have to remember that exegesis must follow certain steps in sequence and that if certain steps cannot be performed we cannot simply carry on and jump to conclusions. Rather we must acknowledge whenever textual transmission has been compromised to the point where it is impossible to reliably pinpoint the original author, the source text, and the original context. The Didache is the classic example where the evidence we have is too tenuous and unreliable for us to assert that it represents the opinions of early Believers. If anything, the Didache preserves the opinions of Medieval Christians. But we don't even have enough reliable data to make that conclusion.

    2. Thank you for the feedback, Peter. If possible, could you pinpoint some specfic flaws in my exegesis? As with ALL ancient texts, we do not have a 100% reliable text (I would argue that the same could be said for the New Testament texts as well even though we have stronger textual support compared to the Didache.), but we must work with what we have. Let the person advocating textual corruption/interpolation bring forth his case so it can be evaluted on internal and external grounds. Now, even if we only have one complete manuscript, we have two miniscule fragments, and (incomplete) Coptic and Latin translation (and possibly a Georgian translation as well). Moreover, the Didache (or a common source) is echoed through other ancient works e.g. Apostolic Consitution and Apostolic Church Ordinances. I say: innocent until proven guilty (and each charge on corruption must be weighed on its own).

    3. Yes, the primary flaw in your exegesis is your fundamental approach. You said, "innocent until proven guilty." In effect then what you're saying is "Believe everything is valid until proven invalid" or "Believe everything you read." But you should be taking the exact opposite approach. Invalid until proven valid. The document purporting to be a textual witness has no rights (like the American citizen has the right to the fair trial). But people do have rights, such as the right to a good reputation. We certainly don't want to attribute a document to someone or to some group until we've proven the text to be valid. We owe it to people to assume that the document is invalid until proven valid. If nothing else, we owe it to ourselves in establishing a reliable historical record, to refrain from accepting something as authentic until we have done our due diligence, going through the steps of scientific analysis.

    4. Hello once more

      It would seem that your critique has more to do with my evaluation of the documents authenticity (whatever is meant by that phrase. This is an issue which is not discussed in my blog post) rather than the exegesis per see. I do take issue with how you interpret my "innocent until proven guilty"-remark since it is in application not to the truthfulness of the document ("Believe everything that you read")but to its contents from a textual critical standpoint. Unless we have reason to believe that the text has not been transmitted faithfully in the copies that we do have, I think it is a sound principle to assume that we should accept the text as it is. I assume you would give such a " gracious" benefit of a doubt to our Scriptures, of which we lack overly early attestation? How can you trust the Pauline corpus found in P46 (~200-250 A.D) and other ancient witnesses to represent accurately the text that Paul wrote?

      I certainly do not propose that the Didache has been perfectly perserved (nor the NT). It has loads of textual issues. My exegesis, however, dealt with what we got, and since there are no meaningful variants in the sections I adressed, I see no reason to toss the baby out with the bath water.

    5. Have you ever played the telephone game? There's a row of people sitting in chairs. The first person whispers something in the next person's ear. By the end, the transmission is garbled so much that the result is comical.

      In the same way, textual transmission starts with an autograph (the original). Next, copies are made. With each copy there are typically transmission errors. So then with each subsequent copy the likelihood of errors is compounded. Even in the case of New Testament textual criticism we must acknowledge that there are a lot of variants in the textual traditions. Fortunately, there are full copies of the New Testament written within 100 years of the autographs and then thousands of other textual witnesses, something like 4000, enabling to create reliable critical editions of the New Testament.

      You wrote: "Unless we have reason to believe that the text has not been transmitted faithfully in the copies that we do have, I think it is a sound principle to assume that we should accept the text as it is."

      Copying creates errors. Some intentional, some not. But they ALWAYS come up which is why it's helpful to have a large number of early textual witnesses. The New Testament has those early textual witnesses, the Didache does not. Plus, the New Testament has numerous early, full textual witnesses where the Didache does not.

      If we can't assume that the numerous full copies of the New Testament written within 100 years of the autographs are variant free, then how much more can we not assume that the sole full copy of the Didache written 1000 years after the autograph is variant free?

    6. The telephone game analogy is a rather poor one. Any textual critical scholar would tell you that. It falls apart on many levels (e.g. the unclear oral retrieval of the content to be passed on; the fact that the telephone game functions within a single line of transmission). Would it be correct to assume that you have not studied the science of textual criticism to any depth? This would be may guess based upon how you describe the transmission of the copying tradition, which of course is FAR more nuanced than what you have presented.

