01.1.2 Clement of Rome’s Canon of Scripture

The early church Father Clement regularly quotes the Old Testament with variations of “it is written,” and quotes the Lord Jesus with the words like “the words of the Lord” [1] For example:

…being especially mindful of the words of the Lord Jesus which He spake, teaching us meekness and long-suffering. For thus He spoke: “Be ye merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; forgive, that it may be forgiven to you; as ye do, so shall it be done unto you; as ye judge, so shall ye be judged; as ye are kind, so shall kindness be shown to you; with what measure ye mete, with the same it shall be measured to you.[2]

Here Clement is clearly identifying the Lord’s words as the Lord’s words. Jesus, being our Savior and the perfect prophet, Clement is apparently treating his words as “the word of God”.

But some of Clement’s Old Testament(OT) citations are not in the Protestant canon, notably references to Wisdom and Judith, which are deuterocanonical books in the Catholic bible, and part of the Septuagint from which Clement quoted.

There are no such “it is written” citations for parts of Clement’s writings that appear to be quotes from what we would call New Testament writings.  Although in Chapter XLVII Clement does say that the epistle Paul wrote to Corinth “truly under the inspiration of the spirit,” Clement clearly considers OT writings as scripture and does not give New Testament writings the same status. Clement marks OT scripture with the status of “It is written” which he does not do for New Testament writings. He specifically calls OT writings “scripture” which he does not do for New Testament writings.

The defining difference is that the OT references and quotations of Jesus are clearly identified. There are numerous things that Clement wrote that are also in the New Testament, but Clement does not acknowledge this. As with many other early church writers, there are many things that are stated in their writing that also appear in the New Testament.  Since these are not identified as quotations these are called “allusions” by theologians. In fact, there is no hard evidence that Clement and these other writers were intentionally quoting these New Testament documents. They were just as likely to be quoting the “Christianese” of the times, those sayings and teachings that people taught and repeated to each other. There are examples of this today. The terms “believer’s baptism” and “first communion” are modern “Christianese” in certain sects. Christianese is another name for the colloquialisms that people develop in their communities. A more modern secular colloquialism is the proverb (not necessarily true),  “You get what you pay for.”

Look at this section of 1 Clement:

Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love beareth all things, is long-suffering in all things.  There is nothing base, nothing arrogant in love. Love admits of no schisms: love gives rise to no seditions: love does all things in harmony.[3]

This whole section looks similar to verses in 1 Corinthians 13, but it clearly is not identical. Listing the sentences in order we can say that some of them are allusions to verses that we know as marked below and some are not.

  1. Love unites us with God.
  2. Love covers a multitude of sins. – (James 5:20; 1Peter 4:8)
  3. Love beareth all things, is long-suffering in all things. – (1Cor 13:4)
  4. There is nothing base, nothing arrogant in love.
  5. Love admits of no schisms: love gives rise to no seditions: love does all things in harmony.

It doesn’t look to me that Clement was quoting verses as much as he was teaching about love the way Paul did, and the process he used included the same expressions as verses that wound up in the New Testament because that was just the way Christians talked about love.

What is apparent is that Clement considered at least part of the Septuagint as scripture and held the words of our Lord to the highest standard. But while he acknowledged that at least once Paul wrote “truly under the inspiration of the spirit” he frequently says things that are in the New Testament without qualifying them as divinely inspired or otherwise of the standard called “scripture”. Clement doesn’t give a reference for his quote. Clement’s use of verses from Wisdom and Judith as well as the wording of some of his other quotations further suggest that the Septuagint was what he considered scripture. The frequent use of New Testament sayings suggests that while the books of the New Testament were probably in existence at this time, the sayings were part of the oral tradition that was familiar to believers

Clement’s “canon of scripture”, what he called the word of God, included the Old Testament of the Septuagint and most probably the words of Jesus.  Noted Bible scholar Bruce Metzger puts it this way:

By way of summary, we see that Clement’s Bible is the Old Testament, to which he refers repeatedly as Scripture…, quoting it with more or less exactness.  Clement also makes occasional reference to certain words of Jesus; for though they are authoritative for him, he does not appear to inquire how their authenticity is ensured.  In two of the three instances that he speaks of remembering the words of Christ or of the Lord Jesus, it seems that he has a written record in mind, but he does not call it ‘a gospel’.[4]

[1] 1 Clement, Chapter XIII
[2] A copy of this epistle is available at http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/1clement-lightfoot.html. For OT references see 1 Clement 4:1, 13:1, 14:3, 17:3, 29:2, 36:3, 39;3, 42:5. For “words of the Lord” see 1 Clem 13;1.
[3] 1 Clement, Chapter XLIX
[4] THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Bruce M. Metzger, Clarendon Paperbacks, Oxford, 1997, ISBN 0-19-826954-4 p.43

© copyright 2009-2023 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved. Last revised 7/11/23

1 thought on “01.1.2 Clement of Rome’s Canon of Scripture”

  1. Pingback: Compiling the Bible - Page 97 - Christian Forums

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top