Two apostolic catechisms.

What forms did early Christian teaching take?


The English word catechism derives from the late Latin word catechismus, which in turn derives from the late Greek word κατηχισμος, a noun formed on the verb κατηχιζω, or κατηχεω, to teach by word of mouth. In the prologue to his gospel, Luke presupposes that catechismal material has already reached his reader, and indeed informs us that he is writing in order to confirm such catechismal material (1.4):

...ινα επιγνως περι ων κατηχηθης λογων την ασφαλειαν. that you might know the secure basis concerning the words which you have been instructed.

And Paul, in his epistle to the Galatians 6.6, envisages regular catechismal activity in the church:

Κοινωνειτω δε ο κατηχουμενος τον λογον τω κατηχουντι εν πασιν αγαθοις.

And let him who is instructed the word hold in common all good things with him who instructs.

Other instances of κατηχεω in the New Testament are Acts 18.25; 21.21, 24; Romans 2.18; 1 Corinthians 14.19.

Knowing, then, that catechism was an integral part of apostolic Christianity, are there any early catechismal materials available to us for closer examination? Yes and no. They may well be available, but only as part of longer texts. Needless to say, we no longer have direct access to the oral form of the teaching presupposed in Luke and Paul. And shorter freefloating texts of any kind tend either to be assimilated into longer works or to disappear into the mists of history.

We must, in other words, coax the earliest catechisms from the New Testament or the apostolic fathers, or from other miscellaneous pieces of ancient literature.

For our purposes, I am distinguishing the catechism from other kinds of traditional material that can be transmitted in very similar ways.

Very broadly, the entire early Christian tradition can be divided into words and deeds, id est, between what Jesus or the apostles said and what Jesus or the apostles did. Each of these broad categories can of course be subdivided, and one of the subdivisions of that first category, words, would be catechismal materials. These are not parables, not aphorisms, not dialogues. These are distilled Christian instruction, sayings designed to teach core principles of the faith.

Two catechisms that can be confidently extracted from our extant sources, I think, are the following catenae of sayings:

The title for each of these is based on what Crossan, in The Historical Jesus, calls the key saying in the catena.

The purpose of the present investigation is to cultivate a sensitivity to an historical process, namely the transmission of teaching materials in apostolic Christianity. We ought to be able to recognize shorter catechismal complexes within longer pieces of literature, and to become attuned to the apostolic teaching patterns, as well as how Christian authors integrated them into their texts.

Those two catenae, measure for measure and as your father, are the raw data for this inquiry. I have analyzed each of them individually on their respective pages, and recommend reading those analyses before continuing on with this present page, in which I intend to synthesize them into a coherent set of findings.

I reprint here the tables given on those separate pages for convenience. Items separated from the main catechism are italicized. The final item in each catechism is boldfaced:

Measure for measure.
1 Clement 13.2; Polycarp to the Philippians 2.3a; Matthew 5.7; 6.14; 7.2, 12; 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.

As your father.
Didache 1.3b-5a; Matthew 5.38-48; 7.12a; Luke 6.27-36.

Didache. Matthew. Luke.
Do not also do. - -
Pray for your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies.
Even the gentiles. Give your cloak also. Hold out the other cheek.
Love those who hate you. Go the extra mile. Do not withhold your tunic.
Abstain from desires. - -
Turn the other cheek. Give to him who asks. Give to him who asks.
Go the extra mile. Love your enemies. Do likewise.
Give your cloak also. Even the tax-collectors and gentiles. Even the sinners.
Give to him who asks. Be therefore perfect. Love your enemies.
Of your own graces. So also do. Become compassionate.

The catechismal nature of these two catenae would seem to trump the question of whether the various authors knew them in oral or in written form. These are not narratives, with a clear and necessary logic of presentation. They do not have to hang together as coherent pieces of work, and their constituent parts can be broken up and scattered, as Matthew proves with measure for measure.

