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1 Clement’s View of Ministerial Appointments in the Early Church

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Abstract The document known as the First Epistle of Clement, probably written towards the end of the first century, provides some of the scant available documentary evidence about the early development of the Christian ministry. It contains an outline history of the passing down of authority, but the relevant part of the Greek text has ambiguities which have led various scholars to propose five broadly different views, or interpretations, of Clement’s intended meaning. These were examined in relation to Clement’s purpose, an approach which relied primarily on evidence internal to the epistle, and had not been considered in detail before. Only one of the five views was found to make Clement’s argument reasonably consistent with his aims, and this view also made his lack of clarity understandable. Thus Clement’s intended message in the ambiguous section was that the first local church leaders were appointed by the apostles, and when some of these local leaders died, replacement appointments were made by people who had been given the authority to do so from outside the local church.

1. FN11) Discussed in detail by J.T. Burtchaell, From Synagogue to Church, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 1-200.
2. FN22) O.M. Bakke, Concord and Peace, (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck) 2001), 186; H.O. Maier, The Social Setting of the Ministry as Reflected in the Writings of Hermas, Clement, and Ignatius (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1991), 94.
3. FN33) Andreas Lindemann, Die Clemensbriefe, (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1992), 12-13; H.E. Lona , Der erste Clemensbrief, (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998), 66-78, (reviewed by H.O. Maier, J. Theol. Studies 52, (2001), 339-342); Maier, The Social Setting of the Ministry, 135 Note 1; for a criticism of this view, see L.L. Welborn, “The Preface to 1 Clement: the Rhetorical Situation and the Traditional Date”, 197-216 in C. Breytenbach and L.L. Welborn ed. Encounters with Hellenism, (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2004).
4. FN44) R.R. Noll, Christian Ministerial Priesthood, (San Francisco, London: Catholic Scholars Press, 1993), 16-18.
5. FN55) E.g. H.B. Green, “Matthew, Clement, and Luke: their Sequence and Relationship”, J. Theol. Studies 40 (1989), 1-25; Bakke, Concord and Peace, 11.
6. FN66) Other aspects are discussed in detail e.g. by Lindemann, Die Clemensbriefe, and Lona, Der erste Clemensbrief.
7. FN77) Clement referred at different points in his epistle to “bishops” (ἐπίσκοποι) and “presbyters” (πρεσβύτεροι), church officials who were leaders of the local church. Most commentators have concluded that Clement regarded the two terms as equivalent (e.g. Burtchaell, From Synagogue to Church, 296-297; Bakke, Concord and Peace, 186; B.E. Bowe, A church in Crisis, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1988), 149), though some have suggested that “bishops” were some but not all of the “presbyters” (Noll, Christian Ministerial Priesthood, 58). Which view is accepted does not affect the argument of this article, whose main concern is the passing down of church authority. This is set out in 42:1 to 44:3, which includes the ambiguous section, and here only the term “bishop” is used. To avoid the emotive overtones sometimes attaching to the words “bishop” and “presbyter”, the expression “local church leader” is used in this article.
8. FN88) Noll, Christian Ministerial Priesthood, 79.
9. FN99) The ambiguities here and in the following sentence reflect the Greek.
10. FN1010) Bowe, A Church on Crisis, 155; Maier, The Social Setting of the Ministry, 91,122; Lona, Der erste Clemensbrief, 20-30; Bakke, Concord and Peace, 324.
11. FN1111) Bowe, A Church in Crisis, 153, 158.
12. FN1212) Maier, The Social Setting of the Ministry, 135.
13. FN1313) P. McKechnie, Review of “Studi su Clemente Romano”, Theol. Studies, 65 (2004), 858-860.
14. FN1414) J.S. Jeffers, Conflict at Rome: Social Order and Hierarchy in Early Christianity, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 95; Noll, Christian Ministerial Priesthood, 10.
15. FN1515) E.g. Bowe, A Church in Crisis, 148; Jeffers, Conflict at Rome, 152; Allen Brent, The Imperial Cult and the Development of Church Order, (Leiden, Boston, Köln: Brill, 1999), 146.
16. FN1616) Burtchaell, From Synagogue to Church, 149-150, 186.
17. FN1717) If the earlier date for Clement’s letter is accepted, this argument becomes stronger.
18. FN1818) Text as given by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer (ed.) 2nd edition, revised by Michael W. Holmes, “The Letter of the Romans to the Corinthians” in The Apostolic Fathers, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1992), 76-79. Lightfoot’s emendation of ἐπινοµὴν ἐδώκασιν in 44:2 (from the fifth century Codex Alexandrinus) to read ἐπιµονὴν δεδώκασιν (“gave ongoing continuance (to the offices)”) is followed, as being more consistent with the emphasis of 44:1,2 than the more often preferred reading ἐπινοµὴν ἔδωκαν (“added an instruction”). (Cf footnote 19). Which reading is followed does not materially affect the argument of this article. Cf. J.B. Lightfoot, The Christian Ministry, (London: Macmillan, 1903), 38.
19. FN1919) Following Lightfoot and Harmer, revised Holmes, “The Letter of the Romans to the Corinthians”, 77, 79, except for the translation of µεταξὺ in 44:2.
