The discussion was cordial enough for awhile. At first, Rogers seemed impressed that I had actually read Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians and understood the issues. However, as I continued to challenge his interpretation of the evidence, he accused me of “unyielding curmudgeonly skepticism” and I decided that there was not much point in continuing the discussion.
The following facts formed the basis for our dispute (or one of our disputes):
Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians is the earliest non-canonical Christian writing. It is generally dated late in the first century around 95 A.D. The letter does not actually name Clement as its author, but according to tradition he was a bishop of Rome who knew both Peter and Paul who were martyred in Rome in the mid-60’s. The letter is written to the church in Corinth where there appears to have been some schism in which the elders of the church were deposed. The nature of the schism is not explained, but Clement urges the Corinthians to restore the rightful leaders to power.
Clement frequently cites the Old Testament by introducing a quotation with something like “Scripture says” or “the Lord says.” He twice introduces sayings of Jesus with “Jesus says.” He also uses many phrases that are found in various New Testament epistles. However, when he does this, he does not say “Paul says.” In fact, he does not indicate that he is quoting any source. He simply incorporates the phrases into his writing as if the words were his own rather than Paul’s.
The only New Testament book that Clement mentions is Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:
Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the
time when the gospel first began to be preached? Truly, under the inspiration of
the Spirit, he wrote to you concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos, because
even then parties had been formed among you.
Clement never explicitly quotes Paul’s words though.
Clement quotes two sayings of Jesus; one about being merciful in order to obtain mercy and one about the dangers of throwing stumbling blocks in front of believers. Both sayings are similar to ones found in the synoptic gospels, but neither are exact quotes. Clement does not indicate his source for these quotes.
Rogers seemed to find the following arguments indicative of my “unyielding curmudgeonly skepticism”:
(1) You can’t claim that Clement is witness to the authors of the New Testament since he does not name them.
Other than identifying Paul as the author of a letter to the Corinthians, Clement does not mention a single New Testament book or name any of their authors. He uses enough phrases from the epistles that it is clear that he was familiar with many of them. Nevertheless, he does not identify their authors. It might be entirely reasonable to think that he knew who the authors were, but you can’t call him a witness to the authors.
Rogers accused me of making arguments from silence, but I certainly was not making one here. I am not claiming that Clement did not know who the authors of the other epistles were. I am simply saying that he does not say.
(2) You can’t claim that Clement views Paul’s writings as authoritative scripture when he does not treat them in the same way that he treats authoritative scripture.
Throughout his letter, Clement introduces quotations of authoritative sources with phrases like “the Lord says,” “Scripture says,” or “Jesus says.” He never introduces a quote from one of the epistles with “Paul says,” “Peter says,” or “James says.” Clement simply incorporates the words of the epistles into the text as if they were his own. He uses the words of the epistles differently than he uses the words of Jesus or the words of the Old Testament.
It is true that Clement describes Paul as writing his first letter to the Corinthians “under the inspiration of the Spirit.” If he quoted Paul's writings in the same way that he quoted the writings from the Old Testament, I would take Clement's use of the word "inspiration" as persuasive evidence that he intended to elevate Paul's letters to the status of "scripture." But Clement does not do that. Clement explicitly cites the Old Testament as "scripture" in order to show that he viewed its teachings as authoritative and he never does this with any of the teachings drawn from Paul’s letters.
It is a similar argument to one I have had about “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Many Christians point to “thy rod and thy staff comfort me” in Psalm 23 to argue that the rod is meant merely to guide the child. However, if you look at the book of Proverbs, its author repeatedly refers to using the rod to “beat” people. I have not studied hermeneutics, but I cannot see the justification of looking to Psalms for a usage of the rod that is contrary to the usage that is perfectly clear in Proverbs. Similarly, I cannot see the justification for looking to “all scripture is given by inspiration of God” in Timothy 3:16 to argue that Clement viewed the epistles as scripture when his own letter shows that he did not.
Clement’s failure to indicate when he is quoting Paul seems particularly significant to me as the whole point of his letter is to convince the Corinthians to submit to the rightful authority that had been established by the apostles and their successors. I cannot conceive of any reason why Clement wouldn’t have indicated that he was quoting the words of those apostles in the same way that he indicated he was quoting the words of Jesus and the Old Testament if he thought that they carried similar authority.
I am not really sure whether this is an argument from silence or not. If it is, I think it is a damn strong one because I am not arguing based on some abstract speculation regarding what I think Clement might have done had he thought the epistles to be scripture. I am basing my argument on direct observation of what Clement did do when he thought something was scripture.
(3) You can’t claim that Clement is a witness to the canonical gospel of Matthew when he never identifies Matthew as the source of the quoted sayings of Jesus.
It is a very simple argument. Similar words appear in Matthew and Clement. Clement could have taken the words from Matthew. Matthew could have taken the words from Clement. They both could have taken the words from a third source. It is like a teacher who receives two identical papers. How do you determine which student copied the other’s work or whether they both copied from somewhere else? The similarity alone does not tell you.
To a certain extent, this logic applies to the quotations to the epistles as well, however, Clement borrowers so heavily from some of them that it is hard to imagine that he wasn’t working with their texts. However, he only uses two sayings of Jesus, and he does not reference any of the stories about Jesus’ ministry, passion, or resurrection that are found in the gospels. That makes it very difficult to rule out the possibility that these two sayings were taken either from the oral tradition or from a written collection of sayings rather from the Gospel of Matthew as we know it today.
As with the epistles, I am not arguing from silence to say that Clement does not say that he is quoting from Matthew because he doesn't. However, I would make the argument from silence that he was not familiar with Matthew. At one point, he uses the myth of the Phoenix rising from the ashes to illustrate the nature of Christ's resurrection. Had he been familiar with the canonical gospels, I cannot imagine why he would not have used what he would have considered the historical stories of the empty tomb and Christ's appearances to the apostles to illustrate the same point. This is an argument from silence that I find quite persuasive though I would concede that I have never convinced an evangelical blogger of its validity.
I would not claim that I have conclusively established that Clement did not know all things that Rogers thinks he knew or believe all the things that Rogers thinks he believed. I don't pretend that I can read Clement's mind. However, I can read his letter and I can see that it is not a witness to that knowledge and those beliefs.
One of the things I found most amusing was how Rogers chided me for making arguments from silence at the same time he was doing so.
One of the strongest arguments in favor of authentic authorship is the factI find his arguments from silence particularly unpersuasive for a very simple reason: we have little reason to expect to find much documentary evidence of such disputes. The early church did not make it a practice to preserve the writings of those it considered heretics. Our knowledge of heretical belief comes for the most part from the writings of theologians defending the orthodox. After the orthodox faith was firmly established, people who challenged things like the authenticity of scripture risked ex-communication and death. I don't think we can infer all that much from the scarcity of dissent.
that form the earliest centuries this was never in dispute until the German
critics came along in the 1800s.
Further, ALL the documentary evidence we have available points to four
named authors of four gospels. There is exactly ZERO documentary evidence that
the authors were unknown or disputed.