So, when we find the same basic elements coming together creatively in different pieces of literature, we are onto something. That a traditional format is at issue, and not merely one author having read the work of another, is clear from the following considerations:

  • There is a limited number of formats for the sayings in each catena, a feature that would facilitate traditional transmission by memory and word of mouth.
  • The measure for measure catena appears to consist of four firm elements, and the individual author could tag on others in one of the available saying formats. Each of our texts contains at least the sayings on judgment, mercy, forgiveness, and reciprocal measurement.
  • The as your father catena divides naturally into two halves, and the order of the halves can be switched. Each of our texts also inserts a special redactional feature between the halves, suggesting a fixed yet flexible format.
  • The order of sayings within each catena is very different from text to text, yet the final climactic saying of each remains the same.
  • Most importantly, Clement and Polycarp explicitly tell us that the catenae that they write are the result of memory, and the Didache arranges its catena, not as part of the flow of an argument, but as a separate block of teaching with a formal introduction.

Granted, then, that each of our five authors is dealing with traditional material, and not merely copying from another work, we turn to examine the particulars of how each author has incorporated measure for measure and as your father into his text.

Textual examination.



1 Clement 13.1-4 comes in the context of reminding a schismatic and seditious Corinthian church what it means to endure in patience and submission. Clement draws upon a number of examples of enduring faithfulness both from the Hebrew scriptures and from more recent experience. Now Clement confirms his admonitions with reference to the Hebrew scriptures (yet again) and also to the sayings of the Lord Jesus. I subdivide the relevant passage to reflect this double reference:

First exhortation.

Ταπεινοφρονησωμεν ουν, αδελφοι, αποθεμενοι πασαν αλαζονειαν και τυφος και αφροσυνην και οργας, και ποιησωμεν το γεγραμμενον· λεγει γαρ το πνευμα το αγιον·

Let us therefore be humbleminded, brethren, putting away all arrogance and pride and folly and wrath, and let us do what was written. For the holy spirit says:

Support from the Hebrew scriptures.

Μη καυχασθω ο σοφος εν τη σοφια αυτου, μηδε ο ισχυρος εν τη ισχυι αυτου, μηδε ο πλουσιος εν τω πλουτω αυτου, αλλα η ο καυχωμενος εν κυριω καυχασθω, του εκζητειν αυτον και ποιεν κριμα και δικαιοσυνην....

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, nor the strong man in his strength, nor the rich man in his riches, but rather let him who boasts boast in the Lord, to seek him and to do judgment and justice....

Second exhortation.

...μαλιστα μεμνημενοι των λογων του κυριου Ιησου, ους ελαλησεν διδασκων επιεικειαν και μακροθυμιαν. ουτως γαρ ειπεν·

...especially remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, which he spoke teaching kindness and longsuffering. For thus he said:

Support from the sayings of Jesus.
  1. Ελεατε ινα ελεηθητε.
  2. Αφιετε ινα αφεθη υμιν.
  3. Ως ποιειτε, ουτω ποιηθησεται υμιν.
  4. Ως διδοτε, ουτως δοθησεται υμιν.
  5. Ως κρινετε, ουτως κριθησεσθε.
  6. Ως χρηστευεσθε, ουτως χρηστευθησεται υμιν.
  7. Ω μετρω μετρειτε, εν αυτω μετρηθησεται υμιν.
  1. Show mercy that you might be shown mercy.
  2. Forgive that it might be forgiven you.
  3. As you do, so it will be done to you.
  4. As you give, so it will be given to you.
  5. As you judge, so you will be judged.
  6. As you show kindness, so kindness will be shown to you.
  7. With what measure you measure, by the same will it be measured to you.

Third exhortation.

Ταυτη τη εντολη και τοις παραγγελμασιν τουτοις στηριξωμεν εαυτους εις το πορευεσθαι υπηκοους οντας τοις αγιοπρεπεσι λογοις αυτου, ταπεινοφρονουντες. φησιν γαρ ο αγιος λογος· Επι τινα επιβλεψω, αλλ η επι τον πραυν και ησυχιον και τρεμοντα μου τα λογια;

By this command and by these precepts let us establish ourselves that we might walk obedient to his holy words, being humbleminded. For the holy word says: Upon whom shall I look, but upon the meek and peaceable and who trembles at my words?

