Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Back in the early 1990s while pastoring in the United Methodist Church, I attended one of their liberal seminaries. It was there that I first encountered the idea that some of the books of the New Testament were not written by the authors that bear their name. At the time, I thought that this idea would never be more than an academic concern--an annoying issue among Biblical scholars but of little concern to most people. I was gravely mistaken. New Testament scholar, skeptic and best-selling author Bart Ehrman has totally changed that with his book Forged: in the Name of God— Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.

In his book, Ehrman alleges that there are several forgeries in the New Testament. While much of what will be discussed in this article will be applicable to the arguments for other alleged forgeries in the New Testament, this article will focus on the pastoral letters (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus).

What is the basis of the idea that the pastoral letters were written by someone other than Paul? Are there textual variants giving other names? Are there manuscripts lacking Paul's name? Is there a statement against their authenticity by an early church father? Does someone in the early church even question their authenticity or hint that Paul may not have been the author? No. Nothing of the sort. On the contrary, these letters were used approvingly and recognized as part of the canon at a very early date. More than that, they are always included among Paul's letters in all canonical lists and manuscript collections; and they were never among the disputed letters in the canonical discussions of the early church.

Polycarp's epistle to the Philippians (4:1) says: "But the love of money is the beginning of all troubles. Knowing therefore that we brought nothing into the world neither can we carry anything out, let us arm ourselves with the armor of righteousness, and let us teach ourselves first to walk in the commandment of the Lord"--clear allusions to 1 Tim 6. See also 5:2 which quotes 2 Timothy. Polycarp not only quotes from both 1 and 2 Timothy, but he indicates that he knows they are from Paul. Polycarp is an important witness to Pauline authorship because he was a disciple of the apostle John and also the most important church leader of the early 2nd Century (following the death of John, the last living apostle).

*See the excellent online article by Polycarp scholar Kenneth Berding of Biola: "Polycarp of Smyrna Tells Us Who He Thinks Wrote the Pastoral Letters."

The letters to Timothy in particular are cited approvingly by Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, the Muratorian Canon, Origen, Eusebius, etc. (and also quoted disapprovingly by the heretic Marcion). And Titus is quoted by Iraneus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, the Muratorian Canon, etc. (and quoted disapprovingly by Marcion).

So why is there any question that Paul wrote them? The primary reason given by the Bible's critics is that the vocabulary and style of the pastorals seems to be different from that used in the other ten letters that bear Paul's name.

Carson and Moo summarize the argument as follows:

A strong argument is produced from the vocabulary differences between the three Pastoral epistles and the other ten epistles usually attributed to Paul. P. N. Harrison, building on the work of previous scholars, compiled some impressive statistics. He pointed out that the three Pastorals make use of 902 words, of which 54 are proper names. Of the remaining 848 words, 306 (more than a third of the total) do not occur in the other ten Pauline letters. Of these 306, at least 175 occur nowhere else in the New Testament. The argument is then developed in two ways. First, it is pointed out that this leaves 542 words shared by the Pauline letters and the Pastorals, of which no more than 50 are characteristic Pauline words in the sense that they are not used by other writers in the New Testament. Of the 492 words that are found in three bodies— the Pastorals, the rest of Paul, and the rest of the New Testament— there are, of course, the basic words without which it would be impossible to write at all, and words that every Christian writer would necessarily use (e.g., “brother,” “love,” “faith”). Again, some words have different meanings from book to book. Paul, for example, uses (antechomai) with the sense “to support,” “to aid” (1 Thess. 5: 14); the Pastorals, with the meaning “to hold fast” (Titus 1: 9); (koinos) means “Levitically unclean” in Paul (Rom. 14: 14) and “common” (as in “the common faith”) in the Pastorals (Titus 1: 4). Second, it is argued that many of the words in question are found in the apostolic fathers and the apologists of the early second century. Of the 306 words in the Pastorals that are not in the Pauline Epistles, 211 are found in these second-century writings. This kind of reasoning leads many to the conclusion that the author of the Pastorals was not Paul but probably a writer living at the end of the first century or toward the beginning of the second century. It is held to be unreasonable to think that in his old age Paul would suddenly produce a wealth of new words— moreover, words that are found in a later period. Third, scholars point out that of the 214 Greek particles found in the ten Pauline letters, 112 do not occur in the Pastoral Epistles. From this many infer that there is a comparative poverty of style in the latter: the connective tissue of the Pastoral Epistles is apparently very different from that of the Pauline ten. (Kindle Locations 14222-14242).

