THE APOSTLE PAUL’S IMPRINT
The three letters known as the Pastoral Epistles, 1st
and 2nd Timothy and Titus, are traditionally believed to have been
written by the Apostle Paul. Indeed, as Professor Anthony Hanson points out,
“Nobody ever doubted Paul’s authorship of these letters until the question was
raised two hundred years ago .”
The first verse of each of these letters identifies the writer as the Apostle
Paul — Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God
our Savior, and Lord Jesus Christ, who is our hope, (1 Timothy 1:1 KJ21)
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,
according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, (2 Timothy 1:1 KJ21)
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ,
according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which
is according to godliness, (Titus 1:1 KJ21)
QUESTIONS RELATING TO PAUL’S AUTHORSHIP
Despite this, many critical scholars have questioned the
Pauline authorship of these three letters. There are various reasons why this
is so and we will look at these reasons shortly. First, however, we will look
at some of the earlier scholars who either questioned or denied the Pauline
authorship of one or more of the Pastoral Epistles. Homer A. Kent, Jr. gives
the following synopsis in his book The Pastoral Epistles:
J.E.C. Schmidt (1804) and Schliermacher (1807) began the
attack by rejecting 1 Timothy, suggesting that it had been fabricated out of
previously existing 2 Timothy and Titus which were genuine. The basis of
criticism was the internal evidence, especially the peculiarities of 1 Timothy.
Eichhorn (1752-1826) and DeWette (1780-1849) took the
arguments that had been directed against 1 Timothy and applied them to all
three of the Pastoral Epistles, arguing that none of them was the work of Paul.
F.C. Baur (1792-1860), founder of the Tubingen School, held that the Pastorals were written after the middle of the second century, during the
Marcionite heresy. The unknown author thought he could accomplish more for the
cause of Paul’s epistles by putting his attack on the Gnostics into the mouth
of Paul. This view of Baur has met much opposition, even among liberal
The forgoing scholars established the trend, and many follow
their leading today.
There are three predominate views concerning the authorship
of the Pastoral Epistles. These can be summarized as follows:
1. Paul wrote these letters in his old age.
2. The Pastorals are not written by Paul at all, but by some
other church leader who lived about fifty years after Paul’s death.
3. The Pastorals are a later writing, but they contain
genuine fragments of Paul’s letters.
There are, I believe, considerable problems with the second
and third theories. Concerning the second theory, if the Pastorals were not
written by Paul, then how do we account for the personal references we see in
so much of II Timothy 4? These are numerous.
Use diligence to come shortly unto me,
for Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed
unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke
is with me. Take Mark and bring him with thee, for he is profitable to
me for the ministry. And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus. The cloak that
I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the
books, but especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me
much evil; the Lord reward him according to his works. (2 Timothy 4:9-14
Salute Prisca and Aquila and the
household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I have
left sick at Miletus. Try with diligence to come before winter. Eubulus
greeteth thee, and Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren. (2
Timothy 4:19-21 KJ21)
ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS
Are these personal remarks just the invention of an
imaginative imposter? Wouldn’t the Early Church have known, since Paul had
been dead some fifty years, that the letters were a forgery? Wouldn’t it have
mattered to them that these letters were not written by the Apostle Paul, since
they clearly claimed to have been? And in reference to the third theory, if
the writer used genuine fragments from something the Apostle Paul actually
wrote, then where was the balance of this letter (or letters) that these
supposed fragments were taken from? Which portions of the Pastoral Epistles
are the fragments that Paul really wrote and which portions are the invention
of the writer who poses as Paul? I have not found satisfying answers to most
of these questions.
REASONS OFFERED BY SOME TO REJECT PAUL’S AUTHORSHIP
Let’s look at some of the reasons that are used by modern
critical scholars for rejecting the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral
Epistles. These reasons can be summarized under five main categories:
Vocabulary and Style
Ecclesiastical Organization, and
Modern critical scholars have often viewed these issues as
serious problems, concerns that bring the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral
Epistles into question. We will consider each of them in turn.
Vocabulary and style are actually very similar, so we will
consider them together. The argument against Pauline authorship on the basis
of vocabulary and style is built upon the idea that there are quite a few words
found in the Pastoral Epistles that do not occur in any of Paul’s other
writings. Lea and Griffin put it like this —
The Pastoral Epistles contain many words that are rare
in the New Testament. The technical term used for words that appear only
once in the New Testament is hapax legomena… In addition to these unique
words there are others which are rare in the other ten Pauline writings
but are key terms in the Pastorals.
