Titus ordained by Paul.

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.