Clement of Alexandria and the Watchtower

by Luke Wayne

There is a section on the early church fathers in the Watchtower brochure “Should You Believe in the Trinity?" in which the author asserts that the late 2nd/early 3rd century Christian intellectual known as Clement of Alexandria supposedly taught that Jesus was something less than God and thus denied the Trinity. The paragraph reads:

"Clement of Alexandria, who died about 215 C.E., called God 'the uncreated and imperishable and only true God.' He said that the Son 'is next to the only omnipotent Father' but not equal to him."1

Note that the final words, "but not equal to him" are not a part of the quote by Clement, but are an added editorial comment by the Watchtower writer. To the actual words attributed to Clement here, any biblical, Trinitarian Christian would give a hearty "amen!" We agree that the Son is next to the only omnipotent Father, and we believe that there is one and only true God; Uncreated, imperishable, eternal, and unchanging. Ironically, it is the Jehovah's Witness who claims that John 1:1 asserts Jesus to be "a god," a second, lesser god created by the eternal Jehovah. But if Jesus is a god, is he a true god or a false god? If false, why believe in him? If true, then do you not believe in at least two true gods as opposed to Clement's (and Scripture's) assertion that there is only one true God?

Be that as it may, the quotes offered here are uncontroversial. There is nothing in them that denies any part of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, and even if there were it would only discredit Clement, not the biblical doctrine. We do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity because of what some early Christian intellectual said about it, but rather because it is revealed in Holy Scripture. It may be valuable, however, to note what Clement of Alexandria actually said on the subject.

The Deity of Christ

Clement of Alexandria's work entitled "The Instructor" is specifically about who Jesus is and thus would be the most reasonable place to look first to discern what Clement believed about Him. It's hard to imagine the authors of the Watchtower pamphlet not checking there if they were serious about truthful representation. Almost at the very beginning of the work, Clement writes:

"Now, O you, my children, our Instructor is like His Father God, whose son He is, sinless, blameless, and with a soul devoid of passion; God in the form of man, stainless, the minister of His Father’s will, the Word who is God, who is in the Father, who is at the Father’s right hand, and with the form of God is God."2

So the Word is God but is also distinct from the Father. He clarifies this position throughout the work, most notably in chapter 7, where He writes:

"But our Instructor is the holy God Jesus, the Word, who is the guide of all humanity. The loving God Himself is our Instructor. Somewhere in song, the Holy Spirit says with regard to Him, 'He provided sufficiently for the people in the wilderness. He led him about in the thirst of summer heat in a dry land, and instructed him, and kept him as the apple of His eye, as an eagle protects her nest, and shows her fond solicitude for her young, spreads abroad her wings, takes them, and bears them on her back. The Lord alone led them, and there was no strange god with them.' Clearly, I trow, has the Scripture exhibited the Instructor in the account it gives of His guidance. Again, when He speaks in His own person, He confesses Himself to be the Instructor: 'I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt.' Who, then, has the power of leading in and out? Is it not the Instructor? This was He who appeared to Abraham, and said to him, 'I am thy God, be accepted before Me;' and in a way most befitting an instructor, forms him into a faithful child, saying, 'And be blameless; and I will make My covenant between Me and thee, and thy seed.' There is the communication of the Instructor’s friendship."3

The holy and loving God, Jesus, is the God who provided for the people in the wilderness. He is the God who brought them out of Egypt and who made the covenant with Abraham. According to Clement, Jesus is none other than Jehovah God. Though Jesus is distinct from the Father, we are not talking about two Gods but one. Note that he said, "The Lord alone led them, and there was no strange god among them." The only true God is both the Father and the Son.

The same chapter goes on to explain that Jesus is the one whom Jacob wrestled with. He then says:

"Yet Jacob called the name of the place, 'Face of God.' 'For I have seen,' he says, 'God face to face; and my life is preserved.' The face of God is the Word by whom God is manifested and made known. Then also was he named Israel, because he saw God the Lord. It was God, the Word, the Instructor, who said to him again afterwards, 'Fear not to go down into Egypt.'”4

The Word is God. He is not the Father and does not exhaust all that God is, but when men have ever seen God or spoken to God "face to face," Clement argues that it is the Word they have seen and spoken with, for He is the very face of God.

The Incarnation of the Divine Word

Toward the beginning of his work called "Exhortation to the Heathen," Clement argued that, while Christianity appears to be a new and novel thing in the midst of the ancient and revered religions of the day, there is a sense in which this is not so. Christianity centers on the person of Christ, who is the incarnation of the divine Word who created all things, and therefore Christianity traces it source back before the beginning of the universe. In this context he writes:

"This Word, then, the Christ, the cause of both our being at first (for He was in God) and of our well-being, this very Word has now appeared as man, He alone being both, both God and man—the Author of all blessings to us; by whom we, being taught to live well, are sent on our way to life eternal. For, according to that inspired apostle of the Lord, 'the grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for the blessed hope, and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.' This is the New Song, the manifestation of the Word that was in the beginning, and before the beginning. The Saviour, who existed before, has in recent days appeared. He, who is in Him that truly is, has appeared; for the Word, who 'was with God,' and by whom all things were created, has appeared as our Teacher. The Word, who in the beginning bestowed on us life as Creator when He formed us, taught us to live well when He appeared as our Teacher; that as God He might afterwards conduct us to the life which never ends."5

Clement thus argues here that Jesus Christ is the divine Word. He explains that this Word was not only there in the beginning, but before the beginning! He is thus rather explicit that the Word is eternal. The Word is also described as being the Creator of all things, and is plainly called God, though He is also described as being "in God" and "with God," thus again avoiding the idea that the Word exhausts all that God is. He explains that when the Word came to us as Jesus Christ, He was both God and Man. He returns to this again later in the book, declaring:

"Assuming the character of man, and fashioning Himself in flesh, He enacted the drama of human salvation: for He was a true champion and a fellow-champion with the creature. And being communicated most speedily to men, having dawned from His Father’s counsel quicker than the sun, with the most perfect ease He made God shine on us. Whence He was and what He was, He showed by what He taught and exhibited, manifesting Himself as the Herald of the Covenant, the Reconciler, our Savior, the Word, the Fount of life, the Giver of peace, diffused over the whole face of the earth; by whom, so to speak, the universe has already become an ocean of blessings."6

By "assuming the character of a man and fashioning Himself in flesh," the Word became a man to bring about our salvation. The Word is a champion with the creature. The uncreated enters into creation and comes alongside the created being to save him. He did not cease to be God, but rather He "made God to shine on us." How? "Whence He was and what He was He showed by what He taught and exhibited." The Word revealed God because the Word is God. As Clement also wrote in "The Instructor," Chapter 3:

"The Lord ministers all good and all help, both as Man and as God."7

This is the biblical doctrine of the deity of Christ and the incarnation, which the Watchtower was mistakenly (or deceitfully) hoping to wield Clement's words to deny. Clement of Alexandria is instead just another one of the many examples of early Christians who believed and wrote about these biblical truths in the earliest period of Christian history. It also shows the Watchtower writers once again to be either incompetent or duplicitous in their handling of this subject matter.

  • 1. Should You Believe in the Trinity (Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, 1989) 7
  • 2. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers – Vol. 2 – Fourth Printing (Hendrickson Publishing, 2004) 209-210
  • 3. ibid, 223
  • 4. ibid, 223
  • 5. ibid, 173
  • 6. ibid, 202
  • 7. ibid, 210