Patristic Evidence

DIDASKALIA on John 8:1-11
(circa 250 A.D.)

Exerpted from: Didaskalia Apostolorum,
II 24:6; Funk ed. I, 93 (c. 250 A.D.)

Page Index

Last Updated: Feb 15, 2009

Section 1: - Introduction to the Didaskalia
Section 2: - The Didaskalia on John 8:1-11 Newly Expanded!
Section 3: - The Didaskalia - select quotations

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Raymond Brown in his Anchor Bible Commentary (1966) p. 335 gives us a brief background on the Didaskalia and John 8:1-11:

'The 3rd century Didaskalia Apostolorum (II 24:6; Funk ed., I, 93) gives a clear reference to the story of the adulteress and uses it as a presumably well-known example of our Lord's gentleness; this work is of Syrian origin, and the reference means that the story was known (but not necessarily as Scripture) in 2nd-century Syria.'

Raymond Brown, (Anchor Bible/Commentary on John, 1966) p.355

The Catholic Encyclopedia Online offers us a bit more background:

Didascalia Apostolorum:

- A treatise which pretends to have been written by the Apostles at the time of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), but is really a composition of the 3rd century. It was first published in 1854, in Syriac.

In 1900 a Latin translation, perhaps of the 4th century, was discovered, more than half of which has perished. The original was in Greek, and this can be to some extent restored by a comparison with the Apostolic Constitutions, the first eight books of which are simply a revised and enlarged edition of the Didascalia.

The attempt at restoration made by Lagard was a failure but an excellent guide is now at hand in the new edition (1906) by Funk, in which the Greek of the Apostolic Constitutions is printed side by side with the Latin of the Didascalia, a translation from the Syriac supplying the lacunae of the old Latin version. Everything in the Apostolic Constitutions which is not found in the Didascalia is underlined, so that the relations of the two documents, and to a great extent the original Greek of the Didascalia, can be seen at a glance.


The full title given in the Syriac is "Didascalia, that is, the Catholic doctrine of the twelve Apostles and the holy disciples of our Lord". The contents are the same as those of the corresponding books of the Apostolic Constitutions.

Especially noticeable is the treatment which bishops are ordered to give to penitents. Even great sinners, on repentance, are to be received with kindness. No sins are excepted. The canonical penance is to be of two to seven weeks. This legislation is obviously subsequent to Novatianism; it is not so certainly aimed against Novatianism.

The church officials are bishops, deacons, priests, widows (and orphans); deaconesses are also added, in one place rectors, and once subdeacons. These last may have been interpolated.

Circumstance of Composition

This organization is behind that of Rome under Pope Cornelius in 251 A.D.; hence Funk in 1891 placed the date of the work in the first half of the 3rd century.

But the whole Western system never spread to the East, and the development was uneven. Funk therefore withdrew this opinion in 1901, giving the second half of the century as the true date.

The heresies mentioned are those of Simon Magus and Cleobius (this name is given also by Hegesippus), with Gnostics and Ebionites. Against these, Christians must believe in the Trinity, the Scriptures, and the Resurrection. The original Law of Moses is to be observed, but not the Second Law, or Deuterosis (Deuteronomy) which was given to the Jews on account of the hardness of their hearts.

The O.T. is frequently quoted, and often at great length. Gospels are cited by name, usually that of St. Matthew, the others less often, and that of St. John least of all, as it was traditionally held to have been written at a much later date than that which the Didascalia claims for itself. Acts and nearly all the Epistles are freely employed, including Hebrews, but the Apocalypse (Revelation) is not cited. None of these could be named.

The Pericope de Adultera

Harnack has gone quite wrong in arguing that the only place in which the Fourth Gospel is quoted formally as the Gospel is an interpolation, with his inference (at which he naturally expresses his surprise) that the author did not know or did not esteem that Gospel. (A quotation of the pericope de adultera, John 8, is important.)

Harnack further holds that the gentle treatment of sinners is an interpolation intended against Novatianism, and that the deaconesses as well as the subdeacon are a later addition.

