Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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I’m reading through The Apostolic Fathers at the moment, a collection of Christian writings that 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.

2 Clement: A Second-Century Sermon-Letter

Second Clement is a sermon in the form of a letter. Dated to 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.

Its use, however, 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 Gospel of the Egyptians and Second Clement

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). He or she also seems to draw on material from 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Hebrews and 1 Peter, and quotes a few verses from the Old Testament.

Furthermore, the author 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.

Various Views on the Place and Status of Women

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. Quotations from past Christian leaders that show their low view of women are here: https://margmowczko.com/misogynist-quotes-from-church-fathers/

[3] Second Clement survives alongside First Clement (and other writings) in two Greek manuscripts: Codex Alexandrinus (fifth century) and Codex Hiersolymitanus (AD 1056), as well as 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). See 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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Related Articles

Mutual Submission in First Clement
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A Thrill of Hope: Jesus’ First and Second Advents

8 thoughts on “Gender Equality in Second Clement

  1. Very interesting material, Marg.
    Thanks for bringing 2 Clement to our attention.

  2. This is very interesting! I wonder how much the “don’t think of a brother as male/a sister as female” is related to the glorification of celibacy that occurred in the early church. Any thoughts on that?

  3. Anne, my pleasure.

    Kristen, it might have something to do with it, but it doesn’t seem to be the author’s concern. He doesn’t mention virginity or celibacy, but then again he doesn’t mention marriage either.
    The Egyptian Gospel, however, where the “saying of Jesus” in 2 Clement 12 may have come from, did promote celibacy.

  4. Thanks for bringing this forward, Marg. The letter reminds me of the Gospel of Thomas and gender roles, tho this seems even more egal. I wonder if it was connected to a Gnostic sect? If you know, I’d love to hear.

  5. I don’t think the letter was connected with Gnosticism as the writer has beliefs that are clearly different to Gnostic beliefs, especially concerning the nature of Jesus Christ.

    The Christology of 2 Clement is hard to fault. So it makes me wonder whether Jesus might actually have said what is recorded in chapter 12. The author genuinely believes that s/he is quoting Jesus.

    John tells us that Jesus did many other things that were not recorded in his gospel and “If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). No doubt Jesus also said many other things too.

  6. Very interesting! I came out of Mennonite/Amish background where women were relegated to almost being the husbands servant. Ok, maybe that wasn’t strong enough. Almost relegated to being the husbands slave? To be fair, not in my lifetime because my dad left the Mennonite Church before I can remember. However, that’s what I have seen in many of the current Anabaptist lifestyles.

    The Holy Spirit is moving powerfully among these people! I have spent the last 4 years obsessed with learning and communing with the Holy Spirit, especially in Scripture. I only say this so that you understand where I am coming from with the nugget of revelation that I want to share 🙂 I really enjoy your articles and conversations in united love with God’s family.

    What I believe the Lord showed me from Paul’s word about “the one who is In Christ is a New Creation…” and “there is no longer male or female, Jew or Greek, bond or free…” is that Jesus’ New Covenant too mankind has given us the privileged ability to see each other as God sees us. Male and female = Gender, Jew and Greek = Ethnicity and Bond or free = Class. We shouldn’t focus on Gender, class or ethnicity but look for the New human/New Creation/Christ human in each other! Blessings!

    We are all re-created equal in Christ!

    1. I completely agree. While we can’t change our gender or ethnicity (class seems to be less of a consideration in many western societies), none of these things has any real significance in the New Creation.

      I love what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:15-17:

      And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly (or fleshly) point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

      Our new life in Christ trumps all external social (worldly or fleshly) distinctions.

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