Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Clement of Rome on faith and works

This afternoon, I presented the following paper at the annual convention of the Evangelical Theological Society in New Orleans:

The Personal ethics of Clemens Romanus;
Did Clement of Rome teach salvation by faith plus works?

Dennis Ingolfsland


The question addressed in this paper is what Clement of Rome taught about the relationship between faith and works. According to W.K. Lowther Clarke, in First Clement 32:4 Clement “clearly intends to teach St Paul’s doctrine of faith” but in First Clement 10:1 Abraham’s faith is “defined as becoming ‘obedient to the words of God.” In First Clement 12:1 Rahab “is saved ‘by faith and hospitality” and in 30:3 Clement says “we are ‘justified by works.”[1]

Clarke concludes that Clement adopted Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith’ but “quite failed to appreciate what was meant.” Clarke rules out of bounds any attempt to see Clement as reconciling Paul and James saying, “To conclude that Clement was deliberately reconciling the teaching of St. Paul and St James would not be a historical judgment.” [2]

Clarke is not the only one who has come to this conclusion. Harold Bumpus writes,

“Close examination of possible resonances with the Pauline theology indicate that Clement had not deeply entered into the mind of the Apostle of the Gentiles. But this lacuna is to be expected, since the early Roman community did not owe its foundation to Paul.[3]

The ultimate question asked by this paper, therefore, is whether Clement has failed to understand Paul and other New Testament documents by combining faith and works a prerequisite for salvation. As seen above, the core issue is that Clement seems to contradict himself. On the one hand he writes that we “are not justified through ourselves or through…works…but through faith (1 Clem. 32:4) but on the other hand he writes about “being justified by works and not by words” (1 Clem. 30:3. Note: All italics in this paper have been added by the author).[4]

A foundational assumption of this paper is that Paul does not contradict other New Testament authors on the relationship between faith and works.

Clement on salvation by faith alone

Clement follows in the footsteps of Paul, James, and other Jewish writers who appealed to Abraham in their discussions of faith and works.[5] After several quotations about the evilness of self-adulation and empty words, Clement asks, “Why was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not because he attained righteousness and truth through faith” (δια πιστεως. 31.2)?

Clement goes on to cite examples like Isaac who, “with confidence…knowing the future, went willingly to be sacrificed” (1 Clem. 31:3) and Jacob who “with humility…departed from his land because of his brother and went to Laban and served him…” (1 Clem. 31:4). Clement says that from Jacob come “priests and Levites”, “kings and rulers and governors in the line of Judah” and that they “were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteousness actions that they did, but through his will (1 Clem. 32:2-3).

Clement then applies this principle directly to himself and his readers saying, “And so we, having been called through his will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety, or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, by which the Almighty God has justified all who have existed from the beginning…”(1 Clem. 32:4).

This is a clear affirmation of salvation by grace through faith apart from works, and if this were all Clement had to say on the subject, there would be no need for this paper. Unfortunately, as noted in the introduction, Clement makes other statements which are either ambiguous or in some cases seem to flatly contradict this teaching.

Clement on obedience and works

First Clement 9-12

After an extended discussion on the importance of repentance in chapters 7 and 8, Clement exhorts his readers to “be obedient to his magnificent and glorious will” (1 Clem. 9:1). Citing what Hall calls “the heroes of obedience,”[6] Clement mentions Enoch “who was found righteous in obedience” (1 Clem. 9:3, cf. Heb. 11:5), “Noah, being found faithful, proclaimed a second birth to the world…” (1 Clem. 9:4, cf. Heb. 11:7), and Abraham “was found faithful when he became obedient to the words of God” (1 Clem. 10:1; cf. Heb. 11:8-10).

Clement adds that, “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (1 Clem. 10:6; Genesis 15:6) but then concludes that it was for Abraham’s “faith and hospitality a son was given to him” (1 Clem. 10:7). Further, it was because of “hospitality and godliness” that Lot was saved from Sodom (1 Clem. 11:1). It was because of “faith and hospitality” that Rahab was saved (1 Clem. 12:1).[7]

On the surface, it sounds very much like Clarke and Bumpus were right about Clement failing to understand the principle of salvation by faith apart from works, but that conclusion may be a bit premature, at least in this passage.

