Within the world of New Testament scholarship, the idea that the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) were written by the Apostle Paul is generally rejected.
New Testament scholar I.H. Marshall has discussed this from an evangelical perspective, suggesting that these letters may contain, in substance, the work of someone writing after Paul’s death, but in a Pauline tradition, without any intention to deceive. “These are the things that I think Paul would have written if he were still alive.” Marshall suggests that this theory, as he presents it, is consistent with an evangelical doctrine of inspiration. He points out that a weakness in popular statements of the doctrine is to tie the Holy Spirit’s work to the exact moment of writing.
I realise that some of the arguments are rather technical, having to do with details of language and style. But in so far as I am able to judge, I don’t find Prof Marshall’s case very convincing. But I’m happy to present it as faithfully as I can. What follows is a summary.
Can the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles (PE) continue to be defended?
Language and Style
P.N. Harrison has argued that the vocabulary of the PE is markedly different from that of any of the accepted Pauline letters; that the vocabulary as a whole is much closer to that of 2nd-century writers; and that the PE especially lack a great deal of the ‘connective tissue’ found in the ‘genuine’ epistles. On the other hand, Guthrie has refuted the argument that the vocabulary is a 2nd-century one, while Gilchrist has shown that Harrison has at least overstated his case.
Some evidence has been advanced which suggests that the syntax (i.e. sentence length, positioning of words, relative proportions of nouns and verbs) of the PE differs from that of the genuine letters.
Again, differences in rhetorical style (i.e. composition and argument) have been noted. 1 Tim & Titus lack, for example, an opening thanksgiving (but so does Galatians). There is a lack of personal material (although not in 2 Tim).
A number of different conclusions are possible:-
1. That the PE are by an author other than Paul.
2. That the differences are within the range of style of a single author (but ‘we do not have the evidence that an individual’s style can alter to such an extent’).
3. As an refinement to the above, that the differences are due to the effects of old age. But this is clutching at a straw.
4. That the PE contain a very considerable amount of ‘traditional’ material, which was incorporated by Paul. However, this expedient, while saving the PE for Paul, denies him much of a creative role in writing them. Moreover, it cannot account for the stylistic and theological homogeneity within the PE.
5. That the details of composition are ascribed to a colleague or ‘secretary’ who was allowed rather a free hand. The PE would then have Paul’s blessing but not his mind or his words.
Some conservative scholars continue to favour options 3-5, because they allow for the ‘truthfulness’ of the ascription of the PE to Paul, and the literal truth of the claim to Pauline authorship is, in the final analysis, what matters most to them.
The Historical Setting of the Author
1. The traditional reconstruction places all three letters in the period following Paul’s supposed release from his two-year Roman imprisonment (Acts 28).
2. Some suggest that the PE can be fitted into various places in Paul’s missionary career as recorded in Acts. This, however, supposes them to have been written over the same period as the ‘genuine’ letters to the Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Galatians, and it them becomes difficult to account for the homogeneity of the style of the PE on the one hand, and the differences between the PE and these other (near-contemporary) writings.
3. Some scholars have postulated that the PE contain Pauline fragments which, when separated from their present setting, can be used to reconstruct an historical setting for each of them. The only limit on such a procedure is the ingenuity of the individual scholar.
There is a perceived difficulty that Paul is giving often elementary, but rather formal, instruction to colleague whom he has know for many years and to whom such instruction would have been well-known. A conservative response is to say that the instruction is meant as much for the congregations as for the individuals. The pseudonymous interpretation is similar: these letters are really to 3rd/4th-generation churches and their leaders, who are directly addressed under the guise of Timothy and Titus. The letters a indirect instruction to these congregations about the authority of their leaders and the theology that has been handed down.
This type of interpretation, however, under-emphasises the personal element in the PE (especially 2 Tim, which is essentially instructions for the personal life and witness of the church leader). The people who would most easily identify with the contents of the letters would be church leaders rather than whole congregations.
Is the author attacking problems in Paul’s own lifetime (or foreseen by him), or is he attacking problems of his own day under the guise of problems cntemporary with Paul?
Some scholars argue that the problems dealt with belong to the early 2nd century and can be identified with Gnosticism or some kind of asceticism. Others maintain that they are consistent with the problems countered in 1 & 2 Corinthians or Colossians.
The Theological and Practical Instruction
Can the material on leadership and church organisation be fitted into a scenario within the lifetime of Paul? In the acknowledged writings of Paul there is evidence of a development leading to the existence of ‘bishops and deacons’ alongside those who were charismatically-gifted to, for example, preach and teach, and also those who were, like Paul, engaged in church planting and after-care. In the PE, there is little about the charismatic ministries (apart from with reference to Timothy himself!). But the pattern could vary from place to place and from time to time.
Do the developments in theology between the PE and the recognised Pauline letters require different authorship? That there are differences is beyond doubt: the Christology of the PE is formulated in terms of epiphany, the Christian life is expounded in terms of godliness and sobriety. Why would Paul have found it necessary to expound the gospel and the Christian life at all to close colleagues? It has often been suggested that the differences between the PE and the earlier letters are due to that fact that here it is individuals who are being addressed. But if that is so, why are the instruction of a character that seems inappropriate if really addressed to Paul’s companions?
