The Young Against the Old

Generational Conflict in First Clement

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L. L. Welborn
  • New York, NY: 
    Fortress Academic/Lexington Books
    , March
     292 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This is a stunning piece of scholarship examining the intergenerational conflict at the Church in Corinth as expressed through 1 Clement. Welborn offers an in-depth, close reading of the language of the text itself, at times nearly word-for-word philological exegesis, positioning the conflict described in 1 Clement as a watershed moment in the history of the development of the church itself. Through this meticulous analysis of the source material, language, and demographic patterns, he provides a glimpse into Christian life in the ancient world awash in congregational discord and discourse that eventually contributed to the development of Church hierarchy.

The Young Against the Old: Generational Conflict in First Clement is clearly and concisely laid out, opening with a brief examination of the various hypotheses surrounding this epistle and the work of previous scholars in untangling its meaning. It continues in chapter 2 with a clear description of the conflict itself, noting that the “hypothesis of intergenerational conflict in the church at Corinth” has not been adequately explored (22). Then, through a masterful exegesis of the Greek, Welborn proceeds to do just that, making a powerful case for an epistle responding to social revolt within the Corinthian church of young, innovative Christians against the old and older traditional guard. Chapter 3 analyses the context in which this strife emerged, looking first at attitudes toward youth and age within extant Roman culture, Roman legal precedents, and then the demographics of Corinth itself. Welborn’s knowledge of classical texts is extensive and his description of the impact of the Roman idea of patria potestas, and the social power which a Roman father held over his sons remarkably in-depth (54-59). He positions the struggles at Corinth as part of the social world of ancient Greece and Rome and the letters of Paul as representative of “an ideology of youth in the first century A.D.” (97). In so doing, he demonstrates the persistent cultural continuity regarding rhetoric and attitudes toward age and youth from Classical Greece and Rome into the Christian era.

Chapter 4 continues the philological analysis of the letter, looking at specific rhetorical motifs employed by its writer and the ways in which the epistolary genre itself was used as a means of reinforcing the hierarchy of the Church elders (129). The author examines the structure of the letter and the many rhetorical tropes therein, demonstrating how the writer of 1 Clement brought his readers from anxiety and peril, envy and jealousy to a concord rooted in reification of the established hierarchy, a hierarchy governed by obedience to elders. Contained within this letter was a fervent warning against factionalism (150) and an exhortation to submission particularly by the younger members of the Church (159). Finally, chapter 5 discusses the nature and structure of the Church, noting that the house church (rather than the ecclesiastical buildings that we might be more familiar with today) remained the dominant organizational setting for Christians at Corinth and indeed first century Christians, in general (175). Welborn discusses the impact of this structuring and the ways in which it allowed for Greek and Roman attitudes toward the supremacy of the head of the house—imitating the Roman patron-client relationships—to dominate.

Overall this is a book of tremendous insight not only into 1 Clement, but into the world of classical literature and the extant scholarship on this particular epistle. The notes at the end of each chapter are themselves things of beauty, providing a thorough grounding in that scholarship both on 1 Clement and early church history. It is an eminently readable and erudite addition to the same.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Galina Krasskova is a PhD student in Theology at Fordham University.

Date of Review: 
October 3, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

L. L. Welborn is Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at Fordham University.


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