CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

The Fall 2005 issue of the Journal of Early Christian Studies contains an article written by James A. Kelhoffer reviewing Alan J. P. Garrow's The Gospel of Matthew's Dependence on the Didache. As I read about Garrow's theory of the relationship between the Gospel of Matthew and the Didache, it struck me that his theory could be used to bolster the belief of some conservative scholars that Matthew was written by the Apostle Matthew.

For those unfamiliar with the Didache, aka The Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles, it is a document that was first discovered in 1873 by Philotheos Bryennios in the Codex Hierosolymitanus, which dates from 1056. The Codex Hierosolymitanus was itself discovered in the library of the Jerusalem Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre at Constantinople. The Codex Hierosolymitanus contained the full text of the Didache and several other writings.

According to the Early Christian Writings, "the Didache may be divided into four clearly distinct parts: a moral catechesis (i-vi), a liturgical instruction (vii-x); a disciplinary instruction (xi-xv), and a conclusion of an eschatological nature (xvi)." The Didache contains sayings of Jesus that are not found in the four Gospels, and thus its historicity is of great interest to scholars.

No one knows exactly when the Didache was first written or by whom. Early Christian Writings, supra, notes that the Didache was not entirely unknown when the complete text was first discovered. The Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas (estimated date 96-131 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (died 215 A.D.), Origen (185-253(?) A.D.), the author of the Apostolic Constitutions (4th Century A.D.), and others had quoted it or embodied fragments of it in their works. St. Athanasius (296-373 A.D.) expressly mentioned the Didache by its title, the "Doctrine of the Apostles." The New Advent Encyclopedia notes that Eusebius also expressly mentioned the Didache in his writings after the books of Scripture (H. E., III, xxv, 4):

"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 . . ."

As a result of the early references coupled with many internal clues, the dating of the Didache is often placed at a very early time. The New Advent Encyclopedia, supra, expresses the range of dates that have been proposed by various scholar.:

Harnack gives 131-160, holding that Barnabas and the Didache independently employ a Christianized form of the Jewish "Two Ways", while Did., xvi, is citing Barnabas — a somewhat roundabout hypothesis. He places Barnabas in 131, and the Didache later than this. Those who date Barnabas under Vespasian mostly make the Didache the borrower in cc. i-v and xvi. Many, with Funk, place Barnabas under Nerva. The commoner view is that which puts the Didache before 100. Bartlet agrees with Ehrhard that 80-90 is the most probable decade. Sabatier, Minasi, Jacquier, and others have preferred a date even before 70.

Garrow himself states that it may be that the Didache predates 1 Thessalonians, and that it is possible "that it is somehow related to the so-called Apostolic Decree of c. AD 49, the first Christian document." See The Date of the Didache's Earliest Layer on Garrow's website.

According to the Kelhoffer article, it is common for scholars to assume one of two relationships between the Gospel of Matthew and the Didache: either the Didache is dependent upon the Gospel of Matthew, of the Gospel of Matthew and the Didache were developed independently. Garrow's book, however, suggests that a third alternative may be the true alternative, i.e., the Gospel of Matthew was influenced by the Didache.

In making this claim, Kelhoffer notes that Garrow relies upon two well-substantiated claims in Biblical studies, but Kelhoffer notes his own doubt about the inference that Garrow draws.

Garrow's thesis stems from two separate observations, both of which, he claims, are widely supported by past scholarship. The first maintains that the Didache is the product of at least two different authors/editors. The second seeks to demonstrate that the Didache and Matthew's gospel share substantial, widely dispersed, and largely unique parallel material. Garrrow infers from these two observations that the numerous parallels are most readily explained by Matthew's use of the Didache since it would be most unusual for the latter's various authors and editor(s) to have used Matthew in the same ways. Either or both of the first two observations can be appreciated without giving credence to Garrow's third point.

