First Epistle of Clement

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Latest revision as of 11:40, November 10, 2011

The First Epistle of Clement, (literally, Clement to Corinth; Greek: Κλήμεντος πρὸς Κορινθίους, Klēmentos pros Korinthious) is a letter addressed to the Christians in the city of Corinth. The epistle is dated customarily to the end of the reign of emperor Domitian, that is 95 or 96 AD. It ranks with Didache and the Gospel of Thomas as one of the earliest, if not the earliest, of extant Christian documents outside the canonical New Testament.

The letter is attributed to Clement who was the Bishop of Rome. The letter is believed to have been written around the same time as the Book of Revelation, about 95-97 AD. The letter was not accepted as part of the canonical New Testament, but is part of the collection of works of the Apostolic Fathers. The letter does not contain the name of Clement, but instead is addressed by "the Church of God which sojourns in Rome to the Church of God which sojourns in Corinth."

The letter was occasioned by a dispute in Corinth, that led to the removal from office of several priests. Since none of the priests was charged with moral offenses, Clement charged that their removal was high-handed and not justified. The letter was lengthy and includes several references to the Old Testament, of which Clement demonstrates a knowledge. He repeatedly refers to the Old Testament as Scripture.

The references to the New Testament in First Clement include Clement’s admonition to “Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle” that had been written to this Corinthian audience. Such a reference seems to imply the written documents were available at both Rome and Corinth. Clement also alludes to the epistles of Paul to the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians and numerous phrases from the Epistle to the Hebrews, and possibly material from Acts, James, and I Peter. On several instances, he asks his readers to “remember” the words of Jesus, although Clement does not attribute these sayings to a specific written account. These New Testament allusions are used by Clement as authoritative sources that strengthen his arguments to the Corinthian church. However, Clement never explicitly refers to them as “Scripture”.

Clement's letter was publicly read from time to time at Corinth, and by the fourth century this usage had spread to other churches. It was included in the fifth century Codex Alexandrinus that contained the Old and New Testaments in their entirety. First Clement is listed as canonical in "Canon 85" of the Canons of the Apostles, suggesting that First Clement had canonical rank in at least some regions of the early Christian Church.

Though known from antiquity, the first document to contain the Epistle of Clement that was studied by Western scholars was found in 1628. It was included with an ancient Greek Bible given by the Patriarch Cyril of Jerusalem to King Charles I of England. The first complete copy of First Clement was rediscovered in 1873, some four hundred years after the Fall of Constantinople, when Philotheos Bryennios found it in the Greek Codex Hierosolymitanus, that was written in 1056. This work, written in Koine Greek, was translated into at least three languages in ancient times. A Latin translation from the second or third century was found in an eleventh century manuscript in the seminary library of Namur, Belgium. It was published by Germain Morin in 1894. A Syriac manuscript, now at Cambridge University, was found in 1876 that Robert Lubbock Bensly translated in 1899. A Coptic translation has survived in two papyrus copies of which one was published by C. Schmidt in 1908 and the other by F. Rösch in 1910.

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