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Biblical Scholarship and the Pauline Epistles Part I

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Byzantine Mosaic of the Apostle Paul
Christians may be surprised to find that many strands of modern biblical scholarship are quick to assume that the apostle Paul did not write one or more of the following New Testament letters: Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). Instead of Pauline authorship, such scholars often claim these epistles are pseudonymous compositions, letters written by someone else who then attached Paul's name so that the letters would get a hearing in the church.

Is the case for pseudonymous composition of these epistles airtight, or are there significant arguments against these pseudonymity. What follows is the first of a multi-part series on whether or not Paul actually wrote the so-called Deutero-Paulines (2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus). The reasons why some people doubt Paul actually wrote these letters or dictated them to a secretary will be examined and evaluated.

Before we begin, let us note that the arguments in these articles are just a condensed version of more in-depth analysis available in other publications. For further study, let me commend the second edition of An Introduction to the New Testament by D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, one of the works important in formulating these articles.

Our first installment today will begin to examine the overarching reasons why Pauline authorship of the Deutero-Paulines is denied in much of modern biblical scholarship. As we consider these arguments, we will also evaluate each of them in turn:


After various linguistic analyses are performed on the aforementioned epistles, some scholars emphasize the fact that the Deutero-Paulines contain many words that appear only in these disputed epistles and that they describe the same theological concepts found in the "undisputed Pauline epistles (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon) with words not normally used in these undisputed Paulines. The conclusion is that since the vocabulary between the disputed and undisputed Paulines is different, an author other than Paul must have written the disputed Pauline epistles. This is the weakest argument for the non-Pauline authorship of the disputed Pauline texts because it assumes an intellect like Paul's could not possibly have known words than the undisputed epistles contain. Therefore, it is not by itself appealed to as the sole fact to disprove Pauline authorship; rather, it is combined with other factor to present a case against Paul's writing of these Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.

Differences in vocabulary, however, are easily accounted for if we consider that Paul's thought developed over the course of his ministry. As his understanding developed, so too did his use of vocabulary. Furthermore, nearly every representative of biblical scholarship agrees that Paul used an amanuensis or secretary/scribe to help write nearly all of his letters. Depending on the scribe Paul relied upon to write these letters, his vocabulary would necessarily be different from one letter to another based on the word choice his secretary or scribe used. Moreover, the original audience of each epistle necessarily impacted Paul's choice of vocabulary. For example, the terms Paul used to explain justification to the Romans may not have been as clear to other audiences, and therefore he would have naturally used different words to explain the concept with that different audience.


To Be Continued

In our next installment, we will continue our discussion of the overarching arguments used in some quarters of modern biblical scholarship to deny Pauline authorship of the Deutero-Paulines.



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