Faith and Works from Clement of Rome

The Greek word for “justify,” dikiao, has a couple of meanings.  It can mean “declare and make righteousness” but also “show to be righteous.”  In Romans 3:28, Paul used “justify” to mean “declare and make righteous.”   In James 2:24, James used “justify” to mean “show to be righteous.”  Romans 3:28 reads, “For we maintain that one is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” James 2:24 reads, “A person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

How do we know that justify can have these different meanings?  Here, we turn to the 4th Bishop of Rome, Clement.  He wrote a letter to the church in Corinth in 96 AD.  In that letter he used “justify” both ways.

1 Clement 30:3: “Let us be justified by works and not just words.”  Clement wrote this while he was encouraging the Corinthians to be humble, not boastful.  Instead, he was telling them to let their praises come from God and other people.

A bit later, Clement stated the same idea using different words.  1 Clement 38:2: “Let the wise show his wisdom not in words but in good works.  The humble person should not testify for himself, but leave it to another to testify for him.”

In Clement’s encouragement not to boast, the question was not how someone became righteous, but how someone lived out that righteousness.  As in the book of James, the choice was between works and words, not works and faith.  In that context, Clement used “justify” to mean “show to be righteous.”

Yet, Clement also used “justify” in the Pauline sense.  Clement also used “justify”–not to contrast between works and words–but between works and faith.  1 Clement 32:4: “So we, too, who have been called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves, or through our own wisdom, understanding, piety, or any works that we have done in holiness of heart, but through faith, by which the almighty God has justified all from the beginning of time.”

Clement tells us that we are justified by works.  Yet, he also tells us that we are not justified by anything we have done, but through faith.  Does Clement contradict himself?  No!

Clement used “justify” in two different ways, with two different meanings: “declare and make righteous” as in Romans 3:28, and “show to be righteous” as in James 2:24.  Through Clement, we can better understand the 1st century koine Greek meanings for dikiao.

When we talk about faith and work, we say what Paul says: we are declared and made righteous, apart from works.  When we talk about words and works, we say what James says: that our works show our righteousness, they show the faith that we have.

Bottom Line: Our righteousness before God is by faith, apart from works.  Yet, we live out that righteousness by our words and our works–not by faith alone.