It ought to be noticed that, although my structural formatting obscures the connection somewhat, the support from the scriptures and the ensuing second exhortation blend almost seamlessly together. The Old Testament citation from Jeremiah 9.23-24 wraps up with the enjoinder to let him boast in the Lord (εν κυριω καυχασθω, the latter being the main verb of the clause), then throws in a couple of infinitives of purpose (του εκζητειν... ποιεν, to seek... to do) in a dependent clause, at which point Clement sets right into especially remembering (μαλιστα μεμνημενοι).

The participle μεμνημενοι (remembering), however, cannot grammatically modify the verb καυχασθω (let him boast), since the participle is plural, the verb singular. The plural participle must go all the way back to the first exhortation for its antecedent, modifying the plural verb in the phrase ποιησωμεν το γεγραμμενον (let us do what is written). Doing what is written, for Clement as he cites Jeremiah, means boasting only in the Lord. This is the imperative content of doing what is written. (If you are doing what is written, you are inevitably boasting only in the Lord.)

The adverb μαλιστα (especially), then, makes remembering the words of the Lord Jesus the most important subset of doing what is written. If you do what Jeremiah wrote and boast only in the Lord, you will inevitably, and most importantly (μαλιστα), be remembering (which in the biblical sense also means following or minding) what the Lord Jesus himself said on the topic. The sevenfold support from the sayings of Jesus, in other words, forms the very content of what it means to boast in the Lord (id est, to do what is written, what Jeremiah wrote).

The sayings of Jesus, in other words, line up with and fill out the scriptural command in Jeremiah. If you are boasting only in the Lord, then you are by definition not boasting in yourself, or in your own wealth or wisdom. And, if you are not boasting in yourself, then you are being humbleminded (ταπεινοφρονουντες) which is the term that Clement chooses in his third exhortation to summarize this teaching of Jesus. As Clement also begins this discussion with the like injunction, let us be humbleminded (ταπεινοφρονησωμεν), humblemindedness serves as an inclusio for the entire passage.

Clement clearly esteems the sayings of Jesus as on a par with the Old Testament scriptures:

  • Clement calls holy both the scriptures and the sayings of Jesus.
  • Clement calls Jesus the Lord, thus connecting Jesus with the Lord from Jeremiah.
  • Clement calls the sayings of Jesus a command.

These similarities between the scriptures and the sayings of Jesus, however, point up two interesting differences in how Clement cites each:

  • Clement quotes the scriptures as what the holy spirit says (λεγει), present tense, referring to a body of extant written material. But he quotes from Jesus in the past tense, for thus he said (ειπεν).
  • Clement quotes the scriptures explicitly as what is written (το γεγραμμενον), again referring to extant written material. But he quotes from the sayings of Jesus as from things which he spoke while teaching (ους ελαλησεν διδασκων), pointing to a teaching event in his ministry.
Clement also refers to the singular holy word (λογος) of that final scripture, Isaiah 66.2, contrasted with the plural holy words (λογοις) of Jesus, but this difference probably owes to there being a catena of sayings cited from Jesus, but only a single saying cited from Isaiah.

Clement refers to the scriptures as to a text, but to the Jesus sayings as to an historical event, as one might refer back to a famous speech. Acts 20.35b does the same thing when it recalls the sayings of Jesus:

...μνημονευειν τε των λογων του κυριου Ιησου οτι αυτος ειπεν· Μακαριον εστιν μαλλον διδοναι η λαμβανειν.

...and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said: It is blessed rather to give than to receive.

Note again the recognition of dominical authority in calling him the Lord Jesus, just as Clement does. And note again the exhortation to remember the sayings, just as Clement has. Such features are not, then, merely a Clementine quirk. We have our finger on the pulse of a genuinely ancient way of referring to the teachings of Jesus.


Polycarp writes in his epistle to the Philippians 2.2-3 of how to ensure participation in the resurrection:

The commands of God.

