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Adam Clarke

Adam Clarke (1760, 1761 or 1762 – August 28, 1832[1]) was a British Methodist theologian and biblical scholar. He was born in the townland of Moybeg Kirley near Tobermore in Northern Ireland.[2][3]



He is chiefly remembered for writing a commentary on the Bible which took him 40 years to complete and which was a primary Methodist theological resource for two centuries. That commentary is fully titled as:

The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The text carefully printed from the most correct copies of the present Authorized Version. Including the marginal readings and parallel texts. With a Commentary and Critical Notes. Designed as a help to a better understanding of the sacred writings. By Adam Clarke, LL.D. F.S.A. M.R.I.A. With a complete alphabetical index. Royal Octavo Stereotype Edition." [In six volumes of approximately 1,000 pages each] "New York, Published by J. Emory and B. Waugh, for the Methodist Episcopal Church, at the conference office, 13 Crosby-Street. J. Collord, Printer. 1831.

It is considered among the most comprehensive commentaries on the Bible ever prepared by a single author.[citation needed] By himself he produced nearly half as much material as the scores of scholars who collaborated on the twelve-volume The Interpreter's Bible. His commentary, particularly that on Revelation, identified the Catholic Church with the Antichrist. Clarke followed Wesley in opposing a Calvinistic scheme of salvation, preferring instead the Wesleyan-Arminian positions regarding predestination, prevenient grace, the offer of justification to all persons, the possibility of entire sanctification, and assurance of salvation.

"Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off."

Theological viewsEdit

As a theologian, Clarke reinforced the teachings of Methodist founder John Wesley. He taught that the Bible provides a complete interpretation of God's nature and will. He considered Scripture itself a miracle of God's grace that "takes away the veil of darkness and ignorance."[4] With such an understanding, Clarke was first and foremost a biblical theologian, often uneasy with purely systematic approaches to theology.

Perhaps his most controversial position regarded the eternal Sonship of Jesus. Clarke did not believe it biblically faithful to affirm this doctrine, maintaining that prior to the Incarnation, Jesus was "unoriginated". Otherwise, according to Clarke, he would be subordinate to God and therefore not fully divine. This was important to Clarke because he felt that Jesus' divinity was crucial to understanding the atonement.

Clarke's view was opposed by many Methodists, notably Richard Watson. Watson and his allies argued that Clarke's position jeopardized the integrity of the doctrine of the Trinity. Clarke's christological view was rejected in large part by Methodist theologians in favour of the traditional perspective.

He joined with other ministers in being an early critic of slavery. In his commentary of Isaiah 58:6, he writes "Let the oppressed go free – How can any nation pretend to fast or worship God at all, or dare to profess that they believe in the existence of such a Being, while they carry on the slave trade, and traffic in the souls, blood, and bodies, of men! O ye most flagitious of knaves, and worst of hypocrites, cast off at once the mask of religion; and deepen not your endless perdition by professing the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, while ye continue in this traffic!" [5]

Rosetta StoneEdit

Clarke was an amateur historian and scholar, and was invited by Brandt, secretary of the Royal Society of Antiquarians to see the newly acquired Rosetta Stone.[6] At that time in 1803, the writing and composition of the stone had not been translated, nor had all three languages been positively identified. Clarke proposed that the stone was basalt, a theory which while recently was found to be incorrect was thought to be correct until the late 1900s when better scanning equipment was developed. He also proposed that the third language was Coptic (it was actually Demotic, which is written almost the same as, and has the same meaning as Coptic),[7] a clue which was used by Jean-François Champollion who successfully completed the translation in 1822.[8]

Honours and membershipsEdit

Elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1816.[9]


  • The Christian Prophet and His Work.
  • Christian Theology.
  • Commentary on the Bible. In Six Volumes.


  1. ^ [1]"Adam Clarke"
  2. ^ Lewis Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837)
  3. ^ NB: Adam Clarke The Newspaper Bell's Weekly Messenger of Sunday 2 September 1832 gives his date of birth as 1763 & his death as "at a quarter past eleven o’clock on Sunday night" (Sunday 26th Aug. 1832). Cause of death was cholera, he died in Mrs Hobbs house at Bayswater, Westminster, London.
  4. ^ Adam Clarke quoted in Thomas Langford, Practical Divinity: Theology in the Wesleyan Tradition (Nashville: Abingdon, 1983), p. 56.
  5. ^
  6. ^ North-western Christian Advocate. Swormstedt & Poe. 1897.
  7. ^ Clarke, Adam; Clarke, Joseph Butterworth Bulmer (1833). An Account of the Infancy, Religious and Literary Life, of Adam Clarke. Clarke.
  8. ^ Fontaine, Edward (1872). How the World Was Peopled: Ethnological Lectures. Pelican Publishing. ISBN 9781455606009.
  9. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory

Further readingEdit

  • J. B. B. Clarke, The Life and Labours of Adam Clarke. (1834). Second Edition. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1842.
  • Thomas Langford, Practical Divinity: Theology in the Wesleyan Tradition. 1983.
  • Ian Sellers, Adam Clarke, Controversialist: Wesleyanism and the Historic Faith. 1975.
  • Wesley Tracy, When Adam Clarke Preached, People Listened: Studies in the Message and Method of Adam Clarke's Preaching. 1981.

External linksEdit