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Interview: Jacob Cerone Translates Harnack’s 1 Clement

In the following interview, Jacob Cerone discusses his recent translation of Adolf von Harnack’s work on 1 Clement. This book is an invaluable addition to Early Church studies as well as another window into the scholarship and teaching of Harnack himself. We hope you enjoy the intervew below, and make sure to get a copy of Cerone’s book here.

What is your background and how has it prepared you for translation work such as this?

I’m a doctoral candidate working on 1 Clement, living in Germany, raising two bilingual children, and learning German as a second language by immersion, but I have always had a passion for languages and enabling others to learn more. In Bible college I began tutoring other students in biblical Greek and added Hebrew tutoring in seminary. I also taught a few evening courses in the biblical languages in my local church back in North Carolina, and had the opportunity to teach several sessions of Greek I and II at my seminary. Translating German and making German works more accessible to English speakers was just a natural next step for me.

Why Harnack’s work on 1 Clement, versus other work by Harnack?

Harnack is one of a few scholars who has written a “commentary”—more of an overview or handbook—on 1 Clement. Because of the relative scarcity of material written on 1 Clement, in comparison to Pauline studies for instance, interacting with Harnack is a must for anyone studying 1 Clement.

Additionally, if you want to understand either the early history of the church and its later developments, or Harnack’s presentation of the history of the early church and its later developments in his other works, one must be familiar with this work.

Harnack viewed 1 Clement as one of the most important documents outside of the New Testament canon for understanding the history and development of the early church, and the missing link between the early church depicted in the writings of the New Testament and its metamorphosis into the early Catholic Church.

He writes:

From the New Testament writings, one cannot grasp the essence and spiritual structure of the great church of the Greeks and Romans, how it was formed in the first century and how it became the mother of all churches—one can only approach it tentatively and with uncertainty from here—however, in 1 Clement, the oldest church of the Gentiles presents itself in spirit and essence, and one can by means of simple analysis both ascertain its elements and foresee its continued development into the Catholic Church (3).

What is the significance of 1 Clement for biblical studies, for the church, and for the individual believer?

1 Clement is one of the oldest, surviving writings from early Christianity and was likely even written before some of the canonical New Testament texts. It was also accepted in some churches as canonical, which is evidenced by its inclusion in codex Alexandrinus and its public reading in the Corinthian church long after it was sent. These facts alone make 1 Clement an important source for early church history and for biblical studies.

But the content of the epistle is also important for biblical studies and for the church. 1 Clement figures prominently in discussions of early ecclesiology. After all, in 1 Clement we find the Roman church admonishing the Corinthian church for unjustly deposing their bishops and replacing them with others. The Roman church instructs the Corinthians that God appointed Christ, and Christ the apostles, and the apostles appointed other worthy men, and those appointed by the apostles did likewise in agreement with the congregation (1 Clem 44). Thus, the Corinthian congregation acted against the will of God by deposing those who had faithfully executed their office. Any discussion of the ecclesiology of the early church must wrestle with this epistle.

Clement also has a great deal to teach us about the will of God. The epistle is filled with language about doing what is pleasing to God, doing what is good in his sight, acting in accordance with his will, living in harmony and order with one another.  

In order to enlighten the Corinthians about the will of God, however, 1 Clement does not bring us a new revelation from God. Instead, even though he claims to write in the Spirit, he relies entirely upon the Scriptures of the Old Testament (not on his own authority) and applies those Scriptures to the current dispute in Corinth. In fact, a quarter of the letter is composed of citations from the Greek Old Testament. God’s word to his people defined the Christian congregations. Harnack writes, “The Christianity of 1 Clement recognizes its complete and sufficient God-given foundation in the OT and therefore is nothing other than the religion of this book” (54). A little later Harnack adds, “It is a religion of the book; it is a religion of the law; its valuable contents are God’s commandments (δικαιώματα καὶ προστάγματα τοῦ θεοῦ), in which his essence and his will are made evident” (57). Clement reminds us that the will of God for his people’s lives has been plainly revealed in the Scriptures. 

For those who do not know, who is Harnack and what is the significance of his published work for scholarship?

Harnack (1851–1930) was one of the most prolific and prominent scholars of his time. He had over 90 publications by the time he was 27 years old and his influence stretched well beyond Germany. His major contributions to scholarship include The History of DogmaWhat is Christianity?, and New Testament Studies. These works were not only translated into English, but were also translated into a number of other languages. He attracted students from all over the world, including the United States, and his influence within the theological world was so great that Harvard University extended him a professorship.