Ο δε εγειρας αυτον εκ νεκρων και ημας εγερει, εαν ποιωμεν αυτου το θελημα και πορευωμεθα εν ταις εντολαις αυτου και αγαπωμεν α ηγαπησεν....

But he who raised him up from the dead also raises us up, if we should do his will and walk in his commands and love what he loved....

Negative instruction.

...απεχομενοι πασης αδικιας, πλεονεχιας, φιλαργυριας, καταλαλιας, ψευδομαρτυριας, μη αποδιδοντες κακον αντι κακου η λοιδοριαν αντι λοιδοριας η γρονθον αντι γρονθου η καταραν αντι καταρας....

...abstaining from all injustice, covetousness, love of silver, evil speech, false witness, not giving back evil for evil or railing for railing or blow for blow or cursing for cursing....

Positive instruction.

...μνημονευοντες δε ων ειπεν ο κυριος διδασκων·

...but remembering what the Lord said teaching:

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

...και οτι, Μακαριοι οι πτωχοι και οι διωκομενοι ενεκεν δικαιοσυνης, οτι αυτων εστιν η βασιλεια του θεου.

...and: Blessed are the poor and those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, since theirs is the kingdom of God.

The promise of resurrection is more than mere background for these sayings; it is foreground. As the passage begins with the resurrection promised to those who walk in the commands of God, so it ends with the kingdom of God promised to those who are persecuted for doing right. We are thus not left in doubt as to the occasion of the reciprocation guaranteed in the Jesus sayings between these frames. The reciprocation will happen at the coming of the kingdom, the resurrection of the dead.

The Polycarpian instruction takes two different forms. There is negative instruction, or what to avoid, and positive instruction, or what to do.

Avoiding the negative takes the form of abstinence; we are to be abstaining (απεχομενοι) from a list of vices. This Greek term for abstinence also shows up in Didache 1.4, right in the middle of its own catechism, studied below.

Doing the positive takes the form of remembering the sayings of the Lord. I call once again upon how Acts 20.35b recalls the sayings of Jesus:

...μνημονευειν τε των λογων του κυριου Ιησου οτι αυτος ειπεν· Μακαριον εστιν μαλλον διδοναι η λαμβανειν.

...and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said: It is blessed rather to give than to receive.

In Polycarp as in the Acts the dominical authority is invoked by calling Jesus Lord. In Polycarp as in the Acts the sayings are to press upon the memory.

The similarity between Polycarp and Clement on this point is striking. Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels, pages 19-20:

One of these quotations, Pol. Phil. 2.3a, is copied from the quotation of the sayings of Jesus in 1 Clem. 13.1-2, including the quotation formula ("Remember what the Lord said when he was teaching"). However, while the quote in 1 Clem. 13.2 had been drawn from the oral tradition, Polycarp, who knew the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, corrected the text in order to establish a more faithful agreement of Jesus' words with the wording of the written gospels from which he has also drawn his other gospel materials (Phil. 2.3b; 7.2; 12.3). At the same time, it is remarkable that Polycarp never uses the term "gospel" for these documents and that the words of Jesus are still quoted as if they were sayings drawn from the oral tradition.

This point is well taken. Both Clement and Polycarp not only combine the sayings of the Lord and the injunction to remembrance, which combination is as far as Acts 20.35b goes, but also point out the teaching and recount the same catechismal statement. Polycarp is, then, probably drawing from Clement.

But Koester takes one more step in that quote. He states that Polycarp has corrected the tradition to align more closely with the written gospels of Matthew and Luke. Is Koester correct?

Allow me to compare the four sayings in Polycarp to their counterparts in Clement, Matthew, and Luke. Clement will be our control, for if Polycarp looks closer to Clement than to either Matthew or Luke, or if Polycarp goes his own way, then Koester is proved wrong. But, if Polycarp looks closer to either Matthew or Luke than to Clement, then he is proved right. The references are 1 Clement 13.2; Polycarp to the Philippians 2.3a; Matthew 7.2a; 6.14; 5.7; 7.12; Luke 6.37ac, 36, 38b.