It is possible that Clement got his theology in part from the book of James which, like Clement, cites both Abraham and Rahab as examples of faith (Jas. 2:20-26). For example, James 2:15-16 says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body,” i.e. without providing the necessary hospitality, “what good is that” (Jas. 2:14-16). It may well be that James chose Abraham and Rahab as examples because their lives exemplify both faith and hospitality.[8] The point is that Clement may have chosen Abraham and Rahab as examples of faith and hospitality precisely because he was dependent on James at this point.

A more likely possibility, however, is that Clement was actually relying on Hebrews which teaches that, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice” (Heb. 11:4); “By faith Noah…constructed an ark” (Heb. 11:7); “By faith Abraham obeyed” (Heb 11:8), “By faith Abraham…offered up Isaac” (Heb. 11:17); By faith Moses “was hidden” (Heb. 11:23), “left Egypt” (Heb 11:27), and “kept the Passover” (Heb. 11:28). In Hebrews as in First Clement, faith produces action.

That Clement is relying on Hebrews is supported by at least three facts. First, of the examples cited in First Clement 9-13 (Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Rahab, and Joshua) the only one not found in Hebrews 11 is Lot, whose name may have presented itself to Clement as he recalled the story of Abraham.

Second, Clement not only alludes to the book of Hebrews several times in his letter (1 Clem. 7:1; 19:2; 21:9; 27:2, 4; 36:2-5; and 45:8), he also directly quotes from Hebrews as scripture (1 Clem. 36:3-5).[9]

Third, Clement’s statement that it was because of “faith and hospitality” that Rahab was saved (1 Clem. 12:1) seems to be precisely the point of Hebrews 11:31 which says that “Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

Since Clement quotes Hebrews several times as an authority and even cites Hebrews as Scripture, it is possible, if not probable, that Clement’s statements on faith and obedience or faith and hospitality, etc. may simply be Clement’s way of stating the truths he found in Hebrews 11, i.e. that faith produces action. Unless we are prepared to argue that the writer of Hebrews misunderstood or contradicted Paul, the statements in First Clement 9-12 do not necessarily prove that Clement misunderstood Paul either.

First Clement 17-21

In chapter 17 Clement urges his readers to be “imitators also of those who went about in goatskins and sheepskins, preaching the coming of Christ” (1 Clem. 17:1). Clement refers to Elijah, Elisha, Ezekiel, Abraham, Job, Moses, and David as examples (1 Clem. 17:2-18:1). Clement then quotes Psalm 51:1-17 in which David says,

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your great mercy; and according to the abundance of your compassion blot out my iniquity. Wash me thoroughly from my transgression, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgression and my sin is always before me…you will sprinkle me with hyssop, and I will be cleansed; you walk wash me and I will become whiter than snow…hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my transgression. Create within me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…Deliver me from bloodguilt, O God, the God of my salvation…if you had desired sacrifice, I would have given it; but in whole burnt offerings you will take no pleasure. The sacrifice for God is a broken spirit; a broken and humbled heart God will not despise” (1 Clem. 18:2-17).

Clement concludes this quote saying “Accordingly, the humility and subordination of so many people of great renown have, through their obedience, improved not only us, but also the generation before us, and likewise those who have received his oracles in fear and truth (1 Clem. 19:1).

I’ve included this passage just to be thorough, since it emphasizes obedience, but the fact is that there in nothing in this passage that indicates a salvation by works theology. Quite the contrary. Clement’s quote is from Psalm 51:1-17 which is a passage of grace. David fully acknowledges his sin and pleads that God would blot out his iniquity and cleanse him from sin solely because of God’s great mercy and grace, not because of any works that David has done, and in fact, in spite of the sinful deeds that David has done. The obedience of which Clement speaks flows from this heart of “humility and “subordination” (1 Clem. 19:1).

Following this passage (i.e. 1 Clem. 19:1), Clement recounts the mighty power of God in creation (1 Clem. 19:2-20:12) and then warns readers to beware “lest his benefits, which are many, turn unto judgment to all of us, if we walk not worthily of Him, and do those things which are good and well pleasing in his sight with concord” (1 Clem. 21:1).

