Why Canonize the Pastoral Epistles?

Daniel Kirk has recently explained why he does not see the Pastoral Epistles as authentically Pauline (here). He presents these four major reasons which I will summarize here:

  1. The “theologizing” of the pastorals does not take the same approach as the rest of the Pauline corpus. Elsewhere Paul works from the Christ event outward. In the pastorals he works from principles and trust worthy sayings.
  2. Different theology proper and Christology.
  3. “The Greek is different.”
  4. “Theologically they are different, especially the ways that 1 Timothy and Titus reflect on the Law and Judaism.”

While I think these reasons are good it seems to me that there is so much more to the discussion that I remain unconvinced (though I recommend reading his full post before making any judgment since my summary is just that). As it can be seen in the comments there are problems with this theory such as the personal references, the dating of these epistles, the awkwardness of something this misleading being accepted so quickly into the Pauline corpus, as well as criticism of the reasons he has given. At the end of the day I don’t think we have enough evidence either way to make a definitive statement on the matter.

If these letters are not authentically Pauline it does very little to my faith. It doesn’t even seem that a huge impact would be made on Pauline theology. But I do question canonization.

I have seen Brevard Child’s reason for canonization in spite being pseudepigraphical but I find it unconvincing. This is not because I think (1) canonization is intertwined with inerrancy or even (2) canonization is intertwined with apostolic authority (e.g. Matthew may not have been written by Matthew the disciple of Jesus, the same with John). Rather, it seems that this is more than an issue of inerrancy. The content of the whole epistle is based on deception. That is the real problem that I would have.

Similarly, if the pastorals are as divergent from Paul as many say it makes me worry a bit about the content. It may be as small as the difference between Paul and James or Paul and Matthew, but neither of those works are written in the name of Paul. To use Paul’s name to say something that Paul would not have said is shady.

If the pastoral epistles are not Pauline we should drop them from the life of the church. At best we should give them the status of the Didache which gives us very useful insight into the early church without being authoritative. This is my humble opinion though.

Do you agree or disagree? If you are one who thinks the pastorals were written by someone other than Paul do you still find them useful for the life of the church in any meaningful way. If so, why?

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20 thoughts on “Why Canonize the Pastoral Epistles?

  1. Brian,

    I agree. I have heard the various arguments but I don’t think we have enough of Paul’s writings to make such a decision. Especially since writing styles evolve over time and he often seems to have had someone writing for him.

  2. Though it’s been a while since I read on this issue, I’ve never been persuaded that the Pastorals are not Pauline.

  3. If N.T. Wright accepts them, then that it good enough for me. :-D

    On a more serious note, I’ve read all the arguments, for and against, for now, I find the “for” more convincing.

    Frankly speaking, it’s about time scholars stop arguing against authorship based on “the Greek is different,” as if the man was restricted to one style of expression. Even, Dr. Kirk would not want someone to discard his penmanship as it varies from letter to letter, but not drastically so. But neither is this the case. Besides, we have to factor in amanuenses. Regarding Law and so on, unconvincing at best.

  4. TC and others, I agree. I wonder if you would see any value in canonization if it was proven that Paul didn’t write it. I wouldn’t.

  5. Well, there would be some value as to how a fraction of the church thought about the things expressed in the letters in question. But I know what you mean at another level. I too would see no canonical value, unless we’re talking along the lines of Hebrews.

  6. Even if the epistles were not written by Paul, it should not matter. Paul is one man among many. What is important is that the Church chose to canonize them. It shouldn’t really matter who who individually wrote them. It shows a deep flaw in the logic in attributing so much prestige to a man (Paul) who I seriously doubt, considering his humility, would never really give himself.

    Honestly, I am on the fence on this issue, closer to apathetic.

  7. Rod,

    While I agree that Paul was a humble man he was also one who often demanded that people acknowledge his apostolic authority lest they be in the wrong. Consider his two letters to the Corinthians. While he may have had different approaches elsewhere I have no doubt he saw his writings as authoritative.

