Scripture in 1 Clement: Composite Citation of the Gospels (Part III)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the function and use of scripture in the early Christian writing known as 1 Clement.

jesus_catacombWhat does account for 1 Clement 46:8 is Clement’s tendency to cite written passages compositely, as was noted in his use of the Jewish scriptures.[1] According to this explanation, Clement combined the words of Jesus found in two different locations of the synoptic tradition, thereby—with a single “word of the Lord”—arguing against the perils of leading the Church into schism and error. Of course, it is not enough to suggest that Clement may have compositely cited the synoptic tradition—one must also explain why he would have done so.

The first explanation involves Clement’s attempt to theologically streamline his argument. What better way to dissolve the authority of usurping presbyters than by using the words of the Lord Jesus to condemn their causing others to stumble (in context God’s “chosen”, both the Corinthian presbyters who had been deposed and those Corinthian Christians who were being lead astray by the usurpers)? The practice of theological streamlining in accordance with the word of Lord (even a slightly misremembered word) fits well with Clement’s larger scriptural paradigm, namely, that whatever other authorities might say about an ecclesiastical issue, their influence pales in comparison to the commands of Christ, whose words are the final rule for the Church.[2]

Apostolic FathersA second factor pointing toward composite citation in 1 Clement 46:8 involves the very real possibility that Clement cited these words of Christ from memory. This type of citation would fit well with what Walter Ong calls “secondary orality,” where an author recalls a tradition previously encountered in a written medium and then reproduces it without continued visual contact with that text.[3] Additionally, Christopher Pelling suggests that, given the “hefty and unmanageable” nature of papyrus scrolls during this period, most ancient authors should be understood to have relied upon their memory for “everything except the main source open before them at any particular time.”[4]

These explanations—streamlining and use of memory—help explain why Clement would compositely cite the synoptic tradition and suggest that any terms which were added or changed may be explained on the basis of Clement’s rhetorical purposes and lapses in memory. But which synoptic source was he using? It is my contention that the passages best fitting the criterion for this composite citation are Matthew 18:6 and Matthew 26:24 for two reasons. First, as you can see from the color coding in Table 1, these passages account for the verbal similarities between the two parts of Clement’s citation, at least more so than the other proposed parallels. There is not total symmetry, but the central components of Clement’s citation are accounted for by reliance on Matthew. Second, as noted earlier, Clement was more likely to compositely quote passages that came from the same written works. A composite citation from Matthew would fit Clement’s pattern of composite citation noted with Genesis, Job, and the Psalms better than a composite citation from two synoptic traditions. Further, while not a necessary component of this argument, Clement’s apparent knowledge of Matthew elsewhere in his epistle further suggests his familiarity with this particular gospel. While it remains possible that this passage reflects knowledge of Luke’s Gospel, [5] the most satisfying explanation of the textual form of 1 Clement 46:8 involves the composite citation from memory of the Gospel of Matthew 18:6 and 26:24.

[1] Hagner, 37-108. See also Massaux, 23.

[2] McDonald, 271.

[3] Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy (New York: Methen & Co, 1982. Reprinted, London: Routledge, 2002), 6f. See also Gregory, “What is Literary Dependence?,” 91-2.

[4] Christopher Pelling, Plutarch’s Method of Work in the Roman Lives, in Journal of Hellenic Studies 99 (1979): 74-96, reprinted with postscript in Plutarch and History (London: The Classical Press of Wales and Duckworth, 2002), 1-44. Gregory, “What is Literary Dependence?,” 96.

[5] The most plausible explanation for reliance upon Luke is where Clement uses περιτεθηναι, which is closer to Luke’s περίκειται (both are forms of πείκειμαι, to contain or encompass), whereas Matthew uses κρεμασθῇ (κρεμάννυμι, to hang up). This suggests that, A) instead of reflecting a composite quotation of Matthew, this passage comes from an extra-canonical source; B) Clement had knowledge of Luke’s Gospel and unconsciously used Lucan terminology when recalling this passage; C) Clement’s choice of vocabulary just happened to be closer to Luke’s wording than the passage he was trying to recall from memory; or D) Clement purposefully integrated three different passages into this citation. Given this study’s methodological preference for known sources over hypothetical and hereto unknown sources as well as the weight of evidence suggesting Clement’s use of Matthew’s gospel until this point, Option A seems unlikely. Option C also seems highly unlikely, especially given Clement’s apparent knowledge of Acts (as we see below) and the other possible allusions to Luke’s Gospel. Thus we are left with Options B and D. Given the likelihood of Clement’s citation of this passage from memory as well as his tendency, here and elsewhere, to create composite citations, both of these options appear fairly plausible. Concerning the use of the Gospel of Luke, therefore, it seems possible that Clement knew of this gospel and remotely possibly that he draws upon Lucan vocabulary in First Clement, though this judgment remains far from certain.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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