Chapters 17-20 (the immediate context) are not about salvation, however, but are, rather, an exhortation to follow the examples of the heroes of faith, obeying out of humility. The exhortation begins with Jesus: “For Christ is with those who are humble, not with those who exalt themselves over his flock” (1 Clem. 16:1) and “…if the Lord so humbled himself, what should we do who through him have come under the yoke of his grace?” (1 Clem. 16:17). The example of Jesus is followed by the examples of Elijah, Elisha, Ezekiel, Abraham, Job, Moses and David (1 Clem. 17:1-18:17) concluding that “Accordingly, the humility and subordination of so many people of such great renown have, though their obedience, improved not only us but also the generations before us” (1 Clem. 19:1). Clement then argues, “Seeing then, that we have a share in many great and glorious deeds, let us hasten on to the goal of peace…” (1 Clem. 19:2). Clement’s objective in this section is not to tell readers how to be saved but how to pursue peace in the church which is, after all, the primary point of the entire letter.

This theme of peace is continued in chapter 20 with a discussion of how even “The heavens move at his direction and obey him in peace” (1 Clem. 20:1). Clement’s conclusion is to:

“Take care, dear friends, lest his many benefits turn into a judgment upon all of us, as will happen if we fail to live worthily of him and do harmoniously those things that are good and pleasing in his sight” (1 Clem. 21:1).

Some theologians who affirm salvation by faith alone, would also insist that persistence in deliberate sin can, as Clement writes, “turn into a judgment upon all of us.” They would undoubtedly say that even if Clement is talking about eternal judgment, he has not contradicted the New Testament.

It is also possible that Clement was not thinking of eternal judgment at all, but rather warning of the possibility of temporal judgment in the sense of chastisement or discipline mentioned in Hebrews 12:6 (Clement quotes Hebrews 12:6 in 1 Clement 56:4). The fact that Clement includes himself in his warning (πασιν ημιν) would make this more likely.

Clement’s statements in chapters 17-21, therefore, do not prove that he made works a prerequisite for salvation.

First Clement 26-32

After affirming the resurrection of Jesus in chapters 24 and 25, Clement asks, “How, then, can we consider it to be some great and marvelous thing, if the Creator of the universe shall bring about the resurrection of those who have served him in holiness, in the assurance born of a good faith…” (εν πεποιθησει πιστεως αγαθης; 1 Clem. 26:1).

While the emphasis here is on works, it is not necessarily a violation of sola fide to speak of the “resurrection of those who have served Him in holiness,” especially when this holiness stems from faith. Clement may be referring to holiness as the result of faith, not as the grounds for salvation.

Clement’s point is arguably similar to that of Jesus who said, “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29). Clement’s point may also be similar to the point Paul made when he taught that God would “render to each one according to his works” and would grant eternal life to those “by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality,” but that there would be “wrath and fury” to those who “are self seeking and do not obey the truth” (Rom. 2:6-8).

Clement continues this line of thought writing,

“Since, therefore, all things are seen and heard, let us fear him and abandon the abominable lusts that spawn evil works, in order that we may be shielded by his mercy from the coming judgments” (1 Clem. 28:1).

Let us, therefore, approach him in holiness of soul, lifting up to him pure and undefiled hands, loving our gentle and compassionate Father who made us his own portion (1 Clem. 29:1).

Seeing that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all the things that pertain to holiness, forsaking slander, disgusting and impure embraces, drunkenness and rioting and detestable lusts, abominable adultery, detestable pride…(1 Clem. 30:1).

Let us clothe ourselves in concord, being humble and self-controlled, keeping ourselves far from all backbiting and slander, being justified by works and not by words” (1 Clem. 30:3).

Being justified by works and not by words” (εργοις δικαιουμενοι και μη λογοις; 1 Clem. 30:3) is one of the key passages for this paper since this phrase, taken in isolation, certainly seems like Clement may be teaching salvation by works.

As we have seen, however, this phrase is part of a longer train of thought that can be traced back to First Clement 26:1 where Clement is talking about holiness that is the result of “good faith.” Clement is not speaking of people who need to be saved but to those who are already “his own portion” (1 Clem. 29:1; 30:1). Clement is arguing that those who already belong to the Lord should be careful to do good works. It is in this context that Clement must be understood when he continues, “keeping ourselves from all backbiting and slander, being justified by works and not by words” (1 Clem. 30:3).

