The 1st Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians is believed to have been written by Clement of Rome, who was mentioned in Philippians 4:3. He may have been with Paul in 57 CE. This is likely the first letter written by an Early Church Father.
There is some controversy over when this letter may have been written. In the introduction to this letter, the writer indicates that some kind of persecution has already taken place, but it is not known if that time was referring to the persecution under Nero or Domitian. If it was Domitian, the letter may have been written around 97 CE. The writer of this introduction does not mention if the persecution they are referring to is what is mentioned in chapter 3 or not. We’ll talk more about this shortly.
There is also a second epistle of Clement, but it does not appear to have been written by the same author which wrote 1st Clement.
From what I’ve read, 1st Clement was well read by the early church. In my opinion, it is one of the best letters written by the Early Church Fathers (Ante-Nicene Fathers). The reason I say this is because it encourages obedience to the law and quotes extensively from the Tanach (Old Testament). There are also plenty of quotes or allusions to New Testament writings as well.
There are 59 very short chapters in 1st Clement. I would like to share what I found here and make some comments.
In chapter 1, Clement says that the Corinthian believers “did all things without respect of persons, and walked in the command-merits of God, being obedient to those who had the rule over you, and giving all fitting honour to the presbyters among you.” This sounds like a great start. There’s nothing better than some affirmation.
In chapter 2, Clement continues his affirmations by saying, “Content with the provision which God had made for you, and carefully attending to His words, ye were inwardly filled with His doctrine, and His sufferings were before your eyes… The commandments and ordinances of the Lord were written upon the tablets of your hearts.” This still sounds great. These verses indicate to me that the Corinthians, a Roman colony, did not consider the law to be abolished.
Chapter 3 starts well too when it says, “Every kind of honour and happiness was bestowed upon you, and then was fulfilled that which is written, ‘My beloved did eat and drink, and was enlarged and became fat, and kicked.’ However, things take a turn for the worse when Clement says, “Hence flowed emulation and envy, strife and sedition, persecution and disorder, war and captivity. So the worthless rose up against the honoured, those of no reputation against such as were renowned, the foolish against the wise, the young against those advanced in years. For this reason righteousness and peace are now far departed from you, inasmuch as every one abandons the fear of God, and is become blind in His faith, neither walks in the ordinances of His appointment, nor acts a part becoming a Christian, but walks after his own wicked lusts, resuming the practice of an unrighteous and ungodly envy, by which death itself entered into the world.” It’s hard to say with certainty how much was actually taking place in the assembly at the time this letter was written and how much referred to the recent past, especially since war and captivity are mentioned. This could be a reference to the first Jewish – Roman war known as the Great Revolt in 66-70 CE. One thing is for sure, the first part of this seems to be a reminiscent of the Song of Moses found in Deuteronomy 32:15 where Jeshurun was said to have grown fat, kicked, and grew thick. It’s hard to say if anything else mentioned the Song of Moses was happening as well. The downhill charges started some time after things had been going quite well for the Corinthians. In the remainder of the letter, Clement addresses these charges.
In chapters 4-12, Clement quickly begins by describing the effects of envy in past generations; the martyrdoms of Peter, Paul, and others; the need for repentance in past, present, and future generations; examples of saints – one of which was Abraham, who was obedient to God that he might inherit the promises of God, as well as Lot and Rahab. He notes the type of the scarlet thread, which showed that redemption would flow through the blood of the Lord to all that believe and hope in God. He indicated that there was not only faith, but prophecy in this woman.
Clement goes on to exhort his readers to be humble and merciful, and to obey God because the guiltless and kind-hearted will inhabit the land.
In chapter 16-19, he discusses how Yeshua Messiah, the Sceptre of the majesty of God – the arm of the Lord was an example of humility, bore our iniquities, was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we were healed. This is clearly a reference to Isaiah 53:5. He also mentions others from the distant past who were examples of humility – Abraham, Job, and David. He encourages the Corinthians to imitate these examples of humility and seek peace.
Continuing in chapter 24-26, Clement affirms that there will be a resurrection – this not only proven by Yeshua’s resurrection, but also based on the picture of resurrection seen in the bird called a phoenix, as well as Job’s statement in Job 19:25-26.
