Measure for measure.

An early Christian catechismal catena.

This catena is one of two apostolic catechisms that I am studying together as a window of insight into the transmission of early Christian teaching.

1 Clement 13.2, Polycarp to the Philippians 2.3a, and Luke 6.31, 36-38 are the central texts for this catechism remembered as having been spoken by Jesus of Nazareth. The catechism consists of four to seven statements, each of which individually follows a balanced pattern of doing and having done back: What you do will be done to you. Such statements are both threats and promises, and fit an apocalyptic mold looking forward to a final judgment at which every man will be repaid according to his works (see Psalm 62.12).

Matthew 5.7; 6.14; 7.2, 12a, while not offering us such a catena, nevertheless presents five statements parallel to those found in the other three, but scattered throughout the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7).

The close concatenation of these balanced statements in Clement, Polycarp, and Luke is evidence of the circulation of such a catena in early Christian circles. All of our texts present these injunctions explicitly as the teaching of Jesus...:

  • Clement says that Jesus was teaching (διδασκων) these precepts in 13.1b.
  • Polycarp likewise states that Jesus was teaching (διδασκων) them in 2.3a.
  • Matthew presents them as the teaching (διδαχη) of Jesus in his sermon on the mount in 5.1-2; 7.28-29.
  • Luke likewise places them in his sermon on the plain in 6.17-20a; 7.1. we know that this catena is, if nothing else, catechismal. I call this chain of statements measure for measure, the name that John Dominic Crossan gives what appears to be the main injunction of the group in his inventory in The Historical Jesus (complex 60).

The gospel of Mark, incidentally, has parallels for only two of the items in the catena, at 4.24 (by what measure) and 11.25 (if you forgive).

I offer below an analysis of both the contents of the catena and the order of the items within it.



Measure for measure in Clement.

1 Clement 13.1b-2 has seven linked statements. That number seven, the divine number, may not be coincidental:

  1. Ελεατε ινα ελεηθητε.
    Show mercy that you might be shown mercy.
  2. Αφιετε ινα αφεθη υμιν.
    Forgive that it might be forgiven you.
  3. Ως ποιειτε, ουτω ποιηθησεται υμιν.
    As you do, so it will be done for you.
  4. Ως διδοτε, ουτως δοθησεται υμιν.
    As you give, so it will be given to you.
  5. Ως κρινετε, ουτως κριθησεσθε.
    As you judge, so you will be judged.
  6. Ως χρηστευεσθε, ουτως χρηστευθησεται υμιν.
    As you show kindness, so kindness will be shown to you.
  7. Ω μετρω μετρειτε, εν αυτω μετρηθησεται υμιν.
    With what measure you measure, by the same will it be measured to you.
Number 3 is also known as the Golden Rule.
Measure for measure in Polycarp.

I continue with Polycarp to the Philippians 2.3a, which has only four statements:

  1. Μη κρινετε ινα μη κριθητε.
    Judge not that you might not be judged.
  2. Αφιετε, και αφεθησεται υμιν.
    Forgive, and it will be forgiven you.
  3. Ελεατε ινα ελεηθητε.
    Show mercy that you might be shown mercy.
  4. Ω μετρω μετρειτε, αντιμετρηθησεται υμιν.
    With what measure you measure, it will be measured back to you.
Measure for measure in Matthew.

Matthew, as I have noted, has no catena corresponding with those offered in Clement, Polycarp, and Luke. But five parallel statements are scattered in the sermon on the mount, in 5.7; 6.14; 7.2a, 2b, 12a:

  1. Μακαριοι οι ελεημονες, οτι αυτοι ελεηθησονται.
    Blessed are the merciful, since they themselves will be shown mercy.
  2. Εαν γαρ αφητε τοις ανθρωποις τα παραπτωματα αυτων, αφησει και υμιν ο πατηρ υμων ο ουρανιος.
    For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly father will also forgive you.
  3. Εν ω γαρ κριματι κρινετε κριθησεσθε.
    For by what judgment you judge will you be judged.
  4. Εν ω μετρω μετρειτε μετρηθησεται υμιν.
    By what measure you measure will it be measured to you.
  5. Παντα ουν οσα εαν θελητε ινα ποιωσιν υμιν οι ανθρωποι, ουτως και υμεις ποιειτε αυτοις.
    As many things, therefore, if you should wish men to do them for you, so also you do for them.
Number 5 is also known as the Golden Rule.
Measure for measure in Luke.

