Biblical Studies First Clement
Harry Maier
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 March 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0226


1 Clement is a letter attributed to Clement of Rome (fl. second half of the 1st century CE). It is from a single hand, comprising sixty-five chapters, written from a body of Christ followers in Rome to those in Corinth. It is a long and often rambling writing whose chief aim does not appear until chapters 39–44. Clement, on behalf of the Roman community, advises his audience to restore harmony to the Corinthian church through the reappointment of leaders some have deposed. Parts of the early church treated it as canonical. In Codex Alexandrinus it appears, together with 2 Clement, directly after the Book of Revelation, and in a Syriac manuscript both writings appear before the Apocalypse. Clement of Alexandria quoted the letter as a canonical text. It nowhere states it is from Clement but there are three warrants for accepting the attribution: in the 2nd century Dionysius of Corinth cited him as its author; the Shepherd of Hermas, a document many argue to be contemporary with the writing, identifies a Clement who has the responsibility of sending writings to other cities (Vision 2.4.3), arguably a direct allusion to 1 Clement; the possibility of association as a freed person with the aristocratic family of Titus Flavius Clement and his wife Flavia Domitilla, the latter of whom Eusebius of Caesarea records as persecuted by Domitian for Christian belief. Its chief importance is that it is the earliest preserved Christian letter outside the New Testament. As a text that is contemporary with, if not earlier than, several canonical writings, it offers a snapshot of emergent Christianity in Rome and Corinth. Since its discovery it has played a central role in debates concerning the earliest conceptions of leadership in the ancient church and it is here where most attention has been directed. Scholarly study has also centered on its uses of rhetorical conventions, philosophical traditions, liturgical formulae, and lengthy Old Testament quotations, as well as possible echoes of New Testament texts.

General Overviews

A number of texts offer a general orientation to 1 Clement. In recent years there have appeared numerous introductions to the corpus designated as the Apostolic Fathers with dedicated chapters to each the authors or writings. Of these the essay in Lindemann 2010 is most useful because it furnishes an excellent bibliography and critically reviews recent treatments of the letter. Quasten 1983 lists important earlier studies. As 1 Clement has been an important source in debates concerning the development of the ministry in the early church, discussion of the letter often occurs in general studies of early Christian leadership. Fuellenbach 1980 furnishes an excellent overview and precise description of both general and dedicated studies from the 19th century onward. Alongside these overviews, two essays in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt in Knoch 1992 and Ziegler and Brunner 1992 offer excellent general orientations to the letter with overviews of scholarly debates regarding content and purpose. Grant 1964 presents a general account of the Apostolic Fathers and the place of 1 Clement within the corpus. Harnack 1929 was the author’s third and most important treatment of 1 Clement and engages with earlier 19th-century scholarship. Knopf 1899 treats the letter as a homily that draws heavily from Hellenistic philosophy. Wrede 1891 attends more closely to the letter’s biblical themes and a continuing dispute over spiritual gifts described in 1 Corinthians. Lightfoot 1981a and Lightfoot 1981b (first published in 1899–1900), a two-volume study, that furnishes a critical introduction designed in part to refute earlier German scholarship, especially that advanced by the Tübingen School, and to offer a critical text with commentary. Taken together these investigations focus on critical issues such as the letter’s rhetorical style, its author and date, its engagement with Hellenistic culture, biblical citations, and the reasons for the conflict that has given rise to the Roman response.

  • Fuellenbach, John. Ecclesiastical Office and the Primacy of Rome: An Evaluation of Recent Theological Discussion of First Clement. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1980.

    This is an excellent overview of the chief studies of 1 Clement, specifically with reference to the debate over the form and theology of Christian leadership the letter promotes.

  • Grant, Robert M. The Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction. Vol. 1, The Apostolic Fathers: A Translation and Commentary. New York: Thomas Nelson, 1964.

    Discusses 1 Clement in the context of a general account of issues relating to history and study of the Apostolic Fathers.

  • Harnack, Adolf. Einführung in die alte Kirchengeschichte. Das Schreiben der römischen Gemeinde an die korintische aus der Zeit des Domitians (1 Clemensbrief). Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1929.

    Harnack published three volumes dedicated to1 Clement over his long career. This, the latest study, is the concluding essay to a historical seminar led by Harnack over fifty-four years and raises key issues in the study of the letter that subsequent scholarship continues to engage.

  • Knoch, Otto B. “Im Namen des Petrus und Paulus: Der Brief des Clemens Romanus und die Eigenart des römischen Christentum.” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt. Part 2. Vol. 27.1. Edited by Wolfgang Haase and Hildegard Temporini, 3–54. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1992.

    This is an excellent overview that provides an encyclopedic review of proposals concerning the date and purpose of the letter, a history of scholarly investigation, and leading issues in contemporary study of the letter.

  • Knopf, Rudolf. Der Erste Clemensbrief. Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 20,1 (Neue Folge Volume 5, issue 1). Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1899.

    Investigates the letter’s form, its indebtedness to Hellenistic culture, its citations of the biblical canon, and its purpose as a homily sent as a letter.

  • Lightfoot, J. B. Clement. Part One. Vol. 1, The Apostolic Fathers: Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981a.

    Lightfoot presents a discussion of the discovery and publication of Alexandrinus and Hiersolymitanus, compares their contents, and provides photographic plates of the latter. He also discusses the Syriac translation. Reprinted from 1889–1890 edition.

  • Lightfoot, J. B. Clement. Part One. Vol. 2, The Apostolic Fathers: Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981b.

    The second volume presents the Greek text with a critical apparatus and textual commentary, followed by a translation. Reprinted from 1889–1890 edition.

  • Lindemann, Andreas. “The First Epistle of Clement.” In The Apostolic Fathers: An Introduction. Edited by Wilhelm Pratscher, 47–69. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010.

    Offers an overview of the text tradition, genre, contents, organization, theology, uses of Scripture, occasion, authorship and dating of the letter.

  • Quasten, Johannes. Patrology. Vol. 1, The Beginnings of Patristic Literature. Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1983.

    This is the starting point for research. Quasten furnishes a bibliography with a general overview of chief themes of the letter, its author, and its place in the history of doctrine. Reprinted from 1950 edition.

  • Wrede, W. Untersuchungen zum Ersten Klemensbriefe. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1891.

    Wrede sees 1 Clement as a largely aimless letter that seeks to resolve a conflict that has arisen from pneumatic Christians overthrowing administrative officers.

  • Ziegler, Adolf, and Gerbert Brunner. “Die Frage nach einer politischen Absicht des ersten Klemensbrief.” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt. Part 2. Vol. 27.1. Edited by Wolfgang Haase and Hildegard Temporini, 55–76. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1992.

    Furnishes an overview of debates concerning the letter’s attitude toward Rome and political authorities.

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