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Thursday, 6 August 2015

Supernatural Evil in the Apostolic Fathers (1): 1 Clement

This is the first in a series of posts in which I will be sharing some of the main exegetical findings from a larger study on Satan and demons in the Apostolic Fathers (AF). The study was occasioned in response to a study published online by Christadelphian apologist Jonathan Burke in which he argued that most of the Apostolic Fathers belonged to an early Christian tradition which rejected belief in supernatural evil. My study reached quite an opposite conclusion. However, in these blog posts I will not be interacting with Burke's arguments as in the main study; I will just be summarizing my main findings positively. If you're interested in the full picture along with references and bibliography, please see the main study.

The 'Apostolic Fathers' is a somewhat artificial body of writings from the early church, mostly dating from the late first through mid-second century A.D. None of these writings were ultimately accepted into the Christian canon, but they were traditionally held by the church to be orthodox in their teaching. Recently published critical editions of the Apostolic Fathers include the Loeb Classical Library two-volume set by Bart Ehrman (see Volumes 1 and 2 here), as well as the single-volume edition of Michael Holmes, now in its third printing. The writings included in this corpus, in Ehrman's order (which will be followed in this blog series) are as follows: 1 Clement, 2 Clement, the seven Epistles of Ignatius, Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, the fragments of Papias, the fragment of Quadratus' Apology, the Epistle to Diognetus, and the Shepherd of Hermas. I will treat them in this order (the order in which they appear in Ehrman's edition).

I am not going to discuss introductory issues for these texts (authorship, date, provenance, etc.) in a scholarly fashion. For such purposes I would refer the reader to the series of articles on the various AF writings which appeared in The Expository Times in 2006-2007. For those who may not have access to this material, a serviceable alternative would be to look up each individual text on www.earlychristianwritings.com.

1 Clement is a letter written, probably toward the end of the first century A.D., from the church at Rome to the church at Corinth. The author is not named in the letter but for sake of convenience we will refer to him as Clement following the traditional attribution. Despite its length, the document contains only one brief reference to supernatural evil, at 1Clem 51.1. This text reads as follows:
And so we should ask to be forgiven for all the errors we have committed and the deeds we have performed through any of the machinations of the Enemy.1
The Greek term which Ehrman translates 'the Enemy' is τοῦ ἀντικειμένου or, in its lexical form,  ἀντικείμενος. This is a substantivized participle of the verb ἀντίκειμαι, 'to oppose', and a literal translation thus might be, 'the opposing one'. What grounds do we have for concluding that 'the opposing one' in this text refers to Satan (the devil)?

Firstly, it is well established in Christian literature before and contemporaneous with 1 Clement that Satan was regarded as 'the adversary' par excellence (e.g. Luke 10:18-19; 1 Pet. 5:8; etc.). Hence, since 1Clem 51.1 does not explicitly identify 'the opposing one' it is only natural to conclude that Satan is the referent - especially since Clement implicates 'the opposing one' in inducing people to sin, which is one of Satan's main functions in the New Testament (Matt. 4:1-11; 1 Cor. 7:5; etc.)

Secondly, there is abundant evidence of the word ἀντίκειμαι being used with reference to Satan in Jewish and Christian literature in antiquity. Most (but not all) of it probably dates from after 1 Clement was written, but still shows that there was a strong early Christian tradition of describing Satan with this terminology. In Zech. 3:1 LXX, the verb שָׂטָן (the verbal equivalent of the Hebrew noun śāṭān) is translated into Greek as ἀντικεῖσθαι, the infinitive form of ἀντίκειμαι. Although haśśāṭān ('the adversary'/'the prosecutor',  διάβολος in the LXX) is not yet the Satan of Christian theology in this text, it undoubtedly played an influential role in the development of this concept in the early church. The tradition cited in Jude 9 indirectly depends on Zech. 3:1, while Justin Martyr cites Zech. 3:1 LXX on three occasions in his Dialogue with Trypho (79.4; 116.3-8; 155.2). In the second of these passages he uses the participle ἀντικείμενος twice to modify διάβολος. This suggests that the use of this participle with reference to the devil depends on the occurrence of the verb in Zech. 3:1 LXX, which could also explain its usage in other early Christian texts, including 1Clem 51.1.

