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Epistles of Clement

CLEMENT, EPISTLES OF klĕm’ ənt (Κλήμεντος). Letters of the Early Church.

First Clement


The name of the author of this extremely important text appears nowhere in the document itself. There is no reason, however, to reject its attribution to Clement, an officer of the church at Rome. Irenaeus lists him as the third bishop of Rome after the apostles, but the evidence of the letter itself indicates that no such succession of monarchical bishops of Rome was known at the time. The author did not speak as such. He was a man of some knowledge and ability, but was not a philosopher or theologian of any distinction. His acquaintance with the OT does not supply sufficient evidence that he was of Jewish origin. He may have been a slave or freedman of Titus Flavius Clemens who was put to death in a.d. 95 by Domitian on a charge of ἀθεότης (impiety or atheism—opposition to the imperial cult). He lived in the generation immediately after the apostles and looked upon himself as carrying on their labors.


The letter is later than Nero. It appears, however, that officers appointed by the apostles were still in office in the churches (XLIV, 3). It is far from certain, but quite possible, that the troubles referred to in I, 1 are those of the time of Domitian (a.d. 81-96), which flared up toward the end of his reign. Probably, therefore, the date may be estimated at 95 or 96.

Purpose and content.

The letter is sent by “The Church of God which sojourns in Rome to the Church of God which sojourns at Corinth” (Sal.). The first two chs. indicate the virtues of the Corinthian church, its steadfastness, humility and hospitality. There is a brief account of discord which had arisen. The history of jealousy in the Scripture was reviewed, and then followed the story of the opportunities for repentance. The law of God brought peace and the humility of Christ has made Him the sin-bearer. Humility and peace are the great virtues. A future resurrection is foreshadowed and the classical sign of the phoenix was introduced.

More direct exhortations to holiness, faith, and good works followed. Christians are like an army, obeying the commands of the leaders. Mutual help and orderliness are the needs of the time. The leadership comes from God, and must be recognized. Division and disloyalty to the elders must end. Love is the solution of the difficulties. It may involve self-sacrifice, but the Lord will bring peace. The epistle closes with intercession for help, for cleansing, for peace, and with a benediction.

This document is the earliest writing outside of the NT which one can identify with reasonable certainty as to the date of its composition, the place of its origin and its author. It is therefore of special value. As Adolf von Harnack said, it is with this letter that ancient church history began. One begins to observe the post-apostolic church with some security. Peter and Paul were referred to as martyrs for the faith, after Paul had reached the “limits of the West” (V, 7). The truth taught by the church has come from the apostles. The blood of Christ “poured out for our salvation” (VII, 4) is referred to in similar terms in two other passages (XXI, 6; XLIX, 6) and in the language of Isaiah 53 in another (XVI, 5). The Resurrection is the object of attention in chs. XXIV-XXVI. It is esp. noteworthy that in a letter about discipline sent from Rome to Corinth there is no mention of a monarchical bishop in either place. The author did not speak in his own name, personal or official, but in the name of the church. He referred to a group of officials as in the episcopate, and in the next sentence referred to such officials as presbyters (XLIV, 4f.). The letter provided no evidence for a monarchical bishop of Rome at this time, but rather the contrary.


The A of the NT has the entire Gr. text except for a missing page (LVII, 6-LXIV, 1). Its position is immediately after the Book of Revelation. The MS published by Bryennios in 1875 contains the entire Gr. text, where it follows the Didache. There are Syriac, Latin and two Coptic VSS. The Lat. VS was altered in the medieval period to enhance Rom. authority. In a late Syr. MS it follows the Catholic epistles of the NT.

The Gr. is smooth and balanced compared to other Christian writing of the time. First Corinthians (e.g., XLII, 1-4), Romans (e.g., XXXV, 5, 6) and Hebrews (e.g., IX, 3; XVII, 1; XIX, 2) are reflected by Clement. Titus 3:1 is reflected in II, 7 and 1 Peter 4:8 in XLIX, 5. The Synoptic Gospel tradition is clearly known to Clement.


J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, Part I S. Clement of Rome, vols. 1, 2 (1890); A. von Harnack, Einführung in die alte Kirchengeschichte (1929); J. A. Kleist, The Epistles of St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch (Ancient Christian Writers, 1) (1946); R. M. Grant, The Apostolic Fathers, I (1964); R. M. Grant and H. H. Graham, First and Second Clement (ed. R. M. Grant, The Apostolic Fathers, II) (1965). See also Apostolic Fathers, esp. for texts and trs.

Second Clement.

Although the subscription assigns this work to Clement (of Rome), it is clearly not his. Rather than being a letter, it is a sermon as the text shows (XIX, 1; XVII, 3) prob. the oldest complete Christian sermon extant. The message of the homily is to “think of Jesus Christ as of God” (I, 1) and to obey His commandments. Men are in this world only a short time. Keep the seal of baptism (VII, 6; VIII, 6). The flesh will rise and we will be judged. Holiness is the way to salvation. “Love hides a multitude of sins,” but prayer “rescues from death,” “fasting is better than prayer,” and “almsgiving better than both” (XVI, 4).

The sermon may have originated in Corinth in the atmosphere of the Isthmian Games (cf. VII, 1-4), as Lightfoot suggested. Or, it may have been sent to Corinth from Rome. Harnack thought it was the letter from Soter of Rome (166-174) referred to by Eusebius (IV, xxiii. 11). But it is not a letter, and if it originated in Rome, was prob. an enclosure in a letter. It is expressed in hortatory, but not exalted, language. The date should be placed prob. in the middle of the 2nd cent.

The text is found in Gr. in the A and in Bryennios’ discovery of 1873. There is a Syr. version. See Apostolic Fathers.


See end of section I.