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The Letter of 2 Clement

In parts of early Christianity, down to at least the fifth century, the book known as 2 Clement was regarded as Scripture. It is included, along with 1 Clement, as one of the books of the New Testament in the fifth-century codex Alexandrinus. The traditional title of the book (“The Second Letter of Clement”) is a misnomer: the book was not produced by the author of 1 Clement (as is evident on stylistic grounds) and is not a letter but a sermon (see 19:1). It appears to have been delivered to an actual congregation; as such, it is the oldest freestanding homily to survive from early Christianity.1 The audience, and probably the author, were former pagans who had converted to Christianity (see 2:6). Based initially on an interpretation of Isaiah 54:1, the homily largely consists of exhortations backed up by sayings of Jesus, passages from the Old Testament, and writings of the apostles. One of the author’s sources appears to have been a Gnostic Gospel, possibly the Gospel of Thomas (12:2). Other sources that he quotes are no longer available to us, including one that contains an intriguing interchange be­ tween Peter and Jesus (5:2–4). The author uses these sacred texts to urge his audience to repent and return to upright moral behavior in light of the coming day of judgment. In the course of his exhortation he stresses the reality of the future resurrection of the flesh and attacks those who deny it (8:1). His overarching points are that followers of Christ should recognize the enormous debt they owe to God for the salvation he has wrought. In response, they should repent of their sins, recognize that their new lives cannot be tied to this sinful world in which they temporarily reside as aliens, and commit themselves to good works and self-control in light of the judgment of God that is sure to come. It is difficult to say when, exactly, this sermon was written, but scholars usually date it to the mid-second century, and locate its anonymous author possibly in Corinth or Alexandria.

1 Outside, that is, of the New Testament, where several sermons can be found in the books of Acts (e.g., chaps. 2 and 13), and which includes the book of Hebrews, thought by some scholars to be an early Christian homily.

Translation by Bart D. Ehrman, in The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 1 (Loeb Classical Library; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003); used with permission.

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