Harnack, Adolf. “Prolegomena, § 5. “Die Gemeindezustände. Zeit und Ont der Διδαχή.” pp. 88-170. Die Quellen der Schrift.” Lehre der Zwölf Apostel. Leipzig, J.C. Hinrichs, 1884.
“4. Die Beamten der Einzelgemeinde: Episkopen und Diakonen” pp. 140-158.
Harnack observes that bishops and deacons are the two offices described specifically in the Didache as locally governed offices. They had relatively clearly defined qualities (Harnack 1884, 141). Harnack does note that these are qualities, as opposed to duties. The only duty actually articulated is that of speaking God’s Word. Harnack emphasizes that the bishops are to be respected, that they are treated as fathers, and that they have a corresponding responsibility to engage in right teaching (Harnack 1884, 142).
Harnack’s strong opinion is that originally bishops and deacons were identical but that their roles differentiated rather quickly (Harnack 1884, 143). Probably the earliest differentiation came about in the matter of care for the poor, which became more closely related to a diaconal role. The bishops and deacons serve as guides and leaders for the people. Yet there is a sense in which the teaching and care of the leaders continues to be carried out in the community as a whole (Harnack 1884, 145). Harnack also considers that in the Didache the role of the bishop is not magisterial in nature. The importance, rather, is that these people have a responsibility in service to God’s Word (Harnack 1884, 146). The difference he sees, then, between the “elders” and the “novices” has to do with their experience in God’s Word. This difference may well have placed them in roles corresponding to the Roman concepts of Patron and Client, respectively (Harnack 1884, 147). Harnack goes on to describe the numerous roles the Fathers would identify for various people, roles which do not denote authority but do describe functional differences. The more specific idea of a magisterial episcopacy, Harnack concludes, probably arose within Gnostic beliefs, rather than from any concept found in the Didache (Harnack 1884, 153). The concept appears to infiltrate Christianity rather later, showing up in Hippolytus and in Apostolic Constitutions (Harnack 1884, 156).