1 Clement is an early Christian letter written from the church of Rome to the church of Corinth.1 The consensus date for this document is c. 96 AD, though it may have been written as early as the 70s.2 It is traditionally ascribed to Clement of Rome; the name Clement 'appears in the titles of each manuscript in which the letter survives'.3 For convenience we will refer to the author as Clement. One can find scholars arguing that the author was 'almost certainly...a Gentile believer'4 or, on the other hand, 'almost certainly a Jewish Christian'!5 Given the writer's knowledge of Old Testament and Jewish tradition but familiarity with and use of Hellenistic ideas, Hagner's balanced statement seems on point: 'We may be sure…that Clement was either a Jew whose Hellenization was complete, or a Greek who had drunk deeply of Jewish thought and practice.'6 The high valuation of this letter in the patristic Church can be seen from its inclusion (together with 2 Clement) at the end of the New Testament in Codex Alexandrinus, one of the most important early biblical manuscripts.
Some Christadelphian apologists have attempted to enlist the author of 1 Clement as essentially a proto-Christadelphian. For instance, in a recent talk on early Christianity, Dave Burke says the following:
In the letter of Clement to the Corinthians we find New Testament theology7 exclusively; we don’t find the deity of Christ, we don’t find the pre-existence of Christ, we don’t find the Trinity, we don’t find the immortal soul, we don’t find a supernatural devil; everything here is exactly as we [Christadelphians] believe. It’s perfectly consistent with New Testament theology.8
More recently, in a Facebook post from August 2015, Dave asserts the following:
Clement's theology is utterly apostolic; there is no evidence that he believed in immortal soulism, the pre-existence of Christ, the deity of Christ, the deity of the Holy Spirit, or an evil supernatural devil.
This appears on a Facebook page authored by Dave which is entitled 'Christian History'. The stated purpose of this page is 'to provide information about early Christian history, the Reformation, and the three Great Awakenings.' The page does not state that it offers a Christadelphian slant on early Christian history, so one would expect the information to be factual or at least in line with the current scholarly consensus. Sadly, this is not the case.
In fact, 1 Clement 51.1 refers to 'the adversary' and it is universally agreed by scholars that this is a reference to Satan (as I have discussed previously). Moreover, scholars have concluded that several passages in 1 Clement presuppose the pre-existence of Christ.9 Dave does not mention any of this evidence. However, our main concern in this article is with Clement's individual eschatology: his beliefs concerning the afterlife. Dave's assertion in this respect is imprecise: he says there is no evidence that Clement believed in 'immortal soulism' and infers that, because Clement believed in resurrection, his individual eschatology must have been identical to that of Christadelphians. However, this implicitly creates a false dichotomy as though Christadelphian conditionalism and 'immortal soulism' (a term Dave does not define) are the only options. If, by 'immortal soulism', Dave means the Greek doctrine of the immortality of the soul founded upon Platonic dualism, in which the soul is temporarily imprisoned in the body which is a mere shell, then one can heartily agree that Clement held no such anthropology. However, there is a third possibility that Dave does not mention: that of an intermediate state, in which the soul continues to exist after death while awaiting the consummate goal of bodily resurrection.
Hence, the question that needs to be asked is whether there is any evidence that Clement believed in a post-mortem existence prior to the resurrection. In order for Clement's theology to be exactly as Christadelphians believe, the answer would have to be no. However, the answer from the scholarly literature, and from careful exegesis of certain passages in 1 Clement, is a decisive yes!