In the second-century A.D. translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek by Theodotion, שָּׂטָן in Job 1:6 is translated ἀντικείμενος. Origen states in Contra Celsum 6.44 that ἀντικείμενος is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Σατάν or Σατανᾶς. This shows that the semantic equivalence between the Hebrew word śāṭān and the Greek ἀντικείμενος is sufficient to account for the use of the latter word for Satan, apart from any dependence on Zech. 3:1 LXX.

Within the New Testament, there is no clear use of ἀντικείμενος for Satan. However, the word is used in 2 Thess. 2:4 for an eschatological Antichrist figure who is linked to Satan in the same passage (v. 9). Moreover, a significant number of scholars interpret this term with reference to Satan in 1 Tim. 5:142 (though many others do not3). The extant Latin version of Pseudo-Philo's work Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, generally dated to the first or early second century A.D., uses the word anteciminus at 45.6 which scholars think has been transliterated from ἀντικείμενος and almost certainly reflects שָּׂטָן in the (lost) Hebrew original.4 Other uses of ἀντικείμενος for Satan in second-century Christian texts include Martyrdom of Polycarp 17.1 (to be discussed in an upcoming post), Ptolemy the Gnostic's Letter to Flora 7.5, Clement of Alexandria's Paedagogus 1.8 and Stromata 2.5, 4.18 and 21.1, and in Eusebius' quotations from the Martyrium of Lyons and an anonymous opponent of Montanism (Historia Ecclesiastica 5.1.5; 5.1.23; 5.1.42; 5.16.7). Clement of Alexandria's Stromata 4.8 is actually a paraphrase of 1Clem 51.1, and shows that 'the opposing one' was understood as a reference to Satan in the earliest extant interpretation of this text.

Another possible parallel is in Ascension of Isaiah 11.19, a Christian text generally dated to the late first century A.D. This text makes reference to 'the adversary' but survives only in an Ethiopic version, so there is no way of knowing whether the Greek original had  ἀντικείμενος.

All told, there is abundant evidence for the view that 1Clem 51.1 refers to Satan. Hence, it is unsurprising that this interpretation appears to enjoy unanimous support among modern scholars.5 I was unable to find a single published work which takes a different view.

While this is the only reference to supernatural evil within 1 Clement, there is a second passage which is of interest precisely because it does not mention the devil when we might expect it to. 1Clem 3.4 offers the following criticism of the disunity which is apparently taking place in the Corinthian congregation:
For this reason, righteousness and peace are far removed, since each has abandoned the reverential awe of God and become dim-sighted in faith, failing to proceed in the ordinances of his commandments and not living according to what is appropriate in Christ. Instead, each one walks according to the desires of his evil heart, which have aroused unrighteous and impious jealousy - through which also death entered the world.6
The last part of this sentence, 'through which also death entered the world', is a quotation from the Jewish pseudepigraphic work Wisdom of Solomon 2.24, which reads in the NRSV translation, "but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it."

It is fairly unremarkable that Clement quotes the passage without mentioning the word διάβολος (which the NRSV translates "devil"), since he only uses a short snippet to make his point about envy. However, the writer of 1 Clement continues, "For so it is written..." and proceeds to recount the story of Cain and Abel. This shows that the writer understands Wisdom of Solomon 2.24 to be referring to the story of Cain and Abel. The same is true of Theophilus of Antioch, writing in the late second century A.D. However, while Clement makes no mention of the devil here (and does not use the word διάβολος), Theophilus explains that Satan infiltrated Cain's heart, causing him to murder Abel (Ad Autocylus 2.29). Have the two writers interpreted διάβολος differently in their source? It is possible that they both interpreted the passage in the same way, but that Clement neglected to mention the devil's role (perhaps because his concern is more pastoral than theological here). However, it is also possible that Clement has implicitly understood διάβολος in his source to refer to Cain himself. This second view commands much scholarly support.7 It is impossible to be certain, however, since Clement does not say how he has understood διάβολος.8