First, on judgment:

Clement: Ως κρινετε, ουτως κριθησεσθε.

Polycarp: Μη κρινετε ινα μη κριθητε.

Matthew: Εν ω γαρ κριματι κρινετε κριθησεσθε.

Luke: Και μη κρινετε, και ου μη κριθητε.

Polycarp, like Luke, phrases the first half of this saying as a negative command. But it is Polycarp alone who phrases the second half as a purpose clause, with ινα.

Second, on forgiveness:

Clement: Αφιετε ινα αφεθη υμιν.

Polycarp: Αφιετε, και αφεθησεται υμιν.

Matthew: Εαν γαρ αφητε τοις ανθρωποις τα παραπτωματα αυτων, αφησει και υμιν ο πατηρ υμων ο ουρανιος.

Luke: Απολυετε, και απολυθησεσθε.

Polycarp, again like Luke, makes the second half of this saying a promise (whereas Clement now uses a ινα clause). However, Polycarp does not follow the distinctive Lucan use of απολυω; he rather sticks with the more typical αφιημι. Polycarp also adds the pronoun υμιν, like Clement, but unlike Luke.

Third, on mercy:

Clement: Ελεατε ινα ελεηθητε.

Polycarp: Ελεατε ινα ελεηθητε.

Matthew: Μακαριοι οι ελεημονες, οτι αυτοι ελεηθησονται.

Luke: Γινεσθε οικτιρμονες, καθως ο πατηρ υμων οικτιρμων εστιν.

Given that Polycarp follows Clement verbatim here, and Matthew has phrased his saying as a beatitude while Luke uses the adjective οικτιρμων instead of the verb ελεαω, Polycarp is clearly not correcting the tradition by the gospels in this case.

Fourth, on measurement.

Clement: Ω μετρω μετρειτε, εν αυτω μετρηθησεται υμιν.

Polycarp: Ω μετρω μετρειτε, αντιμετρηθησεται υμιν.

Matthew: Εν ω μετρω μετρειτε μετρηθησεται υμιν.

Luke: Ω γαρ μετρω μετρειτε αντιμετρηθησεται υμιν.

Polycarp, like Luke, adds the prefixed preposition αντι- to the verb μετρεω.

Polycarp nowhere favors Matthew across these four sayings. Thrice he seems to favor Luke, with two format changes and the addition of a prefix to a verb. Yet, granted that the formats of these sayings are interchangeable, and that Polycarp ignores the most distinctive Lucan vocabulary changes (release and compassionate), it hardly seems to me that Polycarp is in any way correcting, to recall Koester, the tradition by Luke. Rather, Polycarp appears to be inspired by Clement, but also knows the wording of Luke, and is also willing to go his own way. We have no reason to think that he has any of these texts open in front of him as he pens his epistle.

Polycarp is probably, and most fittingly, remembering the words of the Lord, not correcting a traditional wording against a standard text. Polycarp has committed this catena to memory, and occasionally Luke, who was also remembering while composing, points his memory toward a particular formulation.

Koester notes that Polycarp relies upon the written gospels for 2.3b; 7.2; 12.3. Perhaps, then, he is simply assuming that Polycarp is relying upon them for 2.3a as well. Let us look at that first reference, 2.3b, which is part of our text...:

Μακαριοι οι πτωχοι και οι διωκομενοι ενεκεν δικαιοσυνης, οτι αυτων εστιν η βασιλεια του θεου.

Blessed are the poor and those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, since theirs is the kingdom of God.

...alongside Matthew 5.3, 10:

Μακαριοι οι πτωχοι τω πνευματι, οτι αυτων εστιν η βασιλεια των ουρανων.

Μακαριοι οι δεδιωγμενοι ενεκεν δικαιοσυνης, οτι αυτων εστιν η βασιλεια των ουρανων.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, since theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of justice, since theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.

Polycarp is obviously very, very close to Matthew here. He does not replicate the Matthean periphrasis for God, the heavens, and he omits the prepositional phrase in spirit, but the rest is virtually identical. And it cannot be coincidence that Polycarp has chosen to conflate precisely and conveniently those two Matthean beatitudes whose guarantee is the kingdom of the heavens. Polycarp knows Matthew, and uses him here.

