Clement of Rome was a first-century Christian convert who became a pillar in the early church. He is best known as the first bishop of Rome and for writing 1 Clement, a non-canonical letter to the church in Corinth. A second letter of a spurious nature has also been credited to him. It is possible that Clement was the same Clement mentioned by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:3. Clement was personally acquainted with the apostle Peter and, quite possibly, Paul and John.
First Clement, written c. AD 95, was addressed to the church in Corinth. Those familiar with the apostle Paul’s two letters to the church in Corinth, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, will recall a body of believers plagued by internal disputes, corruption, pride, carnality, false doctrine, and upheaval. With firmness of conviction tempered by a father’s tender love, the apostle Paul sought to restore the spiritual health of the Corinthian church.
First Clement reveals that, although the church in Corinth flourished for a time (1 Clement 1—2), soon after Paul’s death, the Corinthian believers reverted to their corrupt and carnal ways (1 Clement 3). This regression motivated Clement to pen a disciplinary letter to the believers in Corinth. This letter is what we now call 1 Clement.
In his letter, Clement issued stern warnings against those believers who were harboring envy and pride. These faults were catalysts of strife and division and were responsible for the shipwreck of the faith of many. Clement reminded the believers that envy and pride could only be eradicated by genuine humility (1 Clement 56:1). This truth is timeless, for gentle spirits and humble hearts are the best anodyne for congregations steeped in pride and troubled by selfish ambition.
First Clement makes mention of Peter (1 Clement 5:4), Paul (1 Clement 5:5–7; 47:1), and the early Christian martyrs who gave their lives for the cause of Jesus Christ (1 Clement 6:1–2). During Clement’s time, Rome’s hostility toward Christianity was intense. Many believers forfeited their lives for the sake of the gospel. Clement called upon believers to remain strong in the face of persecution, for this life cannot compare to the glories to follow.
Remaining true to the apostolic teachings, Clement reaffirmed the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works. This cornerstone doctrine sets Christianity apart from the world’s many religions, cults, and isms, for the Bible is clear in teaching “the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4, NKJV; cf. Ephesians 2:8–9; Galatians 3:11; Romans 1:17). Good works are an outward manifestation of the faith within, but good works, regardless of magnitude, are incapable of saving lost sinners. First Clement remains true to this fundamental teaching.
Clement reminds his readers that their focus should be on the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Clement 36:1–2). They are Christ’s foot soldiers, and their fellow believers are spiritual brothers and sisters. Faithful church leaders who serve according to their spiritual gifts are ordained by God (1 Clement 42). Clement rebuked the church for stripping some godly elders of their leadership roles (1 Clement 44). He warned that their shameful mistreatment of these faithful servants is “no small sin” (1 Clement 44:4, Hoole, trans.).
While 1 Clement contains a treasury of truth and wisdom, Clement apparently believed in the mythical phoenix, a winged creature that arose from its own ashes (1 Clement 25:1—26:1). The mention of this immortal bird from Greek mythology is proof that 1 Clement was rightly deemed not part of the canon of Scripture.
Although 1 Clement is not part of the New Testament, the book was widely circulated among the early churches. Despite its flaws, 1 Clement is worth at least a perfunctory reading by believers today. The book is beautifully written, makes lengthy references to numerous Old and New Testament passages, and offers timeless wisdom for keeping the church doctrinally sound, morally pure, personally edifying, and, foremost, focused on our Lord Jesus Christ.
As for the book known as 2 Clement, it is not really a letter; rather, it is a homily, as indicated in 2 Clement 19:1, where the author mentions that he has “read” the material to his audience. No one knows who wrote the sermon, although almost everyone agrees that it was not written by Clement. Church leaders such as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen only referenced one Epistle of Clement, not two. The anonymous author of 2 Clement has been variously identified as Soter, a second-century bishop of Rome; an unknown Christian in Corinth; and a preacher in Alexandria, Egypt. It was probably written c. AD 150.
Significantly, 2 Clement quotes Jesus’ words in Luke 5:32 and calls what Jesus said “Scripture” (2 Clement 2:4). Obviously, there was a written record of Christ’s words in the mid-first century, and churches were considering those words as authoritative Scripture.
Second Clement stresses the need for good works in the church: “So then, brethren, let us confess Him in our works, by loving one another, by not committing adultery nor speaking evil one against another nor envying, but being temperate, merciful, kindly. And we ought to have fellow-feeling one with another and not to be covetous. By these works let us confess Him, and not by the contrary” (2 Clement 4:3, Hoole, trans.). But 2 Clement goes beyond what the Bible says, even saying that “fasting is better than prayer, but almsgiving better than both” and “almsgiving lifteth off the burden of sin” (2 Clement 16:4, Hoole, trans.). Such teaching is unbiblical.
Second Clement was not written by Clement. It is of historical interest as a post-apostolic sermon, but not of much spiritual value.