Biblical Studies Second Clement
Wilhelm Pratscher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 February 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0206


The text of 2 Clement (2 Clem) has only survived in three manuscripts. The oldest one, the Codex Alexandrinus (A), ends at 12.5, the complete Greek text can be found in the Codex Hierosolymitanus (H), which dates back to 1056 CE. The third version can be found in a Syrian translation from 1170 CE. In all three documents, 2 Clem has come down to us in connection with 1 Clem, although it is not a letter but a sermon, more precisely: it is a hortatory address. The whole text deals with parenesis. Chapters 1–3 are dominated by Christological argumentation, in chapters 4–18 the eschatological argumentation has priority. Chapters 19f are a secondary supplement, which probably served as an introduction to chapters 1–18, the original sermon. This can be concluded from linguistic and factual aspects. The author is unknown. He is definitely not the author of 1 Clem, which can be concluded from numerous linguistic differences as well as from different theological views. The assumed opponents are most probably to be found in the context of the emergent Gnosticism, but the author does not focus on a direct confrontation with these opponents. Possible places of origin are Rome, Corinth, Antioch, and Alexandria. In the recent research, Alexandria seems to gain more and more acceptance, based especially on the fact that the author is familiar with Egyptian traditions of his time. It is highly probable that the text was written around 150 CE, and 2 Clem shows that the author is acquainted with the traditions of the Old and New Testaments. Concerning Christian traditions, it can be assumed that he was familiar with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, but there is no definite proof of this. In addition to texts, which can later be found in canonical documents, 2 Clem also makes use of apocryphal traditions or texts. The formation of the canon was not yet finished at this time. The basic aim of 2 Clem is parenesis. The focus is on the goal to organize life in Christian faith appropriately. Theological topics are oriented toward this goal. God is a creator and a savior. In his Christology, the author holds the opinion that Jesus is preexistent. It may strike us as remarkable that the author, who is traditionally seen as anti-Gnostic, does not estimate pneumatology as important to his audience. Newer publications (cf. Tuckett and Kelhoffer) oppose the view, that 2 Clement is anti-Gnostic. The connection between Christ and the church is expressed with the help of syzygies; and interestingly, in this connection the author pleads for the preexistence of the church. In his eschatology, the future version is predominant. Realized eschatological statements can be found only implicitly.

General Overviews

The following papers deal with basic aspects of 2 Clem, which cannot be found in the following sections but have had a crucial influence on later research. For example, the negative assessment of 2 Clem as a document of a theologically flattened Christianity (as discussed in Windisch 1921) was of essential importance until the 1970s, when a new assessment gained acceptance. Harris 1924 questions the identity of the author in an interesting way, which was not discussed in the following years. Concerning the place of origin, Stanton 1967 argues against the Corinth theory of Lightfoot and for the Rome theory of Harnack, without considering more possibilities. Concerning the genre, Donfried 1974, together with Stewart Sykes 2001, had great influence on defining the sermon as a hortatory address. Stegemann 1974 and Warns 1985 discuss the circumstances of the origins: Stegemann concentrates on the consolidation of the ecclesio-political position of 2 Clem; Warns discusses the conflict with opponents, who are clearly defined as Valentinians. Neither position could gain wide acceptance.

  • Baasland, Ernst. “Der 2.Klemensbrief und die frühchristliche Rhetorik: ´Die erste christliche Predigt` im Licht der neueren Forschung.” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2. Vol. 27.1. Edited by Wolfgang Haase and Hildegard Temporini, 78–157. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1993.

    Study of the literary and rhetorical style of 2 Clem. Gives historical and theological background and the Christian context, along with the ancient concept of homily. Features a broad use of pagan and Christian literature. An informative, important contribution to 2 Clem and early Christian rhetorical imagery.

  • Donfried, Karl Paul. The Setting of Second Clement in Early Christianity. Supplements to Novum Testamentum 38. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1974.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004266209

    This is a careful discussion of the historical and theological background of 2 Clem and also of its genre, the literary and historical problems associated with it, quotations, and the intention of the text. Extensive bibliography and useful indices included. One of the most important books on 2 Clem to be published in the 1970s.

  • Harris, J. Rendel. “The Authorship of the So-Called Second Epistle of Clement.” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 23 (1924): 193–200.

    DOI: 10.1515/zntw.1924.23.2.193

    Attempts to identify the author of 2 Clem as Iulius Cassianus. This is an interesting but speculative solution, since 2 Clem is not an Encratite work. Nevertheless, this has a stimulating discussion on the question of authorship.

  • Stanton, G. R. “2 Clement VII and the Origin of the Document.” Classica et Mediaevalia 28 (1967): 314–320.

    Questions the possible places of origin (i.e., Corinth, as discussed by Lightfoot, and Rome, as discussed by Harnack). This is a differentiated analysis of the vocabulary of 2 Clem, especially καταπλέω. Argues against Lightfoot’s thesis with a hint of the universal use and understanding of the vocabulary. Accepts Harnack’s thesis, however. There is no discussion of other possible solutions.

  • Stegemann, Christa. “Die Herkunft und Entstehung des sogenannten zweiten Klemensbriefes.” PhD diss., University of Bonn, 1974.

    Informative research survey that includes textual testimonials, literary integrity, the connection to 1 Clem, genre, and place in the early Christian history and theology. Main thesis is that 2 Clem is an appendix to 1 Clem, written in Syria in favor of the strengthening of the position of 1 Clem in ecclesiastical political issues.

  • Stewart Sykes, Alistair. “II Clement a Homily?” In From Prophesy to Preaching: A Search for the Origins of Christian Homily. By Alistair Stewart Sykes, 174–187. Supplement to Vigiliae Christianae 59. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004313330

    Focuses on the genre of 2 Clem and the origins of the Christian homily: here, 2 Clem is not seen as a homily (i.e., an interpretation of a biblical text) but as “a catechetical and hortatory address to those preparing for baptism” (p. 176). Nearer to the results of Donfried and the mainstream critics.

  • Warns, Rüdiger. “Untersuchungen zum 2. Clemens-Brief.” PhD diss., University of Marburg, 1985.

    Very long paper on 2 Clem, 696 pages. It contains a long review of literature. Topics are title, text, structure, integrity. Focus lies on quotations: liturgical, biblical, apocryphal documents. The opponents are identified as Valentinians. Some additions date from 1989.

  • Windisch, Hans. “Das Christentum des zweiten Clemensbriefes.” In Harnack-Ehrung: Beiträge zur Kirchengeschichte ihrem Lehrer Adolf von Harnack zu seinem siebzigsten Geburtstage (7. Mai 1921) dargebracht von einer Reihe seiner Schüler. By Adolf von Harnack, 119–134. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1921.

    In this short history of research, Windisch classifies the Christianity of 2 Clem as “spätjüdisch verflachtes synoptisches Christentum” (p. 126), which is “ein typisches Denkmal für das Christentum der Heidenkirche im 2. Jahrhundert” (p. 134). The negative image of 2 Clem is to be found in many articles in the following research, in contrast to the research carried out since the 1970s.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.