Early Christian Origins: Studies in Honor of Harold R. Willoughby

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XI
THE SINS OF HERMAS

Kenneth Clark DUKE UNIVERSITY


I

Recently a Christian leader undertook to answer the question, "What is a . . . bishop?" In his answer he stated, "He is not a 'holy man' in the accepted meaning of the term."1 It may not be clear how the term is accepted today, but the disclaimer was obviously intended to disarm the common Christian reader; and yet the Christian historian and theologian is aware that from the beginning Christianity demanded holiness not only from official leaders but from every professing member.

The immediate background for this Christian demand in the first century is represented in the admonition of Ben Sira ( Ecclus. 21:1): "My child, have you sinned? Sin so longer, and offer petition for your previous sins." The Discipline Scroll of Qumran ( iii, 9-11) similarly enjoins the novitiate to "direct his steps so as to walk perfectly in all God's ways . . . Let him not swerve either to the right or to the left, nor transgress a single one of God's words."2 Again, about the turn of the era, the Wisdom of Solomon (15: 2 f.) confidently insists: "We will not sin, for we know that we are accounted yours. For to know you is perfect uprightness."

Such typical expressions in late Judaism remind us of the principle of perfectionism proclaimed by Jesus ( Matt. 5:48) : "You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is."3 Paul habitually addressed the Christian believers throughout his correspondence as "saints"

____________________
1
T. Otto Nall, Together ( March, 1958), p. 13.
2
Translation of G. Vermès, Discoveries in the Judean Desert ( New York, 1956).
3
Cf. also Luke 6:36. Quotations from the English New Testament follow the Revised Standard Version.

-102-

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