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Letters Written in Paul’s Name

The Disputed Pauline Epistles and the Pastorals

Initial Questions:

Pseudonymity: literally means “false name.”What possible motivations might an anonymous individual have to write in the name of a prophet or an apostle?  Here is an example of writings in Peter’s name:  1 Peter, 2 Peter, Gospel of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Kerygmata Petrou, and the Letter of Peter to Philip.

Do you have ethical or theological issues if some New Testament writings were written in the name of someone else or were there different standards in the ancient world? Although some scholars insist that this constitutes forgery (cf. Bart Ehrman), others have found a variety of justifications for the practice. This may include the Jewish practice of attributing works to the fount of the tradition (e.g., Law of Moses, Psalms of David, Wisdom of Solomon), the convention of ascribing apocalyptic texts to ancient authorities, the attribution of philosophical works to the founder of a philosophical school, the feeling of being under the same spiritual inspiration as a past biblical writer, or the intention to defend the legacy of a certain founding figure for a new generation.

 Undisputed Epistles: Romans, Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon

Disputed Epistles:  2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians.

Pastorals:  1 & 2 Timothy, Titus

The Disputed Epistles:

Scholars are divided whether Paul wrote these letters. They are similar in content, terminology, and theology with the Undisputed Epistles and the differences may be due to a development of Paul’s thought, the local situation he was responding to, and the use of a secretary. Colossians has many parallels with Philemon including Paul in prison, co-greetings from Timothy, and similar co-workers (see Colossians 1:1; 4:10-14 with Philemon 1, 22-23). However, they have the following differences:

  1. Differences in language, vocabulary and style. Colossians and Ephesians have long sentences in the style of a liturgical hymn that is unusual for Paul. For example, check out Ephesians 1:3-14 in a more word-for-word translation to see how it is one long sentence in Greek.
  2. 2 Thessalonians may imitate the style of 1 Thessalonians and Ephesians Colossians. The address “in Ephesus” may not be original in Ephesians 1:1, perhaps indicating that this was a circular letter summing up Paul’s theology and addressed “to the saints.”
  3. Theological Differences
    1. There is a developed cosmic view of Christ (Colossians 1:15-20; 2:9-10, but see Philippians 2:6-11), Christ is represented as the head of the universal church body (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 4:15-16), and there is an emphasis on realized eschatology (Colossians 2:11-12; 3:1, 3; Ephesians 2:5-10) and the experience of being presently raised with Christ in baptism (Colossians 2:12; compare Romans 6:5, 8).
    2. Different Eschatologies: 1 Thessalonians suggests Christ returns suddenly like a thief in the night (4:13-5:11), while 2 Thessalonians 2 emphasizes that an anti-christ figure or “lawless one” must come first and desecrate the temple.
    3. A signature of authorship or a clever forgery? “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.” (2 Thessalonians 3:17)
    4. Household Codes are introduced in Colossians 3:18-24 and Ephesians 5:25-33. Would Paul, who did not personally recommend marriage as the present age was drawing to a close in 1 Corinthians 7, conform to surrounding cultural norms on the proper maintenance of the household? Or does Paul subvert the standard patriarchal household by enjoining rules of conduct on the husband or father including Christ-like servanthood and encouraging mutual submission?

The Pastorals: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus

  1. They are absent from an early collection of Pauline letters (Papyrus 46) and from the canon of Marcion, a 2nd century follower of Paul who possessed an edited collection of Paul’s letters. However, a reason for their absence from early canonical collections may be due to the fact that they were sent to individuals rather than to whole church congregations.
  2. There are vocabulary and stylistic differences, including terms that are rare or absent from the other letters by Paul (e.g., piety, epiphany, sound, king of the ages, Saviour, “the faith” used as a noun, etc.). There are a number of fixed formulas (1 Timothy 4:6; 6:3; 2 Timothy 2:14; Titus 3:8).
  3. There are chronological discrepancies with Paul’s other letters and the book of Acts regarding Paul’s travels. Some scholars believe that Paul was initially released from his first Roman imprisonment (Acts 28) and went on the travels outlined in the Pastorals, perhaps fulfilling his goal of reaching Spain (cf. Romans 15:24-28), and was re-arrested and martyred in Rome (2 Timothy 4:7, 16). Other scholars counter that none of the letters nor Acts purports to give Paul’s entire travel itinerary.
  4. There is a developed, hierarchical church structure with bishops or overseers (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7), elders or presbyters (1 Timothy 4:14; 5:1f, 17, 19; Titus 1:5; 2:2f), deacons (1 Timothy 3:8, 12; 4:6), and an order of widows (1 Timothy 5:3-16). Was Paul insisting on tighter church structures near the end of his life or does this reflect a second or third generation context in which Christians got organized to live in the world for the long term?
  5. The view of female leadership in the congregation in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 seems to contrast with Galatians 3:28; Romans 16 (especially Junia among the apostles), and Philippians 4:2-3 (but see the textually uncertain 1 Corinthians 14:33-36). However, other scholars argue that 1 Timothy is not enshrining timeless gender norms but responding to a specific situation in which opposing teachers may have imposed their views about salvation in celibacy on female congregants; the Pastor responds by instructing these congregants to not usurp authority but quietly study or else they are in danger of being deceived like Eve.
  6. Some scholars react against treating the three letters under the same under the heading “Pastorals.” Since many of the objections do not apply equally to 2 Timothy, which is a more personal and emotionally invested correspondence, some scholars are prepared to defend the authenticity of this particular letter to Timothy. Other scholars see 2 Timothy as belonging to the last testament genre.
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