Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Introduction to 1 Clement

First Clement is an early Christian letter written from a church leader in Rome (later tradition ascribes it to Clement) to the church in Corinth. Apparently there was an issue of leadership in the Corinthian church and 1 Clement was written to address the problem. According to 1 Clement, the situation in Corinth was a new group of leaders who had ousted the former leadership in a "heinous grab for power by a group of jealous upstarts" (Ehrman, 18).

The author of 1 Clement does not appeal to his own authority to exhort the Corinthians but consistently relies on the Greek translation of the OT (LXX) as his authority. The author is so far removed from the picture that he never mentions himself in the letter. Origen thought 1 Clement was composed by one of Paul's companions mentioned in Philippians 4.3 (Eccl. Hist 3.4.15; Comm. Jn. 6.36). Some traditions describe Clement as the second bishop of Rome (Tertullian, Prescription 32) while others place him as the third bishop (Irenaeus, Agst. Heresies 3.3.1; Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.4.21). The author of Shepherd of Hermes mentions a Clement charged with distributing Shepherd to other churches (8.2). Dionysius of Corinth (ca. 170 AD) regarded Clement as the author of the letter which was still read in his day during church gatherings. Dionysius's mention of the book also helps guide the discussion regarding the date of composition. Eusebius ascribes it's authorship to the reign of Domitian (81‒96 AD). Since the letter claims that the deaths of Peter and Paul were "within our own generation" (chap. 5) as well as demonstrate a general lack of hierarchical structure a date near the end of the first century is probable. It is likely, then, that the book was composed from Rome, in the mid 90s, by a Clement who held a leadership position there but did not wield widespread authority.

If the 90s date is correct, and it probably is, then this book was composed around the same time as the canonical book of Revelation. It will be interesting to contrast perspectives of a letter written from Rome with a prophetic-apocalyptic letter in Asia Minor. Furthermore, Ehrman points out two significant issues raised by the content of 1 Clement. First, the use of scripture is fascinating. Though Clement was likely not Jewish he is thoroughly conversant in the LXX. It will be interesting to see how he utilizes the OT in comparison with Paul and the other NT writers. Furthermore, it will also be interesting to see how Clement uses the NT before it is recognized as canonical. The NT manuscripts occasionally include 1 Clement in the canon (most significantly 5th century Alexandrinus). The development and use of "scripture" is a significant issue in relation to 1 Clement.

Second, the influence of the Roman church is crucial to the letter. Clement does not exercise authority as a bishop nor as a leader in the Roman church. "To be sure, there is no indication of the hierarchical structure and efficient organization that would become characteristic of the church in Rome" (Ehrman, 27). In light of the later development of Roman authority it is interesting to see a bishop in Rome writing to influence another church based on the authority of mutually recognized scripture rather than a developed structure.

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