Women in the Apostolic Fathers: Christ and the Church in 2 Clement

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

ChristologyThe section of Second Clement which most clearly references women has been called “undoubtedly the most complex part of the whole of the text of 2 Clement.”[1] Not only is the text itself not entirely certain at points, but the author’s argument proves rather hard to follow.

2 Clement 14.2[2]

οὐκ οἴομαι δὲ ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν, ὅτι ἐκκλησία ζῶσα σῶμά ἐστιν Χριστοῦ· λέγει γὰρ ἡ γραφή· ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ· τὸ ἄρσεν ἐστὶν ὁ Χριστός, τὸ θῆλυ ἡ ἐκκλησία· καὶ ὅτι τὰ βιβλία καὶ οἱ ἀπόστολοι τὴν ἐκκλησίαν οὐ νῦν εἶναι, ἀλλὰ ἄνωθεν. ἦν γὰρ πνευματική, ὡς καὶ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἡμῶν. ἐφανερώθη δὲ ἐπ᾿ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν, ἵνα ἡμᾶς σώσῃ. But I cannot imagine that you do not realize that the living church is the body of Christ. For the Scripture says, “God made the human male and female.” The male is Christ, the female the church. And, as you know, the [books] and the apostles indicate that the church has not come into being just now, but has existed from the beginning. For it existed spiritually, as did our Jesus; but he became manifest here in the final days so that he might save us.

In this passage the author of Second Clement argues (perhaps against Gnostics[3]) that the flesh and spirit do not stand in total opposition to one another, for “this flesh is able to receive such a great and incorruptible life when the Holy Spirit clings to it…” (2 Clem. 14.5).[4] The natures of Christ and the Church both possess a dual nature of flesh and spirit, which for this author reinforces the importance of “fleshly” ethical behavior among Christians.[5] Male and female are brought into the discussion as an image of the “body of Christ,” Christ’s relationship with the Church. After citing Genesis 1:17, Second Clement seems to take Paul’s language in Ephesians 5:23-32 and interpret it quite broadly.[6] For not only is Christ preexistent, but his bride (the Church) is as well.[7] Not only are Christ (male) and the Church (female) fleshly but they are entirely spiritual as well. Therefore, women, just like men, reside within the jointly flesh-and-spirit Church as Christ’s preexistent bride. Of course, to get to that specific conception of women Second Clement’s readers would have needed to look past the rest of this confusing passage. While the conception of women at work here ultimately seems positive, it resides behind too many mixed images and too much muddled elaboration for much meaning to have seeped through. Ultimately, however, this passage’s affirmation of fleshly bodies and the female Church positively reinforces the idea that women constitute an important part of the Church body.


[1] Tuckett, 259. Rudolf Knopf, Die Lehre der zwölf Apostel, Die zwei Clemensbriefe (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1920), 175. J.B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1956), 2.248.

[2] Ehrman Apostolic Fathers I, 186-9.

[3] Tuckett, 247.

[4] Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers I, 188-9.

[5] 2 Clem. 14.3 ἡ ἐκκλησία δὲ πνευματικὴ οὖσα ἐφανερώθη ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ Χριστοῦ, δηλοῦσα ἡμῖν, ὅτι ἐάν τις ἡμῶν τηρήσῃ αὐτὴν ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ καὶ μὴ φθείρῃ, ἀπολήψεται αὐτὴν ἐν τῷ πνεύματι τῷ ἁγίῳ· ἡ γὰρ σὰρξ αὕτη ἀντίτυπός ἐστιν τοῦ πνεύματος·

[6] Parvis, 39. On this, Grant and Graham note, “It is not difficult to suppose that most of this is exegesis of Ephesians 5:23-32, where Christ’s Church is referred to as his body (5:23) or his flesh (5:29), and the story of Adam and Eve is referred to Christ and his Church (5:31-32).” Grant and Graham, 126.

[7] On the idea of the pre-existent church, see Eph. 1.4; Ps. 71.5, 17 LXX; Hermas, Vis. 2.4.1.


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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