Luke has only one loose end, in that Luke 6.31 stands by itself. But the rest of the parallels, in 6.36-38, form their own catena, and also overlap with another catena in the sermon on the plain:

  1. Και καθως θελετε ινα ποιωσιν υμιν οι ανθρωποι, ποιειτε αυτοις ομοιως.
    And just as you wish men to do for you, do for them likewise.
  2. Γινεσθε οικτιρμονες, καθως ο πατηρ υμων οικτιρμων εστιν.
    Become compassionate, just as your father is compassionate.
  3. Και μη κρινετε, και ου μη κριθητε.
    And judge not, and you will not be judged.
  4. Και μη καταδικαζετε, και ου μη καταδικασθητε.
    And condemn not, and you will not be condemned.
  5. Απολυετε, και απολυθησεσθε.
    Release, and you will be released.
  6. Διδοτε, και δοθησεται υμιν.
    Give, and it will be given to you.
  7. Μετρον καλον πεπιεσμενον σεσαλευμενον υπερεκχυννομενον δωσουσιν εις τον κολπον υμων. ω γαρ μετρω μετρειτε αντιμετρηθησεται υμιν.
    Into your bosom they will give good measure, pressed down, shaken, running out and over. For with what measure you measure it will be measured back to you.
Number 1 is also known as the Golden Rule.


Tables based on the order in each of our four sources are available on another page. Below is a combined table comparing and contrasting the sequence of sayings in all four sources. I have italicized those sayings that are not adjacent with the rest, and therefore not actually part of the main catena in Matthew and Luke.

The references, again, are 1 Clement 13.2, Polycarp to the Philippians 2.3a, Matthew 5.7; 6.14; 7.2, 12, and Luke 6.31, 36-38.

Clement. Polycarp. Matthew. Luke.
Show mercy. Judge not. Blessed the merciful. Do likewise.
Forgive. Forgive. If you forgive. Become compassionate.
As you do. - By what judgment. Judge not.
As you give. - - Condemn not.
As you judge. Show mercy. By what measure. Release.
As you show kindness. - - Give.
With what measure. With what measure. So also do. With what measure.

A few observations:

  • It is perhaps tempting to regard the Golden Rule as the key saying, since it is the best-known of them all, but it is not even mentioned in Polycarp, and it forms no intrinsic part of the catena in Matthew or Luke. Only in Clement is it fully integrated into the catechism.
  • It is with what measure that Clement, Polycarp, and Luke all place in the climactic final position. It appears to sum up the preceding sayings, and appears to be the key statement in the series.
  • There are two basic formats, both reciprocal. There is the reciprocal command (either a positive do or a negative do not), and the reciprocal promise or threat (as you do, so back to you). These formats are interchangeable so far as the tradition is concerned. For example, Clement has the Golden Rule as a promise, while Matthew and Luke have it as a command.
  • One of the sayings is represented in one other format. Matthew has the saying about mercy as a beatitude, and lists it among the other beatitudes in his sermon on the mount.
  • Clement, Polycarp, and Matthew all have a saying about forgiveness in the second position, and Clement and Matthew both have a saying about mercy in the first position. Again, however, the Matthean versions are separated across the sermon on the mount. If we consider that do likewise in Luke 6.31 is not part of the catena, then Luke too has a saying about mercy (though he calls it compassion instead) in the first position.
  • If we ignore Polycarp for a moment, we notice that Clement, Matthew, and Luke share exactly five sayings, to wit, the sayings on mercy, judgment, forgiveness, measurement, and the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule, however, Luke does not place in his catena, and Matthew has no catena at any rate. So we are left with four sayings that Clement and Luke share in the catena proper, all of which Matthew also has. Turning again to Polycarp, we notice that precisely these four sayings are those that he has listed in his catena.

These observations will be important to keep in mind in my discussion of the transmission of apostolic catechismal materials.