At first glance, this may seem like a very reasonable--perhaps even overwhelming--argument against the authenticity of the pastoral letters. When examined closely, however, this argument crumbles and is found to be illegitimate. In fact, the more closely I examine this argument, the more astounded I am that this argument has gained such widespread acceptance among Biblical scholars--even among many evangelicals.

Carson and Moo show some of the basic flaws with this statistical analysis:

The arguments sound impressive, but they are not as convincing as they seem to be at first sight. Those who put them forward do not always notice, for example, that most of the words shared by the Pastorals and the second-century writers are also found in other writings prior to A.D. 50. It cannot be argued that Paul would not have known them, nor can it be argued that Paul’s total vocabulary is the number of words in the ten letters (2,177 words). It is not necessary to argue that Paul produced hundreds of new words in his old age, for if he could use 2,177 words, there is no reason for supposing that he could not use another 306 words, most of which are known to have been current in his day. That some of the words are used with different meanings signifies no more than that the contexts are different. Paul also uses words with different meanings in different contexts in the ten letters. It is misleading simply to say that the Pastorals have 306 words that do not occur in the ten Paulines. On Harrison’s own figures, of the 306 there are 127 that occur in 1 Timothy alone, 81 in 2 Timothy alone, and 45 in Titus alone. This means that the vast majority are found in only one of the Pastorals and that the three differ from one another as much as (or more than) they differ from Paul. Are we to say that there were three pseudonymous writers? The statistics constitute no impressive argument for a single author. Or to put the argument in a different way, if the figures show that the three Pastorals were written by one author, they also show that that author may well have been Paul. (Kindle Locations 14243-14264).

They go on to delve further into the problems with the argument based on these statistics, but I will not reproduce the whole of it here. But the central problem can be summed up with a question: Are we really to believe that the other ten letters contain the whole range of vocabulary and expression for one of the most educated, literate, verbal and well-travelled persons of the First Century? The answer is obviously: No. Paul's excellent education, wide exposure to literature, and constant speaking and interacting with people from numerous different cultures would have left him with an immense vocabulary. This objection alone is enough to put this argument to rest. But there are several other very serious problems with this argument.

In this section, I want to look at 7 major factors that would have affected vocabulary and language use in the pastoral letters. Any one of these could easily account for differences between the pastorals and the rest of the Pauline corpus; but when all are considered, there should be no surprise at all that we do indeed find differences.

Paul's use of an amanuensis (or secretary) in the writing of his letters would definitely have had an impact on the language and style used. The following references clearly indicate that Paul did make use of an amanuensis:

*Rom. 16:22: "I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord."
*1 Cor. 16:21: "I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand."
*Gal. 6:11: "See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!"
*Col. 4:18: " I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand."
*2 Th. 3:17: "I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write."

These verses make it clear that Paul used an amanuensis to write down the body of the letter and then to write the greeting at the end of the letter himself. Most likely some kind of health problem made it necessary for him to rely on a secretary (most scholars think he probably had some problem with his eyes: see Galatians 4:13-15).

