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The Didache

A Window on the Earliest Christians

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"Students and scholars alike will find this book instructive. . . . Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers."--L. J. Alderink, Choice

The Didache (or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) is one of the earliest Christian writings, compiled between 50 and 70 CE. Thus it probably predates the four Gospels. It offers a unique glimpse into how some of the earliest Christian communities lived and worshiped.

Thomas O'Loughlin shares the story of this first-century manual for training converts from its discovery in an obscure library in Istanbul in the late nineteenth century to the present and then offers an analysis of the text's importance. His new translation, along with a commentary, highlights areas of key interest to Christians today: the faith and hope, discipline and rituals, and anxieties and challenges facing Gentiles being trained for full participation in the earliest Jewish-Christian communities. The book concludes with a discussion of how the Didache relates to other early church texts, particularly the Gospels, and gives answers to the most frequently asked questions about this fascinating and important treatise.

The Didache features a detailed description of the day-to-day faith and step-by-step routines that shaped the Jesus movement some twenty years after the death of Christ. The focus of the faction at that time was not on proclaiming the titles and deeds of Jesus. Those aspects come to the fore later in the letters of Paul and in the gospel narratives. Instead, the focus of the Didache was on the life and knowledge of Jesus himself.

This is an essential resource for readers interested in history, Scripture, and liturgy in Christianity's earliest period.
1. A Chance Discovery
2. Choosing a Way
3. Joining the Group
4. Prayer and Fasting
5. Meeting and Eating
6. A Network of Service
7. Fears and Hope
8. The Challenge of the Didache
The Teachings of the Lord Given to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles


"A valuable and thorough introduction to an important though little-studied work that provides a unique window on a corner of the early Christian world."--Sean Freyne, emeritus professor of theology, Trinity College Dublin

"A truly accessible commentary on this ancient text and on the early Christian communities that lie behind it, and yet one that incorporates up-to-date academic scholarship."--Paul Bradshaw, professor of liturgy, University of Notre Dame

"I highly recommend this informed, engaging, and pastorally sensitive exploration of the Didache. Reading the text within its Jewish roots and in harmony with its New Testament parallels, Thomas O'Loughlin shows how the Didache admirably shaped the faith and practice of second-generation Christians in ways that have relevance for us today."--Aaron Milavec, author of The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 CE

The Author

  1. Thomas O'Loughlin

    Thomas O'Loughlin

    Thomas O'Loughlin (PhD, National University of Ireland; DD, Bangor University) is professor of historical theology at the University of Nottingham in England. His books include Discovering Saint Patrick; Celtic Theology: Humanity, World, and God in...

    Continue reading about Thomas O'Loughlin


"Apart from specialists, most Christians are not familiar with the Didache, an early Christian text that is most probably contemporaneous with the New Testament and the decisive formative period of early Christianity. O'Loughlin, . . . who has often taught and lectured on the subject of the Didache, provides a very helpful and readily accessible exposition of this historic text. His approach is not intended to be a commentary on the text but is a series of chapters that illuminate the various topics found in the Didache, explaining their origin and helping the modern Christian reader appreciate their significance even for today."--Donald Senior, CP, The Bible Today

"O'Loughlin's approach is, in essence, contemporary and pastoral. His basic question seems to be: what does the Didache have to offer for us, even if it has not been written directly for us? This is, I think, a valid and honorable approach, and the study O'Loughlin has produced is interesting to read and will be inspiring and convincing to many readers. O'Loughlin is a reliable guide, who has spent many years teaching the Didache to many groups of students, and who is thoroughly familiar with key studies on the Didache. . . . This sympathetic study to stimulate contemporary interest in the Early Christian Didache deserves a large readership, both academic and non academic. The issues discussed by O'Loughlin seem most relevant for theologians, but they are also of interest to readers of classical literature in general."--Vincent Hunink, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"For a course on early Christianity, this study of the Didache . . . could serve as the primary and central text. . . . A sophisticated methodological discussion of historical thinking encourages readers to ponder how people today can conduct historical research and learn from the past. Students and scholars alike will find this book instructive. . . . Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers."--L. J. Alderink, Choice

