Saturday, October 2, 2010

Humility and Unity (1 Clement 13‒19)

Clement rebuked the Corinthian church for the subversive division that was stoked by a few loud voices and then he called for the repentance and subsequent obedience of the Corinthian church. Next he points to godly examples of the OT and to Jesus as the focus of redemptive obedience. He then launches into a discourse on the importance of humble words. His purpose is twofold. On the one hand, he is still speaking against the small minority that is dividing the church. On the other hand, however, Clement hopes to bring unity by calling this minority to submit to the leadership of the church. So, those who Clement is "siding with" must not capitulate to the strategy of the divisive and ostracize the divisive minority.

Clement describes the Holy Spirit "speaking" Jer 9.23-24 which is cited in both of Paul's Corinthian letters (13.1; 1 Cor 1.31; 2 Cor 10.17). Interestingly, in the context of 1 Corinthians 1.31, Paul is writing about the wisdom that comes from the Spirit (1 Cor 2.10-13). In both Jer 9.23-24 and 1 Cor 1.31 these words serve as a sharp rebuke against the arrogant confidence in human power. Clement quotes Jeremiah, as the Holy Spirit, in much the same way. Once again Clement allows the Holy Spirit to speak to the church through the OT, in this case the prophet Jeremiah.

Clement also quotes the words of Jesus to support his point. He writes, "We should especially remember the words the Lord Jesus spoke when teaching about gentleness and patience. For he said, "Show mercy in order that you will be shown mercy; forgive in order that you will be forgiven; As you do, in the same way it will be done to you; as you give, in the same way it will be given to you; as you judge, in the same way you will be judged; as you show kindness, so will kindness be shown to you; the amount you dispense will be the amount you receive" (13.2). Clement's quotation from Jesus does not exactly match any of Jesus' sayings recorded in the gospels. Rather, it seems that Clement has compiled a number of texts and elaborated on them (Mt 5.7; 6.14-15; 7.1-2, 12; Lk 6.31, 36-38). He could be referring to a saying tradition not recorded in the gospels, but the former option is, I think, more likely. So, Clement treats words of Jesus in a similar way to the OT scriptures. They are authoritative but he is not committed to repeat them exactly but is free to "put them to good use."

Clement again turns to the OT, described as "the holy word" which speaks, and cites a string of OT passages which speak of the humble and just as receiving God's blessing (14.1-5; citing Isa 66.2; Prov 2.21‒22; Ps 37.9, 38; Ps 37.35-37). In chapter 15 Clement undoubtedly engages in a form of rabbinic exegesis called Binyan al mikathub 'ehad or "building up a family from a single text." This is one of Hillel's seven rules and it is clearly at work in 1 Clement 15. Clement exhorts the Corinthians to "make peace with piety" (15.1). He then cites a string of OT texts that refer to hypocrisy of the mouth. Each text emphasizes something to do with the mouth, lips or tongue betraying (Isa 29.13; Ps 62.4; Ps 78.36-37; 31.18; 12.4-6). It is not at all dissimilar to Paul's catena in Romans 3.10-18, except that Clement focuses on the mouth whereas Paul refers to the deceitfulness of different parts of the body. Clement wants to emphasize the importance of humble words and the danger of verbal spats.

In chapter 16 Clement does more Christological exegesis to encourage humility. First, Clement quotes all of Isa 53.1-12 with the introduction, "just as the Holy Spirit spoke concerning" Jesus (16.2). The description of Isaiah 53 is of "the scepter of God's majesty, the Lord Jesus Christ" who exemplified humility. It would be quite interesting to evaluate the textual similarities between Clement's Isa 53 and the LXX, MT and DSS manuscripts. Unfortunately, there is not space here. Second, Clement puts Psalm 22.6-8 on the lips of Jesus as though it was spoken by Jesus exclusively. The gospels record Ps 22.1 on the lips of Jesus as he cries out in anguish on the cross (Mt 27.46; Mk 15.34) and it is alluded to in all of the passion narratives (Mt 27.35, 39, 43; Mk 15.24, 29; Lk 23.34-36; Jn 19.24, 28). Clement took this Psalm, clearly significant for Christian understanding of Jesus' death, and put other parts of the passage in the mouth of Jesus to exemplify his humility. Clement uses the OT as a prophetic description of Jesus in the case of Isaiah 53 and as the very words of Jesus in the case of Psalm 22.

Clement encourages the Corinthians to imitate the humble example of Jesus as well as the prophets Elijah, Elisha, Ezekiel, Abraham, Job and Moses (in that order 17.1‒6). Then, he gives another example in David and quotes all of Psalm 51.1-17 to describe David's humility. Here, David exhibits profound humility and is elsewhere described as a "man after God's own heart" (1 Sam 13.14; Acts 13.22). Clement concludes his argument for humble unity with the words, "The humility and obedient lowliness of so many people with such a strong reputation have improved not only us, but also the generations that came before us [. . .] we should forge ahead to the goal of peace which has been delivered to us from the beginning" (19.1-2).

What would it look like for churches today to take Clement's exhortations seriously? What are some of the theological and Christological implications of Clement's arguments?

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