But this obvious knowledge and use of Matthew in 2.3b makes the sayings of 2.3a stand out all the more as proceeding, not literarily from the text of Luke (much less Matthew!), but rather from the memory of Polycarp, as if they came from the oral transmission. And they do, despite their presence in the texts of Matthew, Luke, and Clement. They are a catechism, and Polycarp feels free to write them as he himself knows them, not exactly as they stand in any text.


Didache 1.2b-6 is set into the teaching of the two ways for which this subapostolic document is most famous. There are two ways, according to both the Didache and a time-honored Jewish catechismal tradition. The first way is that of life. The second is that of death. There are instructions, of course, for each of these categories. The way of life consists of loving God and neighbor, which is explained in terms of the Golden Rule as follows:

Thesis statement.

Παντα δε οσα εαν θελησης μη γινηεσθαι σοι, και συ αλλω μη ποιει.

And as many things, if you should wish not to happen to you, also you do not do to another.

First command.

Τουτων δε των λογων η διδαχη εστιν αυτη·

And of these words the teaching is this:

Basis for radicalism.

Ευλογειτε τους καταρωμενους υμιν και προσευχεσθε υπερ των εχθρων υμων, νηστευετε δε υπερ των διωκοντων υμας. ποια γαρ χαρις εαν αγαπατε τους αγαπωντας υμας; ουχι και τα εθνη το αυτο ποιουσιν; υμεις δε αγαπατε τους μισουντας υμας, και ουχ εξετε εχθρον.

Bless those who curse you and pray on behalf of your enemies, and fast on behalf of those who persecute you. For what kind of grace is it if you love those who love you? Do not even the gentiles do the same? But you, love those who hate you, and you will not have an enemy.

Thematic interlude.

Απεχου των σαρκικων και σωματικων επιθυμιων.

Abstain from fleshly and bodily desires.

Radical injunctions.
  1. Εαν τις σοι δω ραπισμα εις την δεξιαν σιαγονα, στρεψον αυτω και την αλλην....
...και εση τελειος.
  1. Εαν αγγαρευση σε τις μιλιον εν, υπαγε μετ αυτου δυο.
  2. Εαν αρη τις το ιματιον σου, δος αυτω και τον χιτωνα.
  3. Εαν λαβη τις απο σου το σον, μη απαιτει, ουδε γαρ δυνασαι.
Παντι τω αιτουντι σε διδου και μη απαιτει. πασι γαρ θελει διδοσθαι ο πατηρ εκ των ιδιων χαρισματων.
  1. If someone should give you a slap upon the right cheek, turn to him also the other....
...and you will be perfect.
  1. If someone should press you for one mile, go with him two.
  2. If someone should take your cloak, give him also your tunic.
  3. If someone should take what is yours away from you, do not take it away, for you are unable.
To him who asks you give and do not take back. For the father wishes that to all should be given from your own graces.

Interpretation of command.

Μακαριος ο διδους κατα την εντολην, αθωος γαρ εστιν. ουαι τω λαμβανοντι, ει μεν γαρ χρειαν εχων λαμβανει τις, αθωος εσται, ο δε μη χρειαν εχων δωσει δικην, ινατι ελαβε και εις τι, εν συνοχη δε γενομενος εξετασθησεται περι ων επραξε, και ουκ εξελευσεται εκειθεν μεχρις ου αποδω τον εσχατον κοδραντην. αλλα και περι τουτου δε ειρηται· Ιδρωσατω η ελεημοσυνη σου εις τας χειρας σου, μεχρις αν γνως τινι δως.

Blessed is he who gives according to the commandment, for he is blameless. Woe to him who receives, for if someone receives who has need, he is blameless, but if he does not have need he shall give justice, why he received and for what, and coming in imprisonment he shall be examined concerning the things that he did, and shall not go out from there until he gives back the last quadrans. But also about this it has been said: Let your mercy-gift sweat into your hands until you know to whom to give.