Before turning to these passages we must first note our agreement with Dave that the doctrine of bodily resurrection is at the core of Clement's individual eschatology.10 Consider, for instance, 1 Clement 24.1:
We should consider, loved ones, how the Master continuously shows us the future resurrection that is about to occur, of which he made the Lord Jesus Christ the first fruit by raising him from the dead.11
Having noted this, we must reiterate that Clement's belief in resurrection does not imply his disbelief in any post-mortem existence (as in Christadelphian theology). Schmisek reminds us that Clement 'did not spell out the nature of his resurrection anthropology' and that he 'felt free to draw on pagan imagery to convey the concept of resurrection'.12 More importantly, 1 Clement refers to a blessed state of existence which faithful believers and martyrs in particular enter immediately after death. The most significant text in this respect concerns the martyrdom of Peter, Paul and some women, and reads as follows:
3. We should set before our eyes the good apostles. 4. There is Peter, who because of unjust jealousy bore up under hardships not just once or twice, but many times; and having thus borne his witness he went to the place of glory that he deserved. 5. Because of jealousy and strife Paul pointed the way to the prize for endurance. 6. Seven times he bore chains; he was sent into exile and stoned; he served as a herald in both the East and the West; and he received the noble reputation for his faith. 7. He taught righteousness to the whole world, and came to the limits of the West, bearing his witness before the rulers. And so he was set free from this world and transported up to the holy place, having become the greatest example of endurance. 6.1. To these men who have conducted themselves in such a holy way there has been added a great multitude of the elect, who have set a superb example among us by the numerous torments and tortures they suffered because of jealousy. 2. Women were persecuted as Danaids and Dircae and suffered terrifying and profane torments because of jealousy. But they confidently completed the race of faith, and though weak in body, they received a noble reward. (1 Clement 5.3-6.2)13
It should be obvious that, prima facie, this passage constitutes evidence for Clement's belief in post-mortem existence. A plain reading of the text suggests that these martyrs went somewhere after death and received a reward. Certainly, one will never hear the kind of language used in this passage at a Christadelphian funeral! However, Dave neglects to mention this passage when summarizing Clement's theology in his talk and on his Facebook page. This is not because Dave is unaware of the passage; in fact, he had discussed it in an online discussion forum almost a decade earlier (assuming, according to my recollections, that Evangelion was Dave's user name on this forum). However, neither in that post nor at any time since (as far as I am aware) has Dave shown any familiarity with scholarship on this passage and others relevant to our subject. It is to this scholarship that we now turn.
Based on my survey of scholarship, it appears that most scholars conclude, based primarily on 1 Clement 5.3-6.2, that Clement believed in an intermediate state. Some of these, such as Lampe,14 Bauckham,15 Hill,16 Wright,17 and Lehtipuu,18 explicitly locate the intermediate state in heaven. Others, such as Lindemann,19 Lona,20 Arndt et al,21 and Mutie,22 do not explicitly describe Clement's intermediate state as 'heaven' but do conclude that he believed in post-mortem existence.
More nuanced views are those of Sumney, who thinks Clement's intermediate state concept applied to martyrs only,23 and Gonzalez, who thinks 1 Clement is ambiguous about the kind of post-mortem existence which the martyrs enjoy.24
Having surveyed the literature, it is apparent that most scholars have concluded that Clement's theology included the notion of post-mortem existence in an intermediate state for believers. None of the scholars I read concluded that Clement held that believers ceased to exist between their death and resurrection (although Sumney held this to be the case with the exception of martyrs). Contemporary scholarship weighs against Dave Burke's claim that the theology of 1 Clement corresponds exactly to that of Christadelphians in the matter of individual eschatology. Accordingly, I call on Dave to provide his Christadelphian audiences with an objective picture of Clement's theology and to stop presenting his own private interpretations as factual information.
This is Part One of a two-part article. In the next installment, I will interact with Dave's exegesis of 1 Clement 5.3-6.2 and provide exegetical arguments that Clement believed that the righteous dead go to heaven to await the resurrection.
- 1 The prescript of the letter reads, 'The church of God that temporarily resides in Rome, to the church of God that temporarily resides in Corinth' (Ehrman, B.D. (2003). The Apostolic Fathers (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 35).
- 2 Gregory, A. (2006). I Clement: An Introduction. The Expository Times, 117(6), 223-230 (here pp. 227-228).
- 3 ibid., pp. 224-225.
- 4 Skarsaune, O. (2009). Does the Letter to the Hebrews Articulate a Supersessionist Theology? In R. Bauckham, D. Driver & T. Hart (Eds.), The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology (pp. 192-200). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 198.
- 5 Sanders, J.T. (1993). Schismatics, Sectarians, Dissidents, Deviants: The First One Hundred Years of Jewish-Christian Relations. London: SCM Press, p. 220.
- 6 Hagner, D.A. (1973). The Use of the Old and New Testaments in Clement of Rome. Leiden: Brill, p. 8.
- 7 Read: the Christadelphian version of New Testament theology.
- 8 These remarks are from a talk Dave delivered in 2014, which can be downloaded here (the discussion of 1 Clement begins around the 9:45 mark).
- 9 E.g. 1 Clement 16.2, 16.17, 36.2, 42.1. These are the texts adduced by Talbert who concludes that 1 Clement 'assumes pre-existence' and thus 'reflects an epiphany model' of Christology (Talbert, C.H. (2011). The Development of Christology during the first hundred years. Leiden: Brill, p. 36). I hope to discuss Clement's Christology in detail in a future post.
