Friday, October 22, 2010

“Scripture” in 2 Clement

I am perpetually fascinated by the concept of scripture‒ both how it developed and how people use it. Second Clement is an interesting case study in the development and use of Scripture in the early church. The book is widely recognized as an early Christian homily (a fancy word for sermon) written as an exposition of "scripture" for delivery in a worship gathering. If it is in fact an early Christian homily, then it represents the earliest example of such outside of the NT itself (cf. Acts 3.12-26; 20.18-35 and possibly the book of Hebrews). Though Clement's name is attached to the book it was almost certainly not written by him (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.37) and was only prominent among monophysite Christians. Little else is known about the identity of the author or his location. Why, then, is it interesting in relation to scripture?

First, since 2 Clement was most likely a sermon it represents an early picture of what worship services were like in the first hundred years of the church. OT scripture was read and an exhortation based on the text was made by the elders to a congregation. In this sense, then, it gives us insight, albeit limited insight, into the way scripture was used in early church worship. Second, the book displays an interesting a hermeneutic similar to the pesher method of the Essenes. Second Clement uses scripture to speak to his congregation. Indeed, the author writes, "the scripture says," cites Genesis 1.27, and addresses the text to his church (14.2). Scripture speaks to the present situation. There is no intentional use or demonstrable awareness of the context of the cited passages. Third, the words of Jesus are included as "scripture" and thus we to see how gospel traditions were used in worship. Fourth, the focus of the homily is ethical exhortation. This short work of only twenty chapters is a fascinating insight into the use of scripture in the worship of the early church.

The book begins, "Brothers, we ought to think about Jesus Christ as about God as about the judge of the living and the dead" (1.1). Then, the preacher goes on to exhort the congregation to respond to his gracious salvation with obedience (3.4), loving one another (4.3) and general devotion to God (19.1‒14). The author refers to the words of Jesus in calling "sinners" (Mt 9.13 || Mk 2.17 || Lk 5.32) and interprets it as scripture in the same way he does Isaiah (2 Clem 2.4‒5). The salvation that Jesus offers to sinners comes by acknowledging him through obedience (3.2‒5). Here, again, 2 Clement mingles the OT scriptures with Jesus' words as "scripture." He cites Jesus' words from Mt 10.32 || Lk 12.8 adapted as direct speech to the congregation without any reference to the context of the Jesus' commission of the disciples (Mt 10.32) or teaching before a large crowd (Lk 12.8). The writer of 2 Clement even defines what it means to "confess" –meaning wholehearted obedience– by citing Isaiah 29.13. Jesus cited Isaiah's words in response to the Pharisees (Mt 15.8; Mk 7.6) but 2 Clement curiously describes Jesus saying these words "in Isaiah" (3.5). Second Clement makes Isaiah's words Jesus' (cf. also 2 Clem 13.2 citing Isa 52.5). Jesus is portrayed as the one speaking "scripture" both as seen in the gospel traditions and prior to his incarnation in the words of the OT.

The use of gospel traditions in 2 Clement is also interesting. He quotes freely from all three synoptic traditions but never from John. Furthermore, the quotations are never given a context but simply serve to support his ethical exhortations. Once, in response to a question of eschatology, 2 Clement cites a tradition from the Gospel of Thomas 22, "When the two are one, and the outside like the inside, and the male with the female is neither male nor female " (2 Clem 12.2). Clement interprets the esoteric text as a command for authenticity (12.3‒4) and equality among sexes (12.5) which will eventually prompt the end of the age. This citation shows that whoever composed 2 Clement used multiple Jesus traditions.

Not only does the author of 2 Clement cite non-canonical traditions he also cites Jesus saying things not found in any extant tradition. For example, after exhorting believers to "confess" Jesus through good deeds the preacher says, "For this reason, when you do these things, the Lord has said, 'Even if you were nestled close to my breast but did not do what I commanded, I would cast you away and say to you, 'Leave me! I do not know where you are from, you who do what is lawless.'" (2 Clem 4.5). The "quotation" is intended to interpret Jesus' words in Matthew 7.21 (cited in 2 Clem 4.2), but the source is unknown. Similarly, Jesus has a discussion with Peter that is not found in the gospel traditions (2 Clem 5.2‒4) but is similar to (Mt 10.16 || Lk 10.3 and Mt 10.28 || Lk 12.4‒5). There is yet another example of the same phenomenon of an unknown "quotation" (2 Clem 14.3). Though it is somewhat rare, and the "quotations" are in line with the Jesus tradition found in the gospels, the preacher felt quite comfortable citing Jesus' words without devotion to a particular text or tradition. This begs the question of whether 2 Clement is being creative with Jesus' words or if he is simply citing a tradition unknown to us.

In perhaps the most interesting passage in Second Clement in regard to scripture, he refers to "the Bible" or "the books" [τὰ βιβλία]. In his description of the church the preacher refers to "the Bible and the apostles" to indicate that the church "has existed from the beginning [ἂνωθεν]" (14.2). Just as Jesus was preexistent as spirit (cf. 2 Clem 9.5) and "became manifest here in the final days so that he might save us" (14.2), so too the church "became manifest" (14.3). Second Clement uses the "Bible" as an argument for the authority of the church going back to the OT scriptures. The author has taken the ancient OT tradition and made it "his own" without much knowledge of it apart from how it was used in early Christian texts.

How is the use of Scripture similar and different than modern uses of scripture? Obviously, this question requires a context ‒ whose use and which scriptures‒ but you get the idea.

Does this early use of scripture surprise you in any way? Why?


Eric said...

Very interesting, do you know how many manuscripts of 2 Clement exist and what their dating is?

Also, I'm assuming that this particular reference to the "gospel of thomas" differs from the middle-ages gospel of the same name?

Great stuff man, keep posting!

Unknown said...


Thanks for stopping by. As always I appreciate your comments.

I am referring to the Gospel of Thomas from the Nag Hammadi cache.

There are three manuscripts for 2 Clement.

According to Ehrman's Loeb edition these are the representative manuscripts:

A - Codex Alexandrinus. This is one of the most famous an complete manuscripts for the LXX, NT and apostolic fathers. It includes only 2 Clement 1.1-12.5b and is missing the ending (through chapter 20). It dates to the 5th century.

H - Codex Hierosolymitanus is a Greek manuscript that dates to 1056.

S - A Syriac manuscript of the New Testament that dates to 1169.

Larry Hurtado, a professor at Edinburgh and a fine scholar, thinks that Michael Holmes's critical edition and translation is better for analyzing textual variants and manuscript tradition. So you might want to check that out