What if we are correct to infer that Clement has understood διάβολος in Wisdom of Solomon 2.24 to refer to Cain and not the devil? At least one scholar (Beyschlag) has suggested that it is a demythologizing move on Clement's part.9 However, Dochhorn cautions against such an assumption.10 After all, we have seen from 1Clem 51.1 that the devil does have a place in Clement's theology as an instigator of sin.

It is interesting that there is a trend in recent scholarship of interpreting διάβολος in Wisdom of Solomon 2.24 to refer to Cain11 (who is mentioned explicitly in 10.3) or to refer to a generic adversary12 (although some scholars still maintain the 'devil' interpretation).13 It is important to note that διάβολος occurs in this text without the definite article. Hence, one possible explanation is simply that Wisdom of Solomon 2.24 did not refer to the devil, and Clement interpreted it correctly. That is, there was no demythologization because there was nothing to demythologize! In that case the most we could say is that, unlike Theophilus, Clement refrained from mythologizing this text. This, of course, would not imply that Clement did not believe in the devil (we have already seen that he did); only that he did not regard the anarthrous  διάβολος  in Wisdom of Solomon 2.24 as a reference to the devil.

In conclusion, the early Christian letter known as 1 Clement makes one mention of Satan in a way that stands in continuity with early Christian Satanology as known from the New Testament and other early Christian texts. However, the fact that Clement only mentions Satan once in this lengthy letter, and refrains from mentioning him in a context in which we might have expected him to do so, suggests that Satan plays only a minor role in his theology. Perhaps, as Knoch suggests, Satan has been disempowered in Clement's eschatological outlook.14


