A lot of attention has been given lately to early “Christian” writings which were not included in the Bible. Most of these writings, these so called “lost gospels” are really not even Christian at all. Just because a document refers to Jesus in positive terms does not make it “Christian” any more than the Qur’an could be called “Christian” even though Muhammad had a lot of good things to say about Jesus.
Below, however, is a summary of a long letter by a genuine early Christian leader. Written by a church leader named Clement, it is probably the earliest Christian writing outside the New Testament. Most scholars believe Clement’s letter to the Corinthians was written in the mid-90’s AD, which is about the same time that the Gospel of John, the letters of John, and the Book of Revelation were written. Some ancient writers (Origen, Epiphanius, Jerome, Eusebius) believed that the author of this letter was the same Clement that Paul mentioned in Philippians 4:3.
According to Tertullian Clement was ordained by Peter. Irenaeus says that Clement, who “had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes.”
Clement wrote to address a recent division in the Church of Corinth in which some church members managed to overthrown their church leaders. Since Clement believed these church leaders to have been blameless in their character he sees the division as abominable, and strongly argues that those who perpetrated this deplorable situation repent and that the leaders be restored to their positions immediately.
The extended summary below follows Clement’s main argument chapter by chapter.
This summary was created by downloading Clement’s letter (which is in public domain) and carefully editing it to create a kind of “Readers Digest condensed version” which included updated language. This edited version was then further summarized in many places in order to further shorten Clement’s very long letter.
Without further ado, I give you a summary the earliest Christian writing not included in the New Testament: Clement’s letter to the Corinthians
Summary of Clement’s letter to the Corinthians
Because of the recent calamitous events, we have been slow in responding to your questions especially about the shameful sedition in your church. Anyone who has been with you for even a short time knows of your godliness, hospitality, humility, obedience to God; as well as your insatiable desire for doing good and concern for salvation of the lost.
But the honor bestowed on you led to pride from which flowed envy, strife, and sedition. The young and foolish rose up against the righteous and some were walking in their own ungodly envy, not acting like Christians.
Envy is what caused Cain to murder Abel. Envy led Joseph into slavery. Envy compelled Moses to flee from Pharaoh. Because of envy David was persecuted by Saul. In our own generation, envy caused the persecution and death of Peter and Paul, the most righteous pillars of the church. To these are added a multitude of the elect who have endured indignities and tortures. Envy has alienated wives from husbands, and strife has overthrown great cities and uprooted mighty nations.
Therefore, let us give up fruitless cares and attend to what is pleasing in God’s sight. Let us look steadfastly to the precious blood of Christ shed for our salvation and let us learn from past generations the place of repentance to all as would be converted unto Him.
Noah preached repentance and those who listened were saved. Jonah proclaimed destruction to the Ninevites but they repented and were saved. These ministers of God’s grace spoke of repentance by the Holy Spirit.
Let us, therefore, be obedient to God’s glorious will, forsaking strife and envy which lead to death. Let us steadfastly contemplate those who have ministered to his excellent glory: Enoch, being righteous in obedience was translated and did not die. Noah, being found faithful, preached regeneration to the world. Abraham was found faithful, rendering obedience to the words of God. Because of his faith and hospitality, a son was given him in his old age; and in the exercise of obedience, he offered him as a sacrifice to God.
Due to his hospitality and godliness, Lot was saved out of Sodom. Because of her faith and hospitality, Rahab was saved by concealing the spies. Let us therefore, be of humble mind, laying aside pride, foolishness, and angry feelings. For the Holy Spirit says, "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, neither let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glories, glory in the Lord.”
Be especially mindful of the words of the Lord Jesus who said,
"Be merciful, that you may obtain mercy; forgive, that it may be forgiven to you; as you do, so shall it be done unto you; as you judge, so shall you be judged; as you are kind, so shall kindness be shown to you; with what measure you mete, with the same it shall be measured to you."
By these rules let us establish ourselves in obedience to his holy words.
It is right, therefore, to obey God rather than follow those who through pride and sedition have led this detestable envious rivalry. We shall incur great danger if we yield ourselves to those who excite strife and tumults. Cleave, therefore, to those who cultivate peace with godliness, not to those who hypocritically profess to desire it.
Follow the example of Christ who is of the humble-minded, not of those who exalt themselves over his flock. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Scepter of the majesty of God, did not come in the pomp of pride or arrogance, but in a lowly condition as the Holy Spirit declares.
Let us be imitators of those who went about proclaiming the coming of Christ; like Elijah, Elisha, Ezekiel, Abraham, Job, Moses or David. Having so many great examples, let us turn again to the practice of that peace and look steadfastly to God.
The heavens and earth, the ocean and the worlds beyond; God appointed all these to exist in peace and harmony while he does good to all, but most abundantly to us though our Lord Jesus Christ to whom be glory and majesty forever and ever.
Take heed, lest his many kindnesses lead to condemnation, unless we walk worthy of him and do those things which are pleasing in his sight. Rather we should offend foolish, inconsiderate men than God. Reverence the Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood was given for us. Esteem those who have the rule over you. Honor your church leaders.
Train up young men in the fear of God. Direct your wives to do good and exhibit purity, meekness, impartiality and a command of their tongue. Let your children be partakers of Christian training; let them learn how important humility is before God and how it saves all those who walk in it. His breath is in us and he takes it when he pleases.
Consider how the Lord continually proves to us that there will be a future resurrection of which our Lord Jesus Christ was the first-fruits when he rose from the dead. Day and night declare a resurrection, as does the sowing of seed.
Having this hope, let us be bound to him who is faithful and just. Let his faith, therefore, be stirred up again within us. Let us fear him and forsake those wicked works which proceed from abominable lusts of evil deeds so that, through his mercy, we may be protected from the judgments to come.
Since we are the portion of the Holy One, let us behave in holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, impure embraces, drunkenness, seeking after change, abominable lusts, detestable adultery, and execrable pride.
Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our actions, and not our words. Let our praise be in God and not of ourselves; for God hates those that commend themselves. Arrogance and audacity belong to those that are accursed of God, but moderation, humility, and meekness belong to such as are blessed by Him.
Consider Abraham. Was he not blessed because he wrought righteousness and truth through faith; or Isaac who yielded himself as a sacrifice; or Jacob who served Laban and was given the scepter of the twelve tribes of Israel?
All these, therefore, were made great, not for their own works or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our godliness or works; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory forever and ever.
Shall we become slothful in well-doing and cease from the practice of love? God forbid! Rather let us hasten to perform every good work, for the Creator himself rejoices in his works.
He established the heavens. He divided the earth from the water. He created the animals, and above all he formed man in his own image, the most excellent of his creatures. Having therefore such an example, let us work the work of righteousness with our whole strength.
He forewarns us: "Behold, the Lord comes and his reward is before His face, to render to every man according to his work." He exhorts us that we be not lazy or slothful in any good work and that our boasting and confidence be in him.
Let us therefore cry to him earnestly that we may be made partakers of his great and glorious promises. For the Scripture says, "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."
Let us therefore earnestly strive to be found among those that wait for him, that we may share in his promised gifts.
How shall this be done? If our understanding be fixed by faith towards God; if we earnestly seek the things which are pleasing to Him; if we do the things which are in harmony with his will; and if we follow the way of truth, casting away from us all unrighteousness and iniquity, along with all covetousness, strife, evil practices, deceit, whispering, and evil-speaking, all hatred of God, pride and haughtiness, vainglory and ambition--for they that do such things are hateful to God; and not only they that do them, but also those who take pleasure in them that do them.
Let us then, act the part of soldiers. Not all are prefects nor commanders, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals. Let us take our body for an example. The very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. But all work harmoniously together for the preservation of the whole body.
Let everyone be subject to his neighbor according to the special gift bestowed upon him. Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect unto the strong. Let the rich provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor bless God for those by whom God supplies the needs. Let the wise man display his wisdom, not by mere words, but through good deeds.
It behooves us, therefore, to do all things in their proper order at stated times. God has commanded offerings to be presented and service to be performed at the appointed times. Some ministries are assigned to the high priest, others to the priests, still others to the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to laymen. Let none of you not go beyond the rule of the ministry prescribed to him.
The Lord Jesus Christ was sent forth by God and the apostles by Christ. Having therefore received their orders they went forth proclaiming the kingdom of God, being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, established in the word of God, with the full assurance of the Holy Spirit. They appointed the first-fruits of their labors to be bishops and deacons, having first tested them in the Spirit.
This is no wonder since Moses also wrote in the sacred books all the injunctions which were given him, and the other prophets followed him bearing witness with one voice to the ordinances which he had appointed.
Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate so they appointed those ministers already mentioned, and gave instructions that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry.
We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them—or appointed afterwards by other eminent men—with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. Our sin will not be small if we eject from the oversight those who have blamelessly fulfilled its duties. But we see that you have removed some honorable men of excellent and blameless behavior from the ministry.