    Likewise, the church canonized these letters based on the belief that they were tied to apostolic authority and the letters make this very claim. It seems very troubling to me that we would assume authority from letters who at the very starting point are deceptive at worst; misguided at best.

    While I am open to the idea that the Spirit led the church to canonize the letters in spite of this flaw, because the content was needed for the church, this doesn’t suffice for me at this juncture.

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  9. @Brian,

    All I am trying to do is to be careful not to read too much into the Bible of the Western view of what it means to be an author. It is really difficult to do so when the Bible is an ancient book, but I say that we must resist Western concepts of ownership/authorship and care less about the author and more about the text itself.

  10. Rod,

    I appreciate this approach to the text but I don’t think we can make this a “Western” or “post-Enlightenment” issue so quickly. In the first four centuries these world-views were not in play yet authorship mattered. While it may not always matter for us as it did for them (e.g. Hebrews is clearly not from Paul’s hand) it does say something that even a text based approach must acknowledge when the text claims the identity of the author. If Paul is not the author the text has a claim that is flawed from the beginning and I am therefore suspect of its canonical value at that point.

  11. Like Fee says (and I’m paraphrasing), Even if Paul didn’t write them, they’re thoroughly Pauline. I don’t think any of Kirk’s reasons are good enough to reject (or even seriously question) Pauline authorship. But let’s say the are pseudepigraphical; I’d still have no problem with them being canonized. Canonization is the Church’s work (and most Christians, I think, would accept God’s providential role in the process), and they determined that these books were important for the life of the Church. Unlike a letter like, say, Philemon, I think we’d lose a lot if we dropped these books from the canon.

    And why exactly is it ‘clear’ that Hebrews is not from Paul’s hand? I joke about Pauline authorship of Hebrews a lot but I think he’s as much in the running as any other available option. It seems to me that Kirk’s reasons above are very similar to the reasons that people use to deny Pauline authorship of Hebrews.

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  13. Nick: As much as I want to be sympathetic to the inclusion of the Pastorals whether Pauline or not it just seems odd to me that we would claim as authoritative, truthful, and even inspired a text that is essentially an attempt at either (a) deception or (b) a power-play (or both). If someone wrote something Paul did not say in the name of Paul in order to defend ideas that are not thoroughly Pauline this seems to be a serious issue to me (and by “Pauline” I don’t mean within his tradition but from his mouth/pen).

    As far as Hebrews is concerned there are several elements that cause me to lean away from Pauline authorship. First, it would be his only anonymous letter. Second, while I don’t buy that the Greek in the pastorals is different enough from the rest of the Pauline corpus to take that as a substantial argument I do for Hebrews. The Greek of Paul is usually fairly easy to navigate. In Hebrews I sit there with my lexicon open stumped. Third, and I could be wrong about this, but I think the pastorals were accepted as Pauline fairly early circling with the other letters of his corpus while Hebrews slipped into the canon later because it was finally assumed that it was likely Pauline but without as much surety as the pastorals.

  14. Mark,

    I have read where N.T. Wright has asserted several times that he believes that the pastorals are Pauline. He does so several times in his “Christian Origins” books. I also recently finished his latest book “After You Believe”, where he reaffirms his belief that the Pastorals were more than likely written by Paul.

    Personally, whether or not they are genuinely Pauline really doesn’t matter much to me. Even if Paul himself did not pen the Pastorals, most of the scholars that I have read who deny Pauline authorship still maintain that they were probably written by somebody close to Paul who tried to stay true to Paul’s general doctrinal teachings.

  15. I think I remember coming across a few places where Wright affirms Pauline authorship of the pastorals as well. I tried to skim through my books to find it but I couldn’t.

    It seems odd to me that one reason the pastorals are said to be from the pen of someone other than Paul is because it is too developed an ecclesiology for Paul yet in the same breathe they say it is so very Pauline.

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