In my previous post, I explained why many biblical scholars believe that the New Testament contains forgeries (documents that were falsely attributed to people who didn’t write them). I then responded to some of the arguments that are used to show that Paul couldn’t have written Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians.

An even larger number of biblical scholars today believe that the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) are forgeries. Out of Paul’s entire corpus, the authorship of these three letters is the most doubted. Although the external evidence for Pauline authorship is strong (no one doubted their authorship until the 19th century), these scholars claim that the internal evidence shows that Paul probably didn’t write them.

Admittedly, the objections against the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles are hard to answer. But as we will see, the difficulties aren’t insurmountable. There are several objections that could be addressed, but the two most prominent ones are (1) the developed view of church leadership and (2) the unique style and vocabulary.

Objections Against Pauline Authorship

Objection: Paul’s description of church leadership is too developed for his time and the qualifications for overseers and elders doesn’t appear in his other letters. This organized view of church leadership reflects the time period of the early second century and can be seen in Ignatius’ writings:

“I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, 6).

Response: It’s undeniable that Paul’s comments about church leadership are more detailed in the Pastoral Epistles. It’s also undeniable that Paul speaks about church leadership and church order elsewhere in the New Testament:

“To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons” (Phil. 1:1).

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you” (1 Thess. 5:12).

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace…all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).

With that said, are there reasons why Paul goes into more detail about church leadership in the Pastoral Epistles? In Philippians 1:1 and 1 Thessalonians 5:12, Paul mentions church leadership in passing. This means that Paul would usually teach on church leadership in person. In the case of the Pastoral Epistles, Paul is writing to intermediaries (Timothy and Titus) between him and the church leaders . Since Paul cannot teach them in person, it makes sense for him to carefully explain his qualifications for church leadership in writing.

Additionally, there are good reasons why we would expect each individual letter to include teachings on church leadership. In 1 Timothy, there were false teachers that infiltrated the church (1 Tim. 1). In 2 Timothy, Paul was near the end of his life and needed to make sure there were strong leaders who could pass on the apostles’ tradition (2 Tim. 4:1-8). In Titus, the church was young and needed stable leadership in order to be doctrinally healthy.  

Objection: The vocabulary and style of the Pastoral Epistles are similar to one another but radically different from Paul’s accepted letters. Over 170 words are used in the Pastoral Epistles that aren’t found anywhere else in the New Testament. Stylistically, the 112 function words (conjunctions, pronouns, prepositions) that are common in Paul’s accepted letters aren’t used at all in the Pastoral Epistles.

Response: Some have argued that the sample data is not large enough to make significant conclusions based on vocabulary and style. Others still hold that the the occasional nature of the letters can explain most of the differences. But are there any other possible reasons why the Pastoral Epistles are so different?

Introducing Paul’s Secretaries (Amanuenses)

Back in ancient times, famous writers such as Cicero, Pliny the Younger and Seneca would use secretaries (also known as amanuenses) to write down their words. Secretaries were often used because the writing process was time-consuming and difficult because of poor writing materials. Since there was no printing press back then, the secretaries would also make several copies of the documents for distribution.

Arthur Patzia explains the common functions of a secretary:

“Some secretaries recorded verbatim the dictation of the author; others functioned much like an editor or coauthor who would make a final draft from the author’s oral presentation or written notes; in other cases the secretary was simply instructed to compose a letter for a specific purpose” (The Making of the New Testament, 76).

The power of this argument is that Paul certainly used secretaries in at least some of his letters. Sometimes Paul says that he has written the letter himself:

“See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand” (Galatians 6:11).

Other times he writes a final greeting with his own hand, indicating that a secretary wrote the rest of the letter:

“I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand” (1 Cor. 16:21; cf. Col. 4:18; 2 Thess. 3:17).

In the most significant example, the secretary reveals his identity:

“I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord” (Rom 16:22).

Other possible secretaries for Paul’s letters include:

-Timothy (2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Philemon 1:1)

-Sosthenes (1 Corinthians 1:1)

-Silvanus or Silas (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1)

These examples show that Paul often used secretaries to write his letters. But what about the Pastoral Epistles? Is there any evidence that a secretary helped Paul write them? One possible clue is found in 2 Timothy 4:11, where Paul says “Luke alone is with me.” This has led many scholars to believe that Luke is the secretary of the Pastoral Epistles, especially considering their sophisticated nature.

Even if we cannot name the secretary of the Pastoral Epistles with absolute certainty, the fact that Paul probably used one when composing them easily explains why they differ so much from Paul’s accepted letters.

4 Points to Remember:

  1. Paul is concerned with church leadership and church order in his undisputed letters (Phil. 1:1; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Cor. 14:40).
  2. Paul gave more detailed instructions about church leadership in the Pastoral Epistles because he wasn’t able to teach those instructions in person and wanted to make sure that the churches were doctrinally healthy.
  3. Secretaries were commonly used in the ancient world and could write down an author’s words verbatim or act as an editor/coauthor.
  4. Paul used secretaries in many of his letters, and the use of one for the Pastoral Epistles (possibly Luke) explains the differences in style and vocabulary.

Sources:

Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

Ignatius. “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians.” CHURCH FATHERS: Epistle to the Magnesians. Web. 03 Dec. 2016.

Patzia, Arthur G. The Making of the New Testament: Origin, Collection, Text & Canon. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995. Print.

Reid, Daniel G. The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament: A One-volume Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004. Print.

Wallace, Daniel B. “15. 1 Timothy: Introduction, Argument, Outline.” Bible.org. 28 June 2004. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I guarantee that the focus of this attack will be on 2 Timothy because in it we have very correctly and concisely the crux of the matter “All Scripture is Inspired of God” (2 Timothy 3:16)
    The enemy has never abandoned his favorite weapon that he first launched against man in the very beginning; the questioning of God’s Word. “did God say that?” (Genesis 3:1)
    You stated that the questioning of these epistles began in the 19th century? How interesting that this is also when the attack on Genesis also occurred with the advent of evolutionary thought and millions of years of time and their imaginary evidence that modern science is shredding at a rapid pace and showing that the Genesis account is in fact 100% reliable and indeed All of Scripture is 100% reliable because our God not only Inspired it He also preserved it for His Saints.

    • Michael, thanks for the comment. I have thought something similar to your point about 2 Timothy 3:16. 1&2 Peter is what my next post is on, and it’s interesting how the authorship of 2 Peter is so questioned, and one of the reasons is because Peter calls Paul’s letters “Scripture” ( 2 Peter 3:15-16. This is obviously such a powerful statement about what the authors thought they were writing, so it makes sense why it would be attacked.

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