"This is an accessible and easily readable introduction to the Didache and its place in the life and discipline of the early Christian communities in which it was preserved and transmitted. . . . This book will contribute significantly to non-specialist readers' familiarity not only with the Didache, but with the early Christianity it reflects."--Nicholas H. Taylor, Journal for the Study of the New Testament

"More Church historians need to write books like this one. In recent decades, really interesting developments have taken place in the study of the early Church. But such developments often remain known only to scholars, few of whom write with the clarity that Thomas O'Loughlin does in this book. . . . We learn that many of the practices that we take to be definitive of Christianity today, or to which we give the title apostolic, looked very different in lives of these early Christians. . . . [O'Loughlin] writes to inform Christians of how things were in the early Church with a view to engaging their practices more deeply today. A final chapter . . . helps the churchgoer to digest the consequences of these differences between the early Church and today's Christianity. . . . If history makes us aware of difference, than what a difference good historical writing like this makes."--Benjamin King, Living Church

"O'Loughlin makes the fruits of more technical scholarship accessible to a wider audience and adds his own perspective as a professor of historical theology. It is a well-written and judicious work, [which is] important as the controversial issues surrounding this document demand careful handling. The introduction lays the groundwork thoroughly for an in-depth examination of the text. He does an excellent job of sifting through who believes what and why that may sometimes be motivated by denominational concerns. . . . The commentary is practical, perceptive, and focused on interpreting Christianity as a historical faith."--David Greenwood, Expository Times

"This book is the fruit of long and dedicated engagement with the Didache. It is based on sound scholarship and wide research. . . . It is very illuminating. It is intended to guide and stimulate study of the Didache and draw messages from it for Christian living today. . . . There is a clear desire to impart the author's own enthusiasm for a document which gives a unique insight into the way early Christians actually lived, giving a context by which the canonical writings may be better understood. . . . There are some wise and pastorally reflective words about how we understand the Gospel today in the light of the past, and how the various developments of order and liturgy are better understood if we take such a document as the Didache seriously."--Stuart G. Hall, Journal of Early Christian Studies

"An excellent contribution. . . . O'Loughlin provides an ordered, clear, and easy-to-read commentary on the issues and the 'good news' of the Didache against a backdrop of the NT texts. . . . O'Loughlin aptly demonstrates that the Didache offers more concrete details on some of Christianity's earliest practices . . . than any (or perhaps all) of the collected works in the NT. . . . O'Loughlin also uses the Didache as a 'mirror' for examining many issues and practices facing Christians today. . . . A wise pastor as well as an informed scholar, O'Loughlin never assumes that the Didache communities always got it right or that their practices should be mechanically emulated. . . . For pastors and lay readers, O'Loughlin provides a dynamic translation of the Greek original and demonstrates how the Didache can provide historical insights on key issues facing contemporary churches without slipping into some self-defeating fundamentalism. Both as a window and as a mirror, O'Loughlin's commentary can be expected to gain high praise."--Aaron Milavec, Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"O'Loughlin succeeds in providing a basic volume that will appeal to a large target audience, including 'university undergraduates . . . seminaries and convents . . . [and] gatherings of ministers of various denominations.'. . . Highly recommended. . . . It is clearly written and concise, providing many thought-provoking concepts. This work would also be appropriate for those seeking to study early Christian history. Although O'Loughlin considers his latest work to be elementary, he does provide an extensive list of in-depth publications on the Didache for those wishing to pursue greater study."--Robert P. Russo, Catholic Books Review

"[O'Loughlin] presents a wonderful contribution to Didache literature after twenty-five years of academic teaching and study of its contents. This introduction provides a fresh discussion of important issues concerning the Didache. . . . This volume is very well done. . . . O'Loughlin has provided a valuable contribution to Didache scholarship, carefully attending to the book's background and theological message while neglecting scholastic jargon. This book is accessible to students while simultaneously satisfying the needs of scholars."--Shawn Wilhite, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology

"O'Loughlin's book is a fine, persuasive exposition of his central thesis, which is the idea of the Didache as an apprenticeship for a would-be Christian, to be learned by heart."--Clement Grene, Expository Times