Milavec, Aaron. The Didache: Faith, Hope, & Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. New York: The Newman Press, 2003.
The Didache is unusual in that it directs a warm welcome to apostle-prophets (11:4) but that it limits the amount of hospitality to be given. The limitation may be related to an assumption that apostles are engaged in a mission to a variety of places, so should not remain in one place (Milavec 2003, 455).
When the apostle-prophet would leave a community he would not be given money but likely some food. Milavec notes this as the biblical and cultural norm for itinerant workers (Milavec 2003, 456). Milavec again asserts that the apostles had not renounced anything but became prophets due to anger at oppression. Their poverty was a way in which they maintained dependence on God. This dependence also set them apart from the pagan priests and prophets who regularly made a profit (Milavec 2003, 457).
According to Didache 11:7-8, the apostle-prophets engaged in some speech under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit. Milavec takes this not as anything paranormal or as a type of glossolalia. He asserts it to be “inspired” or “inspiring” (Milavec 2003, 458). This would imply that the apostle-prophet would have a message which was difficult to reject. The speakers were passionate in such a way that to ignore the message would be sinful. However, 11:8 says, “not everyone speaking in Spirit is a true prophet” (Milavec 2003, 459). Judgment was to be made not based on the message or the fervency, but on “the habits of the Lord” (11:8).
Some interpreters assert that “the habits of the Lord” (11:8) are a description of poverty and homelessness (Milavec 2003, 459). However, a voluntary giving of all to the poor so as to be like Jesus would not be verifiable, nor was it a typical standard until a later time. Further, the prophets were presented with offerings (13:7). Additionally, a wanderer who settled would eventually have a home (Milavec 2003, 460). To resolve this problem, Milavec asserts the passage “refers to the ‘habits of the Lord God’ rather than to ‘habits of the Lord Jesus’” (Milavec 2003, 461). He takes these to be characteristics such as love and forbearance, as opposed to whatever habits he assumes of Jesus. Again, Milavec clearly asserts that the Didache community would not have considered Jesus as God the Son. Milavec does make it clear that the Bible never assumes all itinerant preachers, including Jesus, were completely homeless or poverty-stricken. The idea of voluntary poverty to emulate Jesus is not easily defended (Milavec 2003, 462).
The Shepherd of Hermas gives some guidance in identifying true and false prophets (Milavec 2003, 463). The prophet is judged based on his character, which is to be meek, peaceable, humble, content, and not full of vain desires (Shepherd 11:8). Milavec considers the same characteristics to apply in the Didache communities. The people were to live out the Way of Life (Milavec 2003, 464).
The Didache does not give prophets a pass to do anything and everything. Milavec lists four limitations. First, a prophet as not allowed to “order a table” (11:9). The table would presumably be for the benefit of the needy, among whom the prophet may well be (Milavec 2003, 465). Possibly it was not provision of food for the needy but a eucharistic meal. If this were the case, the Didache was preventing the prophets from presiding over the eucharist. The role of the prophets was distinct from the role of the congregation. Though prophets are honored and may be teachers, they are not the mentors who consecrate the eucharist (Milavec 2003, 466). The language in this passage is somewhat obscured, apparently pointing obliquely toward a well known condition.
There is further discussion in Didache 11 of a “worldly mystery of the church” (Milavec 2003, 466). This mystery is not clearly described. Some scholars speculate that this refers to women who may or may not have been prophets, but who would travel with the prophets as if married (Milavec 2003, 467). Milavec recognizes that the language used is vague enough that we really cannot know the implications. The Coptic fragment of this passage appears to misconstrue the Greek, leaving us with no help (Milavec 2003, 468).
Prophets are prohibited in Didache 11;12 from pursuit of personal financial gain (Milavec 2003, 469). This stood in stark contrast to the actions of the pagan prophets who specifically worked for profit. Prophets could make needs of others known. They were not to make these needs a priority of the whole congregation, but they could certainly introduce the need and seek to supply it (Milavec 2003, 470).
The Didache refers to caring for prophets. In the absence of prophets, contributions are made to the poor. Milavec observes no attempt to train or send prophets. “On the face of it, the Didache community appears to attract, absorb, and, in the end, dissolve the prophetic spirit itself” (Milavec 2003, 471). Milavec questions why this would be. He leans on Crosson’s explanation, that prophetic activity is created by adversity (Milavec 2003, 472). The Didache would not, then, advocate people’s move into adversity, then abandonment of their families. The hope given in a Didache community would bring strength and confidence, not hopelessness. Milavec’s comments show a sympathy rooted in God’s love, but willing to step in and help before God would do so (Milavec 2003, 473). The picture Milavec draws is one of a liberation theology in which prophets receive healing after being driven to prophecy by tyrannical oppression. As they receive care from the community they become well adjusted and no longer engage in prophecy (Milavec 2003, 474).
Milavec goes on to emphasize that prophets are nurtured in their gifts over a long time in a community that takes the eucharist seriously (Milavec 2003, 476). Prophets, as he sees them, are people who wish to use action to relieve suffering and alienation, including an alienation from God. Because the Didache communities apparently had a well developed liturgy, they would attract prophets (Milavec 2003, 477). Yet again Milavec asserts that unless someone suffered profoundly, he could never become a prophet.
Because prophets received the first fruits, some scholars have put them in the place of high priests, the celebrants of the eucharist (Milavec 2003, 477). Milavec does not think this can be concluded from the text (Milavec 2003, 478). The role of prophet could be replaced by beggars, who would receive gifts. The Eucharist has a developed outline, which does not require prophetic gifts. Milavec doesn’t find a leader of the Eucharist referred to as a priest until the late second century. It appears, rather, that local officials served as liturgists.
Prophets who wished to settle in the Didache community received some special treatment. According to 13:1 they were exempt from the normal work requirements. Milavec asks why this would be the case (Milavec 2003, 480). It seems likely that they are considered to be working as prophets, so are to be cared for. This is consistent with New Testament injunctions about apostles and elders (Milavec 2003, 481). It also treats prophets much like the mentors who would not be able to engage in a trade to the same extent as someone less engaged in teaching (Milavec 2003, 482).
A pertinent question is whether the prophets of the Didache were involved in ecstatic prayers (Milavec 2003, 483). Milavec notes that scholars are sharply divided over the role of ecstasy in Christian prophecy. He then goes on to describe ecstasy as practiced in Hellenic and Roman paganism. Jewish sources, such as Philo, assert that prophets retain control of their faculties while delivering prophecies. The apostle Paul encourages prophecy which is understood by all (Milavec 2003, 485). The situation is a little different in the Didache. “In the Didache, prophetic speech is preeminently giving thanks to God within the context of the community eucharist (10:7)” (Milavec 2003, 486). This is not speech from God but to God. In the Didache the speech seems controlled by the prophet and readily understood. Therefore, it does not appear ecstatic in nature (Milavec 2003, 487). This may be distinguished from the later Montanist movement. This movement, as distinct from theDidache community, attempted to usher in something strikingly new (Milavec 2003, 488). While the Didache may have been used to promote the excesses of montanism, Milavec does not consider that a natural outgrowth of the Didache. Rather, the ideas, which were fairly neutral as regards prophecy, were apporpriated for use by the radical movement. Milavec goes so far as to suggest the Didache would have been in the recognized canon if it had not seemed open to prophetic activity (Milavec 2003, 489).