Friday, October 1, 2010

Repent and Obey (1 Clement 7-12)

Having observed the problem of division and its devastating effects in the history of God's people Clement gives a call to repentance and obedience. He uses the OT not just to make his point, but to speak directly into the Corinthian situation. For Clement, the OT scriptures were God's voice to the church.

In chapters 7 and 8 Clement focuses on repentance. Clement includes the Roman church in the call to repent for "we are in the same arena and the same contest is set before us" (7.1). Then Clement looks at past examples of repentance. First, he points to Noah who "preached repentance" (7.6). Clement's second example consists of recounting Jonah's message of destruction on Nineveh which was stayed by the repentance of the Ninevites (7.7). These examples show both the one calling for repentance and the repentant.

Not only have the saints of the past preached repentance but God himself commands it (8.1‒5). Here Clement argues that "the master of all things himself spoke about repentance" and then cites something similar to Ezekiel 33.11. Clement's text reads, "For as I live, says the Lord, I do no want the sinner to die but to repent." The citation does not cohere exactly with the LXX. The characteristic "Thus says the Lord" (τάδε λέγει κύριος) is substituted for "says the Lord" (λέγει κύριος) and the LXX's "ungodly" is changed to "sinners." Also the word for "repent" is more specific in Clement than the LXX's "turn back." Immediately after using the Ezekiel text Clement writes, "and to this he added a good pronouncement," which would suggest Clement is continuing a citation. The "pronouncement," however does not quite fit any specific verses from Ezekiel 33 but rather forms a composite of the main concepts and vocabulary. Clement's use of the OT, then, is not slavishly devoted to the wording of the text of the LXX. After the Ezekiel composite pronouncement Clement describes God as "speaking" Isaiah 1.16-20. The introductions to God's calls to repent in the past show that Clement is using these passages as God's authoritative voice to "speak" directly to the Corinthian division.

How similar are these texts to the Corinthian discord? Ezekiel 33 occurs describes the prophet as Israel's "watchman" (Ezek 33.2, 7) charged with warning the people of God's impending judgment (Ezek 33.5). If Ezekiel does not sound the trumpet of warning then Israel's blood is on his hands (Ezek 33.6, 8). The rest of the oracle calls for repentance especially as it relates to justice (Ezek 33.10‒20). The Isaiah passage is a prophetic denouncement of Israel's hypocrisy. Though filled with injustice, Jerusalem continues to burn offerings and observe feasts (Isa 1.12-14) so God refuses to hear the prayers of his people (Isa 1.15). Isaiah then issues a call to repentance wherein God provides atonement (Isa 1.16‒20). Clearly, Clement is allowing his rebuke of the Corinthians to be "God's rebuke." He is also suggesting that if Corinth refuses to repent then the church will be judged. Consider the examples he offers, Noah's preaching leads to very little repentance and much judgment, Jonah's preaching of destruction leads to repentance but Ezekiel's announcement of coming judgment results in the fall of Jerusalem (Ezek 33.21‒33) and Isaiah's prophecy is one of condemnation.

Since God has called the Corinthians to repent, through Clement's message, it is time to obey. Clement points to the obedient examples of Enoch (9.3) and Noah (9.4) as well as Abraham. The use of Abraham is interesting because father Ab is the picture of obedience par excellence in Second Temple Judaism (esp. Sir 44.19-21; 1 Macc 1.51-2; James 2.18-26) but is portrayed by Paul as the example of faith (Rom 4.1-25; Gal 3.7-9). Clement recounts the highlights of the Abraham narrative especially in regard to obedience (10.1‒7; explicitly citing Isa 41.8; Gen 12.1-3; 13.14-16; 15.5-6; 18.21; 22.1ff.). Clement's interpretation  matches Second Temple Judaism more closely than Paul's arguments to the church in Rome.

After spending a significant amount of time on Abraham, reminiscent of Jewish retellings of the story, Clement continues his examples of obedience. Lot too becomes an example and his wife is contrasted as a negative example (11.1‒2; cf. Gen 19.1ff.). Rahab's hospitality is highlighted as an example of obedience and retold with a Christological-redemptive focus (12.1‒8; cf. Josh 2.1ff.; Heb 11.31; James 2.25). The OT stories are retold as moral tales with a Christological and ecclesiological focus. According to Clement, then, these are texts about Jesus, even if the references are vague, and they are for the formation of the church. 

No comments: