Clement of Rome’s First Epistle to the Corinthians is a supremely valuable historical document. It is one of the very few Christian texts that have survived from the first century. The early Christians took utmost care to preserve the letter, copying it out by hand and even risking their lives in order to hide it from persecutors. Some local churches kept it for proclamation as part of the New Testament.
The Church Fathers indicated that Clement was a direct disciple of the Saints Peter and Paul. Modern scholars, however, called this into question, arguing that he lived and wrote many decades after the martyrdom of the Apostles.
Msgr. Thomas Herron’s painstaking research led him to conclude that the Epistle to the Corinthians was composed very early indeed — before 70 A.D. He was not the first scholar to argue for an early date, but he was the first to undertake a thorough study of the matter. His methods are rigorous. His writing is clear and honest. His tone is modest.
Nevertheless, his conclusions are stunning. He argues persuasively for the earlier dates and then proceeds to sketch out the significance of the early dating for history, theology, and apologetics.
Clement’s Epistle stands as an early example of the exercise of hierarchical — and Roman — authority in the Church. It is a disciplinary letter addressed with confident authority to a distant church.
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