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
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
precepts in 13.1b.
- Polycarp likewise states that Jesus was teaching
- Matthew presents them as the teaching
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.
...so 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
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:
Show mercy that you might be shown
Forgive that it might be forgiven
As you do, so it will be done for
As you give, so it will be given to
As you judge, so you will be
As you show kindness, so kindness will be
shown to you.
With what measure you measure, by the same
will it be measured to you.
Measure for measure in Polycarp.
I continue with Polycarp to the Philippians 2.3a, which has only
Judge not that you might not be
Forgive, and it will be forgiven
Show mercy that you might be shown
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:
Blessed are the merciful, since they
themselves will be shown mercy.
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your
heavenly father will also forgive you.
For by what judgment you judge will you be
By what measure you measure will it be measured
As many things, therefore, if you should wish
men to do them for you, so also you do for them.
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:
And just as you wish men to do for you, do for
Become compassionate, just as your father is
And judge not, and you will not be
And condemn not, and you will not
Release, and you will be released.
Give, and it will be given to you.
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.
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.
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
- 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