Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.
If God the Father is present in the eucharist, where is he? Didache 10:2 speaks of God’s name in the Christian’s heart. Milavec notes that the Hebrew Scriptures use similar terminology for God dwelling in the tabernacle or temple, but not in individuals. In this way the Didache is set apart radically (Milavec 2003, 385). Because God’s holiness dwells where His name is found, seeing the individual as the dwelling place of God is very significant. In some New Testament scholarship “the Name” is taken as a reference to the Trinitarian formula or to Jesus. Milavec considers this to be not the case in the Didache, as he sees “the Name” referring to the Father, while the Son is referred to as the Servant (Milavec 2003, 387).
The eucharistic prayers give thanks for “knowledge, faith, and immortality” (10:2). Milavec considers these three terms in turn. He reaches an interpretation that the partaker is receiving these gifts from Jesus in the eucharist. Milavec seems to expect that knowledge, faith, and immortality will somehow be deepened or intensified through the eucharist. The eucharist is also seen as special in the use of the word “master” in 10:3 as opposed to “Father,” “Lord,” or other appellations (Milavec 2003, 388).
It was very common in Jewish tradition to return thanks after a meal. This formal giving of thanks, called “anamnesis,” appears from the earliest records (Milavec 2003, 389). In the Didache 10:3 there is a formal returning of thanks to God as well.
Considering the institution of the eucharist, Milavec observes that the Didache does not maintain an emphasis on the events of Jesus and the disciples the evening leading to his arrest. Milavec concludes that this would lead to an understood focus on the giving of thanks and eating together, rather than making a doctrinal statement about Jesus (Milavec 2003, 391). Possibly the pattern of table fellowship was Jesus’ real point at the Last Supper, rather than a prescription of a rite surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection. This would result in the participants rejoicing because they realize they are part of God’s kingdom, as the people gathered aroudn His table (Milavec 2003, 393). Milavec continues with another assertion which can make Jesus unnecessary o the Christian message. “Today almost all scholars recognize that Jesus focused all his energies on the message of the kingdom, while, with the passage of time, the church gradually focused its energies on the messenger (Milavec 2003, 393). Milavec’s conclusion remains that the Didache community would have neglected to look for God the Son but would have looked only for the Father in the last day.
The prayers around the eucharist in Didache 10 look both to the past and to the future (Milavec 2003, 395). In the future, we look to God in hope that He will gather His kingdom from around the world. In the last day, the prayer is that God would save, perfect, and gather His church (Milavec 2003, 396). The clebrant and the participants look for a coming time of God’s grace, which will be received wholeheartedly and enthusiastically.
Milavec notes that in addition to the one Greek manuscript of the Didache, there is a Coptic version of Didache 10:3b-12:2a. The text of 10:6 has a variant which may be significant (Milavec 2003, 398). Rather than making a call of praise to the “God of David” it sings praise to the “house of David.” This suggests again to Milavec that the text didn’t look for God the Son but for God the Father, avoiding any Messianic worship.
Milavec questions the conventional wisdom that Didache 10:6 commands non-communicants to depart from the assembly prior to communion. Since he finds a consecration of sorts at 9:2-4 but people are not told to “turn” or “convert” until later, the turning may be repentance rather than a literal turning to leave the assembly (Milavec 2003, 401).
The eschatological expectation of the Didache communities may be foreign to our generation. After all, the second coming has not happened as yet. We are accustomed to the idea it may not be immediate. However, the sense of social instability found in the first century may well have urged Christians to look forward to a coming of Christ and a new social order (Milavec 2003, 402).
Milavec notes a strong Jewish character in the eucharistic prayers. Although we do not have adequate samples from the period for comparison, there are strong similarities to prayers in rabbinic traditions from various times. It seems a reasonable conclusion (Milavec 2003, 403).
The frequency and timing of the eucharist is a mystery. Milavec asserts that it was a full meal. The conclusion of Didache 14:1 is that the celebration was weekly. The full meal would suggest evening rather than morning, thus pointing to Saturday evening (Milavec 2003, 404).
Milavec questions whether the first century Christians had definitive patterns to identify those celebrating the eucharist. It is clear that Jesus was not part of the priestly class. Jesus’ appointment of the Twelve was not an elevation of them to a special rank. Acts also does not seem to recognize a special role (Milavec 2003, 405). Didache does not indicate an important role of mentors, but it is unclear how far this authority extended.