Clement is simply making the same point James makes when he exhorts his readers to “be doers of the word and not hearers only” (Jas. 1:22). Like James, Clement uses the word δικαιοω in 1 Clement 30:3 not in the legal sense of being declared right, but in the sense of vindicated (cf. BAGD, 197), i.e. that something has been validated or demonstrated to be right, true or genuine.[10] As in the book of James, our works which come from faith, “justify” or demonstrate that we did in fact have faith in the first place. As James puts it “…Show me your faith apart from works and I will show you my faith by my works (Jas. 2:18).

When Clement writes about “being justified by works and not by words” (1 Clem. 30:3), he may have actually had James in mind. Not only do both James and Clement use Abraham and Rahab as examples of justification by faith, as seen above, but in the immediate context of the passage currently under discussion (i.e., 1 Clem. 30:1-3), Clement quotes from a passage that is found in James 4:6.[11]

That Clement really does not believe we are justified (in the Pauline sense) by works is demonstrated by the fact that only 13 verses later Clement, now using “justified” in the Pauline sense of being declared righteous, writes about how godly examples in the Old Testament were,

“glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteous actions that they did, but through his will. And so we, having been called through his will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves [ου διεαυτων δικαιουμεθα] or thorough our own wisdom or understanding or piety, or works that we have done in holiness of heart, but through faith…” (1 Clem. 32:3-4).

This is about as clear a statement on justification by faith as any Reformation scholar could hope for and it seems unlikely that Clement would be contradicting himself so blatantly only 13 verses apart. It is only fair to interpret passages in Clement which are not so clear in light of passages which are very clear.

Clement continues by exhorting readers to “Let the testimony to our good deeds be given by others” (1 Clem. 30:7) and to “cling to his blessing” following the example of Abraham who was blessed and “attained righteousness through faith” (1 Clem. 31:1-2). It would appear that although Clement writes of “being justified by works and not by words” the context indicates that he views this “justification” in chapter 30 not as the basis for our salvation, but as the result of other’s “testimony to our good deeds” (1 Clem. 30:7).

First Clement 33-35

Immediately after Clement’s eloquent defense of salvation by grace apart from works in chapter 32, in which he argues that we “are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety, or works” (1 Clem. 32:4), Clement asks, “What then shall we do, brothers? Shall we idly abstain from doing good, and forsake love” (1 Clem. 33:1). Clement’s rhetorical response is, “May the Master never allow this to happen…” (1 Clem. 33:1. μηθαμως τοθτο εασαι ο δεσποτης εφ ημιν γε γενηθηναι).

Clement’s response is reminiscent of Paul in Romans in which, after an extended discussion of salvation by grace through faith (Rom. 3:21-5:21), Paul asks, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” μη γενοιτο! (Rom. 6:1).

Both Clement and Paul, after expounding on salvation by grace through faith alone, then feel it necessary to defend their positions against possible charges of antinomianism. The parallel between Clement and Paul may not just be coincidental. Clement seems to be directly dependent on Romans 1 and 2 in this passage.

We will argue this point below, but first, Clement continues his argument exhorting his readers to “hasten with earnestness and zeal to accomplish every good work,” arguing that even God rejoices in his works (1 Clem. 33:1-2). We must, Clement insists, “be zealous to do good” since God forewarned us saying, “Behold the Lord comes, and his reward is with him, to pay each one according to his work” (1 Clem. 34:2-3).

It will be hard to find fault with Clement here since his quotation is found in Revelation 22:12—unless, of course, someone is prepared to argue that the author of Revelation has also contradicted Paul!

Clement continues saying that God exhorts those who “believe on Him with our whole heart not to be idle nor careless about any good work” (1 Clem. 34:4). After then exhorting readers to consider how God’s angels stand by to serve his will, and quoting First Corinthians 2:9 (Eye has not seen and ear has not heard…what great things he has prepared for those who patiently wait for him”)[12] Clement exclaims “How blessed and marvelous are the gifts of God, dear friends! Life in immortality, splendor in righteousness, truth with boldness, faith with obedience, self-control with holiness” (1 Clem. 35:1-2). Clement, therefore, urges readers to, “make every effort to be found in the number of those who patiently wait for him, so that we may share in his promised gifts” (1 Clem. 35:4).