UPDATE: Luke Was Almost Certainly the Amanuensis for the Pastoral Letters
Recently while listening to a lecture by Ben Witherington (about the 16 minute mark) he made the observation that a close study makes it nearly certain that Luke was the secretary behind the pastoral epistles. He notes that there are about 50 words that are used only in the pastoral letters and Luke-Acts and nowhere else in the New Testament. And that there are 7 or 8 distinct phrases that are shared only by the pastoral letters and Luke-Acts. He also notes that in 2 Timothy 4:18, Paul says: "Only Luke is with me." So the obvious conclusion is that Luke must be the secretary that Paul always necessitates. The great New Testament scholar C. F. D. Moule put it this way: “Luke wrote all three Pastoral Epistles. But he wrote them during Paul’s lifetime, at Paul’s behest, and in part (but only in part), at Paul’s dictation.” [p. 434 of Moule's essay “The Problem of the Pastoral Epistles: A Reappraisal,” Bulletin of John Rylands Library 47 (1965)].
Resources for Luke's relationship to the pastoral letters:
*"Luke and the Pastoral Epistles" by Sean at the Initial Explorations blog
*"Luke and the Pastoral Epistles": Excursus 2 of The Birth of the New Testament by C.F.D. Moule

Way back in seminary, I did my own computer analysis comparing a disputed passage with a passage that everyone agrees was written by Paul. It was quite easy to show that an undisputed passage in 1 Corinthians had as many hapax legomena (words used only once by Paul) as the disputed passage in 2 Cor. 6, which some liberal scholars charge is an interpolation. My observation at the time was that subject matter can make a great deal of difference in the language used.

Literary forms in the ancient world (and now) come with certain expectations of structure, type of vocabulary used and range of expression. I actually did a paper on the authorship of 2 Timothy back in seminary. My central thesis back then was that language differences were related to the purpose and subject matter. The pastorals are intended primarily for the purpose of mentoring versus addressing specific needs of local churches. My New Testament professor at the time (though a liberal who was mentored by a student of Bultmann) noted that this was a sound approach (much to my surprise) and mentioned parallels in the Greco-Roman literature.

Carson and Moo note: "If we extend discussion of style to matters of literary genre, there is a little more to be said. Johnson and others have argued that 1 Timothy and Titus fit comfortably into the genre of the mandate letter, and 2 Timothy into the genre of the testament. Both fit Paul’s situation admirably and were common enough to have been known by him, but they would have been somewhat alien to someone writing his name several decades later. Thus, careful reflection on the literary genre supports apostolic authorship." (Kindle Locations 14314-14317).

Furthermore, the critics are comparing ten letters that were meant to be circulated for public reading with three personal letters that are written to men whom Paul affectionately refers to in these letters as "my son" or "my true son in the faith" or "my dear son" (1 Timothy 1:2, 18; 2 Timothy 1:2; 2:1; Titus 1:4)--men whom Paul often mentions with great affection in other letters and who had been serving at Paul's side for at least a decade.

If you have ever moved to or stayed in another region or culture for an extended period of time you will notice that there are many differences in the use of language. This would almost certainly be even more true in the First Century. (Modern national and international media causes there to be a greater evenness in language use.). Now consider that Paul is constantly on the move over the entire length of the massive Roman empire spanning radically different cultures. They all use Greek, but one can easily imagine that there were some interesting differences in language use from region to region.

To give a modern day example: Imagine an American travelling to England and spending a year there, perhaps attending a college there. Afterwards he travels back to the U.S. and resumes his previous life and continues his friendships in the U.K via email. It would be quite natural for this American to fill his emails with British phrases he learned while living in the U.K. But he would not likely use those same distinctively British phrases when sending an email to his American friends. There would undoubtedly be both similarities between those emails and significant differences.

It should also be noted that while the average person will find himself being unintentionally influenced by these regional differences, Paul's explicit statement of his mode of operation should convince us that he would intentionally speak the language of the people he was addressing (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23).

Furthermore, all of Paul's general letters are written to Gentiles; but Timothy was raised by a Jewish mother and grandmother (though his father was Greek; cf. Acts 16:1). So in terms of native language use, Timothy probably had much in common with Paul (being a Jew who was heavily influenced by the world of Greco-Roman culture) and Paul probably spoke to him more in the dialect he was used to speaking with his own family.

