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The Earliest References to Matthew’s Gospel: The Didache?

There is a significant amount of debate over whether the text known as ““The Lord’s Teaching through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations,” or simply the “Teaching” (Didache), was dependent on Matthew’s Gospel. The debate is complicated by the likelihood that the Didache was a composite text, edited over time by different hands who may have lived in the same cultural milieu as this Gospel writer. Thus, some scholars insist that the Didache was dependent on Matthew’s Gospel (cf.  MassauxKöhler, Wengst, Tuckett, Jefford, Balabanski, Kelhoffer, Andrejevs), others that it independently attests to common oral traditions ( KoesterAudet, Kloppenborg, Hagner, Draper, Niederwimmer, Rordorf, Milavec, Sandt and Flusser, Young), and one scholar that Matthew was dependent on the Didache (Garrow – though he does argue for a final “gospel layer” added to the Didache that does reveal its editor’s knowledge of Matthew’s Gospel). In my forthcoming book on Matthew, I look at whether the four references to the “gospel” in Did. 8:2, 11:3, and 15:3-4 refer to the Gospel of Matthew and briefly examine the Lord’s prayer as a test case (8:2). The basic theories are that the Didache depends on Matthew’s “Gospel” for the Lord’s prayer, that the Didache defines the “gospel” as the message that Jesus proclaimed and that both it and the author of Matthew’s Gospel were indebted to a common liturgical tradition, or Garrow’s proposal (The Gospel of Matthew’s Dependence on the Didache, 165-77) that Matt 6:1-18 drew on Did. 8:1-2 and Mark 11:25/12:40-44 for its whole section on religious piety (i.e. almsgiving, prayer, forgiveness, fasting) and that the reference to the “gospel” in Did. 8:2 was added later by someone who wanted to line up the communal prayer known to the Didache’s readers with the passage in Matthew’s Gospel.

Christopher M. Tuckett wrote the chapter “The Didache and the Writings that Later Formed the New Testament” in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (ed. Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 83-127. I will not cover every example that he discusses in his section on the Didache and Matthew (95-125), but will just summarize his analysis of Did. 16 (110-19). There are a handful of parallels between this chapter and the eschatological discourse in Matt 24. The points below should be set in dialogue with Kloppenborg’s article that argues that Did. 16.6-8 only parallels Matthew’s special material that Matthew inherited from a source and Milavec’s rebuttal that Did. 16 is not relying on Matt 24 as most of Matthew’s content is unparalleled and Did. 16:8 uses the title “Lord” (meaning the Lord God) rather than “Son of Man” as well as the stereotypical imagery of “clouds of heaven” as the mode of divine transport (see the links above).

  • 16:1 (pp. 111-12) – the command to watch over your life may reflect the rewording of Mark 13:33 in Matt 24:42 in the call to watch in light of the unknown timing of the Lord’s return, but Mark 13:35 expresses a similar idea. The warning to not let your lamps go out or loins be ungirded is similar to Luke 12:35, but there is debate over whether Luke took this from a source, drew on stock proverbial imagery, or redactionally created this verse combining both images. The advice to be ready as one does not know when the Lord will return reminds one of the thief in the night image (Matt 24:44/Luke 12:40; cf. Matt 24:42; Mark 13:35 [but I would note that this saying has widespread attestation in early Christian literature]).
  • 16:3-5 (pp. 117-18) – there are echoes of Matt 24:10-12, including the increase of false prophets and lawlessness, love turning into hate, and many falling away, and the verses may be redactional. The picture of sheep becoming wolves is reminiscent of Matt 7:15 which has false prophets as wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing and, in the parallel with Matt 24:24/Mark 13:22 (see the next point), Matt 24:24 again uniquely refers to false prophets. This suggests that the Didache drew on three verses in Matthew’s Gospel about false prophets.
  • 16:4 (p. 114) – the prediction of a “world-deceiver” who performs signs and wonders and commits iniquities not done since the world began uses similar language to Matt 24:24/Mark 13:22 and Matt 24:21/Mark 13:19. While the verbal parallels are insignificant and the verses may just share typical apocalyptic imagery, the point is that Did. 16:4 parallels material held in common between Matthew and Mark rather than just Matthew’s unique material. The Didache’s singular figure differs from the plural false prophets in the Synoptics, but the former text may be selectively reusing Synoptic language to present a different eschatological scenario (114n99)
  • 16:5 (p. 115) – the assurance that those who endure in their faith will be saved after the fiery trial that causes many to fall away echoes Matt 24:13/Mark 13:13 (cf. Matt 10:22). Again, the verbal parallel is minor and encouragements to persevere appear in other apocalyptic texts (cf. Dan 12:12; 4 Ezra 6:25), but this is another instance of a parallel with material shared between Matthew and Mark.
  • 16:6 (p. 118) – Parallels with Matt 24:30a and 31 include the verb “appear,” the “sign(s),” the words “in heaven,” and the “trumpet.” The question is whether Matthew’s special material is redactional. Did. 16:6 differs in that it has three signs of truth including the opening of heaven, the trumpet, and the general resurrection, while Matt 24:30-31 has one sign of the Son of Man appearing in heaven causing the nations to mourn and the angels sent with a trumpet blast to gather the elect, but Did. 16:6 may selectively draw on Matt 24:30-31 to paint a new eschatological picture.
  • 16:8 (pp. 115-16) – this verse agrees with Matt 24:30/Mark 13:26 against Dan 7:13 LXX in adding “they will see” and altering the order of the Son of Man’s coming and the clouds, plus it reproduces Matthew’s redactional changes in having the Son of Man come “on” the clouds “of heaven.” Against Glover’s view that Did. 16:8 and Matt 24:30 independently conformed the wording of Jesus’s prediction to Dan 7:13 LXX, this does not account for their agreements against Dan 7:13 LXX. Koester’s inference that the words “on the clouds” were in a pre-Markan source cannot be demonstrated. Kloppenborg contends that the differences between Did. 16:8 and Matt 24:30 outweigh the similarities (e.g., why would Did. 16:8 not use the title “Son of Man” and omit “with power and great glory”?) and that Matt 24:30 changed Mark’s “in clouds” under the influence of the Didache’s source, but the Didache did not need to reuse all of Matthew’s wording if its author was re-envisioning Jesus’s eschatological coming, the ending of the Didache may have been cut off with possible further parallels to Matt 24 cut off along with it, and the evangelist’s own tendency to align scriptural allusions to the Septuagint accounts for Matthew’s rewording of Mark 13:26 to line it up with Dan 7:13 LXX rather than a hypothetical source.
  • The conclusion is that Did. 16 has parallels with Matthew’s unique material, Matthew’s shared material with Mark, and Matthew’s editing of Mark’s text (119).
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