Biesenthal compares the discovery of the Didache manuscript to that of Codex Sinaiticus in importance. The apparent early date of composition provoked an immediate interest. Biesenthal is also struck by the brevity and importance of the message, in a document approximately the length of Ephesians (Biesenthal 1893, 1).
Sadly, the copy of this work which I obtained is missing pages 2-3, then continues with page 4. At this point, Biesenthal is making an extended quotation with numerous ellipses, of someone note identified on page 4. The quotation shows rather a stream-of-consciousness narrative of how the text drives the speaker to a return to the central elements of the New Testament (Biesenthal 1893, 4).
In his first section, “Der Gedankengang der Διδαχή,” Biesenthal notes there are three titles for teh Didache (Biesenthal 1893, 4), though he observes that Harnack only catalogs two. Biesenthal does not elaborate, however, and the bulk of scholarship identifies just two titles. The first six chapters are identified as the description of the way of life and death. In essence, Biesenthal sees the way of life to be consistent with following the Commandments of the Bible, acting in love for and service to the neighbor (Biesenthal 1893, 5). The way of death takes much less space, just one chapter.
The second part of the Didache, chapters 7-10, speak of culture, including the sacramental life around baptism and eucharist (Biesenthal 1893, 5). It describes the rituals and prayers.
Chapters 11-16, constituting the third part, speak primarily about reception of traveling apostles and prophets (Biesenthal 1893, 6). Traveling Christians are welcomed. Prophets and teachers may be guests, to be received as if high priests. Chapter 14 returns briefly to the eucharist, then chapter 15 speaks of caring for bishops and deacons.
Biesenthal finds the first clear quotation of the Didache in Clement of Alexandria, about the year 220 (Biesenthal 1893, 6). Eusebius, about 340, lists the text among the antilegomena. Athanasius, about 373, makes a brief reference to the text. From that time on, it seems references are made more to Apostolic Doctrine, though the Didache seems to stand as the source behind the ideas (Biesenthal 1893, 7).
The relationship between the Didache and the Letter of Barnabas is important to Biesenthal. His general opinion is that both texts are dependent on a common ancestor, which is now lost (Biesenthal 1893, 8). Biesenthal summarizes the major arguments from various scholars.
Again, the Didache may have some relationship to the Shepherd of Hermas (Biesenthal 1893, 10). Although there are some similarities in the discussions of elders and deacons, Biesenthal does not find a conclusive case for dependence.
An attempt at dating the Didache could be made based on the doctrinal maturity seen. Biesenthal views the doctrine to be very early, noting that at times it is even “naive” in nature (Biesenthal 1893, 11). It seems to know little of any doctrinal disputes. The concept of God shown in the Didache is that of majesty and glory, but God is not portrayed as intimately involved in the lives of his people (Biesenthal 1893, 12). Further, the doctrine of Jesus as the Messiah and both God and Man does not seem thoroughly developed (Biesenthal 1893, 13). Jesus is seen very much as king, Messiah, and Son of David, but not so much in terms of his deity or as the one who makes propotiation for sin (Biesenthal 1893, 15).
Biesenthal further analyzes the varieties of sins which are addressed in the Didache. The patterns of sinful activity do not seem to address a broader culture (Biesenthal 1893, 16). One may observe that the Didache routinely commands avoidance of sin and downplays the role of repentance and forgiveness.
Prayer and fasting seem common themes in the Didache (Biesenthal 1893, 17). Biesenthal notes the similarity between the Lord’s Prayer in the Didache and in Matthew, and that the prayer is described as having liturgical use, as it is prayed three times daily. This practie is seen first in the writings of Tertullian and Cyprian (Biesenthal 1893, 17).
The final chapter of the Didache bears a similarity to Matthew 24, but with material Biesenthal takes to be related to Luke’s Gospel (Biesenthal 1893, 19). The eschatological urgency is great, especially since the time of Christ’s return is unknown.
Biesenthal considers the Didache’s view of baptism and the eucharistic table. He sees it rooted in the Lord’s teaching (Biesenthal 1893, 20). Baptism is specifically trinitarian in nature. It may be significant that the person performing the baptism is referred to in the second person singular. This suggest sthat there was an individual responsible, rather than a whole community (Biesenthal 1893, 21). Biesenthal does observe the thanksgiving which addresses Jesus as the vine of David (Biesenthal 1893, 22). The body and blood of Jesus are not clearly referred to, merely the bread and wine. Biesenthal compares this with the seventh book of Apostolic Constitutions, which makes a clarification. He questions whether the meal described in the Didache is a eucharist or an Agape feast (Biesenthal 1893, 23), concluding that the meal is presented as the eucharist, with sacramental significance.
The Christian community as described in the Didache places hospitality in an important role, especially hospitality toward traveling Christians (Biesenthal 1893, 24). Biesenthal notes that it is not a long term reception of strangers, but that it would give a person a little time to find work if staying in the community.
Biesenthal observes that the roles of apostle, prophet, and teacher are important at a very early time of Christianity (Biesenthal 1893, 25). These people are assumed to be active in the Didache. The apostolic office seems focused on teaching the Gospel. Prophets also work with God’s word, but Biesenthal sees them as having a greater role in performing the liturgy (Biesenthal 1893, 26). Teachers, also mentioned in the Didache, were to instruct people in God’s word, possibly as catechists. The Didache further mentions bishops and deacons (Biesenthal 1893, 27). Biesenthal observes that while apostles and prophets were itinerant, bishops and deacons seemed tobe more permanent parts of the community (Didache ch. 15).
Much of Biesnethal’s conclusion is obliterated in my copy by the presence of a scanning measurement device superimposed over p. 27.