If we place the pastoral letters in the usually accepted time frame of the early 60s, then they are written about a decade after most of the other letters. However, I no longer think that the usually accepted dates are correct. See my most recent article: "Why 1 Timothy Was Written No Later Than 55 AD and Why That Matters"

But if you do accept the usual dates, consider the following: Time changes all of us. Can you remember what you were doing ten or fifteen years ago? Think about how you have changed since that time. If I ever find those seminary papers I've been mentioning, maybe I'll compare them to this article. I can only imagine the differences after all of the life experiences and changes I have been through since I graduated from seminary in 1995.

It would be interesting to compare something that Ehrman wrote while at Moody to his latest works. Even among his more recent works, it has been noted that there is a big difference between his popular works and his scholarly works. I am certain the differences would be even greater if we could obtain a few of his recent personal letters and compare them to papers or sermons he wrote at Moody.

With this in mind, consider the fact that most of Paul's letters were probably written about a decade before the pastoral letters: The pastoral letters are generally thought to have been written some time between 63 and 68 A.D. And most of Paul's other letters are thought to have been written in the early 50s, one or two others as late as the mid 50s, and four in the early 60s (probably two to five years before the pastorals).

Physical and psychological factors should also be taken into consideration. Stress, mood and one's state of health can certainly affect one's use of language. Remember: when the pastoral letters are being written, Paul is getting old, he has endured a long list of difficulties over the previous 15 to 20 years, he is enduring the hazardous conditions of a Roman prison (at least in 2 Timothy; cf. 1:8; 2:9), and he is now facing his death.

An issue that I have never heard or seen mentioned in the many conversations that I have seen about this over the years is the simple fact that the introductions to the "Pauline" letters often clearly indicate that Paul is not the only author. And this cannot simply be attributed to the idea that those mentioned with Paul in the introductions are merely others who are with Paul or part of his team--as Paul routinely reserves the closing of his letter to mention those who are with him.

*Romans 1:1: Paul
*1 Corinthians 1:1: Paul & Sosthenes (16:19-20: others with Paul are mentioned)
*2 Corinthians 1:1: Paul & Timothy (13:13: others with Paul are mentioned)
*Galatians 1:1-2: Paul & all the brothers with him
*Ephesians 1:1: Paul
*Philippians 1:1: Paul & Timothy (4:21-22: others with Paul are mentioned)
*Colossians 1:1: Paul & Timothy (4:10-14: others with Paul are mentioned)
*1 Thessalonians 1:1: Paul, Silas & Timothy
*2 Thessalonians 1:1: Paul, Silas & Timothy
*1 Timothy 1:1: Paul
*2 Timothy 1:1: Paul
*Titus 1:1: Paul
*Philemon: Paul & Timothy

In summary, 8 of the 13 letters state explicitly that--though Paul is the primary author--others are involved. Only Romans, Ephesians and the pastorals do not indicate plural authorship. Or to put it another way, when the pastorals are being compared to the rest of Paul's letters, we are not comparing apples to apples: The pastoral letters indicate that Paul is the sole author, but 8 of the 10 other letters explicitly state plural authorship.

Perhaps the most important finding that comes from this is that Timothy is explicitly stated as a co-author of at least 6 of the epistles. But he obviously would not have been a co-author of the two pastorals written to him.

The conclusion seems simple. The pastoral letters state that they are written by Paul and we have no sound reason to believe otherwise. The differences in language are hardly an argument for an author other than Paul. There are a large number of significant factors that quite easily account for the differences between these three short letters and the rest of the Pauline Corpus. (In fact, when all the evidence is weighed carefully, I think that it would be much more suspicious if all of Paul's letters were very much alike.)

The reality is that forgeries were as scandalous during the time that the early church was forming as they are now. If they were forgeries, they would not have been accepted as Scripture. As it is, they were widely used and attested to by leaders of the early church.

