In late antique compilations, the biblical text is frequently cited in conjunction with extensive quotations from patristic sources. This practice warrants further exploration. In the context of late antiquity, the problem of locating the semantic meaning of a text becomes difficult, because the role of the active reader — i.e. those responsible for generating the manifold meanings of the text — was maturing and expanding. The present article suggests that a focus on the ‘pragmatic’ meaning of the text might prove more fruitful, and so considers the textual function(s) of biblical citation. To this end, the article analyses the case of De ecclesiasticis officiis of Isidore of Seville (ca. 560–636). Isidore employs biblical quotations and allusions within larger passages from the writings of Christian authors in order to determine the origins of the practices of the Church. The article argues that the biblical quotations and allusions in the treatise allow Isidore to shape the identity of the clergy; Isidore represents the biblical text either as exemplum or praecepta. The article analyses the various connotations of these notions. This analysis allows us to conclude that the biblical text exercises three functions in De ecclesiasticis officiis: 1) it explains and legitimates the practices of the Church; 2) it frames history and law so as to fortify clerical identity; 3) it presents the objects of contemplation necessary for the moral perfection of the clergy and the fulfilment of their vocational duties.