Some of the scholars who support this theory include P.N.
Harrison, H.J. Holtzmann, and W.G. Kummel. This argument may sound convincing
on the surface, but there are some important factors, which may help to account
for these differences. Paul was considerably older and he was addressing
circumstances and problems that were in some ways unique. Moreover, he was
writing to individuals he knew quite well rather than to entire churches.
Donald Guthrie accounts for the differences in vocabulary and style found in
the Pastorals in this manner.
If full allowance is made for dissimilarity of subject
matter, variations due to advancing age, enlargement of vocabulary due to
changing environment and the difference in the recipients as compared with the
earlier letters, the linguistic peculiarities of the Pastorals can in large
measure be satisfactorily explained.
The next issue we will look at as a potential problem for
the Pauline authorship of these epistles is the “historical problems.” In
summary, this has to do with the fact that the information we have, largely coming
from the book of Acts, on the life of Paul does quite fit with the historical
circumstances connected to the author of these letters. Gordon D. Fee explains
the details of this issue in the introduction to his commentary on the Pastoral
One of the difficulties of the PE has been to locate them
historically in what is otherwise known of the life of Paul. The problem is a
combination of several factors.
First, the picture of Paul that emerges from 1 Timothy and
Titus portrays him as traveling freely in the East. He and Titus have
evangelized Crete (Titus 1:5); he has apparently traveled to Ephesus with
Timothy and hopes to return (1 Tim. 1:3; 3:14); at some point in all of this he
intends to winter at Nicopolis, on the southern Adriatic (Titus 3:12). But in
2 Timothy he is again in prison, this time in close confinement in Rome, where he expects to die (cf. 2 Tim. 1:16-17; 2:9; 4:6-8, 16-18).
The problem arises because this cannot easily be placed in
Paul’s as it can be reconstructed from Acts and the earlier letters.
SOLUTION TO THESE CONFLICTS
The solution to these conflicts are, for the most part,
resolved if Paul was released from his imprisonment spoken about at the end of
Acts, was able to travel freely for a period of time, and then was imprisoned a
second time, resulting in his death. Robert H. Gundry suggests this in his
Survey of the New Testament.
The answer to this argument is the hypothesis that Paul
was acquitted and released from his first Roman imprisonment; that he
enjoyed a period of freedom, into which the travel data of the Pastorals
fit; and that he was later re-imprisoned and condemned to die as a martyr
for the Christian faith. Thus, the historical and geographical data of
the Pastorals refer to events that took place after the close of Acts.
The third consideration has to do with the false teachers
(or heresy) dealt with in the Pastorals. The gist of this argument is that the
Pastoral Epistles deal with a heretical problem that did not really exist as a
threat to the Church until well into the second century, that of Gnosticism.
This would propose a much later date for the writing of the Pastoral Epistles
and, consequently, deny the Pauline authorship of these letters.
The answer to this problem is that, although it is true that
Gnosticism was not in full bloom until long after the death of the Apostle
Paul, he still had to defend the Gospel against attacks from its enemies, some
of which were already being influenced by an earlier form of Gnosticism. Lea
and Griffin summarize their defense as follows.
That Paul encountered a similar ascetic heresy (cf. Col 2:16, 21-23) suggests that we do not need to search outside the first century to
discover parallels to the heresy described in the Pastorals. Paul was not
opposing a second-century Gnosticism; rather, he had encountered a variant form
of Judaism tinged with incipient Gnostic ideas which were not an isolated
phenomenon in the first century.”
The fourth problem has to do with the ecclesiastical
organization found in the Pastoral Epistles. In brief, some of the critics who
deny the Pauline authorship of these letters do so on the grounds that the
ecclesiastical organization, or the description of church government, found in
the Pastoral Epistles reflects the thinking of the second century church.
In other words, the ecclesiastical structure contained in
these letters is too advanced for the time of the Apostle Paul, and was
probably written much later and, consequently, not by the Apostle Paul. This
objection is resolved in the light of the fact that the writer of the Pauline
Epistles does not assume that the structure of the church is any different from
what we see in the book of Acts. R.C.H. Lenski, a well-known Lutheran
Commentator, proposes this.