It may sound as though Clement is saying that in order to “share in his promised gifts” we must “make every effort”, i.e. work, to be found among the ranks of the saved. But Clement is exhorting those who already “believe on him with our whole heart not to be idle or careless about any good work” (1 Clem. 34:4). Clement’s point may not be so much about entering into salvation, as it is about making “your calling and election sure. As the writer of Second Peter exhorts,

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall (2 Peter 1:5-10).

After urging readers to “make every effort to be found in the number of those who patiently wait for him, so that we may share in his promised gifts” (1 Clem. 35:4), Clement asks, “But how shall this be? i.e. how shall we make every effort to be found in the number of those who patiently wait for him…” and the answer is “If our mind be fixed on God through faith” (1 Clem. 35:5). It may be that the effort Clement envisions is produced by faith. In fact, it appears that Clement may actually have Romans 1-2 in mind when he writes:

“But how shall this be, dear friends?—if our mind is fixed on God through faith; if we seek out those things that are well pleasing and acceptable to him; if we accomplish those things that are in harmony with his faultless will, and follow the way of truth, casting off from ourselves all unrighteousness and lawlessness, covetousness, strife, malice and deceit, gossip and slander, hatred of God, pride and arrogance, vanity and inhospitality (1 Clem. 35:5).

The evidence for thinking that Clement is referring to Romans 1-2 is, first, of the thirteen vices mentioned above by Clement, ten of them appear in Romans 1:29-31 in the same order (except that δολου and κακοηθειας are transposed. See table 1).

Second, after concluding this list of vices, Clement concludes with, “Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them, but give approval to those who practice them” (1 Clem. 35:6) which appears to be a paraphrase of Romans 1:32.

1 Clement 35:6: ταθτα γαρ οι πρασσοντες στυγητοι τω θεω υπαρχουσιν. ου μονον

Romans 1:32: οτι οι τα τοιυτα πρασσοντες αξιοι θανατου εισιν, ου μονον

1 Clement 35:6: δε οι πρασσοντες αυτα, αλλα και οι συνευδοκουντες ουτοις.

Romans 1:32: αυτα ποιουσιν αλλα και συνευδοκουσιν τος πρασσουσιν.

Finally, Clement begins chapter 35 writing about the marvelous gifts of God, including immortality, that God has prepared for those who “patiently wait for him” (υπομενουσιν αυτον, 1 Clem. 34:8; τοις υπομενουσιν, 1 Clem. 35:3; των υπομενοντων, 1 Clem. 35:4). Similarly, only eight verses after Paul provides the list of vices above, Paul writes that God will “render to each according to his works: to those who by patience [υπομονην] in well-doing seek for glory, honor and immortality[13] he will give life eternal (Romans 2:7).

Table 1: Romans 1:29 and 1 Clement 35:5

Romans 1:29

1 Clement 35:5











μεστους φθονου





δολου, κακοηθειας

κακοηθειας τε και δολους

Deceit, malice









God haters









Εφεθρετας κακων

Inventors of evil

υονεθσιν απειθεις

Disobedient to parents













It seems likely that Clement, therefore, has Romans 1-2 in mind when he urges readers to “make every effort to be found in the number of those who patiently wait for him, so that we may share in his promised gifts.” Clement apparently believes that he is making the same argument Paul makes when Paul says that God will “render to each according to his works: to those who by patience [υπομονην] in well-doing seek for glory, honor and immortality[14] he will give life eternal (Romans 2:7).

Clement apparently did not believe his doctrine was contradicting Paul. It could be argued, however, that even if Clement has Romans 1 and 2 in mind, he has simply misunderstood Paul, but it is also possible that Clement is really not saying anything different that what Paul wrote, not only in Romans 2:6-8, 13[15] but, for example, in Philippians 2:12: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

First Clement 57-58

In chapter 57 Clement directly addresses the leaders of the revolt, urging them to repent and submit to the legitimate leaders of the church. Clement says that it is better that they “be found small but included in the flock of Christ, than to have a preeminent reputation and yet be excluded from this hope. He then quotes “all-virtuous Wisdom”, i.e. Proverbs 1:23-33, which contains a stern warning of imminent destruction against those who pay no attention to God’s words and disobey his correction; evil ones who “hated wisdom and did not choose to fear the Lord” (1 Clem. 57:3-7). Clement concludes, “Let us, therefore, obey his most holy and glorious name, thereby escaping the threats spoken by Wisdom long ago against those who disobey, so that we may dwell safely, trusting in his most holy and majestic name” (1 Clem. 58:1).