Second command.

Δευτερα δε εντολη της διδαχης....

But the second command of this teaching [is]....


Matthew 5.38-48 comprises the final two items in a series of parallel instructions, each introduced by the combination of you heard it said and but I say unto you. All of these items fall under the umbrella of 5.20, on surpassing the justice of the scribes and Pharisees. The first item then consists of 5.21-26, the second of 5.27-30, with a related comment in 5.31-32, the third of 5.33-37, and the fourth and fifth of our present passage, 5.38-48:

What I say.

Ηκουσατε οτι ερρεθη· Οφθαλμον αντι οφθαλμου και οδοντα αντι οδοντος. εγω δε λεγω υμιν μη αντιστηναι τω πονηρω.

You heard that it was said: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you not to stand against the evil one.

Radical injunctions.
  1. Αλλ οστις σε ραπιζει εις την δεξιαν σιαγονα σου, στρεψον αυτω και την αλλην.
  2. Και τω θελοντι σοι κριθηναι και τον χιτωνα σου λαβειν, αφες αυτω και το ιματιον.
  3. Και οστις σε αγγαρευσει μιλιον εν, υπαγε μετ αυτου δυο.
  4. Τω αιτουντι σε δος, και τον θελοντα απο σου δανισασθαι μη αποστραφης.
  1. But, whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him also the other.
  2. And, to him who wishes to judge you and take your tunic, give him also your cloak.
  3. And, whoever will press you for one mile, go with him two.
  4. Give to him who asks, and do not turn away him who wishes to borrow from you.

What I say.

Ηκουσατε οτι ερρεθη· Αγαπησεις τον πλησιον σου και μισησεις τον εχθρον σου. εγω δε λεγω υμιν·

You heard that it was said: You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you:

Basis for radicalism.

Αγαπατε τους εχθρους υμων και προσευχεσθε υπερ των διωκοντων υμας, οπως γενησθε υιοι του πατρος υμων του εν ουρανοις, οτι τον ηλιον αυτου ανατελλει επι πονηρους και αγαθους, και βρεχει επι δικαιους και αδικους. εαν γαρ αγαπησητε τους αγαπωντας υμας, τινα μισθον εχετε; ουχι και οι τελωναι το αυτο ποιουσιν; και εαν ασπασησθε τους αδελφους υμων μονον, τι περισσον ποιειτε; ουχι και οι εθνικοι το αυτο ποιουσιν;

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you might be sons of your father who is in heaven, since he causes his sun to rise upon the evil and the good, and it rains upon the just and the unjust. For, if you love those who love you, what wage do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And, if you greet only your brethren, what more are you doing? Do not even the gentiles do the same?

Εσεσθε ουν υμεις τελειοι ως ο πατηρ υμων ο ουρανιος τελειος εστιν.

You shall therefore be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.

The Matthean treatment of both measure for measure (he utterly breaks it apart) and as your father (he works it into his presentation scheme in the sermon on the mount) underscores just how flexible these sayings can be. It seems almost a badge of authorial honor to take a raw set of instructions allegedly from the lips of Jesus and fit them seamlessly into the rest of the gospel text.


Luke 6.27-38 is the most intriguing of our passages because it combines both of our distinct catechismal catenae, as your father and measure for measure. So nicely does Luke integrate them that we would scarcely be able to isolate each from the other without our other instances of the same two catenae. Verse 36, on being compassionate like the father, is the hinge upon which 6.27-38 turns:

What I say.

Αλλα υμιν λεγω τοις ακουουσιν·

But to you who hear I say:

Basis for radicalism.

Αγαπατε τους εχθρους υμων, καλως ποιειτε τοις μισουσιν υμας, ευλογειτε τους καταρωμενους υμας, προσευχεσθε περι των επηρεαζοντων υμας.

Love your enemies, do well with those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who revile you.

Radical injunctions.