The idea that these letters reflect a far later time, namely
the second century when a later type of church organization and government were
current, cannot be maintained. The church in Jerusalem already had deacons and
already had a widow problem (Acts 6:6, etc.). The congregation at Cenchreae
near Corinth had a deaconess (Rom. 16:1). These three letters cannot be
regarded as second-century forgeries on the basis of the type of church
organization which they reflect.
THE DOCTRINE FOUND IN THE PASTORAL EPISTLES
The last concern we will examine has to do with the theology
or doctrine found in the Pastoral Epistles. It is believed by some that the
theology found in these three letters is a corrupted or lower version of the
theology that is characteristic of Paul’s letters, such as what we find in
Ephesians or Romans. James Moffatt had this opinion of the Pastoral Epistles.
It is not easy to suppose that in three epistles the
apostle, for example, would ignore such fundamental truths of his gospel as the
fatherhood of God, the union of the believing man with Jesus Christ, and the
power of the Holy Spirit in the Christian experience. The only explanation of
this seems to be that the epistles were written by a disciple of St. Paul who… wrote against tendencies which threatened the later church.
It seems to me that Moffatt has jumped to an unjustified
conclusion in saying that “the only explanation” is that that these three
epistles were written by someone other than the Apostle Paul. Some parts of
the Pastoral Epistles seem very Pauline to me. When you compare the following
sets of passages, the similarity is striking. Note the similarity between
Titus 3:5-6 and Ephesians 2:8-9:
He saved us not by works of
righteousness which we had done, but according to His mercy, by the washing
of regeneration, and by the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 which He shed
on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, (Titus 3:5-6 KJ21)
For by grace are ye saved
through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God— not
by works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 KJ21)
Both of these passages emphasize the fact that the way of
salvation is not by works, but by the mercy (or grace) of God.
And also note the similarity between Titus 3:7 and Romans
that, being justified by His grace, we
should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:7
being justified freely by His grace
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:24 KJ21)
Justification by grace is certainly a key component of
In I Tim. 5:18, the writer quotes from the same text in
Deuteronomy (Deut. 25:4) as Paul does in I Cor. 9:9:
For the Scripture saith, "Thou shalt
not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn," and, "The laborer
is worthy of his reward." (1 Timothy 5:18 KJ21)
For it is written in the Law of Moses:
"Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the
corn." Doth God take care for oxen, (1 Corinthians 9:9 KJ21)
These are just a few examples of the similarities we see
between the Pauline Epistles and Paul’s writings. Donald Guthrie succinctly
states “There is nothing in any of these statements [from the Pastoral
Epistles] which Paul himself could not have written.”
In summing up the discussion in Carson, Moo, and Morris’ An
Introduction to the New Testament on “Pseudonymity,” we find this
We should exercise great care
before we accept the view than (sic.) any writing in the New Testament
is pseudonymous. That there was pseudonymity in the ancient world is
clear… But to this date there is no evidence that the church accepted
any pseudonymous epistle…We need much more evidence than we are usually
offered before we can agree that any New Testament epistle is pseudonymous.
Did the Apostle Paul really write the three letters known as
the Pastoral Epistles? I believe he did, and so do most ancient and modern
evangelical scholars. Since the first verse of each of these letters indicates
to us that the Apostle Paul was the author of these epistles, I believe that
the burden of proof is on those who doubt the Pauline authorship of the
Pastoral Epistles rather than those who affirm it.
Carson, D.A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction
to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.
Fee, Gordon D. New International Biblical Commentary:
1 and 2 Timothy, Titus. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1988.
Gundry, Robert H. A Survey of the New Testament.
3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.
Guthrie, Donald. The Tyndale New Testament
Commentaries: The Pastoral Epistles. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
Hanson, Anthony Tyrrell. The Pastoral Letters:
Commentary on the First and Second Letters to Timothy and the Letter to Titus.
London: Cambridge University Press, 1966.
Kent, Homer A., Jr. The Pastoral Epistles: Studies in
1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Revised ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1982.
Lea, Thomas D., and Hayne P. Griffin. The New American
Commentary, Volume 34: 1, 2 Timothy and Titus. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Interpretation of St. Paul’s
Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to
Philemon. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1964.
KJ21 - 21st Century King James Version.
Gary: Deuel Pub., 1994.
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