For anyone interested in reading the conclusion of Garrow's work, he has been kind enough to post his sixteenth and final chapter on his website, here. What he appears to propose is the existence of an early document (which I will call the "proto-Didache") which would be revised to become the Didache which was discovered in 1873. This proto-Didache precedes the Gospel of Matthew in time. Once Matthew was written, some redactors revised the proto-Didache to correspond with what the author of the Gospel of Matthew had written. The author of the Gospel of Matthew, it is argued, used the Didache in writing his Gospel, and the proto-Didache was then amended to read more consistently with the Gospel of Matthew.

The example pointed out in Chapter 16 is a comparison of Didache 8.2b and Matthew's recital of the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). Garrow says:

What must be wrestled with here is that Did. 8.2b instructs its readers to pray 'as the Lord commanded in his gospel', but the immediately ensuing prayer is unlikely to have appeared in any manuscript of Matthew's work.[11] Those who propose the Didache's dependence on Matthew at this point must provide some explanation for the absence of Matthew's version of the prayer. A related problem is posed for those who see the Didache as compiled by someone who sometimes reveals a direct knowledge of Matthew's Gospel, but who prefers to quote that gospel's sources, rather than the gospel itself.[12] These scholars must explain why Jesus's direct instructions, as recorded in Matthew's Gospel, are set up as a standard in 8.2b and then set aside in 8.2c.

Since the combination of an appeal to the gospel in 8.2b and its non-quotation in 8.2c presents a puzzle for any theory that sees these two lines as composed by the same author, it may be preferable to see them as belonging to two different redactional layers. Under these circumstances the disjunction between 8.2b and 8.2c need not be due to editorial incompetence, but may be explained in terms of a later contributor's respect for the basic text. Thus, a later interpolator may have wished to point readers to Matthew's version of the Lord's Prayer, while at the same time being unwilling to make direct alterations to the established document. The insertion of 8.2b achieves this goal, even though the resulting text is somewhat awkward. A similar effect is created when the modifying teacher avoids direct revision of the host, but nonetheless manages to alter its force by inserting new material. Here again the reading that results is sometimes awkward and self-contradictory.

It is an interesting theory, and without reading his full argument, I feel unqualified to analyze it. However, as I intially noted, if Garrow is correct, his theory may implicitly aid the view held by the more conservative scholars that the Apostle Matthew -- the man explicity mentioned as a disciple in the Bible and the traditionally identified author of the Gospel of Matthew -- was really the author of the Gospel of Matthew. Consider that the Didache is also known as the Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles. Assuming that the redactors who revised the proto-Didache following the writing of the Gospel of Matthew were honest men, would they have redacted the "Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles" based on a writing that they were not reasonably certain was actually written by one of the twelve apostles? I don't believe that honest men would have done so. Thus, with that assumption, it seems likely that if Garrow is correct, his argument can be used to support the idea of Matthew's authorship of the Gospel that bears his name -- or at least, it supports the idea that the redactors thought it was really written by the Apostle Matthew. If the early dating of the Didache is accurate, then that would seem to constitute further evidence of the Apostle Matthew's authorship of the Gospel of Matthew.


I'm sorry to say that my hypothesis of Matthew's Dependence on the Didache does not help the case for apostolic authorship of the Gospel, quite the reverse. This is because, the author of the Gospel is shown to depend so thoroughly on the sources (Mark, Luke and Didache) which he carefully and closely conflates (see for synopsese illustrating this). If Matthew were an eye-witness, then such a thorough dependence on sources would be very surprising. Rather it looks as though the author is a scribe who has sought to carefully organise a comprehensive manual of Jesus' teaching and action from the sources he had available.

On the other hand, however, the case for seeing Luke as an early Gospel may be supported by this thesis. That is to say, if Matthew was dependent on Luke, as this book (in passing) suggests then a more ancient date for Luke than is usually suggested might be defended.

My guess is that work on the Didache cuts both ways pretty evenly from the point of view of conservative apologetics. Defense for the apostolic authorship of Matthew, however, is not one of its benefits.

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