You are fond of contention 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. Observe that nothing of an unjust or counterfeit character is written in them. There you see that the righteous, like Daniel and his three friends were persecuted only by the wicked. Exposed to such sufferings, they endured gloriously.
Let us cleave, therefore, to the righteous, since these are the elect of God. Why is there strife and divisions among you? Have we not all one God and one Christ? Is there not one Spirit of grace poured out upon us? Why do we divide and tear to pieces the members of Christ. Have we reached such a height of madness as to forget that we are members one of another?
Remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, how he said, "Woe to that man by whom offences come!" Your division has subverted the faith of many and has caused grief to us all. And still your sedition continues.
Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit he wrote to you concerning himself, Cephas, and Apollos; because even then divisions had been formed among you. It is highly disgraceful and unworthy of conduct in Christ that in the most steadfast and ancient Church of the Corinthians one or two persons should engage in sedition against its leaders. And this rumor has reached not only us, but also to non-Christians so that the name of the Lord is blasphemed while danger is also brought upon yourselves. Let us therefore, quickly put an end to this, beseeching the Lord with tears that he would mercifully restore us to brotherly love.
Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ. Love unites us to God and covers a multitude of sins. Love admits of no divisions. Love gives rise to no seditions. Without love nothing is well-pleasing to God. In love the Lord has taken us to Himself. On account of his love toward us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave his blood for us by the will of God.
Let us pray, therefore, that we may live blameless in love, free from all human partialities for one above another. Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love; that so through love our sins may be forgiven us. For it is written, "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him, and in whose mouth there is no guile" This blessedness comes upon those who have been chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Let us therefore implore forgiveness for our transgressions. Those who have been the leaders of sedition ought to have respect to the common hope. For such as live in fear and love would rather that they themselves would suffer than their neighbors. For it is better that a man should acknowledge his transgressions than that he should harden his heart, as the hearts of those were hardened who stirred up sedition against Moses, for they went down alive into Hades.
Pharaoh with his army were sunk in the depths of the Red Sea and perished for no other reason than that their foolish hearts were hardened, after so many signs and wonders had been wrought in the land of Egypt by Moses the servant of God.
You understand well the Sacred Scriptures; Call then these things to remembrance. When Moses went up into the mount forty days and forty nights, the Lord said unto him, "Moses, go down quickly for your people have committed iniquity and have made to themselves molten images.”
The Lord said to him, "Behold, it is a stiff-necked people: let me destroy them, and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make you a great and wonderful nation.” But Moses said, "Lord: pardon the sin of this people; or else blot me out of the book of the living." O marvelous love! The servant asks forgiveness for the people, or begs that he himself might be wiped out along with them.
Who among you is compassionate and full of love? Let him declare, "If on my account sedition and divisions have arisen, I will go away and do whatever the multitude commands; only let the flock of Christ live on terms of peace with the presbyters set over it." He that acts thus shall procure to himself great glory in the Lord.
Even among the heathen, many kings and princes have given themselves up to death in order that by their own blood they might deliver their fellow-citizens from destruction. Many have gone forth from their own cities so sedition might be brought to an end within them.
Many among us have given themselves up to slavery that they might ransom or provide food for others. Many women also, have performed numerous exploits. For example, the blessed Judith, when her city was besieged, exposed herself to danger and went out for the love which she had for her country, and the Lord delivered the enemy into the hands of a woman. Esther also, being perfect in faith, exposed herself to no less danger in order to deliver the twelve tribes of Israel from impending destruction.
Let us then pray for those who have fallen into sin, that they may submit, not unto us, but to the will of God. Let us receive correction on account of which no one should feel displeased. For thus says the Holy Word: "For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives."
You therefore who laid the foundation of this sedition, submit yourselves to the presbyters and receive correction so as to repent. Learn to be subject, laying aside the proud and arrogant self-confidence of your tongue. For it is better for you that you should occupy a humble but honorable place in the flock of Christ than that you should be cast out from the hope of his people.
May God who chose our Lord Jesus Christ, and us through him to be a peculiar people, grant to every soul that calls upon his holy name, faith, fear, peace, patience, long-suffering, self-control, purity, and sobriety, to the well-pleasing of our High Priest and Protector, Jesus Christ, to him be glory, and majesty, and power, and honor, both now and for evermore.
Send back speedily to us in peace our messengers to you: Claudius Ephebus and Valerius Bito, with Fortunatus: that they may announce to us the harmony we so earnestly long for and that we may the more quickly rejoice over the good order re-established among you.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you that are the called of God through Him to whom be glory, honor, power, majesty and eternal dominion, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen.