Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.
Chapter 6, “Meddling Prophets” pp. 425-483.
The Didache recognizes prophets as living and active at the time of composition. Milavec notes that prophets were not the leaders of the Christian community but that they did have an important role in the Eucharist (Milavec 2003, 426). People are generally cautioned to be wary of prophets and their work.
To analyze the work of prophets, Milavec ties those works to Gerd Thiessen’s analysis of the work done by the Twelve and Seventy, sent out by Jesus (Milavec 2003, 426). The general idea is that the established congregation came later than the time of the wandering minister. Some of the characteristics described in the Synoptic Gospels apply more clearly to itinerant ministers than to the average person. Milavec mentions homelessness, lack of family and possessions, and lack of protection among others (Milavec 2003, 427-428).
In Didache 10:7, the congregation is instructed to turn its attention to the prophets who will give thanks (eucharistein) (Milavec 2003, 429). The prophets here seem to be responsible for the free prayer and its content, not depending on a prescriptive outline. Milavec considers the prophetic speech to be caused by an urgent impulse of the Holy Spirit (Milavec 2003, 430). These impulses seem more common where God’s people are assembled together. The prayers of the community spur the prophetic work on (Milavec 2003, 431). Milavec quotes extensively from Hermas to describe true and false prophets and their work. The Didache does not seem to know of prophets who scheduled private consultations. However, in 11:6 and 12 it is clear that some prophets sought favor (Milavec 2003, 433). In general, though, the role of the prophet was to pray in the assembly when moved by the Holy Spirit (Milavec 2003, 434). Milavec considers that the prophets may well have been dispossessed people who would have special compassion on others (Milavec 2003, 434).
Milavec does discuss the caution given in Didache 11 about false prophets (Milavec 2003, 436). Though prophets could be a blessing of God, false prophets were not a positive force. The work of a prophet may well have been seen as training. If the teaching was consistent with “the tradition” it should be received. But if it was different, it should be rejected (11:2) (Milavec 2003, 437). Novices and masters alike were exposed to the teaching of the prophets. They both needed to consider and evaluate the teaching.
Didache 11:3 speaks “about the apostles and prophets.” Milavec observes that most scholars consider this to refer to two groups of people. Noting the lack of an article before “prophets” Milavec thinks the passage speaks about people who are apostles and prophets at one and the same time (Milavec 2003, 438). In 11:5-6 apostles may be regarded as false prophets (Milavec 2003, 439). Those who asked for money were to be ignored and sent away. The judgment could be based on their actions rather than solely on the content of their teaching (Milavec 2003, 439). Again, Milavec sees the apostle functioning as a prophet. Further, he thinks the term “apostle” is not limited to the Twelve (Milavec 2003, 441).
Milavec asks where these itinerant apostles could have come from. The Didache speaks of them as people who were in common circulation but may not have known much about the tenets of the Didache communities (Milavec 2003, 442).
It is possible that the Apostle-Prophets of the Didache were sent out as missionaries by local congregations or other Christian leaders. There is a notable example of this in Acts 13:1-4 (Milavec 2003, 442). The difficulty with this view is that the apostles were to be received only for a day or two (11:5). Also, while apostles would be sent away, prophets were to be encouraged to stay (13:1). This would conflict with a mission in which the person was to return home to the senders (Milavec 2003, 444).
it is possible, according to a theory of John Dominic Crosson, that the itinerant apostle-prophets were some sort of dispossessed peasants (Milavec 2003, 444). These people would not have been impoverished by choice but as a result of their mission (Milavec 2003, 445). Crosson sees the dislocation coming primarily from economic factors which would both remove the poor from society and lead them to identify with the hope of a Christian community (Milavec 2003, 445).
Milavec concludes that the itinerant prophets from the Didache would have been moved to hostility by their change of economic fortunes. They would then find healing through the role as a prophet, which gave them honor and dignity (Milavec 2003, 446). Meanwhile, their message helped others resist oppression.
The question remains in this theory, how does the prophet who is invited for two or three days gain an invitation to stay indefinitely? Milavec notes the Didache communities with an emphasis on shared resources did not suffer indigence which would drive people to become prophets (Milavec 2003, 447). The prophets didn’t have a home to return to. upon discovering a safety net in the community they may have been motivated to stay. The lack of a time limit on their presence indicates to Milavec that the prophets were recovering from grief, so would be free from responsibility (Milavec 2003, 448). By giving thanks for the community’s offerings, the prophets would become accustomed to seeing success. Milavec sees this as having a calming effect which would eventually take their prophetic fervor away (Milavec 2003, 448). Once a person was no longer a prophet, gifts could be given to the poor (Milavec 2003, 449). Prophets, then, were considered as a kind of beggars. Milavec makes it clear that he considers Crosson’s theory superior to all others (Milavec 2003, 449).
A third interpretation of the prophets is proposed by Stephen J. Patterson. Patterson sees the prophets as radicalized workers who became troublesom then lost their base of support. This resulted in their admittance as refugees (Milavec 2003, 451). Milavec notes that Patterson’s interpretation is based on Didache 12:2b-13:7 as a later addition which represents condition at a time period after that of 11:1-12:2a (Milavec 2003, 451). The theory seems to be based on the prophets’ identity as wartime refugees. However, the Didache doesn’t make provisions on the scale which would be needed for refugees from a war. More resources would have been needed. There is also no system for identifying true and false teachers on the scale of a refugee migration (Milavec 2003, 452).
Milavec considers Crossan’s view of the Didache prophets as requiring some expansion. Crossan focuses on poor peasants. Milavec thinks small-scale artisans and merchants were also subject to the same economic factors (Milavec 2003, 453). Milavec describes how a small pottery business could be made to suffer by a larger operation which gained the more lucrative commercial contracts. The displaced workers would have turned to being “apostle-prophets” in the same way.