Clement is clearly contrasting those who choose not to fear the Lord, hating Wisdom/God’s instruction, with those who obey and trust “in his most holy and majestic name.” There is no doubt that obedience and trust are inseparably linked by Clement but this is no evidence that Clement has misunderstood Paul or is being inconsistent with his declaration about being saved by faith alone (1 Clem. 32:3-4). Paul himself warned of the dire consequences for disobedience:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these, I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21).

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Eph. 5:5).

In our rightful attempts to defend sola fide, we must never forget just how strongly Paul and other New Testament authors link faith and works together. Paul writes, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified (Romans 2:13; cf. Rom. 8:3-4). Paul writes that those who “are self-seeking and do not obey the truth” are destined for wrath and fury (Rom.2:8) and that God will one day inflict vengeance in flaming fire on those who “do not obey the gospel…” (2 Thess.1:8; cf. 2 Thess. 2:13).

Of course this connection between faith and works in not just found in Paul but throughout the New Testament. James teaches that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17, 26) and that those who hear the Word of God but do not obey are deceiving themselves (Jas. 1:22-25). James was probably just echoing the teaching of Jesus who said that it was those who hear the Word of God and do it who are his mothers, brothers and sisters (Lk.8:21). In response to a woman who blessed him, Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it” (Lk.11:28; cf. Mt. 7:17-27; 16:27; 25:31-46; Mk 4:16-20). In fact, Jesus said that it was those who keep his Word who shall not see death (Jn.8:51-52, cf. Jn.8:31; 14:19-21). Jesus promises that “…an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28-29). The Gospel of John, says, “…whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (Jn.3:36). As Witherington writes, “Belief and behavior belong together in Jesus’ thought world.”[16]

Similarly, the Book of Acts says God has given his Holy Spirit “to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32). The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus is “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb.5:9; cf. Heb. 10-10-14; 13:12). The writer of First John says, “Whoever says ‘I know him but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him…” (1 John 2:4).

Peter writes about how we are “sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ… (1 Peter 1:1-4). Both Peter and Jude absolutely rail against “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” (Jude 4, cf. 2 Pet.2) and in the Book of Revelation Jesus promises “to repay everyone for what he has done” (Revelation 22:12).

Such passages, however they may be interpreted, make it more difficult to simply assume that Clement was teaching something contrary to Paul or the rest of the New Testament.


This paper examined the question of whether Clement has failed to understand Paul and other New Testament documents by making works a prerequisite for salvation. Several considerations are important:

First, even Clarke and Bumpus acknowledge that Clement intended to teach Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. Indeed, Clement’s statement on justification by faith alone is as clear and unambiguous as any Reformation scholar could hope for.

Second, we need to bear in mind that Clement, like James was writing an intensely practical exhortation intended to cause those responsible for the schism in the Corinthian church to repent of their sin and to submit themselves to the proper authorities in the church. Clement’s extensive exhortations to obedience, faithfulness and good works must be understood in this context.[17] He is not writing a theological treatise on justification by faith.

Third, we need to bear in mind the extent to which Paul and other New Testament authors also emphasize obedience and works. In our rightful desire to defend sola fide, we must never just downplay or dismiss this emphasis.

Fourth, although Clement was not always as clear as we might have liked, this study found no case in which Clement clearly and necessarily contradicted Paul on justification by faith.

Fifth, Clement affirms and even takes for granted that genuine faith will produce works.

In light of these considerations, it seems most likely that Clement has not misunderstood Paul or other New Testament writers but would have readily subscribed to the proposition that we are saved by grace through faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.

[1] Clarke, W.K. Lowther. The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians (New York : Macmillan, 1937) 27.

[2] Clarke 27.

[3] Bumpus, Harold Bertram. The Christological Awareness of Clement of Rome and its sources. (Cambridge : University Press of Cambridge, 1972) 1.

[4] The translation of First Clement used in this paper is by Michael Holmes, ed. The Apostolic Fathers. 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids : Baker) 2007.

[5] E.g. First Maccabees 2:52; Sirach 44:19-21; Jubilees 23:1-10; Philo, On Abraham et. al.

[6] Hall. S.G.; “Repentance in I Clement,” Studia Patristica. Vol. VIII. Part II (966): 37.

