Bitten By Your Bad Reputation: Echoes Of 1 Corinthians In 1 Clement

It is our contemporary understanding of grace that when something is forgiven that one simply never brings it up again [1].  Indeed, this idea is so firmly planted within the contemporary mind that for someone to bring up past faults, our immediate conclusion is that the person bringing up such matters has not truly let such things go if they remind us of what we think to be old news.  Likewise, our contemporary age has such a firm belief in individual responsibility and such a widespread ignorance of history that it would be a matter of great confusion and irritation for someone to be reminded of something that their grandparents had done or that their congregation had done decades ago.  And yet this is precisely the situation we find in 1 Clement, where there are numerous echoes of 1 Corinthians in Clement’s own writing, as if he is aware of the fact that things have not changed so much from Paul’s own rebuke to them, and that he wants to make it known to Corinth that much remains to be done that they were first told about decades ago.

Sometimes this echoing occurs in ways that are somewhat subtle.  For example, let us take the case of behavior at the Passover.  In 1 Clement, we have the following passage that reminds the Corinthians of how they should conduct themselves:  “In the same way, my brothers, when we offer our own Eucharist to God, each one of us should keep to his own degree.  His conscience must be clear, and he is to bear himself with reverence (39).”  We see this in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32:  “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.  But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.  For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.  For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.”

Similarly, we see an offhand reference in 1 Clement to being tolerant and putting up with other believers:  “Let us clothe ourselves in mutual tolerance of one another’s views, cultivating humility and self-restraint (35).”  This has echoes of Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3:  “Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.  And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.  But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.”  Likewise, in 1 Clement we see a reference to the question of the honor that Christians do not often have among outsiders:  “Men who have no intelligence or understanding, men who are without sense or instruction, make a mock of us and ridicule us, in their wish to raise themselves in their own esteem.  But what is there that anyone who is mortal can really effect (38-39).”  Likewise, in another place Clement says:  “Let any commendation of us proceed from God, and not from ourselves, for self-praise is hateful to God (35).”  This sounds a lot like Paul’s own statements concerning the way Christians are viewed in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:  “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.  But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.””

At other times, even though Clement does not say it outright, it appears that Clement was almost writing out his letter to the Corinthians with a copy of the scroll of 1 Corinthians present for consultation.  Witness, for example, Clement’s comments about the folly of denying the resurrection:  “Think, my dear friends, how the Lord offers us proof after proof that there is going to be a resurrection, of which He has made Jesus Christ the firstfruits by raising Him from the dead (33).”  And let us compare this to Paul’s own comments about Jesus Christ being the first of the firstfruits in resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:20-24:  “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.  But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.  Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.”

At times, though Clement is not so subtle in the fact that he is bringing up the past of the Corinthians and using it to make his appeal even sharper.  Let us note, for example, what he says about factionalism in Corinth, making an explicit reference to 1 Corinthians:  “Read your letter from the blessed Apostle Paul again.  What did he write to you in those early Gospel days?  How truly the things he said about himself and Cephas and Apollos were inspired by the Spirit! – for even at that time you had been setting up favorites of your own.  Such partiality was perhaps less culpable in those days, for two of the men you favored were apostles of the highest repute, and the third was one to whom they had themselves given their approval (42).”  And what was Clement referencing but 1 Corinthians 1:10-13:  “ Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.  For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.  Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.”  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

In his epistle to the Corinthians Clement even waxes eloquent on the subject of Christian love:  “Who can describe the constraining power of a love for God?  Its majesty and its beauty who can adequately express?  No tongue can tell the heights to which love can uplift us.  Love binds us fast to God.  Love casts a veil over sins innumerable.  There are no limits to love’s endurance, no end to its patience.  Love is without servility, as it is without arrogance.  Love knows of no divisions, promotes no discord; all the works of love are done in perfect fellowship.  It was in love that all God’s chosen saints were made perfect; for without love nothing is pleasing to Him.  It was in love that the Lord drew us to Himself; because of the love He bore us, our Lord Jesus Christ, at the will of God, gave His blood for us – His flesh for our flesh, His life for our lives.  See then, dear friends, what a great and wondrous ting love is.  Its perfection is beyond words.  Who is fit to be called its possessor, but those whom God deems worthy (43)?”  And where else did Clement find inspiration for his own soaring eloquence about love than in Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a:  “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.”

What are we to make of this?  Why is it important to recognize the echoes of 1 Corinthians in 1 Clement.  For one, they were written to the same congregation, although some decades apart.  The problems that Paul’s hearers wrestled with about being gracious to others, dealing with the ridicule of foolish unbelievers, struggling with holiness in their own walk with God and with divisions and schisms among themselves were still struggles with them decades later when Clement wrote to them.  There was even the same doubting of the resurrection present among the sophisticated and intellectual Corinthians that there was in Paul’s day.  And since there were so many similarities, and not of a pleasant kind, between Corinth those decades apart, Clement chooses a variety of means to bring attention to these similarities.  Sometimes his comments appear to be a midrash on Paul’s previous writings, at times Clement alludes to something Paul wrote to the Corinthians in writing to them himself in a subtle hinting fashion, and at least one time, as we have seen, Clement outright tells his audience to read the letter that Paul had sent them, where they would no doubt find much to remind them in the present and much longer letter that Clement had sent them himself.

It is our practice not to regard what was said before as being relevant to us in the fashion that Clement makes 1 Corinthians relevant to his previous audience.  And yet Clement’s fashion is a reminder to us that a great deal of the issues that Christians have to face remain consistent over time.  So long as our Christian walk is shaped by certain conditions in the larger society around us, and so long as that society has recognizable qualities and biases and characteristic hostility to God’s ways, we will find that Christians will be influenced in precisely those qualities and ways in their attempt to get along in an ungodly world.  In a world that looks down on bodily resurrection as something like a parlor trick, we would expect those who were more sophisticated among the Corinthians to think of themselves as Christians but without a belief in superstitions like the resurrection from the dead or to worry about the scorn they faced from those whom the outside world considered to be wise and intellectual people.  In a world that glorifies politics, as the world of Corinth did, we would expect the Corinthians to have a strong political spirit among themselves and many schisms and divisions.  In a world where sexual immorality and gluttony and drunkenness ran rampant, we would expect that it would be necessary for people like Paul and Clement to write about the importance of believers living a godly walk.  Unfortunately, the one thing we do not know is whether the Church at Corinth heeded the counsel of Clement like they had previously repented at the rebuke of Paul, nor do we know how many in our own day will see conditions not so different from those Paul and Clement wrote about so many millennia ago.


[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Bitten By Your Bad Reputation: Echoes Of 1 Corinthians In 1 Clement

  1. Pingback: Pseudonymously Yours, 2 Clement | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: A Lament For Clement | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: S. Clement Of Rome | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: The Character Of The Church | Edge Induced Cohesion

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