Rebuilding the Foundations
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I use this newsletter to send Bible studies as much as once per week, sometimes less, but never more. See back issues.
The chapters in First Clement are short. Surely this won't be the only time I do more than one chapter in a post. Some of the other fathers, maybe most, will require multiple posts to cover a chapter.
You can read these chapters at CCEL.org. That link will land you at chapter 3, and an arrow at the top right will get you to chapters 4 and 5.
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Every kind of honour and happiness was bestowed upon you, and then was fulfilled that which is written, "My beloved did eat and drink, and was enlarged and became fat, and kicked."
The Scripture quote is from Deuteronomy 32:15, and it basically gives away the chapter. Clement is saying that at some point, probably recently, Corinth fell away from all the grand things Clement described in the first two chapters. He says that because they became "enlarged and fat," there were wars among them, which resulted in "the worthless rose up against the honoured, those of no reputation against such as were renowned, the foolish against the wise, the young against those advanced in years."
We will see as we go on that this is the problem he was writing about. Some elders were removed from their position in the Corinthian church not because of fault or sin, but because of rebellion and envy. In this third chapter, we find out that it was instigated by young men against older and wiser men. Clement will focus on the pride and envy that led to this throughout the rest of the letter.
First Clement is full of appeals to examples in the Old Testament. Clement begins with Cain and Abel. Here in chapter 4, he points out that Cain was upset because God showed Abel favor but rejected Cain's sacrifice. Clement concludes, "You see, brothers, how envy and jealousy let to the murder of a brother."
As an important insert, Clement quotes Genesis 4:7 at the beginning of this chapter. In that verse, God tells Cain that he will be accepted if he does what is right. 1 John 3:12 agrees with this, saying that Cain killed his brother because "his own works were evil and his brother's righteous." Evangelicals today focus on the difference between Cain and Abel's sacrifices, but neither the Scriptures nor the fathers do so. Cain's sacrifice was not rejected because it was bloodless, but because Cain's deeds were evil. As Genesis 4:7 puts it, sin was crouching at his door, and he needed to overcome it.
Throughout the Old Testament, we see that the righteousness of the one who offers purifies the sacrifice, more than the sacrifice purifies the offerer. This comes up very often. Isaiah 1 is perhaps the best example. God spends five verses complaining about the offensiveness of the Israelite sacrifices and feasts. He referred to them as Sodom rather than Israel in verse 10. Then in verses 16-17, he tells them what he wants instead: "Put away the evil of your deeds ... Learn to do well."
This is the same thing David knew when he wrote Psalm 51. God does not desire sacrifice. He wants a "broken heart and a broken and contrite spirit." Only after providing that broken heart and spirit does David say he will offer sacrifice. As Jesus said, do not try to offer a sacrifice while your brother has something against you, or as Samuel told Saul, "Does the Lord have as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifice as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams."
This remains true today. Jesus gave the greatest sacrifice of all for us, but it so that we would obey (Tit. 2:11-14; Rom. 14:9; 2 Cor. 5:15; Rom. 8:3-4). It is not that we cannot appeal to his sacrifice when we sin (1 Jn. 1:7-2:2), but disregard for the Lord's commands is no more acceptable under the New Covenant than under the Old. "God is not mocked," Says the apostle (Gal. 6:7). In fact, sinning under the New Covenant is much worse because we have been given much more! God once winked at sin, but now he is commanding everyone to repent (Acts 17:30). "To whom much is given," Jesus said, "much will be required" (Luke 12:48).
After discussing Cain and Abel, Clement lists five other events inspired by envy:
Chapter 5 continues chapter 4 with examples from Clement's time, specifically the apostles Paul and Peter. It is fair to regard Peter and Paul as the founders of Rome despite Protestant objections. Yes, there were Christians there before Paul or Peter were there, but when Paul writes to Rome, unlike his other letters, he does not call them a church, but to "all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints" (Rom. 1:7).
The first churches were founded by apostles. Yes, there were Christians in Rome, but Paul and Peter shaped them into an apostolic church. (Both history and the Bible suggest Peter was in Rome. "Your elect sister in Babylon," mentioned in 1 Peter 5:13 is an obvious symbolic reference to Rome. Only those who fear the arguments of the Roman Catholic Church disagree. If we are going to disagree with the claim that the Roman bishop has "full, supreme, and universal authority over the whole Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 882), we ought to disagree with facts, not wishful thinking. Peter was definitely in Rome.
That said, in chapter 5, Clement says that it is envy and jealousy that led to the sufferings and martyrdom of Peter and Paul.
Another interesting side note is that Clement says that Paul preached "both in the East and in the West." Not everyone accepts that Paul had a missionary journey west of Rome, and even to Britain, after his captivity at the end of Acts, but the early father seem to have believed that across the board. I love Clement's description of this: "... having taught righteousness to the whole world and come to the extreme limit of the West ..."
One again, grace and peace to all of you who love the Lord Jesus Christ in truth!
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