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The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians

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The Didache is one of the earliest Christian writings, dated to the first or second century—earlier than most of the writings that make up the New Testament. It provides practical instructions how to function as a Christian community and offers unique insights into the way early Christians lived and worshiped. Though not considered canonical, it did have some level of authority in the early church and is part of what's known as the Apostolic Fathers collection.

But often, people interested in reading the Didache aren't sure how to approach the text. Thomas O'Loughlin's The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians is an accessible introduction to the Didadche that resolves this issue and will help you discover unique insights into these first Christian communities.

In the book, Loughlin tells the intriguing story of the Didache from when it was discovered in the late nineteenth century to today. He then commentates on the entire text, highlighting areas of particular interest to Christians today, and ends with a fresh translation of the text itself. It's straightforward and easy to understand for anyone wishing to study the Didache and learn how today's church differs from the first-century assembly.

Resource Experts
  • Includes illustrations, an introduction, and further reading
  • Contains an index of biblical and ancient texts and an index of authors and subjects
  • List of Illustrations
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • A Chance Discovery
  • Choosing a Way
  • Joining the Group
  • Prayer and Fasting
  • Meeting and Eating
  • A Network of Service
  • Fears and Hope
  • The Challenge of the Didache
  • The Teaching of the Lord Given to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles
  • Further Reading
  • Index of Biblical and Ancient Texts
  • Index of Authors and Subjects

Top Highlights

“So what is ‘the teaching’? It is basic information about the Christian group’s lifestyle and their activities as the New People on the Way of Life. Once one had absorbed this teaching one had finished one’s own apprenticeship and was ready to enter fully into the body of Christ. Then, having mastered the teaching, one was in a position, without needing books or anything else, to act as a mentor in the process of shaping others as apprentice Christians. The didache was not just for teaching classes or for teachers, it was not just a set of lessons, it was meant to be absorbed so that its possessor would function as a part of Christ (> Rom. 12) and help others to join ‘the Way’ (> Acts 9:2).” (Page 13)

“First, members of every religious community—big or small—are always engaged in a process of forgetting some aspects of their past while simultaneously remembering and giving new life to other aspects of their past.” (Page xiii)

“The title, ‘The Didache’, comes from the heading Bryennios found at the head of the short text in the manuscript. It reads Didache kuriou dia tōn dōdeka apostolōn tois ethnesin which translates literally as ‘the Lord’s teaching to the nations through the twelve apostles’.” (Page 5)

“it is the earlier discovery of the Didache that alone shows us, from the inside, a church organizing itself.” (Page 14)

“However, we know from the Didache that there were wandering Christians known as ‘apostles and prophets’ going from church to church, and one of the problems was telling the genuine prophets from those who were using the gospel for their own ends. So the Didache sets up a test: unless there is a special need, they must only stay for one day as guests; but, if they stay three days, they are false prophets! To a poor community this rule provided for welcome—and allowed them to hear the apostles but also made sure that they were not exploited (Did. 11).” (Pages 15–16)

Readers of The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians won't learn about theory or big stories, but they will gain insight into how people thought and lived as Christians.

For example, consider this quote from the Didache: "There are two ways: one of life and one of death—and there is a big difference between the two." From the beginning, the Didache discusses the "way of life and death"—readers will glean a few valuable nuggets just from reading about it. But knowing where the "the way of life and death" concepts find their base—they are Moses' last words in Deuteronomy—brings more profound meaning to their use in the Didache. According to O'Loughlin, the focus on "the way of life and death" indicates those early Christians saw themselves as the covenant community of God, renewed in Jesus. The information like this that O'Loughlin offers gives background and context to the Didache and helps readers appropriately dissect the work.

Readers will also explore how the earliest Christian community at work and in prayer is evident in the Didache. It is primarily written about gentiles considering whether they want to follow Jesus. If they do, the Didache tells why they must learn the way of the covenant and then identify with the community through baptism.

Ultimately, reading The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians alongside the Didache will provide valuable insight into the lives of the earliest Christian communities, enhancing one's reading of their better-known writings, such as the gospels.

A truly accessible commentary on this ancient text and on the early Christian communities that lie behind it, and yet one that incorporates up-to-date academic scholarship.

—Paul Bradshaw, Professor of Liturgy, University of Notre Dame

A valuable and thorough introduction to an important though little-studied work that provides a unique window on a corner of the early Christian world.

—Sean Freyne, Emeritus Professor of Theology, Trinity College Dublin

I highly recommend this informed, engaging, and pastorally sensitive exploration of the Didache. Reading the text within its Jewish roots and in harmony with its New Testament parallels, Thomas O'Loughlin shows how the Didache admirably shaped the faith and practice of second-generation Christians in ways that have relevance for us today.

—Aaron Milavec, author of The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50–70 C.E.

  • Title: The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians
  • Author: Thomas O’Loughlin
  • Publisher: SPCK
  • Publication Date: 2010
  • Pages: xvii, 256

Thomas O'Loughlin, BA, Phil, PhD, STB, and DD, is a professor of historical theology at the University of Nottingham, Faculty of Arts, UK. But he started his teaching career at University College Dublin.

While researching his MPhil and, later, his PhD at Dublin, he held several positions, instructing in church history, traditional logic, the history of theology, and patristics. This experience gave him perspective on his research topics and pressed him to reflect on his personal theological method. In so doing, he recognized that while others might value his teaching as "the history of theology" or "the history of ideas," his desire to teach and research was rooted in what he calls "the discipline and perspective of historical theology."

He was offered a position in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Wales, Lampeter, in January 1997, which he says allowed him to develop "a distinctive style of historical theology focused on the dynamics of tradition within theology." His work there led to his appointment as Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Wales in February 2006 and being awarded a DD by Bangor University in 2010. He was later made scholar at the School of Religious Studies at the University of Wales—the school's first professor of historical theology.

He joined Nottingham in 2009. His research has focused on the early medieval period and the works of insular writers. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and the Royal Historical Society.

O'Loughlin is also a Catholic priest. In addition to The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians, O'Loughlin authored Saint Patrick: The Man and His Works, Missionary Monks: An Introduction to the History and Theology of Missionary Monasticism, and The Eucharist.


15 ratings

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  1. Jim Kelly

    Jim Kelly


  2. Byron Samson

    Byron Samson





  4. Jerry D Willis
  5. Veli-Pekka Haarala
  6. Scott J Sherwood
  7. Debra W Bouey
  8. anthony henderson
    This should be listed in the Verbum area, after all it is one of the most popular Catholic patristic works???
  9. GwG



  10. CharlesJ



    Thomas did a very good job on the Didache. I recommend it to all searching to see what the first century believers believed. The assembly (called church today) was quite different in the first century than what we have today. May we return to the pattern of the first century and the way Christ set the assembly up.


Digital list price: $24.99
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