Dr. Tim McGrew has it right when he says: "Against evidence of this sort [speaking of the testimonies of early church leaders], literary speculations are about as weighty as dandelion fluff. They have very little force. But they are very useful for seeding people's minds with needless doubts." (from the online interview with Brian Auten noted below)

*Thanks to Erik Manning for help with early church references to the pastorals.
*Thanks to Dr. Tim McGrew for getting me started on this and for help with editing.


"How to Be a Biblical Scholar" (2 minutes)
by Lutheran Satire

*Dialogue about Bart Ehrman's book "Forged" between  Ehrman and Darrel Bock on Unbelieveable?

*Dr. Thomas Schreiner has a 42-minute lecture on the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles.
*Brian Auten interviews Tim McGrew: They begin discussing Ehrman's book Forged at about 12:15 and quickly move to discussion of the authenticity of the pastorals.
*Andrew Pitts is interviewed by Nick Peters on the Deeper Waters Podcast. The first 18 minutes are especially helpful for studying this issue related to the pastoral letters of Paul. This two hour podcast then weaves in the issue of the anonymity of the Gospels and textual criticism, and then ends on the authorship of Peter's Letters.
*Justin Langford is interviewed by Nick Peters on the Deeper Waters Podcast.

*Richards, E. Randolph. "Will the Real Author Please Stand Up?: The Author in Greco-Roman Letter Writing." (Chapter 8, p. 113-136 in Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics, edited by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig). An excellent article on the authenticity of the New Testament letters, especially the pastorals and the letters of Peter. This is probably the best thing I have read on the subject, but I had not read it before writing the above article. I hope to revise my article with things I have learned from this.
*Wilder, Terry. "Does the Bible Contain Forgeries?" Chapter 7 (Kindle Location 3636) of In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture, edited by Steven Cowan and Terry Wilder
*Berding, Kenneth. "Polycarp of Smyrna Tells Us Who He Thinks Wrote 1 & 2 Timothy"
*"The Development of the Idea of Canonical Pseudopigraphy in New Testament Criticism" and "Dilemmas in New Testament Criticism": excellent articles that  Donald Guthrie produced on the issue of pseudonymity in the New Testament.
*Darrell Bock responds to Bart Ehrman.
*Witherington's series of reviews of Bart Ehrman's book Forged.
*Mike Licona's review of Bart Ehrman's book Forged(You have to click the link, then it downloads as a pdf.)
*Tektonics online article.
*Online table showing the use of the New Testament by early church fathers and heretics.
*"Pastoral Letters" (p.658-666, esp. 659-661: Section 1: "Canonicity and Authorship") by E.E. Ellis from Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Hawthorne, Martin and Reid
*"The Problem of the Pastoral Epistles: An Important Hypothesis Reconsidered" by Jermo van Nes

*Carson, D. A.; Moo, Douglas J.  An Introduction to the New Testament. (2009) Zondervan. My first go-to reference for these kinds of questions is Carson and Moo's Introduction to the New Testament. I've been using it for about 20 years now and I have never been disappointed. These guys are solid in theology and scholarship. They, of course, skillfully defend the Pauline authorship of the pastoral letters.
*Wilder, Terry. Pseudonymity, The New Testament and Deception: An Inquiry into Intention and Reception. (Note: As the one used copy is an astronomical price, you may want to borrow this one from a library.)
*Ehrman, Bart D. Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition. The book which has had the most success at pushing the erroneous idea that the pastoral letters (and others) are forgeries.
*Harrison, P.N. The Problem of the Pastoral Epistles (London: Oxford University Press, 1921). Probably the most important work in the history of casting doubt on the authenticity of the pastoral letters. See especially pp.20ff, 70. This work is now in the public domain and can be downloaded for free at the title link above.
*Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament : Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 466.
*Gundry, Robert. A Survey of the New Testament, 4th Edition. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003)

"St. Paul (First State)" (1514) by Albrecht Durer
Image source: WikiArt (public domain)

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