Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Jealous Division (1 Clement 1‒6)

Clement opens his letter by addressing the Corinthian church, explaining the purpose for writing and then praising the Corinthians for their former exemplary faith which has now been distorted. The description of the distortion is centered upon the word "jealousy" from numerous OT stories as well as the more recent sufferings of martyrs.

Clement begins his letter addressing the Corinthian church as "the church of God that temporarily resides in Corinth." One would assume that the modifier "temporarily" signifies the pilgrim existence of the early Christians who do not identify with a location on earth but rather God in heaven. This reminder of otherworldly identity engenders solidarity between the two churches as well as forms the basis for exhortation.

After giving a customary opening benediction Clement launches into his address of the Corinthian problem—a jealous division. The factions are "alien and foreign to the elect of God" (1.1). Because of " faction stoked by a few reckless and headstrong persons" the reputation of the Corinthian church is being "blasphemed" (1.1). 
After observing the problem of division rife in the Corinthian church, Clement recounts the former glory of the Corinthian church. He describes the Corinthians as having a "virtuous and stable faith," hospitable (1.2), as well as impartial and submissive (1.3). Clement goes on to describe the Corinthians as humble (2.1), filled with the Spirit (2.2), pursuing godliness (2.3), struggling together and avoiding schism (2.4-5). Summarily, the Corinthians displayed the commands and righteous demands of the Lord written on their hearts (2.8; cf. Deut 6.6; Prov 3.3; 7.3; Jer 31.33; Rom 2.15). In the loftiest of terms, then, Clement praises the former activity of the Corinthian church.

Clement's praise turns on an OT quotation into rebuke. He introduces his quotation with the phrase, "and what was written was fulfilled" and then cites Deuteronomy 32.15 LXX (1 Clement 3.1). It is undeniable that Clement is not only aware of but also intentionally and utalizing the context of the passage. Deuteronomy 32 is the "Song of Moses" found near the end of the book. After recounting the Torah, Moses describes the blessings or curses and that come as a result of either obedience or disobedience (blessings Deut 28.1-14 then curses Deut 28.15-68). Moses frames up the options as the choice between obedient "life" or disobedient "death" (Deut 30.11-20) then appoints Joshua to lead Israel into the land of promise (Deut 31). Then in his song (Deut 32) Moses recounts God's identity as the creator who chose Israel (Deut 32.9) and rescued him and providing abundantly for him (Deut 32.10-14). Then, the song turns in Deut 32.15 to the disobedience of a once blessed people. Clement uses the verse that turns the Song of Moses from praise to rebuke of Israel in speaking to Corinth.

The result of Israel's disobedience was disastrous (1 Clement 3.2-4). As if the history of Israel were not enough to make this point, Clement retells the jealous murder of Abel by his brother Cain (4.1-6; Gen 4.3-8), the jealousy of Jacob (4.8; Gen 27.41ff.), the jealousy of Joseph's brothers (4.9; Gen 37), jealousy leading to Moses departure from Egypt (4.10; Exod 2.14), jealousy of Aaron and Miriam (4.11; Num 12), Dathan and Abiram (4.12; Num 16.13) and even Saul's jealousy of David (4.13; 1 Sam 18ff.). Here again, Clement makes use of the OT, but rather than quoting it he simply refers to stories by mentioning the names of characters. This argument implies that the Corinthian readers would have been well aware of these stories. It also implies that the Corinthians read these scriptures as belonging to them. These were not stories about someone else, but the Church's scripture.

After citing numerous examples of how jealousy hindered God's people in the past Clement shifts to contemporary example. He refers to these examples as "athletes" (5.1). First, he looks at the athlete Peter who suffered multiple hardships because of jealousy before entering glory (5.2-4). Interestingly, Clement does not cite any examples of Peter's hardships, perhaps assuming the Corinthians were already aware of them. Clement's second athlete is Paul who bore chains, endured exile and stoning and traveled widely (5.5‒6). Paul's suffering is described as "the greatest example of endurance" (5.7). After citing the example of Peter and Paul Clement describes the profane torments of women caused by jealousy (6.1-3). "Jealousy" becomes the source of suffering and hardship even to the point of persecution.

The division of the Corinthian church is portrayed as a recent development that has soiled its reputation. Clement argues from the OT and from apostolic examples of suffering (here he includes women) that the factional problems facing the Corinthians are being caused by "jealousy." It is so interesting to see how the early church wrestled with issues of division and dissention before there was a hierarchical structure of leadership that could anathematize.

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