The document known as the First Epistle of Clement, probably written towards the end of the first century, provides some of the scant available documentary evidence about the early development of the Christian ministry. It contains an outline history of the passing down of authority, but the relevant part of the Greek text has ambiguities which have led various scholars to propose five broadly different views, or interpretations, of Clement’s intended meaning. These were examined in relation to Clement’s purpose, an approach which relied primarily on evidence internal to the epistle, and had not been considered in detail before. Only one of the five views was found to make Clement’s argument reasonably consistent with his aims, and this view also made his lack of clarity understandable. Thus Clement’s intended message in the ambiguous section was that the first local church leaders were appointed by the apostles, and when some of these local leaders died, replacement appointments were made by people who had been given the authority to do so from outside the local church.