Date, Origin and Circulation

He dates the original form in the first half of the 3rd century, and the additions in the last quarter of it; but the reasons given are very weak. Achelis leaves the whole of the century open, but says that the later the work is placed in it, the better he feels he understands it.

The earliest mention of the work is by St. Epiphanius, who believed it to be Apostolic. He found it in use among the Audiani, Syrian heretics. The few extracts he gives do not quite tally with our present text; but then he is notoriously inexact in his quotations.

Next we find the whole work incorporated into the Apostolic Constitutions, at the end of the 4th century, and soon afterwards it is quoted in the Pseudo-Chrysostom's "Opus Imperfectum in Matt." But the work never had a great vogue, and it was superseded by the Apostolic Constitutions.

The place of composition was Syria, though what part cannot be determined. The author was apparently a bishop, and presumably a Catholic. His book is badly put together, without logical structure, but not without some good sense. It never touches upon dogma but concerns itself entirely with praotice. It has been called the earliest attempt to compile a Corpus juris canonici.

Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. IV(NY, 1908)

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on John 8:1-11

Key Quotation from Syriac Version of Didaskalia

This exerpt has been expanded using the longer more complete quotation found on the PA page posted by Ben. C. Smith 08/13/2007 on, and can be found here:
Ben Smith's Page on Jn 8:1-11 <-- Click here for Smith.

Didascalia Apostolorum (3rd CE, ch. 7, translated from Syriac,
Codex Sangermanensis (MS Syr 62 of the Bib. Nationale, 8th or 9th CE):

"Beware therefore, you that are without faith, 1 lest any man of you establish in his heart the thought of Amon, and perish suddenly and swiftly. Wherefore, O bishop, so far as you can, keep those that have not sinned, so that they may continue without sinning; and those that repent of their sins heal and receive. But if you receive not him who repents, because you are without mercy, you shall sin against the Lord God; for you do not obey our savior and our God, to do as he also did with her that had sinned, whom the elders set before him, and leaving the judgement in his hands, departed. But he, the searcher of hearts,

....asked her and said to her:
'...Have the elders 2 condemned you, my daughter?'

She says to him: 'No, Lord.'

And he said to her: 'Go your way: neither do I condemn you.' "

(John 8:10b-11)

- In him, therefore, our savior and king and God, shall be your pattern, O bishops, and imitate him, so that you may be quiet and meek, and merciful and compassionate, and peacemakers, and without anger, and teachers and correctors and receivers and exhorters; and so that you be not wrathful or tyrannical; and so that you be not insolent or haughty or boastful."

- Didascalia 7, (English transl.of R. Hugh Connolly,
hosted at Bombaxo,
modernized slightly by Ben. C. Smith)


1. * This phrase Connolly had marked as a Syriac mistranslation of the original Greek, e.g. probably it read "Oh ye of little faith" or something similar.

2. John 8:10b-11, but with "the elders" as an unusual textual variant, probably introduced by the author to identify the parties, left ambiguous in the short exerpt of the story. It shows that the writer/teacher was willing to adjust the exact words of Jesus, for the very purpose of carefully maintaining the sense of the statement (who Jesus is talking of). Note also the original double-negative in Jesus' speech ("has no one"..) is also dropped to avoid ambiguity.

These obvious clues lead us to the reasonable and probable conclusion that the author or translator of the Didaskalia was probably also responsible for the surprising but more friendly "my daughter" as a substitute for the harsher "woman" (i.e. stranger).

The final variant in the last line is also a transparent paraphrase for teaching purposes. Having the quotation end with "sin no more" directed at the woman runs counter to the whole point of the lesson here, which is meant to encourage the Christian leaders to be merciful and compassionate, not encourage them to view the woman with sterness and scorn.

It is obvious from examining the section preceding the quotation that the writer is familiar with the original ending, when he admonishes the bishops with "so far as you can, keep those that have not sinned, so that they may continue without sinning;". This shows both an awareness of "sin no more" and more remarkably, the unusual and difficult pronouncement of Jesus (not quoted): "he who is without sin...".