  1. Τω τυπτοντι σε επι την σιαγονα παρεχε και την αλλην.
  2. Και απο του αιροντος σου το ιματιον και τον χιτωνα μη κωλυσης.
  3. Παντι αιτουντι σε διδου, και απο του αιροντος τα σα μη απαιτει.
  1. To him who strikes you upon the cheek hold out also the other.
  2. And from him who takes your cloak do not withhold your tunic also.
  3. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask back from him who takes what is yours.

Thematic interlude.

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.

Basis for radicalism.

Και ει αγαπατε τους αγαπωντας υμας, ποια υμιν χαρις εστιν; και γαρ οι αμαρτωλοι τους αγαπωντας αυτους αγαπωσιν. και γαρ εαν αγαθοποιητε τους αγαθοποιουντας υμας, ποια υμιν χαρις εστιν; και οι αμαρτωλοι το αυτο ποιουσιν. και εαν δανισητε παρ ων ελπιζετε λαβειν, ποια υμιν χαρις εστιν; και αμαρτωλοι αμαρτωλοις δανιζουσιν ινα απολαβωσιν τα ισα. πλην αγαπατε τους εχθρους υμων και αγαθοποιειτε και δανιζετε μηδεν απελπιζοντες, και εσται ο μισθος υμων πολυς, και εσεσθε υιοι υψιστου, οτι αυτος χρηστος εστιν επι τους αχαριστους και πονηρους.

And if you love those who love you, what kind of grace is it to you? For even the sinners love those that love them. For if also you do good for those who do good for you, what kind of grace is it to you? Even the sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what kind of grace is it to you? Even the sinners lend to sinners so that they might receive back in kind. Rather love your enemies and do good and lend, hoping for nothing back, and great will be your wage, and you will be sons of the most high, since he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.


Γινεσθε οικτιρμονες καθως και ο πατηρ υμων οικτιρμων εστιν.

Become compassionate, just as your father is compassionate.

Reciprocal sayings.

  1. Και μη κρινετε, και ου μη κριθητε.
  2. Και μη καταδικαζετε, και ου μη καταδικασθητε.
  3. Απολυετε, και απολυθησεσθε.
  4. Διδοτε, και δοθησεται υμιν.
  5. Μετρον καλον πεπιεσμενον σεσαλευμενον υπερεκχυννομενον δωσουσιν εις τον κολπον υμων. ω γαρ μετρω μετρειτε αντιμετρηθησεται υμιν.
  1. And judge not, and you will not be judged.
  2. And condemn not, and you will not be condemned.
  3. Release, and you will be released.
  4. Give, and it will be given to you.
  5. 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.

Again I am struck by the flexibility of these sayings. They basically retain the original idea, and remain in sequence for the most part, but Luke brings together two distinct catenae, nowhere else combined, into one, hinging them both ingeniously around the Golden Rule.


The catechismal sayings that I have glanced at here appear to me, at any rate, to reflect the oral transmission of Jesus materials in the Christian community. I take seriously the fact that our patristic witnesses, Clement and Polycarp, tell their readers to remember the sayings of Jesus.

The gospel of John is illuminating in this regard. Several times John refers to sayings that the disciples heard from Jesus during his ministry and then remembered later (John 2.22; 12.16; 14.26; 16.4; confer John 15.20). This language of remembering what Jesus said is very reminiscent, of course, of Acts 20.35b, which we have seen already, and also of Acts 11.16, which I offer now:

Εμνησθην δε του ρηματος του κυριου ως ελεγεν· Ιωαννης μεν εβαπτισεν υδατι, υμεις δε βαπτισθησεσθε εν πνευματι αγιω.

And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said: John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized in the holy spirit.

It would be hazardous to claim, I think, that the oral process was one of dramatic fidelity to the original wording, meaning, and order of each set of sayings so transmitted. This page itself is full of creative reworkings of the various sayings in two apostolic catechisms. But I do not think it would be dangerous to suggest that a genuine effort was made to remember, to avoid forgetting, the words of Jesus, and that the reworking of the sayings so evident to us upon examination was part of that process; one of the best ways to remember something is to find its relevance to your own situation, and that requires reworking.

For further study into the oral transmission of gospel materials, refer to my page on oral and literary tradition.