      Also, could you please tell me about these full copies of the New Testament written within 100 years of the autographs? These copies of which you speak would be *extremely* valuable to the textual critical community so it is of utmost importance that we get these known to the public ASAP. ;-)

      The earliest copy of Paul's letters is P46 (there might be a fragment or so older. e.g. P87) which dates to roughly 200-250 AD, yet it is far from being complete. The earliest complete text of Mark? P45 from 250 A.D would be a very important witness but nope, no complete Mark to be found there. The same goes with all the New Testament works. No real complete NT is to be found prior to Codex B and Aleph (300+ AD). Interestingly, John is the best attested in the papyri. P52 (120-150 A.D) is quite early, but it is no more than a few centimeters long and does not tell us anything about the rest of the book of John or any other New Testament document. The 4000 manuscripts that you refer to ( more precisely it is around 5000+) are almost all -- ironically -- extremely late (medieval) and belong to the Byzantine family, which in all likelihood goes back to a late archetype. Se this lovely chart (remember that the papyri are fragmentary in most cases):

      While the Didache comes to us mainly from a late copy, how do we know that the text is not a copy of a manuscript from 100 A.D? Miniscule 1739 is a late New Testament manuscript... but it was copied from a very early manuscript and is therefore of great value. Could it be the same with Didache? When comparing it to the translations (which are not a part of the same line of transmission) and comparing it to the parts found in Apostolic Constitutions, we see that the text is not overly corrupt so that we are unable to say what it originally read. The primitive contents of the work points to a time very early on. These sections would have been irrelevant for a later scribe, yet he preserved them. Heck, the Gospel-citations are not even fully harmonized to fit with Matthew's Gospel, which shows us that the text has been carefully copied. We can therefore, although with caution, read and work with the text and when there is reason to suspect that there has creept in mistakes/interpolations etc, these may be dealt with case by case.

      But since you do not trust overly late manuscripts, what do you do with the Torah? If Moses was the one who wrote down these texts, then we have a gap of more than 1000 years from that event to our copies. Sure, we have the Dead Sea Scrolls but these are not complete. What do we do with passages not found prior to the Aleppo Codex (A.D 900?). Sure, we do have the Septuagint and the Targumim (which also are at least 1000 years after Moses). True, but these reflect different textual traditions from the Masoretic Text. Heck, even among the Dead Sea Scrolls do we find different textual traditions existing side by side. Should we toss away the Torah? Of course not. In my opinion, we trust the Masoretic text to the extent it is possible, and deal with variants as they occur case by case. :-)

    7. (cont)
      Lastly, nice straw man in the last paragraph. I never claimed that the manuscript tradition of the Didache is free of variants. All manuscripts have variants. Not a single manuscript of the New Testament is like another. We do not need a 1000 years or even a 100 years to get a text full of variants. So even if we had manuscripts from 100 of Paul's letters, are we to assume that no corruption to place in the 40 years prior to our first copy? If anything, Paul's letters have always been circulated in a collection (Corpus Paulinum) and all our copies go back to this collection. But this collection is a edited work and we do not know if it is interpolated (probably since there is evidence for a short recension of Paul's letters in the early church). Despite all our manuscripts, we cannot go past the published archetype, which was a collection of copies of the originals. :-) If you are skeptical about the Didache, perhaps you should be consistent and apply the same standard to the Old and New Testament likewise?

      Now I will shut up. :-)

      Blessings from Sweden

    8. Is your name "Par"? Is that like "Peter" by any chance?

      Anyway, you're clearly not interested in hearing the scholars who say the Didache is an unreliable text. So you're certainly not interested in anything I have to say on the subject.

      By the way, there are whole copies of New Testament books written within 100 years of the autographs:

      "[The New Testament has] whole books within about 100 years from the time of the autograph..." Geisler, Christian Apologetics.

      So my point was that that sounds more reliable than the Didache which has a full copy written about 1000 years after the autograph. That's all.



    9. Hello again, Peter. Sorry for the delayed response. I was busy with eating chips in front of the TV. :-)

      Yes, Pär/Per is ultimately derived from Peter (or Petrus) but we still have both Peter and Peturs in our language. In Swedish folklore Saint Peter is called "Sankte Per" (who greets people upon their death at the pearly gates) which in turn has become almost as a separate figure (like St Nicholas and Santa Claus)

      "Anyway, you're clearly not interested in hearing the scholars who say the Didache is an unreliable text. So you're certainly not interested in anything I have to say on the subject."

      Now c'mon, that is not fair. Just because I take issue with you does not mean I am not interested in hearing what you or scholars say. By that same standard I could accuse you of the same thing, which would neither be productive or fair. I could redirect you to textual critical scholars who believe that the text we have is overall trustworthy (but far from perfect), just as I could direct you to scholars (a large portion of textual critical scholars actually) who believe that we are unable to go as far back as to know what the authographs themselves read.

      Now, Geisler is not a textual critical scholar so I am not impressed with your source. I am rather well acquainted with the field of textual criticism (especially when it comes to the Pauline epistles) and I now for sure that the factual nature of your quote is false. Does Geisler tell us which manuscripts he is referencing? Perhaps he is thinking of P75? That would be the closest thing to a whole book that *may* be dated as early as 175 (but more likely it belongs to the third century), but even then the books are not complete. Furthermore, notice how the goal post has shifted from: "there are full copies of the New Testament written within 100 years of the autographs" to "there are whole copies of New Testament books".

      And yes, we both agree: the New Testament has better textual evidence than the Didache. No dispute here.

      I am a long time reader of your blog. Too bad that the first time I actually post a comment, it had to be one of disagreement. :-)

    10. Par,

      First, let me apologize because, in reviewing this thread, I can see that my tone probably came across as grumpy.

      I like you and find your comments valuable--even though I happen to disagree on the authenticity of the Didache.

      So I hope we can be friends going forward! : )



    11. I cannot claim that my tone has been any nicer so I guess we're even ;-)

      I will be lurking in the shadows until next time. Take care, Peter. :-)