Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.
One of the distinctive features of the Didache community was the use of the prayer we know as “The Lord’s Prayer.” People would gather as they were able, three times a day, and pray together (Milavec 2003, 308). Milavec’s assumption that children would not be baptized releases them from the obligation to pray. However, he recognizes that they would have been allowed to participate in the prayers.
Daily prayers were likely taken over from the practices of the Pharisees, who arose with a decentralizing role especially in the second century B.C. Though temple worship continued, the synagogue and customs of prayers in homes with family had developed over time (Milavec 2003, 309). When the synagogue leaders made requirements of a prayer and recitation liturgy, this was a radical change in Judaism. The custom of morning, noon, and evening prayers became established prior to about 200 A.D. (Milavec 2003, 310). The content of the prayers seems fairly static. This would suggest a similar pattern as Christianity developoed.
Milavec observes the Lord’s prayer exists in three basic versions: that of Matthew 6, that of Luke 11, and that of the Didache (Milavec 2003, 311). The version found in Luke in much briefer than those of Matthew and of Didache, which two are nearly identical (Milavec 2003, 312). Milavec notes that this similarity does not require dependence. The prayer may well have been firmly established in oral tradition. This says to Milavec that no community using Matthew would have written the Didache (Milavec 2003, 313).
Many have considered that the Lord’s Prayer is derived or adapted from a Jewish example. However, during the 20th century scholars have been increasingly convinced that the Jewish prayers, which are not attested by specific manuscripts until the 9th century, were not entirely uniform and monolithic (Milavec 2003, 314). Therefore they can no longer assume specific content with any degree of certainty.
The Lord’s Prayer as found in the Didache is carefully structured. The six petitions are gathered into two groups of three. The first and third have passive verbs, softening the idea of prayer actually commanding God (Milavec 2003, 315). Milavec notes the passive imperative is common in Jewish prayers. The fourth through sixth petitions all use active imperatives. They also are longer, with subordinate clauses (Milavec 2003, 316).
Milavec considers that the idea of God’s name being made holy by the presence of his kingdom is not a very common New Testament motif. However, it is present in the New Testament and relatively common i n the Old Testament (Milavec 2003, 317). The coming of God’s kingdom and rule seems central to both the New Testament and the Didache (Milavec 2003, 318). Although it is not clearly defined in the New Testament or the Didache, it is still a critical idea (Milavec 2003, 319).
The idea of God’s name being holy and his kingdom coming is tied up with his will being done. Milavec finds these three petitions inseparable (Milavec 2003, 320). As in all the previous petitions, the expectation is that God would be the primary actor. The prayer is addressed to God, not to the disciples.
Discussions of the Lord’s Prayer often begin with comments about the word “father.” Milavec considers Joachim Jeremias and his view that the Aramaic “abba” and the Greek “pater” would be an expression of special intimacy (Milavec 2003, 321). Reference to God as the father who loves his children is common in Jewish piety. It is further not so that Jesus “always addressed God as father” (Milavec 2003, 322). The sentimentalism which finds the prayer as an address to a doting father figure is unwarranted. The prayers in the Didache addressed to the Father always refer to God as the powerful and benevolent Master (Milavec 2003, 323).
The plea in the Lord’s prayer that God’s kingdom would come is a difficult statement. Milavec notes that many interpreters consider it fulfilled already in the age of the Church. However, it may also refer to the hope of a future second coming of Christ (Milavec 2003, 324). This view of a future kingdom may be troublesome to people on at least two levels. First, a cataclysmic coming of Christ challenges the presuppositions of slow progress advocated by an evolutionary viewpoint. Second, it has been expected “soon” for approximately two thousand years (Milavec 2003, 325). Milavec’s solution to the second problem is to cite scholars who consider the statements of urgent expectation to be creations of the early Christians but not Jesus (Milavec 2003, 326). Aside from that, he dismisses objections as “fundamentalist” and “prescientific.” Milavec concludes, however, that there may well have been at least some level of eschatological expectation in the Didache’s prayer that God’s kingdom would come (Milavec 2003, 328).
The second half of the Lord’s Prayer, Milavec observes, is phrased in aorist imperatives. He considers, then, that the idea of God’s provision of bread, forgiveness, and protection from temptation should be seen as single actions rather than ongoing, daily processes (Milavec 2003, 328). Milavec discusses the difficulty of the word “epiousios,” normally translated “daily.” It is not used elsewhere in Christian writing and he does not find it in secular Greek from this time (Milavec 2003, 329). Milavec considers that the provision of bread is to be seen as of one idea with the eucharistic prayers, and that the bread will be that which gives life in some futuristic kingdom (Milavec 2003, 330).
In the Lord’s Prayer the idea of “debt” is evident. Milavec notes that the Hebrew term for “debt” would commonly refer to a sin, a term used in Luke 7:41 translated into Greek (Milavec 2003, 331). In the prayer recorded in Didache the term “debt” is simgular. The aorist “forgive” is followed by our forgiving in the present tense, possibly referring to an ongoing or daily habit (Milavec 2003, 331). Thus, in the last judgment we ask that God’s one time forgiveness would be based on our habit of forgiving others. Milavec, with many others, sees this as a potential challenge to the idea of salvation solely by grace, not based on our works, in this case, forgiveness (Milavec 2003, 332).
The final petition of the Lord’s prayer asks God not to lead his people into temptations. The Greek word used frequently refers to a trial brought by Satan. Milavec’s concern here is that the language could suggest that God would direct people into a time of Satanic attack (Milavec 2003, 332). However, since the term is often used of a test from which a positive outcome is expected, and since the idiom of asking God not to lead to a negative normally is used to ask God for a positive, the petition would seem simply to ask God for protection from difficult trials (Milavec 2003, 333).