Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N. T. Wright
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N. T. Wright

Nearing the end of his first chapter of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N.T. Wright lays out the sources being discussed throughout the rest of the book. Right from the beginning, he says he doesn’t want to simply concede “the ruling hypothesis” regarding the authenticity of Paul’s letters. Part of that “ruling hypothesis” are the seven, hardly questioned “Pauline” letters: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. What I found really interesting about Wright’s view of the “Pauline” corpus is what he adds: Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians.

My introduction to biblical studies carried along the “ruling hypothesis,” so I have had a hard time seeing the authenticity of the six other letters (Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus) as directly from Paul. Instead, I have thought of them as authored by Paul’s close disciples or, at the very least, someone within Paul’s school of thought. Bart Ehrman suggests in Forged, as the title suggests, that the latter six had a completely different agenda; to deceive their audiences into thinking they were from Paul (forgeries). I never finished that book partially because I didn’t find Ehrman’s argument convincing enough, but mostly because I didn’t find the topic interesting enough (but don’t worry, there’s still a bookmark for where I left off). Ehrman has since written a more scholarly version, but again, I’m having a hard time being compelled to read on.

Wright, as part of his goal with the entire book, offers a different picture than the one I’ve been led to believe. He says that Ephesians and Colossians aren’t included is because “Ephesians in particular, and Colossians to a considerable extent, seem to have a much stronger and higher view of the church – and, indeed, of Jesus himself – than many scholars have been prepared to allow.”[1] Since those other six letters have such a lack of “justification by faith” language, apart from Eph. 2:8, it seems unlikely that Paul was the author.

My own understanding about those other six, which might fall in line with Wright’s critique, is that they carry a very different tone and include language that reflects a much more developed theology, which seems quite different from Romans. For example, the qualifications for “bishops” and “deacons” in 1 Timothy 3 or the inclusion of what might have been Christian hymns in Ephesians and 1 Timothy again. Minor examples, sure, but they carry language and a flow that seems awkward compared to Romans or the Corinthian correspondence.

Yet I’m quite interested into how Wright might develop this further (please, if you’ve read ahead, no spoilers). One point he makes, referencing John A. T. Robinson, is that “a busy church leader may well write in very different styles for different occasions and audiences.”[2] As a writer, I know this is true.

What would you define as authentic “Pauline” epistles? Have you held to the “ruling hypothesis” like I have (admittedly, with not much research) or do you favor a view like Wright’s – something that seeks to give the benefit of the doubt to Paul? What are the letters you deem “Pauline”?


[1] N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress Press, 2013), 57

[2] Wright, PFG, 60