Awhile back, as part of my Unschooled Master of Theology Program I embarked on a long desired task of reading the entire corpus of the Church Fathers. All 37 volumes.
As of today, I finished the first letter in the series, 1 Clement to the Corinthians. Although so far the extra biblical documents have been pretty drab and uneventful, at least 1 Clement is not as entirely devoid of purpose as say the Didache was. It was more like the Book of Enoch, in it had several interesting points, but overall was utterly and fitfully boring.
Despite this, let’s jump in and see what’s going on in the first century….
The Accordance Module
I first wanted to take a moment to talk about the format I’m using for the Church Fathers. I’m using the Accordance module, which I have to say (though I don’t want to give them too much credit) is an exceptionally well done module. The formatting is really clear and consistent and the hyperlinks are the best. It is really easy to see at a glance what passage is being referenced in line, or I can quickly jump to the footnotes and view the bible text directly. This is much improved from the free version available on the Word Bible Software, which has terrible formatting and the references and footnotes use roman numerals, which is nearly impossible to use (though, it is free, and I paid $60 for the Accordance version on sale, which I think is worth the price. I would say the regular price of $130 is way too much).
Unfortunately, on this trip to Eden I had trouble with the Accordance program. Just before leaving on Sunday it tried to do an update and, of course, it had problems. It would crash unexpectedly and I had very little time to try and troubleshoot.
So, by the time I was out on the lake (with no internet connection) every time I tried to run a Research search (basically searching the entire library) it would immediately crash. Once back in town (a week later), I was able to reload and it now seems to be working, but what a complete pain.
I swear, if I had known it would be like this before I invested in Accordance, I would never have done it. I certainly would not do it again. It’s just too much trouble for what it’s worth! And I don’t think Logos would be any different. It certainly wouldn’t cost any less.
Dividing Up the Nations
An interesting idea I heard first from the people at the Bible Project, then from Michael Heiser himself, was that God, at some point, divided up rulership over the earth between the angels, appointing an angel over each country or people group.
This idea is also at least hinted at in Daniel 10:12ff, with the Prince of Persia and the Prince of Greece and one of the chief princes (meaning there are more than one), Michael, who is also the Prince of the Jews (vs.21).
But, then, as I’m reading 1 Clement, I stumble onto this verse: “When the Most High divided the nations, when He scattered the sons of Adam, He fixed the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God. His people Jacob became the portion of the Lord, and Israel the lot of His inheritance.” This, of course, unbeknownst to me is a quote from Deuteronomy 32:8-9.
I find it fascinating this fact is not more well known or discussed in evangelical circles. It’s in the Old Testament!
When I was coming up in the evangelical church (Southern Baptist, with a slight lean toward fundamental Baptist), there was little talk of angels much at all, let alone that somehow the entire world had been divided up and deeded to particular angels, with God (presumably the Father) getting possession of the Nation of Israel.
Was this to downplay the Jewish importance in modern theology and eschatology? Was it to solidify replacement theology and replace God’s promise to the Jew with a promise to the Church?
Following the LXX?
A little later, in chapter XXXIV, I find this quote: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which He hath prepared for them that wait for Him.”
This didn’t read right. Shouldn’t it be “prepared for those who love Him?” A quick glance at 1 Corinthians 2:9 shows just that. But, Paul, in this letter, is quoting Isaiah 64:4, but we find it is not a direct quote, nor is it a closely paraphrased reference. In fact, it is a very loosely interpreted rephrasing of Isaiah 64:4, if it is quoting this verse at all. The one connecting word connecting Clement to the LXX is “waiting” instead of “love.” But what’s really fascinating in this instance, the Hebrew Masoretic uses the word “waiting” also.
So, the question then needs to be asked. What was Paul quoting from? If his quote is so different from either the the Masoretic or the LXX, what then is he quoting from?
Clement’s View of Inspiration
It was interesting to find this in Clement’s chapter XLV. “Ye are fond of contention, brethren, and full of zeal about things which do not pertain to salvation. Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit.”
Not only were the Corinthians distracted by non-essential doctrines (that which does not pertain to salvation), so very much like the church today, but Clement viewed the Scriptures as not only something from which we could find answers (about salvation), but he considered them the “true utterances of the Holy Spirit.”
I find it convincing (and this is why I wanted to take on the entire corpus of the Church Fathers to begin with) that such doctrines, which are either controversial or outright discredited today, were firmly established as far back as the first century.
Salvation through…Say that Again?
Of course, orthodox doctrine is not the only kind of beliefs one finds in this letter. In Chapter L we find Clement making this comment, “if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love, that so through love our sins may be forgiven us.”
Someone is off and it’s either modern Christology and soteriology or its Clement.
Did Clement genuinely believe our sins were forgiven by the love we express toward each other? That, honestly, sounds a lot like the modern, organized church today. Love and acceptance and compromise and tolerance over everything else. No judgment. No formation of right doctrine. Nothing trumps love.
But, this is not what the bible actually says (or, at least, my understanding of it). Romans 10:9 is pretty clear and direct, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
It does not say if you love your brother you will be saved. Or, if you love your parents you’ll be saved. Or, if you love your neighbor, you’ll be saved. It is the public confession of Jesus and the genuine belief that God raised him from the dead that brings about your salvation. Paul reiterates this, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7) and likewise in Colossians 1:14.
Citing Extra Biblical Sources
I don’t know what it is about the early first century church and their proclivity in citing extra biblical sources and sometimes what our modern generation has decided as sources that are heretical.
Clement has no problem in Chapter LV in quoting Judith. To be honest, I had no idea what book that was or where it was from. I had to look it up. It turns out it is a extra biblical book which is included in the LXX, part of the Apocrypha, and talks of the Jewish widow, Judith, who seductively destroys an Assyrian general and saves Israel from oppression (what is with everyone wanting to put a foot on the throat of the Jews)?
