Earlier today Mason Slater wrote a post titled “Did Paul Write the Pastoral Epistles?” In it he asked if (1) Paul did not write them does it change how we read them? (2) Does Pauline authorship impact their authority or is this guaranteed by canonization? (3) Is the denial of the Pauline authorship is due to the holdover of an Enlightenment worldview? (4) What are the consequences of our answers?
I commented on his original post and I welcome you to do the same. That being said, I thought I’d give a fuller response here:
First, I am agnostic regarding Pauline authorship. I am not as confident as many that these epistles cannot be from Paul himself. Likewise, I am not as quick to demand that they must be from Paul like many of my fellow evangelicals. At the end of the day I would teach them and preach them as Pauline–either from Paul himself or aligned with his school of thought.
I know that there are good reasons to deny Pauline authorship like the changes in vocabulary, writing style, and maybe even theology from the rest of the Pauline corpus. Whenever I read authors who deny Paul’s authorship I notice that they rarely stop here. Too often they take the theological differences quite far and I think this has more to do with the preconceived idea that Paul must have been a certain type of person and that person could have never said what we find in the Pastoral Epistles.
It is quite logical that considering (1) some of Paul’s experiences with churches like Corinth and (2) the realization that his days were numbered could have resulted in some shifts in his thought. Many see the proto-Catholicism of this letter as being too far departed from the more democratic, highly Pneumatological ecclesiology of Paul’s early writings. It is a correct observation that there does seem to be some departure from Paul’s earlier, more idealistic views, but that doesn’t mean it could not have been the same person. Again, imagine Paul after dealing with the Corinthians. I can see him seeking to establish a firmer grip on his churches by establishing a more robust hierarchy.
Another thing that makes me slow to reject Paul’s authorship is how defeated he seems in 1 Timothy 1.8, 15-18; 4.16 (“no one supported me, but all rejected me”) where he has been rejected. His allusion to Jannes and Jambres in 3.8 indicates that some leaders were departing from what he had taught. As Paul comes to the end of life he depends upon people like Timothy and Titus to reestablish his authority and save the church from what he sees as dangerous.
When we read 2 Peter–another letter than many argue to be pseudonymous–we find a similar situation where Peter is combating false teachers and as Richard Bauckham has argued it seems to be a farewell letter of sorts. In this letter Peter seems strong and authoritative until the end. This is something you’d expect from someone writing as Peter using the name of Peter to combat what he perceives to be false doctrine. I find it quite odd that the author of 2 Timothy would use Paul’s name and then make him seem so weak.
Second, whether or not the author is Paul I find these epistles authoritative because they are canonical. Let me clarify: I do not struggle with the idea of a “canon-within-a-canon”. Even those who affirm verbal plenary inspiration actually function with certain books of the canon informing and redefining others (e.g. see how Protestants have used Romans in relation to James). In some sense the Pastoral Epistles are framed and guided by the larger constructs of Pauline theology found in Romans, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, etc. Even if Paul is the author I think this remains true. Yet the Pastoral Epistle have a dynamic relationship with the rest of the Pauline corpus creating a balance. For example, we know how Pentecostal/Charismatic groups use portions of 1 Corinthians. I think the Pastoral Epistles provide an authoritative, canonical buffer against readings of 1 Corinthians 12-14 that could lead to extremism.
Third, yes. our skepticism may be the result of some forms of Enlightenment thinking. That being said, we live in the era of history that we live. We cannot pretend that these questions were never asked or that they are questions worth asking only in one particular historical epoch. They’ve been asked and we should answer them. We may have different answers informed by our current context, but we should answer the questions none-the-less.
Fourth, personally, I think the consequences for the life of the church are little. If Pauline authorship is essentially for canonization, then sure, Paul’s pen means everything, but I’m not convinced that this must be so. It does impact studies of the historical Paul, but it doesn’t have to change how the church has used these epistles. Again, I say this as someone who finds them Pauline and probably leans toward them being from the hand/mouth of Paul himself.
