Who Wrote Paul's Epistles?

The second reading for the upcoming Sunday is again from 2 Timothy. Here are three verses from the reading: Beloved: Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David: such is my gospel, for which I am suffering, even to the point of chains, like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore, I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:8-10). In this excerpt the writer states that he is suffering for the Gospel, chained as a criminal, and says that he endures these things so that others might obtain salvation. This sounds like the Paul we know from other of his letters and this letter does indeed claim to come from Paul. Why then do scholars argue that these letters are not written by Paul? Given that the letters themselves claim that they are from the hand of Paul, and that the early Church accepted that they were written by Paul, why would scholars argue against Pauline authorship? The passage above is so personal in character and tone, if it is not written by Paul, does it render the sentiments embodied in it fraudulent? This is an important point with which to deal, even before going to the heart of the arguments for or against Pauline authorship. The scripture is the scripture, whether written pseudonymously or in the name of the actual author. All scripture is divinely inspired – a passage interestingly enough from 2 Timothy 3:16! – and this inspiration is not dependent on the name of the human author affixed to the text. It is difficult, for instance, to find a scholar who would argue that the book of Daniel is written by "Daniel" in the time of the Babylonian destruction of the Temple and not by an anonymous author in the Hellenistic period, some four centuries later. On the other hand, Daniel is an apocalyptic text, a genre which tends to attribute its texts and the visions contained therein to great and holy figures from the past. A personal letter purporting to tell of Paul’s own travails in his own words is not of the same genre. So while the question of inspiration is not in question, there are questions, if not of fraudulence particularly, of propriety that still remain and which we will address later. Scholars began to question the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles in the 19th century and the questions arose not due to questions which emerged in the ancient Church or spotty attestation of Pauline authorship in the manuscript tradition, but because of perceived differences between letters which became known as "authentic" or "genuine" Pauline epistles and those which were seen to diverge in fundamental ways from these letters. In German scholarship in particular certain letters became known as the "Hauptbriefe" or chief letters – Romans, Galatians, and the two Corinthian letters – and these letters formed the basis for the construction of "authentic" Pauline authorship and theology. To the extent that other letters diverged from these letters, Pauline authorship was in question. Lurking behind this general consensus was a desire to root out any elements of "frhhkatholizmus," or "early Catholicism" that might have made its way into the Pauline tradition. What is "frhhkatholizmus"? As opposed to Paul’s authentic writings, filled with charismatic, faith-filled teachings, "frhhkatholizmus showed evidence of the weakening of the spirit-driven Church and a movement to an institutionalized, rigid and hierarchical structure. (One will also note the pejorative definition of "katholizmus" in this definition, at a time when the vast majority of biblical scholarship was being produced by Protestant scholars.) The arguments against Pauline authorship, therefore, are based upon questions of institutionalization in Church structure, as well as style, vocabulary and theology. This week I want to briefly discuss the "style" of these letters; in the next few entries, I will discuss vocabulary, theology and the issue of "institutionalization." "Style" is a fairly subjective criterion, it is true, but without question one can tell a personal writing style. One of the comforts of reading Evelyn Waugh or Saul Bellow, two of my favorites, is slipping easily into their inimitable style and sense of place and self. On the other hand, Bellow and Waugh wrote novels, a genre which gives us hundreds of pages of their own creation by which we compare them to other of their writings and to other authors. Letters, even of a personal sort, do not give us the same body of work with which to compare. Nevertheless, if you were to read Romans and then Galatians, and then move to 2 Timothy or 1 Timothy or Titus, you would quickly notice a different style in the writing and argumentation, even in English. You would also notice that the three Pastoral letters seem to have a shared style. This style goes beyond formal characteristics of ancient letters, because all of the letters attributed to Paul share these formal epistolary characteristics. These stylistic differences in the Pastoral letters range from less-developed theological arguments, to different usage of typical "Pauline" words (such as "law" in 1 Tim. 1:8-11), to a more mundane or practical focus throughout the letters. On the other hand, these are the only letters which are not written by Paul to churches but to individuals, and not any individuals, but individuals who he has mentored and who are co-workers in the ministry with Paul. Does audience affect style? Does the fact that Paul is writing to friends about practical considerations and problems impact how he writes? Also, most letters in the ancient world, including Paul’s letters, were dictated to an amanuensis, or scribe. Is Paul using a different amanuensis at this stage of his life? (Some scholars have suggested Luke.) Or, if he is writing from prison, does he have the same ability to dictate or to control the final product as with previous letters? Or is he not using an amanuensis at all? Finally, could it be that Paul is near death by judicial decision when these letters were written – for if they are from Paul, they are written toward the end of his life – and so his focus has changed from his previous letters. Knowing that he must prepare his co-workers for their task without him, does he concentrate, like a coach before the big game, on going over the fundamentals one last time? John W. Martens
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