In chapter 29, Clement encourages his readers to “draw near to God with holiness of spirit, lifting up pure and undefiled hands unto Him loving our gracious and merciful Father, who has made us partakers in the blessings of His elect.” The phrase “draw near to God” is reminiscent of the purposes of sacrifices; therefore, readers should be living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God by living a life of obedience.
In chapter 30, Clement says, “Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, all abominable and impure embraces, together with all drunkenness, seeking after change, all abominable lusts, detestable adultery, and execrable pride. “For God,” saith [the Scripture], “resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words.”
These things his readers are to avoid are in-line with the written Torah – this tells me that the law has not been abolished. Indeed, “being justified by our works” is in agreement with Romans 2:13: “for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law [of YHVH] will be justified…” Again, all of this seems to be said in response to the original charge. The readers of this original letter certainly knew exactly what was being referred to. It’s not until later we get more insight to what’s been going on, yet he will still not give us all the juicy details.
Having mentioned being justification by works, Clement does not overlook justification by faith. In chapter 32, Clement says, “And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
In chapter 33, Clement encourages the performance of good works, and he reminds us of a future reward based on works: “Behold, the Lord [cometh], and His reward is before His face, to render to every man according to his work.” Further down he says: “How blessed and wonderful, beloved, are the gifts of God! Life in immortality, splendour in righteousness, truth in perfect confidence, faith in assurance, self-control in holiness!” These are certainly wonderful things that no one would want to miss out on.
In contrast, in chapter 35, he says: “But to the sinner God said, Wherefore dost thou declare my statutes, and take my covenant into thy mouth, seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee?” Sinners were not doing what they were saying in regard to the covenant. You see, it is the lawless person that is the sinner – he’s the one that has rejected God’s covenant. Clement further describes the Messiah’s enemies in chapter 36 as “All the wicked, and those who set themselves to oppose the will of God.” The will of God is that people will choose of their own volition to enter into and remain in covenant with YHVH – to choose to be a citizen of God’s kingdom. This requires obedience to the letter and principle of the law.
Clement is next concerned with two types of preservation. The first is the preservation of the whole body of the assembly; the second is the preservation of the order appointed by God in the assembly. He begins in chapter 37 by describing the army of God. He says, “Let us then, men and brethren, with all energy act the part of soldiers, in accordance with His holy commandments. Let us consider those who serve under our generals, with what order, obedience, and submissiveness they perform the things which are commanded them. All are not prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals.” As we can see, Clement has first described YHVH’s people as being comparable to an army who lives in accordance with His commandments and who serve in submission under leaders, just as the parts of the body work together as a whole. Everyone is to be under one common rule, here referring to Messiah’s rule, for the preservation of the body.
Then in chapter 38, he says, “Let our whole body, then, be preserved in, Christ Jesus [Messiah Yeshua]; and let everyone be subject to his neighbour, according to the special gift bestowed upon him. Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect unto the strong. Let the rich man provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor man bless God, because He hath given him one by whom his need may be supplied. Let the wise man display his wisdom, not by (mere) words, but through good deeds.” From this we can see that the body is preserved or saved because of Yeshua Messiah. The emphasis on how we relate to one another, especially our leaders, goes back to the original terms of the covenant, which has commandments regarding our interaction with not only God but also how people relate to each other as a family caring for their fellow man.
In chapter 40, Clement refers to the organization and responsibilities of the priesthood – which was the order laid out by YHVH in the wilderness: “These things therefore being manifest to us, and since we look into the depths of the divine knowledge, it behoves us to do all things in [their proper] order, which the Lord has commanded us to perform at stated times. He has enjoined offerings [to be presented] and service to be performed [to Him], and that not thoughtlessly or irregularly, but at the appointed times and hours. Where and by whom He desires these things to be done, He Himself has fixed by His own supreme will, in order that all things being piously done according to His good pleasure, may be acceptable unto Him. Those, therefore, who present their offerings at the appointed times, are accepted and blessed; for inasmuch as they follow the laws of the Lord, they sin not. For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests, and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to laymen.” First, Clement is referring to matters related to what has been set forth in the covenant – the appointed times or feasts, the daily offerings, etcetera. Then, he mentioned the things that the priests performed — certain functions of which the common man was not permitted to do.
