The Apostolic Fathers, Part 3: The First Epistle of Clement

Possibly the most detailed insight into the first century successors of the Apostles is to be found in 1st Clement, a pastoral letter written by the eponymous Clement the fourth bishop of Rome around 96 AD to second-generation believers in Corinth where the church was in turmoil with the bishops ejected by the laity (Staniforth & Louth, 1986, pp.19-20). The Clement in question has been forwarded as being the man of Philippians 4:3 but his identity is not known for certain; all that is known is from the text itself which shows a bishop who did not hold a lofty view of his own authority considering his incessant emphasis on the humility of bishop’s, whom he often calls presbyters, and never is there a mention of an archbishop, cardinal, or bishop over bishops as the later Latin and Greek Churches would claim. Aside from that he exhibits an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures and never makes a slight against them, a fact pertinent to our argument that the original believers in Yahshuah did not abrogate the Torah and were betrayed by the mainline Christian Church which sought to get away from Judaism in favour of Greco-Roman philosophy and mysticism, ensuing the numerous splits and confusions which have characterised Christian history.

The Letter is too long for a thorough commentary so we will content ourselves with the portions which concern our investigation of the origins of Christianity. Beginning in ch.5 (p.25) Peter and Paul are lauded equally, contrary to Ebonites who would insist that Paul was a schismatic who hijacked the early congregation, here he and Peter are presented as being on the same side. Clement also states that Paul travelled all the way to Spain as he promised to do in Romans 15:24.

Ch.7 Clements endorses the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, saying “Let us fix our thoughts on the blood of Christ; and reflect how precious that Blood is in God’s eyes, inasmuch as its outpouring for our salvation has opened the grace of repentance to all mankind.”

Ch.20 (p.31) Clement certainly drew on the Stoics for some of his language and emphasis on harmony in a community, yet he rebukes the speculations and hypotheses of the pagan philosophers by affirming the Biblical teaching that the Earth is flat. “The heavens, as they revolve beneath His [God’s] government”. “[The heavenly bodies] none swerving from its appointed orbit”. “Laws of the same kind sustain the fathomless deeps of the abyss and the untold regions of the underworld. Nor does the illimitable basin of the sea… overflow at any time the barriers encircling it”. “The impassable Ocean and all the worlds that lie beyond it are themselves ruled by the like ordinances of the Lord”. Later in ch.27 (p.34) he cites Psalm 19:1 “The heavens are a proclamation of God’s glory, and the firmament a declaration of his handiwork” in reference to the dome which arches over the Earth’s surface. It may be that this lengthy reference to the shape of the Earth was an attempt to resist the Hellenic globe theory, but it could be as easily argued contrary because Clement is obviously in the habit of digressing on many topics, including his apparent belief in the Phoenix (pp.33-34) and tangling Tanak quotations together to stretch out a point. I am undecided on the matter.

Ch.22 (p.32) He endorses the doctrine of Irresistible Grace: “All these promises find their confirmation when we believe in Christ, for it is He Himself who summons us, through His Holy Spirit”.

Ch.24 (p.33) He supports the doctrine of the resurrection which he holds to be supported by Elohim with “proof after proof”, not a Platonic heaven where souls escape to after death.

Ch.40-41 (pp.39-40) Unlike the Letter to Diognetus of second century vintage Clement in no way criticises the Jewish customs and culture expounded in the Torah, on the contrary he shows a deep and detailed understanding of these things. He does not adhere to the system of sacrifices himself but speaks of Messianic rituals and services being “In the same way” as the Jews ceremonies “when we offer our own Eucharist to God”. He explains further that unlike the Jews “we ourselves have been given so much fuller knowledge”. The message to take away is that the sacrificial offerings of the Jews were for Clement and the early believers abrogated but not to be derided, insulted, or ignored. This clear interest in the Jewish priesthood is expressed again in ch.43 (pp.40-41)

Ch.42 (p.40) In his introduction to the letter Andrew Louth as a professor of theology seeks to find any proof of the Trinity in the early church and calls the following “remarkable Trinitarian utterances ‘Have not all the same God, and the same Christ? Is not the same Spirit of grace shed upon us all?’; ‘As surely as God lives, as Jesus Christ lives, and the Holy Spirit live also’” (p.21). This is an unfounded leap without evidence, Clement nowhere affirms God to be three in one or anything of the sort, he is naming the most important figures in all creation, God, His Son, and His Spirit (and appears to believe the Holy Ghost to be a person in his own right). It is all opposed by ch.42 where Clement supposes Yahshuah to be subordinate to God “Jesus Christ was sent from God. That is to say, Christ received His commission from God and the Apostles theirs from Christ.” He also makes a point about bishops and deacons which he declares to be “in no way an innovation… there is a text that says, I will confirm their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith” [he is citing the Septuagint Isaiah 60:17]. The whole letter however meandering is dedicated to combating anarchist and libertine tendencies in Corinth, imploring the laity to restore their lawful leadership and to submit to proper authority.

Ch.51 (p.44) Clement does not mention anywhere that the damned will be tortured forever, the most he says of death is in relation to the opponents of Moses “for they went down to the grave alive, and death shall be their shepherd”; he has little else to say of their fate other than that they will die.