[7] Chadwick suggests that the Clement’s emphasis on hospitality may be explained by supposing “that some visiting Christians at Corinth accepted hospitality from the old clergy rather than the new; that the old clergy had seen in this act of communion on the part of eh other churches a golden opportunity of reaffirming their position; and that the visitors would have become the object of hostile comment from the rest of the church and therefore come away from Corinth with unfavorable impressions” (Chadwick. H. “Justification by Faith and Hospitality.” Studia Patristica, Vol. IV, Part II, (1961): 284.

[8] I am indebted here to Ben Witherington who makes this observation from his exegesis of the book of James apart from any discussion of First Clement (Witherington, Ben. The Indelible Image; The Theological and Ethical Thought World of the New Testament. Downers Grove, IL : IVP Academic, 2009).

[9] “For so it is written: ‘He makes his angels winds and his ministers flames of fire.’ But of his Son the Master spoke thus: ‘You are my son’ today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will give you the Gentiles for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession.’ And again he says to him: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (First Clement 36:2-5, cf. Hebrews 1:7//Ps 104:4; Heb 1:5//Ps 2:7-8; Heb 1:13//Ps. 110:1). It would be possible to argue that Clement was just quoting from Psalms, but the chances are slim (to say the least) that Clement would independently and coincidentally just happen to select and group together the same three verses from the same book (Psalms 104, 2, and 110) that the writer of Hebrews uses in 1:5-13).

[10] Cf. 1 Clement 18:4 which, quoting from Psalms 51 says, “Against you only have I sinned, and I have done evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words, and may win when you are judged.”

[11] The quote is “For God, it says, resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Since this quote also appears in Proverbs 3:34 and First Peter 5:5, it is impossible to know for sure whether Clement is quoting from James. Since Clement’s quote in Greek is closer to the wording of James and First Peter than to the Septuagint version of Proverbs 3:34, and since both Clement and James use Rahab as an example of faith whereas Peter does not, it may be slightly more probable that Clement is quoting from James.

[12] Clement’s quotation is very similar to what we have in the UBS 4th edition with the most notable exception being that Clement reads υπομενουσιν (with a textual variant reading of αγαπωσιν) while First Corinthians 2:8 reads αυαπωσιν.

[13] Clement is just paraphrasing Paul from memory. The word translated “immortality” in First Clement 35:2 is αθανασια which Paul uses in First Corinthians 15:53 and First Timothy 6:16, but in Romans 2:7 Paul speaks of ζωην αιωνιον.

[14] Clement is just paraphrasing Paul from memory. The word translated “immortality” in First Clement 35:2 is αθανασια which Paul uses in First Corinthians 15:53 and First Timothy 6:16, but in Romans 2:7 Paul speaks of ζωην αιωνιον.

[15] The apparent problem of Paul teaching salvation by works in Romans 2:6-8, 13 is resolved, in my opinion, when Romans 1:5 and 16:26 (εις υπακοην πιστεως) are translated as subjective genitives, i.e. the obedience that comes from faith.” Not only does Paul begin and end Romans with “obedience that comes from faith,” but we see the same idea in Romans 6:17 where Paul writes that “you who were slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart…” When Paul writes, therefore, that God “will render to each one according to his works” (Romans 2:6) or that it is “the doers of the law who will be justified” (Rom. 2:12), he is not contradicting his own teaching about salvation by faith alone, but is, rather, teaching—like Jesus, James, Hebrews and Clement—that genuine faith produces works.

[16] Witherington, Ben. The Indelible Image; The Theological and Ethical Thought World of the New Testament (Downers Grove, IL : IVP, 2009) 632.

[17] In what may be regarded as the point of the entire letter, Clement writes, “These, therefore, who were appointed by them [i.e. the Apostles] or, later on, by other reputable men with the consent of the whole church, and who have ministered to the flock of Christ blamelessly, humbly, peaceably, and unselfishly, and for a long time, have been well-spoken of by all—these we consider to be unjustly removed from their ministry. For it will be no small sin for us if we depose from the bishop’s office those who have offered the gifts blamelessly and in holiness…for we see that you have removed certain people, their good conduct notwithstanding, from the ministry that had been held in honor by them blamelessly” (1 Clem. 44:3-6).