Scripture in 1 Clement: Context

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the function and use of scripture in the early Christian writing known as 1 Clement.

Saint Clement of RomeBefore diving into Clement’s practice of composite citation, we must first contextualize the letter. Most contemporary scholars affirm that 1 Clement was primarily written by Clement of Rome,[1] who served as the second[2] or third[3] Bishop of Rome and died around 99 CE.[4] Somewhat more controversial are discussions surrounding the date when 1 Clement was written and the ecclesiastical position (if any) that Clement held whilst writing. Michael Stover has helpfully classified the plethora of opinions concerning the date of 1 Clement into three categories: Early Date (ca. 64-70 CE), Middle Date (ca. 94-98 CE), and Late Date (until 140 CE).[5] Of these, the Middle Date (94-98 CE) remains most commonly affirmed and convincing because of references to the deaths of Peter and Paul as a recent-but-not-immediate events and the interpretation of 1 Clement 1:1 as a reference to the persecutions under Domitian.[6] Additionally, the letter’s rapid acceptance suggests that it was written by Clement while he was serving as Bishop, commonly dated between 92 and 99 CE.[7]

In terms of content, 1 Clement addresses a division in the Corinthian church in which presbyters had been forcibly deposed from their ecclesial offices and replaced. Regardless of who caused this divide (common suggestions include charismatics and ex-Essene Levites[8]), the vast majority of scholars accept 1 Clement 63:4 as the stated purpose of the letter, [9] where Clement admonishes the Corinthians to reinstate their duly appointed and unjustly deposed leaders by writing, “We have done this that you may know that our every concern has been—and is—for you to establish the peace quickly.”[10] Although some have read this letter as an attempt to force a Roman form of Christianity upon non-Roman churches,[11] it appears that Clement used the specific instance of schism in Corinth to write broadly concerning the importance of unity and concord in Christian churches.[12]

[1] Among contemporary scholars, Andrew Gregory stands as one who rejects the traditional attribution of the letter to Clement of Rome. See Andrew F. Gregory, “I Clement: An Introduction,” The Expository Times 117, 6 (2006): 223-230. The chief factor in favor of this view is the lack of a named author, in contrast to the model of Paul and other early Christian writers.

[2] According to Tertullian’s Prescription Against the Heresies (Trans. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, In The Anti-Marcion Writings of Tertullian, ed.Paul A. Boer, Sr. (Veritatis Splendor Publications, 2012), 32.), Clement succeeded Peter directly as Bishop of Rome.

[3] Eusebius identifies him as companion of Paul and third bishop of Rome, see Ecclesiastical History, trans. G.A. Williamson, ed. Andrew Louth (London: Penguin Books, 1989), 3.4.8-9, 3.15.1, 3.34.1.

[4] David I. Rankin, From Clement to Origen: The Social and Historical Context of the Church Fathers (Burlington, VA: Ashgate, 2006), 26. John Fuellenbach, 3. John A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000), 217. There are a number of additional claims concerning Clement. Origen, in his Commentary on John 6:36, argues that the letter’s author was the man mentioned by Paul in Philippians 4:3. Pseudo-Clementine literature associates our author with the Roman nobility, sometimes identified as Flavius Clemens, cousin of the emperor Domitian and consul in 95 CE. According to old church tradition and Irenaeus, Clement was a disciple of the apostles and personally knew both Peter and Paul. John Robinson, concurring with the author of the Clementine Recognitions, affirms the tradition that Clement was converted in Rome by Barnabas, who later introduced him to Peter. The contents of the First Clement suggest that Clement was a Hellenistic Jew residing in Rome, had a vast knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures, was fluent in compositional Greek, and held some position of authority in the Roman church. The tradition that Clement knew Peter and Paul seems likely based on the contents of his letter, although we cannot affirm with any degree of probability other traditional claims.

[5] Stover, ix-x. The “Late Date” category remains largely unsupported among contemporary scholars (see Gregory, “Introduction”, 227), although Andrew Gregory notes that interpretations of 1 Clement 1:1 as references to the persecutions of Nero or Domitian may be problematic.