Ch.64 (p.49) He both affirms the subordination of Yahshuah to Yahovah, and indicates a belief in Predestination “Lord of all flesh, who has chosen the Lord Jesus Christ, and through Him ourselves to be a people for His possession”.

If one is interested in devotional reading then I recommend Matthew Henry’s commentary or the letters of Samuel Rutherford, 1st Clement’s style is self-indulgent, meandering, and often tedious but it is probably the earliest messianic text written after the New Testament and by a bishop of authority and humility, and tremendous knowledge of Scripture and Jewish tradition. Aside from the curious passage where he talks about the Phoenix he confirms Biblical doctrines on Predestination, the ‘Godhead’ or lack thereof, the shape of the world, and Irresistible Grace, and says little of offence to a Nazarene believer.

The Ulsterman

Staniforth. Maxwell & Louth. Andrew (ed.) The Apostolic Fathers: Early Christian Writings (2nd ed.) (Penguin Books: London, 1986)

Review of the ‘The Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World’


The Orthodox Study Bible (OSB) is more interesting than the ordinary hack editions one finds in Christian shops, both for its unique features and for what it reveals about Eastern Orthodox Christianity, historic and present. Contained therein is the Septuagint translation of the Tanakh and Apocryphal books arranged in the distinctive Orthodox order, some of them having different or added material compared to the Protestant/ Jewish canon. Though I have little notion as to the accuracy of translation – or which of the Masoretic or Septuagint texts is the proper version of the Tanakh (though my limited knowledge leans me towards the LXX) – it is certainly easy to read, the language is modern yet not base, and the New Testament is the New King James Version.

The book has lovely full page Orthodox icons, maps and is well-formatted to the reader’s needs, one could probably find cheaper editions of the Septuagint but the value OSB is in its commentary and articles, not for their insight and depth, it is beginners teaching, nor theological correctness (would we expect anything better!) but for what they show of the Church itself. For example the article on Ancestral Sin (p. 7) maintains standard teaching that “Human nature remains inherently good after the Fall; mankind is not totally depraved” classic Pelagianism. The muddled and clouded view of the Mosaic Law which usually hold Christians is laid bare in the commentary on Exodus 21:5,6 “The Law honoured free will, for the permanent relationship of servant to master was based on it. Similarly, our service to the Lord Jesus Christ is based on free will.” (p. 93) This would not be too egregious were it not for the following four verses “If a man sells his daughter to be a domestic, she shall not go out as the maidservants do etc. etc.” which pass without comment; for the free-will advocate to try and explain such verses it would be more of an insult to our intelligence than if he kept quiet.

Absent also is any mention of Anti-Semitism, the comments do argue that the Church has replaced Israel and the Torah is abolished, but the rabid, mad, pathological hatred of Jewry which characterises the Church in Eastern Europe and Russia even to this day finds no mention. The OSB is issued from the American branch of the Church, which appears to have moved to be more ecumenical and politically correct than its mother in Russia, no doubt to avoid controversy and draw in American Christians who are among the most well-neutered and weak-kneed people in that country. The dishonesty is twofold: It is impossible to sweep away or turn a blind eye to the atrocities and violence which characterised relations between the Jews and the Roman and Orthodox Catholic Churches; and it ignores a potential implication of Christian replacement theology, that the Jews are the Christ-killers who refuse to go away though God has abandoned them (another implication is that the Jews remain a supreme chosen race parallel to the Christian Church, the view of Christian Zionists, both of which are built on false suppositions).

In other respects the OSB is rather conservative, strong statements are made against abortion and homosexuality, but it somewhat pussyfoots on feminism, Genesis 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 pass with hardly any comment, and for 1 Peter 3:1-5 and Ephesians 3:22-33 the notes avoid those reviled words like “authority” and “patriarchy”. The article on marriage (p. 1607) is similarly evasive, the word “order” is used to substitute for what ought to be “the man is in charge”. The topic of slavery is handled like a hot brick, Deuteronomy 11:10-14 goes without comment, the notes Philemon reveal a dislike for Elohim’s law on this topic, the note to Phil. 11-13 reads “Paul sees to it that Onesimus fulfils his legal responsibilities by returning him to his master, concerns about the justice of slavery notwithstanding.” Strange methinks, I see not how the Eastern Orthodox alternatives to Biblical law – Imperialism, Tsarist autocracy, Feudal Serfdom, compromise with political masters, even the Muslim Tatars and Ottomans, and during the Second World War with Stalin! – are more effective policies than Yahovah’s, but to these issues the OSB speaks not.

I shall desist from further examples, the reader understands now that the OSB is a good study in the dual nature of Christianity West or East, its uncompromising pragmatism, its well thought-out irrationalism, its unflinching evasiveness. Aside from that, if one wants a pretty looking Septuagint and Apocrypha or merely to learn more of Orthodox thought, then I recommend it, but only if; if you do not have the money and time to spend then there is no need to buy it.

Source: The Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to the Modern World (2nd ed.) (St Athanasius Academy of Theology, 2009)

The Ulsterman