Just posted this over on Mason’s blog, but thought I’d plop it here too and see what you thought:
When I was doing a semester long study in 2 Timothy, this issue certainly came up. One of the critical changes I see when shifting the authorship is a context shift. I think most of the pseudonymous scenarios put the writing of the letter around 100 AD. By doing so, the context of suffering explicitly discussed in 2 Timothy changes: If not Paul and his explicit sufferings during his lifetime, then how do we understand the sufferings of the author who comes from the Pauline school? Also, as William Mounce notes, the circumstances discussed in the letter then become “a code for later events in the church.” This puts interpretation into a slightly more hypothetical mode rather than a historical mode, because we’d have to reconstruct an alternate series of events that the Paulist writer is talking about.
For example, what would the Paulist writer be alluding to in 2 Tim 1:8 when he talks about his imprisonment for the Lord? I’m not saying that a psuedonymous view necessarily undermines the validity of the Pastorals as authoritative (I need to think more about this)–in fact, I found much to commend to the Towner/Marshall nuanced approach to authorship–but I’m just pointing out that it shifts the circumstantial context and certain things need to be reconstructed. I found Mounce’s WBC commentary and Knight’s NIGTC commentary helpful on the “genuine Pauline” side, and Towner and Marshall’s respective works helpful on the nuanced side.
“Again, imagine Paul after dealing with the Corinthians. I can see him seeking to establish a firmer grip on his churches by establishing a more robust hierarchy.”
I agree, and I think we see this pattern in the history of the church as recorded in the New Testament. The apostles didn’t originally appoint people to monitor the distribution of goods to widows; they did so in response to a particular situation. No one immediately convened a church council to discuss to what extent, if any, Gentile believers needed to adhere to the Law; that, too, was in response to a situation. And weren’t some of the ecumenical councils also called in response to certain situations, such as the Council of Nicea in response to Arius?
I guess I’m just trying to elaborate on the point that was made in the post. There’s no reason that Paul wouldn’t have wanted more structure in the churches, given his experiences with them. Sometimes, you don’t feel the need to get organized or more structured because you haven’t yet encountered problems that would require you to do so. Maybe instead of invalidating the Pauline authorship of those letters, the call for a structure in churches represents how Paul had grown as a leader.
@Jason: That is an interesting approach to ponder. I think it becomes irreducibly complex if we are trying to discover the events that influenced the pseudonymous writer. At face value, Paul’s life provides a more logical, simple context.
@Justin: Agreed, it could be that the PE reflect many of the things Paul learned over the years rather than some post-Paul author trying to make something out of Paul’s churches that he did not intend.
Either the pastoral were not written by Paul or Romans and Galatians were not written by Paul. In fact, I fail to see why everyone is so convinced that Romans and Galatians were written by the same person since they treat the Law and circumcision very differently. It is quite likely that all the Pauline epistles are spurious and that Paul never wrote anything. All the ‘evidence’ for Paul’s epistles being written in the 50s or even in the first century is non-existent. Acts cannot be used as evidence since we don’t know when it was written, nor by who since Luke obviously is not all tradition cracks him up to be. There is no real internal evidence in the epistles, and some of that supposed evidence (King Aretas) contradicts known historical facts. It is quite likely — nay, certain — that Galatians was written by Marcion, Romans by some kind of ‘heretics’, and the rest developed in Marcionite/heretical schools, except for the ‘pastorals’ which were composed around 170 when the Catholic church finally accepted Paul and decided to add him to the canon. They realized the older epistles were too heretical to gain acceptance on their own and had to be ‘packaged’ with orthodox epistles, the pastorals, and of course, the newly created pseudo-history called Acts.
“Maybe instead of invalidating the Pauline authorship of those letters, the call for a structure in churches represents how Paul had grown as a leader.” (Justin)
Or, in other words, the pastoral invalidate Romans and Galatians — which was essentially the purpose of their composition — to be a corrective to the heretical doctrine of those epistles. Regardless who wrote them — that is their function. One cannot accept them as inspired without jetisoning the faith-onlyism of the former epistles. Anyone who thinks they can is fooling themselves.
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