Such textual variants are of no significance as to the wording of the original story, but actually tell us more about early Christian teachers and writers than of scribes or mainstream textual history. In fact it was teachers and writers who invented most of the deliberate innovations to the text, and not copyists.


Exerpts in English

The following sample exerpts are taken from their source has been: G. Homer, The Didascalia Apostolorum. The Syriac Version Translated, (Oxford 1929).

Widows should not explain
complicated doctrine to outsiders

Chapter 15. Every widow therefore ought to be meek and quiet and gentle. And let her also be without malice and without anger; and let her not be talkative or clamorous, or forward in tongue, or quarrelsome, And when she sees anything unseemly done, or hears it, let her be as though she saw and heard it not. For a widow should have no other care save to be praying for those who give, and for the whole Church. And when she is asked a question by any one, let her not straightway give an answer, except only concerning righteousness and faith in God; but let her send them that desire to be instructed to the rulers. And to those who question them let them (the widows) make answer only in refutation of idols and concerning the unity of God. But concerning punishment and reward, and the kingdom of the name of Christ, and Ilis dispensation, neither a widow nor a layman ought to speak; for when they speak without the knowledge of doctrine, they will bring blasphemy upon the word. For our Lord likened the word of His tidings to mustard; but mustard, unless it be skilfully tempered, is bitter and sharp to those who use it. Wherefore our Lord said in the Gospel, to widows and to all the laity: Cast not your pearls before swine, lest they trample upon them and turn against you and rend you. For when the Gentiles who are being instructed hear the word of God not fittingly spoken, as it ought to be, unto edification of eternal life—and all the more in that it is spoken to them by a woman—how that our Lord clothed Himself in a body, and concerning the passion of Christ: they will mock and scoff, instead of applauding the word of doctrine; and she shall incur a heavy judgement for sin.

Women, especially widows,
should not teach

Chapter 15, ( cont. ) It is neither right nor necessary therefore that women should be teachers, and especially concerning the name of Christ and the redemption of His passion. For you have not been appointed to this, 0 women, and especially widows, that you should teach, but that you should pray and entreat the Lord God. For He the Lord God, Jesus Christ our Teacher, sent us the Twelve to instruct the People and the Gentiles; and there were with us women disciples, Mary Magdalene and Mary the daughter of James and the other Mary; but He did not send them to instruct the people with us. For if it were required that women should teach, our Master Himself would have commanded these to give instruction with us. But let a widow know that she is the altar of God; and let her sit ever at home, and not stray or run about among the houses of the faithful to receive. For the altar of God never strays or runs about anywhere, but is fixed in one place.

Widows should stay at home

Syriac Chapter 15, (cont.) A widow must not therefore stray or run about among the houses. For those who are gadabouts and without shame cannot be still even in their houses; for they are no widows, but *wallets*, and they care for nothing else but to be making ready to receive. And because they are gossips and chatterers and murmurers, they stir up quarrels; and they are bold and shameless. Now they that are such are unworthy of Him who called them; for neither in the common assembly of rest of the Sunday, when they have come, are such women or men watchful, but they either fall asleep or prate about some other matter: so that through them others also are taken captive by ro the enemy Satan, who suffers not such persons to be watchful unto the Lord. And they who are such, coming in empty to the Church, go out more empty still, since they hearken not to that which is spoken or read to receive it with the ears of their hearts. Such persons, then, are like those of whom Isaiah Is said: Hearing ye shall hear, ard shall not understard; ard seeing ye shall see, and shall not see. for the heart of this people is waxed gross, and with their ears they hear heavily, and their eyes they have shut: lest at any time they should see with their eyes, aud hear with their ears.

