Those who claim a late date for Hebrews argue that the use of the present tense is not conclusive. They point out that Clement of Rome used this tense when describing Temple ritual, yet Clement was writing in 96 AD.
Although this date of 96 AD appears in many Commentaries, it depends on the statement by J.B. Lightfoot as printed on page 3 of his: ‘The Apostolic Fathers’. Although he is held in high esteem, others such as Grotius, Grabe, Orsi, Uhlorn, Hefele, Wieseler held to the earlier date ((CE: St Clement)).
Lightfoot did not discuss alternative dates nor provide any indication of any close personal research. The 96 AD date is based on two assumptions: 1). That Clement wrote after he became bishop of Rome in 91 AD, and 2). That the opening words refer to the persecution by Domitian, murdered in 96 AD ((GE 180-205, JATR 328)).
Let us read the opening words of this epistle to the Corinthians:
Clement does not claim to be writing as the bishop of Rome, but on behalf of the Roman Community. Eusebius recorded that: ‘Clement of Rome wrote in the name of the church of the Romans’ ((EH 3: 38, 1)). He did not say Clement wrote as the bishop of Rome. Peter had ordained Linus, Cletus and Clement as bishops ((BC 157)). Linus succeeded Peter in 67 AD. So Clement would have been acting as an assistant bishop for at least three years prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. He would therefore write in the present tense regarding Jerusalem during this period. He writes of the noble examples of martyrs, such as Peter and Paul who were killed under Nero, yet there is no mention of later ones. If a persecution by Domitian had just ended, why did he ignore its martyrs? Why did he use just a few vague words to refer to a terrible persecution affecting himself and his closest friends? The recipients of the letter would have been eager for news.
During 69 AD the Roman Empire was in political chaos with the Emperors - Galba, Otho and Vitellius - being killed in one year. This chaos was the cause of troops being withdrawn from besieging Jerusalem. Clement’s words fit this turbulent year very well. G. Edmundson presents a good case for Clement writing this letter in the early months of 70 AD ((GE 180-205)). Robinson accepted that Edmundson’s case should be most seriously considered ((JATR 329)) and Thied has also adopted this date ((CTR 71)).
After appealing to the rebels, Clement points out what happened to those who hardened their hearts after seeing signs and wonders: such as the followers of Korah (Num. 16: 33) and Pharaoh`s army (Exodus 14: 23). This would have been a natural place to add the destruction of Jerusalem when its inhabitants refusal to accept the signs of the Messiah and his disciples. The silence of Clement indicates this event had not yet occurred.
The passage in chapter 41: 1-3 written by Clement in the present tense reads:
Researchers, uninhibited by a desire to late date this Epistle, would see this excerpt as a powerful indication of it being written while the Temple was still operating. The purpose of the epistle was to urge the Corinthian rebels to conduct services correctly, so why would Clement offer a role model that had ceased to exist twenty-six years previously?
We have further evidence pointing to bishop Clement writing as an assistant to Pope Linus when sending his message to the Corinthians. Bishop Dionysius of Corinth, in a letter to Pope Soter, who reigned from 166 to 175, wrote:
‘This day, therefore, we spent as a holy Lord’s day, in which we read your epistle; from the reading of which we shall always be able to obtain admonition, as also from the former epistle written to us through Clement’. ((EH 4: 23.11)). The use of ‘through’ means Clement was an intermediary. Clement’s epistle had been one of admonition.
There is other evidence pointing to an early date for Clements Epistle. ((GE 180-205 and JATR 327- 335)), but here is enough to show that it’s use of the present tense does not undermine the tradition of Paul writing to the Hebrews before Jerusalem’s destruction..
Late daters also assert that Josephus used the present tense when writing about the Temple in 93 AD. This is true, but he was not writing about an actual practice. He was providing a summary description of the Old Testament ordinances contained in Mosaic Laws.
CLEMENT OF ROME AND THE SHEPHERD OF HERMAS
A Christian named Hermes wrote an account of a series of visions he claimed to have experienced and this came to be known as ‘The Shepherd of Hermas’, or ‘The Shepherd’, or ‘Pastor’. Whether the visions were authentic or not does not concern us here, but at the end of the second vision we read words allegedly spoken by the apparition:
So we learn it was the duty of a person named Clement to correspond with foreign cities. Lightfoot called him: ‘the foreign secretary of the Roman church’ ((JATR 321)), and Robinson described him as: ‘the correspondent of external relations of the Roman Church’ Edmundson, in his 1913 prestigious Bampton Lecture, pointed out that Clement was: ‘only the servant, not the head of the Church acting on his own initiative’. ((JATR 333)).
This would explain why it was Clement who wrote the letter of reply to the Corinthians on behalf of the Church at Rome, presumably after consulting Linus who had become the bishop of Rome following the death of Peter. To accept that Clement was acting as foreign secretary to the Roman administration would be consistent with the letter received by Pope Soter.
This evidence of Hermas supports the above argument that Clement of Rome could have written his letter to the Corinthians prior to 70 AD. According to Origen: ‘The Shepherd’ was written by the Hermas who is mentioned in Paul’s epistle to the Romans 16: 14 ((JATR 320)) and Jerome agrees ((DVI chapter 10)).
When Clement in 5: 1 records the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, he speaks of it as ‘of our own generation’. As they were killed about 65 AD, he is unlikely to have written in this manner 30 years later.
Another Hermas? Critics are constantly searching for evidence to weaken the Christian case. For example, some claim the author was a different Hermas to the one known to Paul, and that Clement was a different Clement to the person ordained a bishop by Peter. This claim is based on a passage in the Muratorian Fragment saying that Hermas was a brother of Pope Pius who reigned from 140-155.
There is nothing to confirm this statement in the Fragment, which is known to be full of obvious mistakes ((JATR 319)). It is very unlikely that a situation, where two people with the same names and in the same relationship as Clement and Hermes, would repeat itself half a century later.
Hermas gives details of his early life, his family and his sister, yet does not say his brother was the Pope. Irenaeus lived in Rome just 20 years after Pius died and quotes ‘The Shepherd’ as if it was part of Scripture. This would have been most unlikely if it had been composed within his living memory. At the beginning of the 3rd Century, Tertullian argued strongly that ‘The Shepherd’ was not part of Scripture. If it had not been composed until the mid-second century this would have been a good argument for him to use, yet he does not do so.
Edmundson pointed out that the book had been translated into Latin and published as: ‘Liber Pastoris’ (i.e. The Book of The Shepherd) at the same time the fragment was being written. We are told in: ‘The Acts of Pastor and Timothy’, that Pius was: ‘the brother of Pastor’. This appears to have confused the author of the fragment ((GE 206-237 and JATR 320)).
Those who accept that Hermas was referring to Clement of Rome, will see it as confirming that Clement was the ‘foreign secretary’ to the Roman Church prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. Those who hold that there were two Hermes and two Clements will not be convinced by the information presented here. But the argument that Clement was an assistant bishop of Rome for three years while the Temple was still standing - is unaffected.
A final thought: According to E. Massaux, Clement of Rome in this epistle frequently
quotes from Matthew ((EM 35)). So if we accept that it was written pre-70, it would again confirm the early composition
of the Gospel of Matthew.