Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.
Chapter 11 “Whether the Didache Made Use of Any Known Gospel” pp. 693-739, part 1.
It is natural to ask for a source of the ideas of a work such as the Didache. Milavec notes that this is, indeed, the case. Scholars have frequently tried to find influences in the written Gospels, in oral or written traditions that led to the canonical Gospels, or elsewhere (Milavec 2003, 695). The source most frequently identified is Matthew’s Gospel. Milavec analyzes the data and will conclude the text is largely independent.
Early Didache scholarship, from 1883 until the mid twentieth century, considered the possibility of a dependence on the Epistle of Barnabas (Milavec 2003, 695). This generally pushed estimates of the date of composition to the mid second century and frequently located it in Egypt (Milavec 2003, 696). A key to the similarities between the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas is the narrative of the Two Ways from 1:3-6. However, in 1900 the discovery of the Teaching of the Apostes and its Two Ways suggested hat the Didache was not directly dependent on the Epistle of Barnabas (Milavec 2003, 696). The similarities in content have remained a matter of discussion. In the second half of the twentieth century many scholars have suggested that several works known to us now are mutually dependent on one or more catechetical manuals known widely in the first and second centuries but no longer extant (Milavec 2003, 697).
One of the problems in scholarship which seeks out literary sources for the Didache is that the existence of texts at different times may force the scholar to make different presuppositions. A text cannot be dependent on another which has not yet been written. Likewise, texts which exist may or may not exert an influence (Milavec 2003, 698). Milavec goes on to say, “The issue of Gospel dependence also has a strong bearing on how one interprets the text. If one supposes, for example, that the Didache made use of Matthew’s Gospel, then one could or should make use of Matthew’s theology and church practice in order to clarify the intent and background of the Didache. On the other hand, if one supposes that the Didache is independent of Matthew, then it would be an unwarranted projection to expect that the Gospel of Matthew could be used to understand a text created outside of its influence” (Milavec 2003, 698). On the contrary, Spotts wonders if there is a legitimate sense in which the conceptual framework which leads to the theology of Matthew also led the framers of the Didache to the very same conclusions, without the need for any show of literary dependence. This is a question of tremendous importance to our understanding of the development of Christian faith and practice in the apostolic and immediate subapostolic age.
Much scholarly inquiry into literary dependence has focused on analysis of words, phrases, or sentences in search of places where an identical idea is expressed in identical form (Milavec 2003, 699). However, agreement may come about for various rasons including common idioms (Milavec 2003, 700). Also, common ideas may be stated in multiple texts with no dependence, but simply because they are common ideas. It is not a given that literary dependence is proven by verbal agreement. This has been the conclusion of some scholars in more recent years. Milavec particularly discusses the work of Clayton N. Jefford in this regard (Milavec 2003, 702). The fact is that there are many ways in which texts can be found to be similar or to differ. Proof of dependence is normally tenuous at best.
Milavec considers the usefulness of analyzing the content of ideas in a search for dependence. If the concepts are found to be dependent on another work, possibly there is evidence of influence (Milavec 2003, 704).