[6] Fuellenbach, 1. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 142. Kostenberger and Krueger, 136. Bakke, 11. W. J. Ferrar, “Clement of Rome II”, Theology 17-18 (1928): 274-282. Though outside the scope of this paper, additional consideration should be given to John A.T. Robinson’s “Early Date” position, which argues for composition in early 70 CE based on the apparent recentness of the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul, the development of the episcopal office between 1 Clement and Letters of Ignatius, and the possible reference in 1 Clement 41 to a still standing and functioning Temple in Jerusalem (See Robinson, 329-332). While admitting that 1 Clement references second- or third-generation ministry, Robinson rejects the implication that these indicate a span of two or three generations, writing that twenty years of ministry would have been sufficient time for presbyters (who were by definition elderly) to have been “long established in office.” Additionally, Robinson argues that Hebrews had been written only two or three years earlier to the Church in Rome, making it perfectly natural for Clement to use materials from Hebrews as he does throughout 1 Clement.

[7] Rankin, 26. Bernard Gree, Christianity in Ancient Rome: The First Three Centuries (New York: T&T Clark International, 2010), 53-4. Robinson argues that, “not only is the author not writing as bishop, but the office of bishop is still apparently synonymous with that of presbyter (42.4f; 44.1, 4f; 54.2; 57.1), as in the New Testament,” a clear indication of both a pre-92 CE compositional date as well as Clement’s episcopal office (328). See Robinson, 282. While some have questioned whether the Roman Catholic tradition’s lists of early leaders are accurate, Ferrar argues that the corporate memory of the church would almost certainly have maintained accurate enough records concerning the succession of bishops, affirming the historical likelihood of a Clementine papacy from the years 92 to 99 CE. See W.J. Ferrar, “Clement of Rome I,” Theology 17-18 (1928): 75-6.

[8] Fuellenbach, 7. Harry O. Maier, “The Charismatic Authority of Ignatius of Antioch: A Sociological Analysis”, Studies in Religion: Sciences Religieuses 18, 2 (1989): 85-199. The pneumatics/charismatics are seen as advocating for charismatic rather than episcopal organization, and the ex-Essene Levites are viewed as desiring leadership/priesthood for themselves. Concerning the original model of Corinthian organization, or at least the iteration that Clement was seeking to reinstate, two primary theses are submitted: a Pauline constitution based primarily on 1 Corinthians that was highly charismatic and a Luke/Acts-Pastoral model, which emphasized appointed leadership. While Clement’s report on the installation of church officers by the apostles themselves appears to be historically reliable, sources on the method of installation are non-existent, leading to something of an impasse in postulating the origins of this conflict.

[9] Rankin, 33. Fuellenbach, 7-8. First Clement remains best understood as sumbouleutikon, a literary genre used to persuade others to determine for themselves an appropriate resolution to their difficulties (See Gregory, “Introduction”, 226). Fuellenbach, however, describes this as an admonitory and corrective speech belonging to the genre of paraenesis (See Fuellenbach, 9).

[10] Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 148-9. Τουτο δε εποιησαμεν, ινα ειδητε οτι νασα ημιν φροντις και γεγονεν και εστιν εις το εν ταχει υμας ειρηευσαι.

[11] This argument is primarily based upon the inference that Clement writes to Corinth without their first asking for assistance (See Gregory, “Introduction”, 225). Conversely, Kostenberger and Kruger argue that the divisions in Corinth merely demonstrate that the Great Church was facing potential schisms during the post-Apostolic era (See Kostenberger and Kruger, 50-1).

[12] Barbara Ellen Bowe, A Church in Crisis: Ecclesiology and Paranesis in Clement of Rome (Cambridge: Harvard Divinity School, 1986), iv. Fuellenbach, 4. Especially since Clement would have viewed the removal of the Corinthian presbyters as a “serious offense against the established order and practice of the community.” This confirms Bakke’s assessment of Clement as “deliberative rhetoric urging concord” (See Bakke, 15).


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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