Clement continues in chapter 41: “Not in every place, brethren, are the daily sacrifices offered, or the peace-offerings, or the sin-offerings and the trespass-offerings, but in Jerusalem only. And even there they are not offered in any place, but only at the altar before the temple, that which is offered being first carefully examined by the high priest and the ministers already mentioned. Those, therefore, who do anything beyond that which is agreeable to His will, are punished with death.” Clement is pointing out that certain people are to do certain things in a certain location. In addition, he’s speaking as if the priesthood is still in service. If that’s the case, the timing regarding when this book was written may have been a little earlier than 70 CE. If this letter was written after the persecution of Nero, it could have been written around 68 CE.
In chapter, 42, Clement is going to reach the another point on the foundation he has just laid – the current problem with order in the assembly: “The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ [Yeshua Messiah]; Jesus Christ [Yeshua Messiah] [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ [Yeshua Messiah], and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture in a certain place, “I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.” This last statement is in reference to Isaiah 60:17; however, Clement has changed this slightly – the LXX has “I will give thy rulers in peace, and thy overseers in righteousness.” Clement is saying that the disciples did as Yeshua appointed them to do. They went out of Jerusalem into further areas, shared the gospel, and made disciples. These first disciples – the firstfruits of their labors, were appointed as leaders – bishops and deacons in the churches. But something bad happened, these leaders were rejected by the people at some point for some reason. Clement’s desire is for the people to resubmit to the authorities who have been appointed over them.
As a reminder, he draws their attention the historical account of Aaron’s rod that blossomed in the desert when there was strife over who should be in charge. In chapter 42, Clement goes on to say, “Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate.” He presents the idea of apostolic succession. “For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties.”
Now, Clement finally gets to the nitty gritty. He notes that someone or maybe even more than one person has been removed from their position of leadership despite excellent behavior, blamelessness, and honor. He feels the assembly in Corinth should have cleaved to their holy leaders because doing so would cause them to be made holy. He reminds them of Paul’s former letter to them, and he said that it was disgraceful for them to engage in sedition against presbyters, and that doing so caused the name of the Lord to be blasphemed. He encouraged them to fall down before the Lord that they could be reconciled to Him. Since Clement has already covered the topic of envy, I suspect that was at the root of the current situation as well.
In chapter 49, Clement goes on to say, “Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ.” He continues his discourse on love, following which, in chapter 50, he says, “Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love; that so through love our sins may be forgiven us. For it is written, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him, and in whose mouth there is no guile.” This blessedness cometh upon those who have been chosen by God through Jesus Christ [Yeshua Messiah] our Lord; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Clement continues to discuss love again, then he instructs those “who laid the foundation for sedition to submit themselves to the presbyters, and receive correction so as to repent, bending the knees of your hearts.” Certainly, assemblies/churches and people today can learn such a lesson from the letter of Clement.
This theme of submitting to those in the line of apostolic succession is not limited to Clement. This sort of discussion will be mentioned by other church fathers too. This concept is claimed in the Catholic Church too. Those outside the Catholic Church today do not follow this model of apostolic succession – and for good reason.
At this point, it seems that Clement is scolding the people for removing holy and capable leaders. I think this is proper considering the description of these leaders. To me, he’s saying that if a bishop, presbyter, or deacon – a leader in the assembly is holy, the people should submit to their leadership.
concerns me from this point on is how things are done today. Literal apostolic
succession is not recognized in our assemblies today. We tend to have appointed
and/or self-established leaders. We need to know how we should respond to
appointed leaders when they cause the people to turn away from the commandments
of God. This should concern you as well. I’m not necessarily talking about
leaders and laymen having differences of opinion in regard to the
interpretation of Scripture. Again, I’m talking about leaders who are leading
people away from YHVH and the Messiah. I think the principle of Deuteronomy
13:5 would be in play to the point that they should be removed from their position
if they are causing people to abandon YHVH or Yeshua to worship other gods.
 The First Epistle of St. Clement is found in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.