Extant in its entirety in Syriac, Arabic and Ethiopic, partially in Latin, and in a few Greek fragments, this church order deals principally with the episcopate and with the duties of the bishop. It has been suggested that the overall purpose of the Didascalia is to impose episcopacy and to undermine other forms of leadership, in particular the authority exercised by widows. This may be an overstatement, but certainly part of the redactorâ€™s purpose is the consolidation of episcopal authority. In the first edition of this encyclopedia, Nautin suggested that the redactor had used a lost treatise on the threefold order, which was also employed by the redactor of the Apostolic Church Order.
This is possible, though it is also possible that this treatise was transmitted to the redactor through the means of the Apostolic Church Order, as there are echoes of that document throughout the treatise. Although the whole is addressed to the bishops, numerous topics, such as the Pascha, the importance of teaching trades to children and the origin of heresy are included in what is a rambling and contradictory document made up of numerous strata of tradition. Among the tensions within the treatise, we may note contradictory statements on penance and a chaotic chapter on the Pascha that attempts to combine different paschal chronologies, incorporating a document of Quartodeciman provenance though here the textual tradition is extremely complex, as there is a large omission in one manuscript, perhaps representing an attempt to rationalize the situation.
Beyond directing the bishops, the Didascalist is much exercised by Judaizing tendencies within the communities addressed, leading to polemic against those who keep the Sabbath, and a view of the law of the Old Testament as secondary. This indicates a Syrian provenance; a citation by Aphraates indicates a terminus ad quem of the mid-fourth century, though much of the material may be earlier.