20. FN2020) µεταξὺ may be rendered as “afterwards” (G.W.H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961)), and has been translated in this way by numbers of commentators, e.g. Lightfoot and Harmer, revised Holmes, “The Letter of the Romans to the Corinthians”, 77; J.A. Fischer in the 1958 edition of his Die Apostolischen Väter (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1958), 81; and Lindemann, Die Clemensbriefe, 121, if his “danach” is to be understood in this sense. µεταξὺ can also have the sense of “in passing”, implying that the apostolic instruction about later appointments was given at the same time as the first appointments of local leaders. Some commentators have given translations in keeping with this, e.g. H. von Campernhausen, trans. J.A. Baker, Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power In the Church of the First Three Centuries, (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1969), 89; and Lona, Der erste Clemensbrief, 455 (cf. discussion of Lona’s treatment of the ambiguities in Clement’s letter in the section “Approaches of Some Former Studies” later in this paper). Clement must have been aware of the different possible senses of the word, so it seems that he was not particularly concerned to establish the timing of the apostolic instruction. His concern was to establish that this instruction was part of the apostolic precaution against disorder in the church. Hence the translation “went on (to give)” is offered here. µεταξὺ may also have the sense of “in the midst”, which could be understood as “in so doing” or “thereby”. However, it seems most unlikely that this could have been Clement’s intended meaning, as it could have been understood by the rebels in Corinth, whom he had to convince, as stating that the apostles did not explicitly sanction the appointment of further church leaders after the first ones died at all. This would leave a significant gap in Clement’s argument, and he would have needed to write something to fill it. Yet he wrote nothing.
21. FN2121) The great majority of commentators have rendered ὅπως as “to the effect that”, or words with a similar meaning, which is the meaning used here. However, it could also be translated “how” (A Lexicon abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949 impression)). This would strengthen Clement’s argument, asserting that the apostolic instructions about later appointments included requirements about how they should be done, and ruling out the possibility that the apostles left decisions about this to the first local leaders. However, the argument of this paper would not be otherwise affected, as Clement still did not indicate clearly who should make the later appointments, or who in fact did.
22. FN2222) The phrase “appointed by them” (κατασταθέντας ὑπ’ ἐκείνων) is not part of the ambiguity, as it clearly refers to the appointment of the first generation of local church leaders by the apostles.
23. FN2323) For this view to be considered, µεταξὺ would have to be taken in the sense of “afterwards” rather than “at the same time”, as Clement would be most unlikely to believe that the apostles would arrange for their own successors at the same time as they appointed the first local leaders.
24. FN2424) E.g. Lindemann, Die Clemensbriefe, 130; Maier, The Social Setting of the Ministry, 104.
25. FN2525) Cited in Lightfoot, The Christian Ministry, 35, quoting from Roth, Anfänge der Christlichen Kirche, 1837.
26. FN2626) Dom Gregory Dix, “The Ministry in the Early Church”, in K.E. Kirk, ed., The Apostolic Ministry, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, new impression, 1957), 253-262.
27. FN2727) Allen Brent, “Diogenes Laertius and the Apostolic Succession”, J. of Ecclesiastical History 44, 1993, 387.
28. FN2828) Dix, “The Ministry in the Early Church”, 261.
29. FN2929) Lightfoot, The Christian Ministry, 37-38.
30. FN3030) von Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power, 90 footnote 89.
31. FN3131) Lightfoot and Harmer revised Holmes, “The Letter of the Romans to the Corinthians”, 77 footnote 109.
32. FN3232) T.W. Manson, The Church’s Ministry, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1948), 60-65.
33. FN3333) K.J. Woollcombe, “The Ministry and the Order of the Church in the Works of the Fathers” in K.M. Carey ed. The Historic Episcopate, 2nd ed., (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1960), 43-46.
34. FN3434) Lona, Der erste Clemensbrief, 455-457.
35. FN3535) A.T. Hanson, The Pioneer Ministry, (London: SCM Press, 1961), 111-112.
36. FN3636) R.A. Campbell, The Elders: Seniority in the Earliest Chistianity, (London, New York: T. and T. Clark International, 1994), 212.
37. FN3737) A. Ehrhardt, The Apostolic Succession in the First Two Centuries, (London: Lutterworth, 1953), 70, 96.
38. FN3838) C. Gore, The Church and the Ministry, 6th impression, (London, New York, Bombay, Calcutta: Longmans, Green and Co., 1906), 288-292.
39. FN3939) Archpriest Elie Me’lia, “The Priesthood in our Time: an Orthodox Point of View,” in N. Leish and J. Rhymer ed., The Christian Priesthood, (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, and Danville, N.J.: Dimension Books, 1970), 104-105.
40. FN4040) Burtchaell, From Synagogue to Church, 293-294.
41. FN4141) Bowe, A Church in Crisis, 147-148.
42. FN4242) See e.g. C.C. Richardson, ed., “The Letter of the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth, commonly called Clement’s First Letter” in Early Christian Fathers, (London: S.C.M. Press, 1953), 36.
43. FN4343) Lindemann, Die Clemensbriefe, 131.
44. FN4444) Provided ὅπως in 44:2 is not to be understood as “how”.
45. FN4545) Manson, The Church’s Ministry, 60-65.
46. FN4646) C. Eastwood, The Royal Priesthood of the Faithful, (London: the Epworth Press, 1963), 57.
47. FN4747) Maier, The Social Setting of the Ministry, 104.
48. FN4848) Unless ὃπως in 44:2 is to be translated “how”.
49. FN4949) On fluidity of terminology cf. Noll, Christian Ministerial Priesthood, 58.
50. FN5050) Following Lindeman’s suggestion.
51. FN5151) Taking µεταξὺ in 44:2 in the sense of “afterwards”.
52. FN5252) E.g. Richardson, “The Letter of the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth”, 36.
53. FN5353) Burtchaell, From Synagogue to Church, 294.
54. FN5454) W. Telfer, “Episcopal Succession in Egypt,” J. Eccles. History 3 (1952): 1-13; E.W. Kemp, “Bishops and Presbyters at Alexandria,” J. Eccles. History 6 (1955): 125-142.
55. FN55*) I am grateful for the constructive criticisms of earlier drafts of this paper I have received from various reviewers, especially Dr. Barry Collett.

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