Suitable women should
be ordained as deaconesses

Chapter 16. Wherefore, O bishop, appoint thee workers of righteousness as helpers who may co-operate with thee unto salvation. Those that please thee out of all the people thou shalt choose and appoint as deacons: a man for the performance of the most things that are required, but a woman for the ministry of women. For there are houses whither thou canst not send a deacon to the women, on account of the heathen, but mayest send a deaconess. Also, because in many other matters the office of a woman deacon is required. In the first place, when women go down into the water, those who go down into the water ought to be anointed by a deaconess with the oil of anointing; and where there is no woman at hand, and especially no deaconess, he who baptizes must of necessity anoint her who is being baptized. But where there is a woman, and especially a deaconess, it is not fitting that women should be seen by men: but with the imposition of hand do thou anoint the head only. As of old the priests and kings were anointed in Israel, do thou in like manner, with the imposition of hand, anoint the head of those who receive baptism, whether of men or of women; and afterwards—whether thou thyself baptize, or thou command the deacons or presbyters to baptize—let a woman deacon, as we have already said, anoint the women. But let a man pronounce over them the invocation of the divine Names in the water.

Deaconesses should
instruct women converts

Chapter 16, (cont.) And when she who is being baptized has come up from the water, let the deaconess receive her, and teach and instruct her how the seal of baptism ought to be (kept) unbroken in purity and holiness. For this cause we say that the ministry of a woman deacon is especially needful and important. For our Lord and Saviour also was ministered unto by women ministers, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the daughter of James and mother of Jose, an.d the mother of the sons of Zebedee, with other women beside. And thou also hast need of the ministry of a deaconess for many things; for a deaconess is required to go into the houses of the heathen where there are believing women, and to visit those who are sick, and to minister to them in that of which they have need, and to bathe those who have begun to recover from sickness.

Deacons and deaconesses
are to care for people

Chapter 16, (cont.) And let the deacons imitate the bishops in their conversation: nay, let them even be labouring more than he. And let them not love filthy lucre; but let them be diligent in the ministry. And in proportion to the number of the congregation of the people of the Church, so let the deacons be, that they may be able to take knowledge (of each) severally and refresh all; so that for the aged women who are infirm, and for brethren and sisters who are in sickness—for every one they may provide the ministry which is proper for him. But let a woman rather be devoted to the ministry of women, and a male deacon to the ministry of men.

Deacons and deaconesses should
work closely with the Bishop

Chapter 16, (cont.) But let a woman rather be devoted to the ministry of women, and a male deacon to the ministry of men. And let him be ready to obey and to submit himself to the command of the bishop. And let him labour and toil in every place whither he is sent to minister or to speak of some matter to any one. For it behoves each one to know his office and to be diligent in executing it. And be you (bishop and deacon) of one counsel and of one purpose, and one soul dwelling in two bodies. And know what the ministry is, according as our Lord and Saviour said in the Gospel: Whoso among yon desireth to be chief, let him be your servant: even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. So ought you the deacons also to do, if it fall to you to lay down your life for your brethren in the ministry which is due to them. For neither did our Lord and Saviour Himself disdain (to be) ministering to us, as it is written in Isaiah: To justify the righteous, who hath performed well a service for many. If then the Lord of heaven and earth performed a service for us, and bore and endured everything for us, how much more ought we to do the like for our brethren, that we may imitate Him. For we are imitators of Him, and hold the place of Christ. And again in the Gospel you find it written how our Lord girded a linen cloth about his loins and cast water into a wash-basin, while we reclined (at supper), and drew nigh and washed the feet of us all and wiped them with the cloth. Now this He did that He might show us (an example of) charity and brotherly love, that we also should do in like manner one to another. If then our Lord did thus, will you, O deacons, hesitate to do the like for them that are sick and infirm, you who are workmen of the truth, and bear the likeness of Christ ? Do you therefore minister with love, and neither murmur nor hesitate; otherwise you will have ministered as it were for men’s sake and not for the sake of God, and you will receive your reward according to your ministry in the day of judgement. It is required of you deacons therefore that you visit all who are in need, and inform the bishop of those who are in distress; and you shall be his soul and his mind; and in all things you shall be taking trouble and be obedient to him.

