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  • Polycarp's Use of 1 Clement:An Assumption Reconsidered
  • Kenneth Berding (bio)

Is Polycarp of Smyrna "particularly familiar" with 1 Clement? Does he have "Clement"'s letter in his "mind's eye" when he writes? Does he have it memorized? Is Polycarp's dependence upon 1 Clement greater than his dependence upon other literature he employs in his letter(s) to the Philippians (Polyc. Phil.)?1

If one were to survey introductions to Polyc. Phil., one might be left with the impression that the answer to each of these questions is yes. But this is one assertion that unfortunately has been perpetuated during the past few generations that stands in need of correction, particularly since it has functioned as an assumption for those entering into the study of Polycarp's letter. The purpose of this article is to clear up a misunderstanding concerning Polycarp's literary relationship to 1 Clement and to locate Polycarp's use of 1 Clement in proper relationship to the other writings Polycarp employs. It will be argued that although Polycarp knows and uses 1 Clement—as he does a number of other writings—Polycarp's dependence upon 1 Clement is less pronounced than is his dependence upon the letters of Paul (especially) and 1 Peter (secondarily). [End Page 127]

Examples of the Misunderstanding in Secondary Literature

There will be no attempt here to trace every point at which this misunderstanding has appeared, but a few of the high points (or low points, as the case may be) of this misunderstanding in the secondary literature will be cited so as to demonstrate the need for a reorientation of our understanding of Polycarp's literary relationship to 1 Clement.

Otto Bardenhewer comments that Polycarp can almost see "Clement"'s letter in his internal eyes when writing his own letter: "Polykarpus hat bei Abfassung seines Philipperbriefes unverkennbar den Brief des hl. Klemens vor Augen gehabt und stillschweigend von demselben Gebrauch gemacht."2 B. H. Streeter takes it further: "Polycarp, again, must have known 1 Clement by heart." A few years later Streeter adds: "In Smyrna by a.d. 115, Polycarp is more influenced by the language of Clement than by any book of the New Testament, except perhaps 1 Peter."3 In apparent dependence upon Streeter's comment in The Four Gospels, Robert Grant writes: ". . . Polycarp knows the letter of the Romans to the Corinthian church (1 Clement) almost 'by heart,' and alludes to it throughout his own writing." And again some years later: ". . . Polycarp of Smyrna knew it practically by heart."4 William Schoedel makes the following comment: "Polycarp seems to have been particularly familiar with 1 Clement."5 Paul Hartog writes: "Polycarp's use of 1 Clement has been well-established. Grant comments that he 'knew it practically by heart.'" And a little later in the same monograph: "As we have noted, Polycarp knew 1 Clement 'almost by heart.'"6 Michael Holmes echoes Schoedel's sentiment (using the modifier "particularly familiar") and prioritizes 1 Clement along with 1 Peter above the letters of Paul: "As for early Christian writings, Polycarp seems to be particularly familiar with 1 Peter and 1 Clement and also uses 1 Corinthians and Ephesians."7 [End Page 128]

Is Polycarp "particularly familiar" with 1 Clement, moreso than with the letters of Paul? Taking it a step further, has 1 Clement been virtually memorized by Polycarp? Finally, does Polycarp treat 1 Clement on the same authoritative level as other writings he cites? We will deal with each of these questions in turn.


There can be little doubt that Polycarp knew 1 Clement. In Polyc. Phil. 2.3, it is probable that Polycarp is aware of 1 Clem. 13.1-2, at least regarding the fact that "Clement" had written a similar set of maxims and an introductory formula, even if Polycarp's selection of maxims and the form he actually employs differs significantly from what "Clement" writes (see actual citation below). Moreover, in Polyc. Phil. 4.2-3, there are probable connections of some sort to 1 Clem. 1.3, to 1 Clem. 21.6, and to 1 Clem. 21.3 (plus a possible allusion to 1 Clem. 41.2 tucked in...


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