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Peter in Rome: Peter endured many labours in 1 Clement 5:4

The epistle First Clement has been traditionally ascribed to the bishop Clement of Rome near the end of Domitian’s reign (96 CE), or shortly thereafter, and was addressing a schism in the churches in Corinth. In one section of the epistle, the author rebukes the younger Corinthian Christ followers for envying their elderly Christian leaders and expounds on the harmful consequences of jealousy. Thus, Abel was murdered due to Cain’s jealousy, Jacob fled for his life due to Esau’s jealousy, Joseph was enslaved due to his brothers’ jealousy, Moses faced rebellion due to various individuals’ jealousy, and David was hunted due to king Saul’s jealousy (1 Clem 4). Turning from scriptural to contemporary examples, the author highlights how jealousy was responsible for the suffering of the Apostles Peter and Paul and the myriad of Christians who were tortured and executed by the emperor Nero in Rome (1 Clem 5-6:2).

The first question is whether all of the examples in chapters 5 and 6 were victims of Nero’s local pogrom against Christians in the city of Rome. Alternatively, Morton Smith (“The Report about Peter in I Clement V.4” New Testament Studies 7 [1960]: 86-88), Michael Goulder (“Did Peter Ever Go to Rome?” Scottish Journal of Theology 57.4 [2004]: 377-396), and Otto Zwierlein, Petrus in Rom [and New York: De Gruyter, 2009]) have argued that 1 Clement 5:4 was literarily dependent on Peter’s trials in Acts 4:1-23, 5:21-40, and 12:3-6. After all, the verse makes room for at least three labours that Peter endured, which may have occurred chronologically before Paul began his missionary activity in verses 5 to 7. Paul’s journey to the farthest ends of the West in verse 7 may also imply that Paul had reached Spain (cf. Romans 15:24) before he was eventually martyred.

On the other hand, the evidence that the writer of 1 Clement knew the book of Acts is fairly weak. It is ruled out in the most careful study of the use of Luke-Acts among second century Christian writers, Andrew Gregory’s The Reception of Luke and Acts in the Period Before Irenaeus, though this monograph leans towards more minimalistic results. However, there may have been oral traditions of the trials that Peter suffered in Rome. More specifically, Markus Bockmuehl (“Peter’s Death in Rome? Back to Front and Upside Down” Scottish Journal of Theology 60.1 [2007]: 1-23) has responded that Peter’s departure to his own place of glory is a euphemism for Peter’s martyrdom, though the author was politically shrewd in not specifying the mode of Peter’s execution by the Romans. As the early correspondence of a Roman bishop, 1 Clement may be the best piece of evidence in favour of the historicity of Peter’s death in Rome.

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