Rabbinical rules of ‘uncleanness’
should be abandoned by Christians

Chapter 26. . . . . “But if there be any who are precise and desire, after the Second Legislation, to observe the wonted courses of nature and issues and marriage intercourse: first let them know that, as we have already said, together with the Second Legislation they affirm the curse against our Saviour and lo condemn themselves to no purpose. And again, let them tell us, in what days or in what hours they keep themselves from prayer and from receiving the Eucharist, or from reading the Scriptures—let them tell us whether they are void of the Holy Spirit. For through baptism they receive the Holy Spirit, who is ever with those that work righteousness, and does not depart from them by reason of natural issues and the intercourse of marriage, but is ever and always with those who possess Him, and keeps them; as the Lord said in Proverbs: If thou sleep, he keepeth thee; and when thou awakes, he will speak with thee. And in the Gospel also our Lord said: Every one that has, there shall be given to him, and shall be added unto him; but from him that hath not, even that which he thinketh he hath shall be taken away. To those therefore who have, yea, it shall be added unto them; but from those is who think that they have not, even that which they think they have shall be taken away. ”

The Holy Spirit remains with a woman
during her monthly period

Chapter 26, (cont.) “For if thou think, O woman, that in the seven days of thy flux thou art void of the Holy Spirit; if thou die in those days, thou wilt depart empty and without hope. But if the Holy Spirit is always in thee, without (just) impediment dost thou keep thyself from prayer and from the Scriptures and from the Eucharist. For consider and see, that prayer also is heard through the Holy Spirit, and the Eucharist through the Holy Spirit is accepted and sanctified, and the Scriptures are the words of the Holy Spirit, and are holy. For if the Holy Spirit is in thee, why dost thou keep thyself from approaching to the works of the Holy Spirit ? as those who say: Whosoever sweareth by the altar, sinneth not; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, sinneth. As our Lord said: Fools and blind, whether is greater, the gift,or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? ‘ Everyone therefore that sweareth by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all that is upon it. And every one that sweareth by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And every one that sweareth by the heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon. If therefore thou possess the Holy Spirit, but keep thyself from His fruits so that thou approach not to them, thou also shalt hear from our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Fool and blind, whether is greater, the bread, or the Spirit that (sanctifieth the bread )? ‘ Therefore, if the Holy Spirit thou possessest: fool, thou keepest vain observances. But if the Holy Spirit is not in thee, how canst thou work righteousness7 For the Holy Spirit continues ever with those who possess Him; but from whom He departs, to him an unclean spirit joins himself. For the unclean spirit, when he is gone out from a man, departeth and goeth ahout in waterless places— that is, men who go not down into the water (of baptism)—and when he hath found him no rest, he saith: I will return to my former house, whence I came out. If therefore he come and find it empty and swept and garnished, then he goeth and taketh with him seven other spirits worse than himself, and they come and dwell in that man; and his last state is made worse than theirs".

Giving in to Rabbinical taboos and rules
opens the way for the wrong spirit

Chapter 26, (cont.) “ Learn now, why, when the unclean spirit is gone out, he finds lo him no rest in any place: because every man soever is filled with a spirit, one with the Holy Spirit, and one with an unclean spirit. A believer is filled with the Holy Spirit, and an unbeliever with an unclean spirit: and his nature does not receive an alien spirit. He therefore who has withdrawn and separated himself and departed from the unclean spirit by baptism, is filled with the Holy Spirit; and if he do good works, the Holy Spirit continues with him, and he remains fulfilled; and the unclean spirit finds no place with him, for he who is filled with the Holy Spirit does not receive him. For all men are filled with their own spirit; and the unclean spirits depart not even a little from the heathen, while yet they are heathens, even though they imagine that they do good works; for there is no other power whereby the unclean spirit may depart save by the pure and holy Spirit of God. Thus, then, when he has nowhere found him a place to enter, he returns and comes to him from whom he went forth; because one who is filled with the Holy Spirit does not receive him.”

