second clement apostolic fathers gospel thomas

I’m reading through The Apostolic Fathers at the moment, a collection of Christian writings which date roughly from the late first century to the middle of the second century. I have previously commented on the subject of “mutual submission” in First Clement; today I’m looking at “gender equality” in Second Clement. But first, a bit of background information on the letter.

Second Clement is a sermon in the form of a letter. Dated at around 140-160 AD, it is “the oldest surviving complete Christian sermon outside of the New Testament.”[1]

I was inspired by the content of Second Clement and found most of the teaching sound and timeless. However, its use was not widespread in the Early Church. Eusebius, the fourth-century church historian, comments on this and writes, “But it must be observed also that there is said to be a second epistle of Clement. But we do not know that this is recognized, like the former [First Clement], for we do not find that the ancients have made any use of it.” (Church History 3.38.4)[2] It’s not known why Second Clement became connected with First Clement as the two works are dissimilar in style and content, and were certainly written by different authors. It is speculated, however, that both letters were originally found together in Corinth.[3]

The anonymous author of Second Clement alludes to numerous verses found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and quotes many sayings from Jesus found in these gospels (e.g. Mark 2:17; Matt. 6:24; 7:21; 10:32; 16:26; Luke 16:10-12, etc). The author also seems to draw on material from 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Hebrews and 1 Peter, and he quotes a few verses from the Old Testament. He, or she, also uses texts taken from the apocryphal Gospel according to the Egyptians which does not survive.[4] It is thought that the following verses from chapter 12 of Second Clement quote and comment on a text taken from this Egyptian gospel.[5]

Let us wait, therefore, hour by hour for the kingdom of God with love and righteousness, since we do not know the day of God’s appearing. For the Lord himself, when he was asked by someone when his kingdom was going to come, said: “When the two shall be one, and the outside like the inside, and the male with the female, neither male nor female.” Now “the two are one” when we speak the truth among ourselves and there is one soul in two bodies without deception [or, without hypocrisy]. And by “the outside like the inside” he means this: “the inside” signifies the soul, while “the outside” signifies the body. Therefore just as your body is visible, so also let your soul be evident in good works. And by “the male with the female, neither male nor female” he means this: that when a brother sees a sister, he should not think of her as female, nor should she think of him as male. When you do these things, he says, the kingdom of God will come.
2 Clement chapter 12, taken from The Apostolic Fathers, The Greek Texts and English Translations (3rd edition) edited and translated by Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2007), 153.

I’m not exactly sure what to make of this particular passage in Second Clement. The teaching on gender equality is remarkable: “gender neutrality” might be a better description.

The fact that the author quotes verses from a lost apocryphal work here, and not from the Bible, does not help the case of so-called “biblical equality”.  Nor does the fact that the Gospel of Thomas (verse 22), which quotes the same passage from the Egyptian Gospel, was favoured by heterodox Gnostic Christians. However, unlike the Gospel of Thomas, the Christology of 2 Clement is sound.

Could there be any truth in this passage from 2 Clement? Is authenticity, transparency and no hint of gender discrimination in the body of Christ needed before the kingdom comes in its fullness?

Perhaps chapter 12 of Second Clement is simply evidence of a diversity of thinking on the place of women in the Post-Apostolic church. A comparison of First and Second Clement shows this diversity. The author of 1 Clement addressed his letter specifically to men, while the author of 2 Clement addresses both men and women; towards the end of 2 Clement this becomes explicit as both “brothers and sisters” (adelphoi kai adelphai) are implored to heed the same instructions (19:1; 20:2). 1 Clement implies that only men could be leaders in the church. 2 Clement implies that gender discrimination has no place in the body of Christ.

I do not regard Second Clement as Holy Scripture, but it is worth reading for its rich, high Christology and because it shows that in the early church, just as today, there were a variety of views on the place of women in the church.

[Older English translations of 2 Clement can be read online here.]


[1] The Apostolic Fathers, The Greek Texts and English Translations (3rd edition) edited and translated by Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2007), 132.

[2] Perhaps the use of 2 Clement was not widespread because its message of gender equality was unacceptable to the predominantly male church leaders, and inconsistent with the low view of women which was entrenched in broader society. [Here are some quotes from past Christian leaders which show their low view of women.]

[3] Second Clement survives alongside First Clement (and other writings) in two Greek manuscripts: Codex Alexandrinus (fifth century) and Codex Hiersolymitanus (AD 1056), and in a Syriac translation collated with a New Testament manuscript dated AD 1169-1170.

[4] Two ancient works are called by the name The Gospel of the Egyptians. The one quoted in both Second Clement and the Gospel of Thomas was originally written in Greek, and should not be confused with the one originally written in Syriac.

The Gospel of the Egyptians was “written in Greek sometime after AD 150 and accepted as canonical in Egypt, its purpose was to promote doctrines held by the Encratites (such as rejection of marriage). Only a few fragments of the gospel have been preserved, chiefly by Clement of Alexandria [Stromata III. vi. 45; ix. 66; xiii. 92] . . . These sayings clearly demand sexual asceticism and the elimination of the sexual differences between male and female, a doctrine that is presented in other Gnostic writings from Egypt (see, e.g. Logia [i.e. sayings] 37 and 114 of the Gospel of Thomas.)  Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), vii.

[5] Chapter 12, and other passages, help to set the date of Second Clement at 140-160 AD, “for the quotation from the Apocryphal Gospel would not have been made after the four gospels of the New Testament obtained exclusive authority-towards the close of the second century” From Vol. VII., p. 515 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. Furthermore, the author seems unaware of the complex Gnostic systems that became a huge threat to the church in the latter half of the second century. The absence of references to these heretical Gnostic systems also helps to date the letter. Some of Second Clement, however, especially the emphasis on the deity of Jesus (1:1) and the resurrection and judgement (9:1-5) seems to be a response to early Gnostic influences (10:5). Michael Holmes, Apostolic Fathers, 132. Kirsopp Lakes states that “The main object of the writer is to inculcate a high Christology, a pure life, and a belief in the resurrection of the flesh.” The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. 1, (London, 1912), 125-127.

Further reading on 2 Clement here.

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