- 10 Wright states: 'He not only believes in final resurrection; he mounts various arguments to show that it is not as unreasonable a thing to believe as one might suppose. First, the sequence of day and night, and seedtime and harvest, indicates that such a progression is built into the created world… Clement then – boldly, we may think – advances the apparent parallel of the phoenix, which rejuvenates itself after dying every 500 years. And he rounds off his exposition with three biblical passages which demonstrate, he says, that "the creator of all things will create the resurrection of those who have served him in holiness, in the assurance of a good faith."' (Wright, N.T. (2003). The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, p. 481) Similarly, Chester: 'The main concentration of eschatological themes in 1 Clement… is to be found in chapters 23-27. It is clearly the delay of the Parousia that constitutes one main problem that the writer has to deal with… Chapters 24-26 provide the main, central thrust of this section as a whole, arguing for the resurrection of the body as not in the least improbable, on the analogy of the seed dying in order to product fruit and the phoenix rising from the ashes. Clearly the writer sees the doubts about the Parousia, and those about the resurrection of the believers, as closely bound up together.' (Chester, A. (2007). Messiah and Exaltation: Jewish Messianic and Visionary Traditions and New Testament Christology. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 455.) See also Mutie, J. (2015). Death in Second-Century Christian Thought: The Meaning of Death in Earliest Christianity. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, pp. 56-57. Offering a different perspective is Schmisek, who surprisingly claims that 'resurrection was not a major issue for Clement and he spent little time discussing it' (Schmisek, B. (2013). Resurrection of the Flesh or Resurrection from the Dead: Implications for Theology. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, p. 3.)
- 11 Ehrman, op. cit., p. 81.
- 12 Schmisek, op. cit., p. 4.
- 13 Ehrman, op. cit., pp. 43-47; emphasis added.
- 14 Lampe thinks that topos refers to 'heaven' in 1 Clement 5.4, 5.7 (Lampe, G.W.H. (1961). A Patristic Greek Lexicon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 1397).
- 15 Bauckham regards the word sunēthroisthē in 1 Clement 6.1 as possibly suggesting that 'the great multitude joined the martyrs just mentioned in heaven: this would supply a reference to the heavenly reward of the great multitude of martyrs, which is otherwise missing but which is expected by comparison with the examples of Peter, Paul and the women' (Bauckham, R.J. (1992). The Martyrdom of Peter in Early Christian Literature. In ANRW II.26.1, pp. 539-595; here p. 561).
- 16 Hill concludes that Clement believed in a 'heavenly version of the intermediate state' and yet that 'absolutely no tension can be detected, in Clement's mind' between this and his 'vigorous Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body' (Hill, C.E. (2001). Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, p. 85). Hill's exegesis of the relevant passages in 1 Clement is the most detailed among the scholars cited here. We will consider it in more detail in the second part of this article.
- 17 Wright says that 'Clement believed in a temporary post-mortem heaven rather than in the righteous going to Hades' and argued that 1 Clement 5.4-6.2 dovetail with Clement's teachings on the resurrection of the dead: 'We are not surprised, therefore, to find that Clement articulates a doctrine of resurrection not far removed from that of the New Testament. To begin with, however, it might have seemed otherwise. In the early chapters Clement speaks of the apostles Peter and Paul having died and gone, in the first place, to a "place of glory", and in the second to the "holy place". He goes on to speak of martyrs who "received a noble reward", of those who obtain the gift of "life in immortality", and of presbyters who have finished their course and have obtained "a fruitful and perfect release (analysis)", and who now need have no fear of being moved "from the place appointed to them". By themselves these passages could have been taken to indicate a belief in a final disembodied state, capable of being described in shorthand (though Clement does not use this phrase) as "going to heaven". But when Clement expounds his own view of the final state of the blessed departed, he makes it clear that this language about Peter, Paul and the others must refer to their temporary abode in a blessed, glorious and holy place. He not only believes in final resurrection; he mounts various arguments to show that it is not as unreasonable a thing to believe as one might suppose' (Wright, op. cit., p. 479).
- 18 Lehtipuu regards this passage from 1 Clement as one witness to a widespread conviction 'that martyrs will pass immediately to heaven at the moment of their death': 'The conviction that martyrs will pass immediately to heaven at the moment of their death is so widespread that it can be called "a commonplace in martyrological literature."… The emphasis of the martyr accounts is on the continuation of life after death without any interruption.' (Lehtipuu, O. (2015). Debates over the Resurrection of the Dead: Constructing Early Christian Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 169).
- 19 Lindemann regards 1 Clement 5.4-7 as referring to a post-mortem state of existence analogous to that implied by NT passages such as Luke 16:22f, 23:43 and Acts 7:56-59. He writes, 'τόπον vgl. Apg 1,25 (dort ἴδιος statt ὀφειλόμενος) und in der Sache Joh 14,2f; Ign Magn 5,1; vgl. auch die etwas rätselhafte Bemerkung in Apg 12,17: Petrus ἐπορεύθη εἰς ἕτερον τόπον (M. Smith, NTS 7, 1960/61, 86-88 sieht hier einen literarischen Zusammenhang und ein Argument gegen die Petrus-Rom-Hypothese; s.u.). Zur eschatologischen Bedeutung von δόξα s. Röm 8,18.21. V. 4 besagt wohl nicht, daß dem Märtyrer "ein besonderer Platz am postmortalen, interimistischen Ort der Frommen" zuteil wird oder er schon "in die volle Seligkeit" gelangt ist, auf die "andere Tote noch bis zur Endvollendung warten müssen" (so Baumeister aaO. 242, der auf 44,5 verweist; s. dort), denn ein Vergleich mit anderen ist gar nicht im Blick. Die Stelle bestätigt freilich eine im NT vor allem in den lk Schriften zu beobachtende Tendenz zur Individualisierung der Eschatologie (vgl. Lk 16,22f; 23,43; Apg 7.56.59),' (Lindemann, A. (1992). Die Clemensbriefe. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, pp. 37-38).
- 20 Lona regards the 'place of glory' in 1 Clement 5.4 as the eschatological place (Ort) of salvation. He writes on this 'place of glory' that it is 'ein klarer Hinweis auf die von Petrus empfangene eschatologische Belohnung' (Lona, H.E. (1998). Der erste Clemensbrief. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, p. 161). He adds in a note, 'Zu τόπος als eschatologischem Ort des Heiles vgl. auch I Clem 44,5; II Clem 1,2; Herm Sim IX 27,3 (104,3)' (ibid., p. 161 n. 1). On 1 Clement 5.7 he writes, 'Das Verlassen der Welt bedeutet in diesem Fall das Hingehen zu einem anderen Ort' (ibid., p. 166). In 1 Clement 50.3-4 Lona finds a concept of the intermediate state similar to what is found in Jewish apocalyptic and in NT passages such as Luke 23:43 and Phil. 1:23: 'Das Zitat, dessen Herkunft in einem zweiten Schritt erörtert wird, will offensichtlich das zuvor Gesagte unterstreichen. Gemäß der vom Vf. praktizierten Schriftauslegung ist der als Zitat angeführte Text wörtlich zu nehmen. In diesem Fall sind τὰ τεμεῖα (die Kammern) identisch mit dem χῶρος εὐσεβῶν von V.3. Der Aufenthalt dort hat eine beschützende Funktion, aber er ist nicht dauernd, sondern nur für die Zeit des göttlichen Zornes gedacht, bis Gott sich des guten Tages erinnert und die Gläubigen auferstehen läßt. Zwei Aspekte sind in diesen Wort enthalten, die das Verständnis der Stelle im Kontext bestimmen. Der erste und vordergründige ist der eschatologische. Präzis ist er aber nicht. Die in der Liebe Vollendeten würden in diesen Aufenthaltsort eingehen - was nur als postmortales Ereignis vorstellbar ist - , um dort auf den guten Tag zu warten, an dem Gott sie auferstehen lassen wird. ἀναστήσω ist als Auferstehungsverheißung auszulegen. Die jüdische Apokalyptik kennt ähnliche Vorstellungen über einen Zwischenzustand. Sie sind auch dem NT nicht fremd (vgl. Phil 1,23; Lk 23,43), wenngleich die Ausdrucksweise dort nicht so bildreich ist wie in I Clem 50,4' (ibid., p. 534).
- 21 The lexicon classifies topos in this text under the following definition: ‘a transcendent site: esp. of the place to which one’s final destiny brings one’ (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. 1011).
- 22 Mutie states that the writer of 1 Clement 'concludes his understanding of death by suggesting that those who are perfected in love have already entered their glorious places in Christ’s kingdom. [cites 1 Clement 50.3-4] In other words, not only does the writer of 1 Clement understand death in terms of sleep, but he also, within the tradition of the Old Testament, affirms the survival of the soul beyond the physical death. As Dewart observes, "it is interesting to note that the letter contains one of the passages in the Apostolic Fathers which seems to affirm the survival of the soul independently of the body" after death.' (Mutie, op. cit., pp. 56-57).
- 23 Sumney's main focus is Paul's individual eschatology. He argues that in Paul's view, 'most people (including believers) cease to exist at death' but 'Martyrs and others of exceptional faithfulness...may be exceptions to this general rule and thus possess a limited existence with God before the parousia' (Sumney, J.L. (2009). Post-Mortem Existence and Resurrection of the Body in Paul. Horizons in Biblical Theology, 31(1), 12-26; here p. 12). He regards Acts 7:59, Revelation 6:9-11 and 4 Maccabees 17:17-18 as evidence for a belief that 'the fate of martyrs differs from that of others...martyrs are already in heaven with God' (ibid., p. 24). He interprets 1 Clement 5.3-6.2 in the same way, as affirming a 'post mortem existence for martyrs': 'Clement says that Peter has gone to the ‘place of glory’ because he is a martyr (1 Clem 5:4). Clement goes on to say that Paul is in ‘the holy place’ (5:6) and that women martyrs receive a ‘noble reward’ (6:2). So various people within the early church thought that post mortem existence for martyrs, including Paul, was different from the state of others' (ibid., p. 25). Sumney's thesis has been criticized by Orr, who says that the literature cited by Sumney holds out martyrs as examples to imitate but does not differentiate their fate from that of other believers. Orr says Sumney has missed 'the fact that the texts that he cites, although they speak of the martyrs being with God, do not, in fact, distinguish between martyrs and other believers. So 4 Maccabees does indeed picture martyrs being present with God following their death, but these are held out as examples for readers to imitate so that they too will suffer like these martyrs. The state of those who die without suffering is not raised. The implicit understanding of the book is that those who τῆς εὐσεβείας προνοοῦσιν ἐξ ὅλης καρδίας (7:18) will suffer death and so will go to be with God. Similarly, Revelation appears to apply the description (if not the term) of martyr to all believers (7:9, 14). Sumney argues that Polycarp distinguishes between martyrs and other believers in Philippians 9:2 when, in fact, he is using their example and reward to call his readers to imitate them (9:1). The same note of imitation is found in 1 Clement 5 (cf. 5:1). Further, it seems that Paul himself fails to make any distinction between martyrs and other Christians. In any case, this distinction would be very odd in a letter where he so definitely sees himself as a model for other Christians' (Orr, P. (2014). Christ Absent and Present: A Study in Pauline Christology. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, p. 46).
- 24 Gonzalez states: 'The early church fathers tend to support the view that the martyrs, through some means, and within a context of an anthropology that is never defined, go straight to heaven at their deaths. In the earlier chapters of 1 Clement, reference is made to Peter and Paul, who were martyred and who are respectively described as having gone ‘to his appointed place in glory’ (εἰς τὸν ὁφειλόμενον τόπον της δόξης), and ‘departed from this world and went to the holy place’ (ὁυτως ἀπηλλάγη τοῦ κόσμου καὶ εἰς τὸν ἅγιον τόπον ἐπορεύθη). 1 Clement also refers to the martyrs as having received ‘a noble reward’ (ἔλαβον γέρας γενναῖον). There is some ambiguity in this matter, however. It is notable (and rather overlooked) that 1 Clement never explicitly describes the martyrs or the righteous dead as having ascended or as specifically having gone to heaven. The extent to which the state in which the martyrs exist is merely blessed in anticipation rather than in reality is unclear. It may be either that the immediate admittance of the martyrs to heaven is simply assumed, or that this idea has not yet fully matured in the concept of early Christianity… From what we have seen, the concept of the immediate post-mortem ascent of the soul itself is not explicitly found in the writings of the "Apostolic Fathers." Perhaps it may be assumed in 1 Clement, and in the Martyrdom of Polycarp with regard to the martyrs. However, in relation to the martyrs as discussed in 1 Clement and the Polycarp texts, there is still no concept of a soul as separate from the physical body, nor of the motion of ascent of the martyrs to God. The martyrs are portrayed as receiving an immediate reward upon death, although the tension with the teaching of the resurrection is at times quite apparent.' (Gonzalez, E. (2014). The Fate of the Dead in Early Third Century North African Christianity: The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas and Tertullian. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, pp. 57-58). Gonzalez shows reserve in his exegesis of this passage, but this does not amount to an endorsement of a Christadelphian reading of Clement's theology.