Chapter 26, (cont.) “ Thou then, O woman, according as thou sayest, (if) in the days of thy flux thou art void, thou shalt be filled with unclean spirits. For when the unclean spirit returns to thee and finds him a place, he will enter and dwell in thee always: and then will there be entering in of the unclean spirit and going forth of the Holy Spirit, and perpetual warfare. Wherefore, O foolish (women), these misfortunes befall you because of your imaginings; and because of the observances which you keep, and on account of your imaginings, you are emptied of the Holy Spirit and filled with unclean spirits: and you are cast out from life into the burning of everlasting fire. But again I will say to thee, O woman: In the seven days of thy flux thou accountest thyself unclean according to the Second Legislation [=rabbinical rules]: after seven days, therefore, how canst thou be cleansed without baptism [=ritual washing]? But if thou be baptized [=washed in rabbinical purification] for that which thou supposest, thou wilt undo the perfect baptism of God which wholly forgave thee thy sins, and wilt be found in the evil plight of thy former sins; and thou shalt be delivered over to eternal fire. But if thou be not baptized, according to thine own supposition thou remainest unclean, and the vain observing of the seven days has availed thee nothing, but is rather hurtful to thee; for according to thy supposition thou art unclean, and as unclean thou shalt be condemned. ”

The normal fluids of sex and
intercourse in marriage are clean

Chapter 26, (cont.) “ Be thus minded therefore concerning all those who observe issues and the intercourse of marriage; for all these observances are foolish and hurtful. For if, when a man use matrimony, or is blood come forth from him, he be baptized, let him also wash his couch: and he will have this labour and vexation incessantly; he will be baptizing and will be washing his clothes and his couch, and will be able to do nothing else. Now if thou be baptized from an issue and from marriage ao intercourse according to the Second Legislation, thou owest it when thou treadest upon a mouse . . . And if thou tread uon a bone, or enterest a tomb thou ought to be baptized . . . . etc. ”

Chapter 26, (cont.) “Do not load yourselves again with that our Lord and Saviour has lifted from you. And do not observe these things, nor think them uncleanness; and do not refrain yourselves on their account, nor seek after sprinklings, or baptisms, or purification for these things. For in the Second Legislation, if one touch a dead man or a tomb, he is baptized [=needs purification]; but do you not, according to the Gospel and according to the power of the Holy Spirit, come together even in the cemeteries, and read the holy Scriptures, and without demur perform your ministry and your supplication to God; and offer an acceptable Eucharist, the likeness of the royal body of Christ, both in your congregations and in your cemeteries and on the departures of them that sleep—pure bread that is made with fire and sanctified with invocations— and without doubting pray and offer for them that are fallen asleep? For they who have believed in God, according to the Gospel, even though they should sleep, they are not dead; as our Lord said to the Sadducees: Concerning the Resurrection of the Dead, have ye not read that whtch is written: I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And he is not the God of the dead, but of the living!And Elisha the prophet also, after he had slept and was a long while (dead), raised up a dead man; for his body touched the body of the dead and quickened and raised it up. But this could not have been were it not that, even when he was fallen asleep, his body was holy and filled with the Holy Spirit. For this cause therefore do you approach without restraint to those who are at rest [=the deceased], and hold them not unclean. ”

Men should not reject women
during their monthly periods

Chapter 26, (cont.) “In like manner also you shall not separate those (women) who are in the wonted courses; for she also who had the flow of blood was not chidden when she touched the skirt of our Saviour’s cloak, but was even vouchsafed the forgiveness of all her sins. And when (your wives) suffer those issues which are according to nature, have a care that, in a manner that is right, you cleave to them; for you know that they are your members, and do you love them as your soul: as it is written in the Twelve Prophets, (in) Malachi who was called the Angel: 7he Lord hath borne witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, whom thou hast left, thy partner, and she the wife of thy covenant. . . . .and the wife of thy youth thou shalt not leave. Wherefore, a woman when she is in the way of women, and a man when an issue comes forth from him, and a man and his wife when they consort and rise up one from another: let them assemble without restraint, without bathing, for they are clean. But if a man should corrupt and defile another’s wife after baptism, or be polluted with a harlot, and rising up from her should bathe in all the seas and oceans and be baptized in all the rivers, he cannot be made clean. ”