Letters Written in the Name of Paul?

The Pauline Corpus and Pseudonymity (literally “false name)

Study Questions

  1. What possible reasons might an anonymous individual write in the name of an Old Testament prophet or a disciple of Jesus?  Here is an example of writings in Peter’s name:  1 Peter, 2 Peter, Gospel of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Kerygmata Petrou, the Letter of Peter to Philip (see also sermons attributed to or stories about Peter in the canonical and apocryphal Acts).
  2. Do you think it is an ethical/theological problem if some writings in the New Testament were written in the name of or “forged” in the name of someone else or were there different standards in the ancient world?  Scholars have found a variety of justifications for the practice (the Jewish understanding of attributing works to the fount of the tradition [e.g., Law of Moses, Psalms of David, Wisdom of Solomon], the convention of pseudonymity in Jewish apocalypses, the practice of attributing philosophical works to the founder of a philosophical school, feeling inspired by the same ‘spirit’ that inspired biblical figures, wishing to defend the legacy of a certain founding figure for a new generation) while other scholars have argued that “forgery” was seen as a deliberately deceptive practice in the ancient world (cf. Bart Ehrman).

 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 or the use of a scribe in composing the letter.  Colossians has many parallels with Philemon including Paul in prison, co-greetings from Timothy and similar co-workers (see Col 1:1; 4:10-14 with Philemon 1, 22-23).  However, they seem to have the following differences:

  1. Differences in language, vocabulary and style.  For instance, Colossians and Ephesians have long sentences written in the style of a liturgical hymn that is unusual for Paul.  For example:  “Blessed [is] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who did bless us in every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, according as He did choose us in him before the foundation of the world, for our being holy and unblemished before Him, in love, having foreordained us to the adoption of sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, in which He did make us accepted in the beloved, in whom we have the redemption through his blood, the remission of the trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, in which He did abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the secret of His will, according to His good pleasure, that He purposed in Himself, in regard to the dispensation of the fulness of the times, to bring into one the whole in the Christ, both the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth — in him; in whom also we did obtain an inheritance, being foreordained according to the purpose of Him who the all things is working according to the counsel of His will, for our being to the praise of His glory, [even] those who did first hope in the Christ, in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth — the good news of your salvation — in whom also having believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of the promise, which is an earnest of our inheritance, to the redemption of the acquired possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Eph 1:3-14, I chose a literal translation because it is one long sentence in the Greek!!!)
  2. Theological Differences
    1. Developed cosmic view of Christ (Col 1:15-20; 2:9-10, but see Philippians 2:6-11), Christ as head of the universal church body (Col 1:18; Eph 4:15-16), emphasis on realized eschatology (Col 2:11-12; 3:1, 3; Eph 2:5-10) and presently raised with Christ in baptism (Col 2:12; compare Rom 6:5, 8).  Ephesians seems dependent on Colossians and the address “in Ephesus” may not be original; it was perhaps originally circular letter “to the saints.”
    2. Different Eschatologies: 1 Thess suggests Christ’s return comes suddenly like a thief in the night (1 Thess 4:13-5:11), while 2 Thess 2 emphasizes an antichrist figure “the lawless one” must come first.  2 Thessalonians seems dependent on 1 Thessalonians.
    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 Thess 3:17)
    4. Household Codes first introduced in Colossians and later letters:  “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.  Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord; since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.  For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality” (Col 3:18-24); “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Saviour. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word,so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind… This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband. (Eph 5:25-33).  Would Paul, who did not personally recommend getting married as the present age was drawing to a close in 1 Corinthians, now conform to the surrounding culture on the proper maintenance of the household?

The Pastorals (*note: some recent scholarship has protested against grouping these letters together under one collection and have argued for the authenticity of individual letters such as 2 Timothy)

  1.  They are absent from an early collection of Pauline letters (Papyrus 46) and from the canon of the second century follower of Paul “Marcion” (included an edited collection of Paul’s letters and Luke)
  2. Vocabulary and stylistic differences (piety, epiphany, sound, king of the ages, Saviour, “the faith” used as a noun, etc.).  Use of fixed formulas (1 Tim 4:6; 6:3; 2 Tim 2:14; Tit 3:8).
  3. Chronological discrepancies with Acts and Paul’s letters.
  4. Developed church with bishops/overseers (1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:7), elders/presbyters (1 Tim. 4:14; 5:1f, 17, 19; Tit. 1:5; 2:2f), deacons (1 Tim. 3:8, 12; 4:6) and order of widows (1 Tim 5:3-16).
  5. View of Women: “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve;and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.” (2 Tim 2:11-15).  Compare this with Galatians 3:28; Romans 16 (especially Junia among the apostles), Philippians 4:2-3 or 1 Corinthians 14:33-36 (textually uncertain).

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