Didache Introduction

Derek Thomas has a brief but helpful article about The Didache at reformation21. The Didache is an ancient Christian document that I have to admit a fascination with. In beginning Greek, our final was to translate a piece of it having never seen it before. That was a challenge but a fun one.

In the past, I have used The Didache to argue that baptism’s mode is not of paramount importance. Chapter seven is about how to baptize and it lists some options for acceptable modes. Included is pouring water over the head of the one being baptized. This doesn’t always persuade others since the document is not inspired scripture and there has been debate over the dating of the document. I would never give any document other than Scripture a place of authority on practice and belief, but if this is a first century document (more about that in a moment) then it shows the lexical range of the word baptizo within the Christian community. Baptizo does not always and only mean immersion, it came to take on a more elastic meaning within the ecclesial community.

Okay then, it has been argued, it doesn’t matter since it is a much later document. Here’s what Thomas says,

More recent scholarship has argued for a much earlier origin, possibly as early as the mid 50s of the first century. This has involved not so much a re-dating of the canonical Gospels as such, but on a view that has divorced The Didache from them entirely arguing instead for an oral tradition independent of the Gospel texts. The Didache thus represents the understanding of the church on some essential practical matters, including baptism and the Lord’s Supper, at a period when Paul was engaging in his Gentile mission but seemingly wholly independent of it.

Originally, some scholars tried to place the date of the Didache late because they believed it relied on the Gospels which they dated late. That line of critical scholarship has been effectively dealt with, but beyond that The Didache need not be dependent upon the Gospels no matter when they were written! It is indeed an ancient document.

I have to point out Thomas’ attempt to deflate the other use of the section on baptism: its blatantly credo-baptist 1Baptism upon credible profession of faith position. Consider these two sentence, one ending a paragraph and the other beginning the next paragraph:

Since the document is meant specifically as a training manual of neophytes, the argument over infants is redundant.

Seventhly, the Lord’s Supper receives a lengthy treatment (9:1 – 10:6). Paedo-communion devotees will find no support here. The entire ritual assumes the ability to discern.

Did you catch that? On the credo-baptist front, he seeks to deflate the usefulness of the document because it was addressed to neophytes but on the issue of communion he attempts to use it to disprove paedo-communion. 2Giving Communion to baptized infants. For me, the fact that it is addressed to neophytes and it makes no provision for children, nor in the list of options for baptizing does it give instruction for baptizing infants 3Yes, yes, I know it mentions pouring, but only as a last resort! The normal mode of baptism is immersion if that isn’t possible, then pour. For an infant that would be the exact opposite. The flies in the face of the document and therefore what was most likely the practice of the early church. Or were all first century converts to the faith childless? speaks volumes. When I have argued against infant baptism in the past, I was asked what first century Jewish converts were supposed to think. They grew up in a community of faith that included their children. Now when they come to be baptized they are told that their infants are not included? The argument proceeds on some very faulty premises but when we bring it to The Didache it disappears. The early Christian manual for baptism makes not provision or mention of infant baptism. It simply wasn’t practiced.

Neither was paedo-communion and that is why the instruction is for those who can discern. Both rites were and I think The Didache goes a good distance in proving that.

1 Baptism upon credible profession of faith
2 Giving Communion to baptized infants.
3 Yes, yes, I know it mentions pouring, but only as a last resort! The normal mode of baptism is immersion if that isn’t possible, then pour. For an infant that would be the exact opposite. The flies in the face of the document and therefore what was most likely the practice of the early church. Or were all first century converts to the faith childless?
Print This Post Print This Post


  • So, it seems you are arguing against infant baptism? Is that your current position?

  • Yea man, is and always has been.

    I understand and appriciate the paedo position but I don’t hold it.

  • I object, your honor: leading the witness. The Didache doesn’t mention infants. To then say “so it must not have been practiced” is an argument from silence, from a non-inspired document. Double Whammy! As to what it says about mode, I agree: Mark 7:14 (esp the textual amendations) would support the semantic range of the baptizo word group that means “pour, sprinkle, immerse” etc. (cf Heb 9). But, what it doesn’t say about infants, it doesn’t say.

    Thank you, your honor.

  • Were it simply not mentioned, as is the case in the NT, I would be compelled to grant your objection. However, since the document is not merely recording what happened but setting forth the procedure, I cannot agree. The motion stands.

  • DOH!

  • I was always under the impression you were a reformer and a westminster reformer (doesn’t the westminster speak to that?). Are you then a Baptist reformer?

    Got a translation of the didache available? or a interlinear? I would be interested in reading that.

  • The name of the blog is By Farther Steps. It comes from the 1689 London Baptist Confession paragraph 7.2. That was adapted from the Westminster so it is reasonable that you might think I’m a Presby. I call myself a dry presbyterian. :)

    Here’s a link with a ton of stuff on The Didache.

  • how important is the idea of adult baptism versus infant baptism?

    Are we encouraging folks to not get baptized as an adult? run into any other type ethical issues?

  • The issue really isn’t adult vs. infant, it is a matter of what baptism is and who are candidates for it. The paedobaptists say that it is for believers and their children. This is based on how the covenants God made have worked in the past. Abraham and his children. David and his childre. So why not believers and their children in the New Covenant? Some go so far as to say that since their children have been baptized, they are entitled to Communion as well. Others say that all the promises of the New Covenant belong to our children, including salvation.

    From a covenantal baptist position, I claim that the covenants that included children were established for a purpose. The covenant Seed was Jesus (Gal 3:16) and therefore has come to an end. The promises of the New Covenant are better, they are that the law will be written on new hearts, that we are sealed not with baptism but with the Holy Spirit. That circumcision has gone from an external removal of a piece of flesh on men to the inward reality it pictured: regeneration or the circumcision of Christ (Col 2:11). That is how we’re included in the New Covenant, not by who our parents are (John 1:12-13) but by God circumcising our hearts. We then baptize based on who we believe are covenant members. They do what the regenerate would do, they make a credible profession of faith. This is the New Testament example of who is baptized.

    So what is at stake? What is the nature of the church? Is is regenerate people or does it include non-elect, non-regenerate people? If it does, then I think the doctrine of particular redemption is lost since Paul called “the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28).

    The “ethical” issue is that we might be lying to our children by telling them they are saved if they have not professed faith in Christ. Some of the more extreme views do that.

  • It is baffling that a Christian denomination that shuns all trappings of “Catholic ritual” would insist that the Christian rite of Baptism be performed in such a rigid, ritualistic manner that they even surpass the strict adherence to ritualistic form of the Roman Catholic Church!

    Even if you believe that baptism is only for the purpose of a public profession of your faith, that it has nothing to do with salvation or the forgiveness of sins, why DEMAND that this rite be performed EXACTLY “as Jesus did it”??

    Christianity is about the heart, not the external ritual!


Join the Discussion

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>