  • 1 Ehrman, B.D. (2003). (Ed. & trans.). The Apostolic Fathers (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 127.
  • 2 In support of interpreting the adversary here as Satan are  Bartelink, G.J.M. (1987). ΑΝΤΙΚΕΙΜΕΝΟΣ (Widersacher) als Teufels- und Dämonenbezeichnung. Sacris Erudiri, 30, 205-224 (here p. 209); Bobichon, P. (2003). Dialogue avec Tryphon: Introduction, Texte Grec, Traduction (Vol. 2). Fribourg: Université de Fribourg, p. 864 n. 8; Collins, R.F. (2002). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, p. 142; Lea, T.D. (1992). 1, 2 Timothy, Titus. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, p. 152; Lona, H.E. (1998). Der erste Clemensbrief. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, p. 542; Towner, P.H. (2006). The Letters to Timothy and Titus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 357; Marshall, I.H. (2004). The Pastoral Epistles. London: Bloomsbury, p. 605; and a further nine scholars mentioned by Marshall. Undecided are Arndt, W., Danker, F.W. & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 88; Lock, W. (1999). The Pastoral Epistles: Critical and Exegetical Commentary. London: T&T Clark, p. 61; and Quinn, J.D. & Wacker, W.C. (2000). The First and Second Letters to Timothy: A New Translation with Notes and Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 446.
  • 3 See scholars cited in Burke's paper, p. 14 n. 87.
  • 4 Jacobson, H. (1996). A Commentary on Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum: with Latin Text and English Translation, Vol. 1. Leiden: Brill, p. 67; Jacobson, H. (1996). A Commentary on Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum: with Latin Text and English Translation, Vol. 2. Leiden: Brill, p. 1037; Harrington, D.J. (1983/2010). Pseudo-Philo: A new translation and introduction. In J.H. Charlesworth (Ed.), The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 2 (pp. 297-378). Peabody: Hendrickson, p. 360 n. g.
  • 5 Bartelink, op. cit., pp. 210-211; Bobichon, op. cit., p. 864 n. 8; Court, J.M. (2000). The Book of Revelation and the Johannine Apocalyptic Tradition. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, p. 54; Quinn & Wacker, op. cit., p. 446; Jaubert, A. (1971). Clément de Rome, Épître aux Corinthiens. Sources Chretiennes (Vol. 167). Paris: Cerf, p. 183 n. 3; Page, S.H.T. (1995). Powers of Evil: A Biblical Study of Satan and Demons. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p. 190; Albl, M.C. (Ed.). (2004). Pseudo-Gregory of Nyssa: Testimonies against the Jews. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, p. 127; Massaux, É. (1993). The Influence of the Gospel of Saint Matthew on Christian Literature before Saint Irenaeus: the first ecclesiastical writers. Leuven: Peeters, p. 51; Fascher, E. (1968). Frage und Antwort. Berlin: Ev. Verl.-Anst, p. 56; Van Den Hoek, A. (2001). Clément d’Alexandrie: Les Stromates (Vol. 4). Paris: Cerf, p. 100; Redalié, Y. (2011). Deuxième épître aux Thessaloniciens. Geneva: Labor et Fides, p. 104 n. 90; Gokey, F.X. (1961). The Terminology for the Devil and Evil Spirits in the Apostolic Fathers. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, pp. 68-69; Arndt et al, op. cit., p. 89; Lampe, G.W.H. (1961). A Patristic Greek Lexicon, Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 154; Ehrman, op. cit., p. 127; Knoch, A.O. (1964). Eigenart und Bedeutung der Eschatologie im theologischen Aufriss des ersten Clemensbriefes: Eine auslegungsgeschichtliche Untersuchung. Bonn: Peter Hanstein, p. 203f; Lona, op. cit., p. 542; Russell, J.B. (1987). Satan: The Early Christian Tradition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 33-34; Lindemann, A. (1992). Die Clemensbriefe. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 149. Even Beyschlag, who sees evidence of demythologisation in 1Clem 3.4 (see below), acknowledges that the letter refers to Satan here (Beyschlag, K. (1966). Clemens Romanus und der Frühkatholizismus: Untersuchungen zu I Clemens 1-7. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 65 n. 1).
  • 6 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 41.
  • 7 This second view of 1 Clement is taken in Clifford, R.J. (2013). Wisdom. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, p. 21; Kelly, H.A. (2006). Satan: A Biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 78-79, and Byron, J. (2011). Cain and Abel in text and tradition: Jewish and Christian interpretations of the first sibling rivalry. Leiden: Brill, p. 223. Dochhorn agrees that Cain has taken centre stage in 1 Clement’s exegesis of Wisdom of Solomon 2.24 but does not say the writer has applied the word διάβολος in his source directly to Cain. He appears to leave room for the first view (Dochhorn, J. (2007). Mit Kain kam der Tod in die Welt. Zur Auslegung von SapSal 2,24 in 1 Clem 3,4; 4,1-7, mit einem Seitenblick auf Polykarp, Phil. 7,1 und Theophilus, Ad. Autol. II, 29,3-4. Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde älteren Kirche, 98(1), 150-159. Here pp. 152-154, 158-159).
  • 8 Dochhorn cautiously comments, "Wie er sich das genau vorstellte, läßt sich für uns nicht mehr im Einzelnen ermitteln" (op. cit., p. 153).
  • 9 Beyschlag, op. cit., pp. 65-66.
  • 10 Dochhorn, op. cit., p. 153.
  • 11 Clifford, op. cit., p. 21; Kelly, op. cit., pp. 78-79; Byron, op. cit., p. 223.
  • 12 Zurawski, J.M. (2012). Separating the Devil from the Diabolos: A Fresh Reading of Wisdom of Solomon 2.24. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, 21(4), 366-399.
  • 13 NRSV translators; Dochhorn, op. cit., pp. 150-151; Knibb, M.A. (trans.). (2007). Wisdom of Solomon. In A. Pietersma & B.G. Wright (Eds.), A New English Translation of the Septuagint (pp. 697-714). Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 700.
  • 14 Knoch, op. cit., p. 207.

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