AAF I: Intro to I Clement

Tony Sig

Words and ideas do not just appear onto a scene. They have backgrounds in previous literature, and in the education and experience of the author. When talking about authority in the early church I have found that words get a lot of hype. Just how are we to understand episcopos, presbuteros, and diaconos? Let alone the other terms used to describe leaders in the early church. Well, since I am purposely limiting myself to the books on my shelves (this is an extracurricular activity for me after all) I do not suppose that I will be able to interact with all the secondary literature, but I can use works that are well versed in it, including such Roman Catholic scholars as Raymond E Brown and Hans Kung; who are both independent enough to challenge RC assumptions, but Roman enough to really make me think about my own presuppositions.

All in all, I have found Protestants to be much too skeptical of early sources, and Catholics to be anachronistic, as if all early literature should be viewed in light of St. Ignatius and not the other way around.

Going in the order of the books in my Holmes 3rd ed, I will try to keep to a focus on the way the words and themes are used in the books themselves, and I will not try to tie together all the literature into a coherent theme until this whole thing is over (at my current rate that could be…years) And so while I may mention briefly the use of words and ideas in the NT, I do not suppose that simply because it is a certain way in the NT it will be that way in Diocletian or I Clement.

For those unfamiliar, the letter of I Clement is from “The church of God that sojourns in Rome to the church of God that sojourns in Corinth” It is one of the earliest of Christian documents outside of the NT. In fact it may be earlier than some of the books in the NT, depending on how you date it all. It is usually estimated to have been written in the last two decades of the first century in the Year of our Lord. Although later tradition has ascribed this to Clement, sometimes called the Fourth Bishop of Rome , this is not designated in the letter itself, and the ascription is not original to the letter.  Nonetheless, the unity and style of the letter implies a single author, even if the whole community contributed, and there is no reason not to ascribe the penmanship to Clement of Rome.

Social Background :

Given the use of a pagan letter-structure, the command of the Greek language, pagan ideas and examples, and their copious use of the LXX, we would be fair-minded to assume that the writer(s) of I Clement were hellenized Jewish Christians. Diasporic communities were organized after the Greek forms familiar to the wider culture, as “associations.” Officers would have been elected by the various members and the titles given them would have been ones used by Greek associations. Women were often leaders and were even known to have been the “president” of a Synagogue. The hierarchical structures were democratic: decisions often being made by all the assembly or by an elected council.

Though they would have sent a Temple Tax, these communities would have been autonomous of the authoritative influence of Jerusalem. They arbitrated their own civil and religious disputes, as did other religious associations. And so a formal hierarchy would have been unfamiliar to them.

The NT and other early literature such as The Didache indicate that charisms would have operated across the spectrum, young, old, male, female, etc…, and that such charisms would have played a large part in who had “teaching” authority or leadership abilities. Still, the so-called “Pastoral Epistles” lay out criteria that should be used to determine leaders of a more permanent character, and so we see a variety of structures and leadership realities in the Early Church (EC). We have no reason to presume one over another before we examine the text. That is of course, perhaps a false dichotomy, it may be that the two types are not mutually exclusive.

[Taken mostly from Koester, Helmut – Introduction To The New Testament vol.1: History, Culture and Religion of the Hellenistic Age, 2nd ed. Walter de Gruyter, New York – Berlin, 1995 pg.. 210-217]



  1. I’d have to look into it. I’ve only a couple sources on my bookshelf. Though doesn’t it seem that a bit more time had passed between the St. Paul/Corinthian exchange and the St. Clement/Corinthian exchange?

    Lord knows I’d probably look at the Apostolic Fathers much differently than I would have even when beginning this series-that-I-never-finished.


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