The Picture of Paul
It is said that in the PE, Paul is presented as a saint and martyr and as the sole apostle and authority for the gospel. These letter have been written to stress that succession from Paul and his message is vital for the continuance of the church. The PE contain statements attributed to Paul about himself that the historical Paul could never have made.
It is on the above grounds that most scholars suppose that the PE were not written by Paul, and that they date from the end of the 1st century or the beginning of the 2nd. Although the doctrinal and ecclesiastical setting of the letters is compatible with composition during the life of Paul, the linguistic and theological style poses more problems. The cumulative effect of the arguments is to cast very strong doubts on the traditional evangelical defence of direct Pauline authorship.
The Problem of Pseudonymity
The prevalent critical hypothesis is that the letters were written later than Paul by an unknown person who was using Paul’s authority to put his own views across. On this view, the PE may be held to represent a decline from truly Pauline theology into ‘early catholicism’. Another view is that the PE constitute an attempt to maintain Paulinism in a changed situation. In practice, these two views are often intertwined. Such an understanding is to be clearly distinguished from the way in which heretics created Pseudonymous writings in order to promote their false teachings.
It is clear the the author of PE had a profound reverence for Paul and we could perhaps commend his motives if not his method. However, it is difficult to avoid labelling such a procedure as deliberately deceptive. Some scholars attempt to get over this moral uneasiness by claiming that by the standards of the time it was not morally culpable, but a literary approach that accorded with the conventions of the day. Against this point of view is the fact that 2nd-century Christianity certainly objected to the practice of pseudonymity as practiced by heretics. There seems to be no known example of a work known to have been pseudonymous benig accepted as authoritative.
Another approach is to suggest that all the writer is really claiming is to stand in the tradition of the one in whose name he is writing. The author is not therefore claiming to be the apostle, but claiming to write in the apostolic tradition. Bauckham, writing with reference to 2 Peter, asserts that this was consistent with Jewish literary conventions. Meade takes a similar line, holding that a later writer was not making a claim to authorship but to standing in the same tradition, like those who added their oracles to the writings of an earlier prophet in the OT. But this hypothesis does not get round the fact that there was intent to deceive in the pseudonymous writings.
Conservatives tend to have problems with such arguments, holding that intent to deceive is inconsistent with divine inspiration. But the weakness of this objection is that it rests on an a priori judgement made on theological grounds rather than on a direct consideration of the evidence. Nevertheless, tt is evident that there was a high regard amongst the early Christians and within the NT for truth and truthfulness. There is also a strong emphasis, not least in the PE themselves, on the importance of preserving the tradition faithfully. It is reasonably to suppose that NT Christians so motivated would have been unlikely to write or accept deceptive pseudonymous works.
Preserving the Pauline Tradition: An Alternative to Pseudonymity
Various alternatives are possible:-
1. An author may use another person to write on his behalf and then sign the letter as being effectively from himself. The problems with this are that it is a departure from the procedure adopted in Paul’s other letters, that is requires a common amanuensis for all the PE, even though their different times and places of writing, and that there is no reference to a co-author in the letters.
2. The work of an author who had died might be posthumously edited and published, even though in the modern world is would be usual for some indication of this fact to be made.
3. Someone who had been close to the dead person might continue to write as he would have done. Again, an incomplete work might be completed by someone else, although, again, in modern days this would be made explicit.
In none of the above does the element of deceit arise. It is just that later generations forgot the circumstances in which the writing took place. The situation would be analogous to that of Hebrews, which seems to have gained access to the canon because it was thought to have been written by Paul, and not just because its contents commended it.
One form of this theory has attributed the PE to Luke. This, however, is indefencible on the grounds of style and theology. Authorship by Timothy or Titus has also been suggested. But why would either write a letter or letters addressed to himself? A remaining possibility is that the PE were written by someone whose identity is unknown.
This theory deals with a number of problems:-
1. There was no intent to deceit.
2. It places the PE close to Paul and means that their claim to his authority is more easily justifiable historically than would the case with later compositions.
3. The content reflects the concerns of Paul at the end of his life.
4. It accounts for the personal references to other people in the PE. These are mentioned as examples of faithfulness or opposition to the gospel.
5. The wirting of orthodox works in the name of early Christians is most likely to have taken place soon after their deaths. ‘The orthodox Christian writings which survive from the end of the first century and the beginning of the second are without exception anonymous or are by persons whose names they bear; none of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers or the Apologists calim to be by figures of the past. It is only in less orthodox circles that real pseudonymity arises.’
6. There is no elaborate attempt at creating verisimilitude. The person details in 2 Timothy are probably drawn from Paul’s own personal notes.
This reconstruction implies that the ostensible recipients of the PE are not the real recipients but ‘types’ of the people addressed. The primary audience is church leaders in congregations in the Pauline mission area, and the secondary audience is these congregations themselves. The letters then come with the implicit rubric: ‘These letters represent the kind of thing that I think that Paul would have to say to our churches today if he were still alive. Consequently, I have not simply repeated the actual things that he said, but I have had to think how he would have reacted to present circumstances.’
The above is consistent with an evangelical doctrine of inspiration. ‘One weakness in popular statements of the doctrine is the tendency to tie the work of the Holy Spirit to the exact moment of writing.’
A summary of I.H. Marshall, ‘Prospects for the Pastoral Epistles’, Doing Theology for the People of God: Studies in Honour of J.I. Packer (Ed. Lewis & McGrath), pp 137-155.