Betz, Johannes. “The Eucharist in the Didache” pp. 244-275 in Draper, Jonathan (editor). The Didache in Modern Research. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996.
Betz observes that dating of the Didache has remained problematic, with many scholars placing it solidly in the second century. Recent scholarship has been more willing to place it in the first century, though few have joined Audet in his estimate of 50-70 A.D. (Betz 1996, 245). Betz considers it settled that chapters 1-6, 7-10, 11-15, and 16 had different origins and were incorporated into the text in different ways. For this reason, Betz advocates separate study of each segment.
The meal prayers in chapters 9-10 bear a striking similarity to Aramaic Jewish rituals. Betz observes that the word “eucharist” may be used in a relatively flexible manner, thus leaving the actual intent of the word open to debate (Betz 1996, 245). In chapter 14 it is clear that the text refers to the sacramental meal with which we are familiar. In the earlier chapters it is not as clear. Betz presents a translation of chapters 9-10 before listing a wide variety of interpretive summaries of the actual type of meal under consideration. He concludes that the “large number of interpretations shows the uncertainty of the state of the research, the hypothetical character of the explanations and the difficulty of the question” (Betz 1996, 247).
From the outset, Betz rejects the interpretations which require rearranging paragraphs so as to make sense of the narrative (Betz 1996, 248). The most straightforward interpretation sees the start of the meal as an agape meal followed by a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The terminology used in the blessing is very different from that of the New Testament. However, especially the command in Didache 10:6 that the unholy should not come suggests to Betz that this meal has the characteristics of a sacrament happening at the actual time of the blessing (Betz 1996, 249). Yet Betz concedes that there are internal inconsistencies in the passage. The inconsistencies may point to either the agape or to the Lord’s Supper, but possibly not both (Betz 1996, 250).
Betz surveys scholarship briefly, finding that some scholars have attempted to harmonize the event. In the discussion, we also note that the sequence of events in the New Testament also bears some inconsistency, such as “bread-meal-cup” or “meal-bread-cup” (Betz 1996, 251). He suggests that the prayers could fit either an agape or the Lord’s Supper, and that the usage may have changed over time. Betz explains the actual parts and their usage in detail (Betz 1996, 252). In his view, as liturgy developed, rather than creating new materials people would find usable elements and press them into service. The materials originally applied to the Lord’s Supper were repurposed for the agape meal (Betz 1996, 253).
Betz seems of two minds about the dating of the elements of the Didache and about the antiquity of 1 Corinthians when he places Didache 9-10 in context. “The old eucharistic celebration which, in our opinion, is still reflected in Didache 9:2-5; 10:2, 3b-5, has its own theological stamp and gives the impression at first sight of a striking intellectual distance from the eucharistic celebration of the New Testament accounts of its institution” (Betz 1996, 253). Though Betz finds significant differences in the celebrations, he emphasizes that they are both centered around bread and a cup accompanied by prayers and that both have an emphasis on eschatology, looking forward to a final redemption. Yet Betz does observe that the Didache does not specifically speak of the effect of Jesus’ death, of the elemens as Jesus’ body and blood, or of the new covenant in Jesus’ blood (Betz 1996, 254). Betz considers whether there were multiple different eucharistic practices or whether they may be harmonized with one another. He does not provide entirely conclusive findings, but he does think the Didache community knew the Lord’s Supper institution but may have pursued a different theology. Betz continues by describing a relationship in the ideas of the Didache and John’s Gospel, then concluding “that the two texts feed on the same eucharistic tradition, even from a common local tradition, which we might look for in North Palestine/Syria” (Betz 1996, 255). John’s Gospel also has some Syrian roots. This suggests to Betz that we cannot make a clear assessment of one document as a source for the other. Both texts, in fact, look to the Old Testament feasts and prayes as a root of the theology and practice they describe (Betz 1996, 256). Both the Didache and the New Testament look at the eucharist as a time when divine wisdom particularly dwells among men (Betz 1996, 257).
Betz next turns to a consideration of the passages in Didache 9 and 10, asking how they comment on each other in their doctrine of the eucharist (Betz 1996, 258). First, he observes that the term εὐχαριστεῖν is central to the idea. The blessing (from God with material and non-material goods, and from man to God with thanks and praise) and thanksgiving has a root in Jewish practice as well. The eucharistic prayers are closely related to the table blessings in Judaism (Betz 1996, 259). Yet the thanksgiving is not merely for bread. Betz observes that the thanksgiving is particularly for the breaking of the bread, which was early understood as the particular provision of Christ broken for his people (Betz 1996, 260). He further notes that in both hellenism and in the Old Testament the concept of bread and wine was identified with both life and the presence of God (Betz 1996, 261). Christianity, however, sees Jesus as the one who ushers in the end times. Betz takes this as a kind of secret knowledge which brings the enlightened participants into an eternal kingdom (Betz 1996, 262). He notes that similar eschatological hope is evidenced in the New Testament. Betz approaches the lively eschatological hope in bread which nourishes people for eternal life as a surprising oddity, however he also finds support for it in the Letter of Diognetus (Betz 1996, 263). Betz does show an antisupernatural bias at this point, treating theological analysis and the historic doctrines as quaint beliefs rather than matters which potentially carry the importance attached to them in early Christianity. The connection of Psalms, Revelation, and the Didache, referring to Jesus as the “vine,” “root,” or “stem” of David is plain. Betz takes it to be a sign that “Jesus, the expected Davidic messiah and Wisdom have come, and that he makes present his coming sacramentally in the eucharistic drink; since the benediction is indeed said over the cup” (Betz 1996, 266).
Betz helpfully observes that the vine imagery does remind us of the collective identity of both Israel and of Christians. The eucharist is used to create a body of Christ, a manifold group with a unified identity (Betz 1996, 267).
Betz elaborates on the sacramental nature of the mal, observing that the wine is closely related to the idea of a vine and that a meal has a strong association with sustaining life. The “eucharist” as a giving of thanks may relate to those who have been cleansed by baptism or some sort of penance, being those who can rightly give thanks (Betz 1996, 268). The prayer after the eucharist gives thanks for “the Name,” which Betz takes to refer to Jesus, the revelation of God the Father (Betz 1996, 269). This could also be seen as evidence of a sacramental understanding as it recognizes an actual presence of God. The idea of God’s presence being where His name is found is common not only in Judaism but also in early Christianity (Betz 1996, 270). The sacramental view may be seen further in the eschatological emphasis of the passage. Not only do the prayers recognize God’s presence, they also ask that he would come in glory soon (Betz 1996, 271). Betz continues to describe the eschatological nature of the document as it looks forward to a gathering of God’s people and their full redemption (Betz 1996, 272-274).