Women in the Apostolic Fathers: Introductions (Part I)

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Women in the Apostolic Fathers.

Apostolic Fathers IconBefore engaging pericopes from the Apostolic Fathers regarding women, we first briefly introduce the writings from which this evidence comes. Given the length and scope of this paper, these introductions are necessarily brief (and insufficient for a comprehensive examination of the Apostolic Fathers), standing as starting points for contextualizing and engaging these writings.

By far the longest and most important epistolary contribution to the corpus of the Apostolic Fathers is the First Letter of Clement to the Corinthian Church, commonly known as First Clement. Extant in two Greek manuscripts and several translations,[1] First Clement was likely written by Clement of Rome[2] during his time as bishop of Rome between 94 and 98 CE.[3] The letter primarily addresses a division in the Corinthian church in which presbyters had been forcibly deposed from their ecclesial offices and replaced, with Clement admonishing the church to reinstate the presbyters for the sake of unity, concord, and order.[4]

Clement of Rome
Clement of Rome

Although long identified with First Clement, the homily bearing the title Second Clement was almost certainly not composed by the same author.[5] While a number of theories have been posited as to where Second Clement was composed, arguments concerning Rome and Corinth are most convincing due to the letter’s quick association with First Clement.[6] The dating of Second Clement remains uncertain, although most scholars place it somewhere in the mid-second century.[7] Second Clement addresses a situation where ethical behavior has been threatened (10.5) although the specific cause of this ethical laxity remains uncertain.


[1] 1 Clement remains extant through Codex Alexandrinus (missing 57.7-63.4) and Codex Hierosolymitanus, two Coptic manuscripts, a complete 11th century Latin manuscript (with possible 2nd/3rd c. exemplar), and 12th c. Syriac manuscript, where First and Second Clement appear after Acts and the Catholic Epistles but before the Epistles of Paul. Andrew F. Gregory, “I Clement: An Introduction,” Expository Times 117, 6 (2006): 223-224.

[2] Origen argues that the letter’s author was the man mentioned by Paul in Philippians 4:3 (Commentary on John 6.36). Eusebius identifies him as companion of Paul and third bishop of Rome (H.E. 3.4.8-9; 3.15.1; 3.34.1). According to Tertullian, Clement succeeded Peter directly as Bishop of Rome (Prescription 32). Whatever one makes of these arguments, the contents of the letter make clear that Clement resided in Rome, could fluently compose letters in Greek, held a position of authority within the Roman church, and was likely a Hellenstic Jew prior to his conversation. Gregory, “Introduction”, 225. David I. Rankin, From Clement to Origen: The Social and Historical Context of the Church Fathers (Burlington, V.A.: Ashgate, 2006), 26. For arguments against Clement’s authorship, see Gregory, “Introduction”, 223. The chief factor in favor of this view is the lack of a named author.

[3] Michael Stover, The Dating of I Clement (Wake Forest, N.C.: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2012), ix-x. Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 142. Odd Magne Bakke, Concord and Peace: A Rhetorical Analysis of the First Letter of Clement with an Emphasis on the Language of Sedition and Unity (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 11. Commonly mounted evidence for this range includes the letter’s language about the deaths of Peter and Paul, which suggests a not-forgotten-but-not-yesterday-event, and the interpretation of 1 Clement 1:1 as referencing the persecution of the church under Domitian. Of additional interest may be John A.T. Robinson’s argument for an early date of composition. John A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2000), 329-330.

[4] Rankin, 33. See also Harry O. Maier, “The Charismatic Authority of Ignatius of Antioch: A Sociological Analysis,” Studies in Religion: Sciences Religieuses 18, 2 (1989): 117-22.

[5] Bart D. Ehrman, ed., The Apostolic Fathers: Volume I (Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press, 2003), 157-8. Christopher Tuckett, 2 Clement: Introduction, Text, and Commentary (Oxford: OUP, 2012), 3-6, 14. Paul Parvis, “2 Clement and the Meaning of the Christian Homily,” in The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers, ed. Paul Foster (London: T&T Clark, 2007), 34. 2 Clement follows 1 Clement in all extant manuscripts, including Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Hierosolymitanus, and the Syriac MSS 1700. On 2 Clement as paranetic—but not homiletic—sermon, see Tuckett, 25-6. Concerning the identity of the author, Tuckett concludes that, “the author was not a Jew before becoming a Christian. But that is about as far as the text allows us to go. For the rest, the author must remain anonymous, a reflection perhaps of his somewhat self-effacing modesty.” Tuckett, 17.

[6] Provenance suggestions have included Rome, Corinth, Syria, and Egypt. The athletic analogy in chapter 7 has often been taken as an allusion to the Isthmian Games near Corinth, further reinforcing arguments for a Corinthian/Roman origin. Tuckett, 58-62. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers I, 158. Parvis, 37.

[7] The edges of its composition are the reception of 1 Clement and Harnack’s suggestion of Soter (c. 166-174 CE) as author. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers I, 159-60. Tuckett, 62-4. Parvis, 36-7.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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