Mitchell, Nathan. "Baptism in the Didache." in Jefford, Clayton (editor). The Didache in Context: essays on its text, history, and transmission. Leiden: Brill, 1995, 226-255.
Mitchell notes that the description of baptism in Didache 7 is noteworthy for what it does not mention. A constellation of features we normally associate with baptism is absent (Mitchell 1995, 226). In his article, Mitchell makes several of his presuppositions clear, particularly his view of the multi-stage redaction process of the Didache (Mitchell 1995, 227ff).
The presuppositions Mitchell makes about the redactional history of the Didache lead him to particular moves in his attempt to identify the community where it may have originated (Mitchell 1995, 231ff). He finds that chapters 1-5, which he assigns to the earliest stage of composition, reflects a type of Christianity to be found among Hellenized Jews who have converted. The Torah is assumed as an important presupposition (Mitchell 1995, 231). Mitchell theorizes that because the Didache community understood itself primarily as Hellenized Jews, there would not be many Christological statements (Mitchell 1995, 232). Their view may well have been that Jesus' activity was more that of a personal agent of God, rather than that of a divine person. This view would have an impact on the way one might have described a Christian. Mitchell considers Draper's view (1991) that Matthew and the Didache emerged from the same community about the same time to be helpful here. If in fact they were part of a dialectical relationship rather than one having a literary dependence on the other, we could see the Didache explaining how a community can follow Jesus, rather than explaining the doctrines about Jesus (Mitchell 1995, 234-235). Draper's thought is that the gospel genre played the role of authoritative teaching while works like the Didache served as a community rule, describing how we conduct affairs in light of the gospel. This could explain the fact that the Didache seems more inclined to exclude those who turn away from the community (Mitchell 1995, 236). It is a practical, not a theological work. Christians are those who have clearly turned from sin into the works of righteousness.
Mitchell continues by seeking out the origins of Christian baptism as described in the Didache He takes the community most likely to be in or near Antioch (Mitchell 1995, 238). and to have endured a number of conflicts regarding the nature of Christian fellowship. Table fellowship even around non-ceremonial meals was a matter of significant controversy in some communities. This may have led to the presence of statements about ritual purity and foods in Didache 6.3, immediately before the discussion of baptism (Mitchell 1995, 239). Purity in foods could be a requirement for baptism, which in turn could be the start of requirements for further table fellowship, culminating in eucharistic fellowship (Mitchell 1995, 240). The stage is thus set, in Mitchell's opinion, for a consideration of the source of Christian baptism and its relation to Didache 7, as well as the description of the eucharistic meals in Didache 9-10 (Mitchell 1995, 242).
Jesus' baptism as described in Matthew may be seen as an association with sinful humans and a commitment to Torah (Mitchell 1995, 243). Jesus' baptism would thus open the door to a life in the path of righteousness. Mitchell describes theories which then root Jesus' ministry in John's teaching, later changed when Jesus, in Galilee, begins to alter the traditional understanding of baptism as entry to a lifestyle prescribed by Torah (Mitchell 1995, 244ff). After Jesus' death, while some, such as Paul, interpreted baptism Christologically, we still see instances of Christians who understood baptism in terms of the work of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-10, Acts 18:24-28) (Mitchell 1995, 246). Baptism may be associated not with the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but rather with a hope of a personal resurrection. This creates a continuity of thought between Matthew 24:30-31 and Didache 16.6 (Mitchell 1995, 247). John's baptism thus takes on Christian significance.
Mitchell continues by presenting a text of Didache 7, followed by his translation and commentary on the text (Mitchell 1995, 248ff). He notes the lack of identification of the one authorized to baptize (Mitchell 1995, 250), as well as the implication that the catechumen is to have been taught the Two Ways material. The preparatory fasting, applied certainly to the catechumen and optionally to others he views as a practice which Jesus had rejected in his ministry (Mitchell 1995, 251). He takes "living water" to be that gathered from a spring rather than a cistern (Mitchell 1995, 251-252), giving a number of Old Testament examples. The formula may be trinitarian, though Mitchell takes the trinitarian forms of 7.1c and 7.3 to be a later accretion, with the "into the name of 9.5 as original (Mitchell 1995, 252-253).
Mitchell concludes that the import of "baptism in the Didache is not a rite of 'christological' significance, but of eschatological meaning" (Mitchell 1995, 255). The theology moves the participant to a life of actions which show ritual purity. It does not usher one into full fellowship, but sets the stage to observe the Torah.