Though not as weighty as say James’ use of the Book of Enoch or the Assumption of Moses, the idea that someone writing as early as the first century would quickly refer to such a book, does lend it credibility. I suppose I will have to add the Apocrypha to my reading list after the Church Fathers (scheduled to be finished three lifetimes from now).
Church Attendance Required for Salvation?
Lastly, I wanted to point out the curious remark Clement makes in Chapter LVII. He states, “For it is better for you that ye should occupy a humble but honorable place in the flock of Christ, than that, being highly exalted, ye should be cast out from the hope of His people.”
So, does that mean Clement (like most modern evangelical Christians believe) if you don’t attend church services you are “cast out from the hope of his people?”
Since the context of this quote was causing issues for the elders, does that mean if you go against an elder, you can lose your salvation? If excommunicated (count 1 for myself already), does that mean you lose all hope?
I remember a fellow believer stopping by my place of work several years ago and she inquired about my absence at the local church we’d both been attending previously. I shared with her how conflicted I was between what the bible says the church should be doing and how it should function and how it actually functions in this day and age. Her response was, “Well, where are you going now?” (like you can “go” to church). I responded, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Her aghast was palpable. “You can’t do that. You’ll lose your salvation if you stop going to church! You’ll become apostate!”
It’s an interesting idea. A fearful one to be sure. In fact, my absence from the so-called local assembly has only invigorated my desire and faith and love for the God of my hope. In fact, I have, by faith, answered and am answering the call to isolation, to contemplation, in the fashion I can best find in the modern world (monasteries don’t want a 45 year old diabetic and why should they as they die on the vine). But, even these are too populated for my tastes and conviction.
In the end, Christ Jesus will judge both the living and the dead. Nothing will be hidden. In fact, all will be revealed. I look forward to the turning over of the stone of human history, laying bare the iniquity of us all.
I embrace the judgment to come.
Would I recommend 1 Clement? I don’t know. If you are studying the first century church, it would definitely be a good source to find references to a few essential and maybe not-so-essential but equally fascinating doctrines.
It also illustrates how similar we are to the first century, how we are so preoccupied so often with the same trivial topics and we keep going around and around on the same circuit expecting different results. But, of course, this time around will be different. Because it’s me and this is the modern age and we’re smarter and braver and more equitable and can see so much clearer than those monkeys back in the first century.
Okay. Keep feeding yourself that line.
As for me, I’m thankful I live in this world at this time in the history of the human race. Technology is unbelievably impressive, and the signs the bible spells out on what will declare the end seem now to be fulfilled. Yes, that has been the same statement since the beginning, too (will we never learn?).
I, for one, do wish the end would come. I hope and pray that I’m not only granted admittance into eternity, but that I get a nice research associate job or librarian position in the afterlife. I would love to spend the rest of timeless eternity exploring all that has ever been written, in human history and in any other histories that God might have created (such as the story of the Angels’ origins and why the universe is so inexplicably massive).
At this point, I not only recommend 1 Clement, but I highly encourage others to join me in reading all 37 volumes of the Church Fathers, if for no other reason than to discover for yourself how, despite such a great expanse of time between us, we are all human after all.
Until my next review….
Please consider supporting my writing, my unschooled studies, and my hermitic lifestyle by purchasing one or more of my books. I’m not supported by academia or have a lucrative corporate job – I’m just a mystical modern-day hermit trying to live out the life I believe God has called me to. So, any support you choose to provide is GREATLY appreciated.
Excerpt from Sacred the Circle:
There was a knock at the door.
Campbell got up from the chair and crossed the small distance so he could open it.
A young man stood in the doorway, probably in his early twenties.
Campbell could tell he looked a little disheveled.
He had deep rings around his eyes, as if he hadn’t been sleeping much, and he kept checking the hallway in both directions, as if half expecting someone to be stalking him.
“Hey,” Campbell said.
The kid was stumbling over his own words.
Campbell leaned out into the hallway, checking to make sure there was no one else listening.
This guy wasn’t the only one who was becoming paranoid.
There were two students hanging out at the foyer, near the stairs, but the rest of the floor was clear.
“I’m sorry,” the kid said. “Must be the wrong place. I’m mistaken.”
He started to leave.
“Wait,” Campbell said, putting a hand out. “Hold on a second.”
The kid paused.
“What’s your name?”
He fidgeted with his collar.
“I know it sounds crazy, but – ”
“You’re not crazy, Lloyd,” Campbell said, grinning.
“Did you – ? ”
The kid paused, as if unsure if he should continue.
He looked back toward the stairs, then at Campbell.
“Did you know I was coming?” he finally asked. “I mean, that’s not possible, but, were you expecting me?”
Campbell chuckled to himself.
“What’s so funny?” Lloyd asked.
“Well – ”
Campbell pushed the door open all the way so Lloyd could see inside his dorm room.
The entire room was full of them, students, non-students, ranging from what looked like eighteen to even a few middle-aged men, scattered about the room, sitting wherever they could find a comfortable spot.
Lloyd’s mouth dropped open.
“I wasn’t really expecting them, either,” Campbell said. “So, I hope you don’t hold it against me when I tell you, I had no idea you’d be showing up here. Do you care to join us, anyway?”
Buy my book Sacred the Circle to find out what these men are hearing from the supernatural realm. Will they answer the questions tugging at them? What are the visions saying? Who are the Multitude? Why are all these men being brought together? By whom? And why, above all else, are they being convicted….to pray?
But, trust me when I say, you’ll be white knuckling this one with every turn of the page!