Even today Harnack’s work on the Apostolic Fathers in general and on 1 Clement in particular can be felt. He often taught 1 Clement in his church history seminars and lectured on the letter for an hour during the winter semester of 1928/1929. As a result, his students took up his call to investigate the letter in greater detail and they published a significant portion of the literature on 1 Clement that continues to shape the discussion 100 years later. Even if one fundamentally disagrees with Harnack’s judgments on 1 Clement, they cannot ignore him or the effect he has had and continues to have on the research of this fascinating and essential work of Christian antiquity.

Your published translation includes a number of articles on 1 Clement written by Harnack; what is the significance of these, and did any one of them standout to you in particular?

Yes, in this work I have included the main text by Harnack published in 1929, which is his farewell gift to his students, as well as four additional articles, which represent the previous work Harnack conducted on 1 Clement that he published in academic journals. 

While each of these articles has value in their own right, especially for Clement scholars, the first two essays (both published within months of one another in 1894) on the Latin translation of 1 Clement stood out in particular. They focus on the “recent” discovery (1893) and publication of a manuscript that contains a Latin translation of 1 Clement. This discovery demanded a reevaluation of the transmission of the letter and the text-critical value of the various witnesses to 1 Clement. Here, Harnack’s work as a brilliant philologist shines through as he demonstrates that this eleventh century manuscript bears witness to a 2nd–3rd century translation. He even discovers, only months after the publication of the manuscript, that its editor, Morin, overlooked intentional changes to the translation: instead of praying that Christians would submit to their secular rulers, a copyist inverted the prayer to suggest that the secular rulers should submit to the ecclesiastical rulers. Both of Harnack’s judgments on the Latin translation have stood the test of time and remain unchallenged in contemporary research.

The third essay represents an earlier form of the main work. Much of the material is taken over from it word-for-word in Harnack’s latter and final work on 1 Clement, but provides the reader with a chance to explore potential developments in his thought. 

The final essay represents the first in-depth analysis of “servant of God” (παῖς θεοῦ) as an epithet for Christ and concludes that it is an early title for Christ that eventually fell out of use because Christians became uncomfortable with referring to Christ as the “servant” of God. 

What is one interesting thing you discovered while working on the Harnack translation?

I found the contrast between Harnack’s main work on Clement and the four articles included at the end of the volume to be fascinating. 

His main work was written as a final gift to the students of his church history seminar in order to set them on the path to a proper understanding of church history. It is an informed, concise, no-nonsense work that meets the needs of his readers by limiting citations from the original languages and even providing a translation of all 65 chapters of 1 Clement. In short: Harnack knows his audience. But this might give the reader a false impression of his acumen. 

His earlier work on 1 Clement represented in the four additional articles immediately correct this picture. In them we find a scholar whose mastery across the disciplines of exegesis, church history, and philology borders the inhuman. Though I found myself disagreeing at points with his main work, I found myself drawn to his commitment to an intimate knowledge of both the secondary literature and the source texts of his investigations reflected in his scholarly treatments of 1 Clement in these articles.

What other projects are you working on that we should look for in the future?

I’m really excited about two projects that are in their final stages. 

The first is Daily Scriptures: 365 Readings in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, which is a selection of Old Testament passages (Hebrew OT and LXX) that have been paired with New Testament passages (Greek NT and Latin Vulgate) and arranged according to a salvation historical framework. The volume also includes glosses for infrequent vocabulary to aid readers as they seek to maintain their proficiency in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

The second project I am working on is editing an English translation of Strack-Billerbeck’s Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Mishnah, which will be published by Lexham press. We are hoping that volumes two and three will appear in November of this year. 

In addition to these projects, I am working on a translation of Knopf’s commentary on the Didache, 1 Clement, and 2 Clement for Pickwick’s “Classical Studies in the Apostolic Fathers” series.

If you are interested in reading 1 Clement in Greek, you can find it in included in Apostolic Fathers Greek Reader: Complete Edition.

Additionally, if you would like to look at a discourse analysis of Greek and Hebrew versions of Jonah, check out Into the Deep: A Comparative Discourse Analysis of the Masoretic and Septuagint Versions of Jonah.


Support rigorous translation work in biblical studies and get your copy today of Cerone’s The Letter of the Roman Church to the Corinthian Church from the Era of Domitian: 1 Clement: With a Collection of Articles on 1 Clement.

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Written by
Tavis Bohlinger

Dr. Tavis Bohlinger is the editor of Word by Word's Lecture Hall and Creative Director at Reformation Heritage Books. He holds a PhD from Durham University and writes across multiple genres, including academia, poetry, and screenwriting. He lives in Grand Rapids with his wife and three children.

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Written by Tavis Bohlinger