Adam Clarke (1760 or 1762–1832) was a British Methodist theologian and Biblical scholar, born in the townland of Moybeg Kirley near Tobermore in present-day Northern Ireland. 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, published 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.”, may be the most comprehensive commentary on the Bible ever prepared by one man. By himself he produced nearly half as much material as the scores of scholars who collaborated on the twelve-volume The Interpreters’ Bible. His commentary, particularly that on Revelation, identified the Catholic Church with the antichrist and bordered on antisemitic, as illustrated by the following quote:
“The Jewish philosophy, such as is found the Cabala, Midrashim, and other works, deserves the character of vain deceit, in the fullest sense and meaning of the words. The inspired writers excepted, the Jews have ever been the most puerile, absurd, and ridiculous reasoners in the world. Even Rabbi Maimon or Maimonides, the most intelligent of them all, is often, in his master-piece, the Moreh Neochim, the teacher of the perplexed, most deplorably empty and vain.”
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.” With such an understanding, Clarke was first and foremost a Biblical theologian, often uneasy with purely systematic approaches to theology.
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. 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 view was rejected by Methodism in favor of the traditional, orthodox perspective.