Niederwimmer, Kurt. “An Examination of the Development of Itinerant Radicalism in the Environment and Tradition of the Didache” pp. 312-339 in Draper, Jonathan (editor). The Didache in Modern Research. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996.
Niederwimmer states as a given that within early Christianity “we find groups of homeless missionaries and prophets of the new movement who travelled from place to place” (Niederwimmer 1996, 321). He even suggests that this phenomenon may have been more significant than the settled Christian communities. The movement may have sprung up from those who wished to continue the itinerant discipleship found among those receiving Jesus’ teaching prior to the crucifixion. In Syria he finds “an independent branch of early Christianity’s developmental history emerges, important among other things for casting light upon the transition . . . from the original atmosphere of eschatological immediacy to the early catholic mentality” (Niederwimmer 1996, 322). Niederwimmer attempts to distinguish between traditional material and the ideas of the Didachist so as to identify stasis and change in the Christian practice of that place and time.
Niederwimmer sees Didache 11:1 as an important transition point, as there is a shift from the description of the community to an explanation of how to deal with visiting teachers (Niederwimmer 1996, 323). During the course of chapters 11-15, there are what Niederwimmer considers to be newer and older ideas, a feature he catalogs without many specifics (Niederwimmer 1996, 325). He goes on to lay out a chart of the passage, showing transitions from traditions to the redactor’s work (Niederwimmer 1996, 326-327). The Didachist’s view and the recognized traditions seem to be related to a community of Christians in a particular place, not to the itinerant teachers.
The traditional view, from 11:4-12, shows communities of Christians living in close proximity. The itinerants, who seem charismatic in nature, arrive in the community but do not stay very long (Niederwimmer 1996, 328). These travelers do not demand care but receive it anyway. They have renounced their own property and appear to live a life of voluntary poverty (Niederwimmer 1996, 329). Apostles are treated differently than the prophets (Niederwimmer 1996, 330). These apostles do not appear to be “the twelve” but they are treated as special emissaries of the Lord (Niederwimmer 1996, 330). There are also prophets, itinerant spiritual people who speak for God. These too appear to be wanderers who are received briefly and then are sent on their way (Niederwimmer 1996, 331). It was important to identify the true and false prophets for everyone’s protection. The existence of the apostles, teachers, and prophets was accepted but the particular individuals were to be tested (Niederwimmer 1996, 333).
Niederwimmer sees a very different situation in the Didachist’s ideas, which he details from 11:1-3; 12; 13; 15 (Niederwimmer 1996, 333). He thinks it unclear whether there are actual established communities in view. There are all sorts of itinerants, not just apostles, teachers, and prophets. Teachers are only incidental in importance (Niederwimmer 1996, 334). Niederwimmer also considers a shift of culture in which some prophets wanted to join communities. Care for hem was a matter of uncertainty (Niederwimmer 1996, 335). Further, the required selection of bishops and deacons, in chapter 14, suggests a further change of community culture. The bishops and deacons, rather than the apostles and prophets, would have the role of leadership in regular worship. Niederwimmer sees this as a shift to the dominance of the established community (Niederwimmer 1996, 338).
Niederwimmer sees this shift as a move toward “catholicization” with a stabilization of the community. This is not an entirely bad move. It is necessary to develop a structure for life. “The solution does not lie in the disappearance of the eschaton as motivation, but in finding ways of living that allow for eschatological motivation on the one hand and life under the conditions of social reality on the other hand” (Niederwimmer 1996, 339). This allows eschatological hope to be passed on through history.