WAS IT FORGED: Second Epistle to Timothy

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The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

NOTE: Nineteen articles will begin with these same two introductory paragraphs but will then speak specifically about the Bible book in question.

It has often been said [by whom?] that it was an accepted practice in antiquity for a writer to attribute his work to a well-known figure from the past or a teacher who has greatly influenced him. The practice would have been condemned as dishonest by all authorities in antiquity. The book Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are by Agnostic New Testament Bible scholar Dr. Bart D. Ehrman contends that this is incorrect. Falsely attributed writings are often referred to as “pseudepigraphs,” but Ehrman maintains that the more honest term is “forgery.” The book suggests that 11 or more books out of the 27 books of the Christian New Testament canon were written as forgeries. This article and others will debunk this claim. In his book, Ehrman points out numerous inconsistencies which he finds within the New Testament which appear to support many of his claims, such as the fact that in Acts 4:13, the statement is made that both Peter and John were illiterate, yet in later years entire books of the Bible were then alleged to have been written by them. This last argument is quickly debunked on two grounds: (1) it was not years later that they wrote their books, it was over thirty years later, and in the case of John, it was over sixty years later; (2) the Greek means unlettered (YLT) that is, not educated in the rabbinic schools; not meaning illiterate. Nevertheless, below are three articles that destroy this argument of Ehrman.

Were Jesus, the Apostles, and the Early Christians Illiterate, Uneducated?

What Do We Know About Books, Reading, and Writing; Literacy In Early Christianity?

The Early Christian’s View of the Integrity of the Greek New Testament Books

False attributions

In addition to the eleven books of the New Testament Ehrman identifies as forgeries, he discusses eight originally anonymous New Testament texts that had names of apostles ascribed to them later and are falsely attributed. These are not forgeries since the texts are anonymous but have had false authors ascribed to them by others.


Dr. Norman L. Geisler writes,

Who Wrote It?

Paul, the departing apostle (1:1; see 4:6), wrote the epistle to Timothy. Luke may have served as secretary (4:11; see Rom. 16:22).

Internal Evidence

Despite some modern criticism, the evidence for Paul’s authorship is strong. First, there is the clear claim of the book (1:1). Likewise, the companions mentioned—Mark and Luke—are Paul’s (4:11–21). Also the content is Pauline, with its stress on sound doctrine and the Word of God (1:13; 2:15; 3:15–17; 4:2). The circumstances are clearly those of Paul, speaking of his imprisonment and imminent death (4:6–8).

External Evidence

External support for Paul’s authorship is early and strong. The earliest known manuscripts bear his name. In addition, the early Fathers attribute it to Paul (Barnabas, Ignatius, Shepherd of Hermas, and Irenaeus). Also the great later Fathers, like Tertullian, Origen, Jerome, and Augustine, supported Pauline authorship. And the early Muratorian canon contained it. Finally, the objections of modern critics are based on specious arguments concerning alleged Pauline vocabulary (see the discussion of Paul’s vocabulary in chapter 19).

When Was It Written?

The letter was written ca. AD 67, just before Paul’s martyrdom under Nero, during his second Roman imprisonment (2 Tim. 1:16–17).

To Whom Was It Written?

The letter was written to Timothy, his “beloved son” (1:2), who was encountering false teaching (see 1 Timothy, chapter 19).[1]



Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin write,

Authorship of the Pastorals

Many contemporary interpreters feel that the name “Paul” in all three Epistles is a pseudonym. Most who advocate pseudonymity feel that an admirer of Paul penned the letters at a time after Paul’s death and used the name of Paul in order to secure acceptance of his ideas.

Some maintain that the writings contain genuine Pauline fragments. A Pauline admirer, it is often alleged, added some comments to provide coherence and unity for the letters. Among the passages that have been represented as fragments are 1 Tim 1:13–15; 2 Tim 1:16–18; 3:10–11; 4:6–22; and Titus 3:13–15. The passages viewed as fragments contain short biographical extracts about Paul or personal information about Timothy. The chief advocate of this theory was P. N. Harrison, whose views on the subject underwent modification over a period of several decades. Interpreters today show less interest in a fragmentary hypothesis than was true in the past.

The five arguments usually advanced in support of pseudonymity are the same as those of Holtzmann. These are (1) differences in vocabulary and style between the Pastorals and other Pauline writings; (2) the nature of the false teaching that Paul opposed; (3) the ecclesiastical structure apparent in the letters; (4) conflicting circumstances; and (5) theology.


(1) Different Vocabulary and Style

The Pastoral Epistles contain many words that are rare in the New Testament. The technical term used for words that appear only once in the New Testament is hapax legomena. Such words as “slave traders” (1 Tim 1:10; andrapodistai) and “integrity” (Titus 2:7; aphthoria) are hapax legomena. In addition to these unique words there are others which are rare in the other ten Pauline writings but are key terms in the Pastorals. Among these are “godliness” (1 Tim 6:11; eusebeia) and “to worship God” (1 Tim 2:10; theosebeia). To compound the problem, many of Paul’s most significant words are missing from the Pastorals or appear with different meanings. Such a term as “righteousness” (dikaiosynē) is presented in the Pastorals as a virtue to be sought (1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 2:22), not as a gift of right-standing with God. It is also startling to find that the word “son” (huios) does not appear in the Pastorals as a reference to Christ. There is no mention of the cross, a key theme in most Pauline writings.

Many lexical features of the Pastorals differ markedly from Paul’s undisputed writings. P. N. Harrison has collected a group of 112 particles, pronouns, and prepositions that occur in the other Pauline Epistles but which are absent from the Pastorals. The style is somewhat monotonous and formal, and there is an absence of vigor and vitality in the expression of ideas.15

The statistics of the linguistic distinctives of the Pastorals have been summarized by E. F. Harrison, a defender of Pauline authorship of the Pastorals: (1) The total vocabulary of the Pastorals is 902 words. (2) Of these words, 306 are not found in the other ten Pauline writings. (3) Of these 306 words, 175 do not appear anywhere in the New Testament outside the Pastorals; and 131 occur in the Pastorals and some other New Testament book, but not in any other Pauline Epistle.

  1. N. Harrison has made additional impressive collections of statistics concerning the linguistic peculiarities of the Pastorals. He attempted to show that the variety of linguistic usage is without parallel in Paul’s other writings. He also has collected statistics to suggest that the language of the Pastorals is the speech of the second century a.d. He pointed out that many of the rare words found in the Pastorals were in use in the second century.

In rebuttal to Harrison, J. N. D. Kelly has pointed out that almost all of the hapax legomena in the Pastorals appear in use by Greek writers prior to a.d. 50. Kelly also indicates that the proportion of hapax legomena appearing in second-century writings is approximately the same for both the Pastorals and an undoubted Pauline Epistle such as 1 Corinthians. These facts suggest that P. N. Harrison’s conclusions have likely outraced the evidence.

  1. Metzger has indicated that the length of the Pastorals is too brief to serve as a source of accurate information about the writing habits of the author. He says: “It seems, therefore, that a discreet reticence should replace the almost unbounded confidence with which many scholars have used this method [word statistics] in attempting to solve the problem of the authorship of the Pastorals.”

It is possible to attribute the change in Pauline style in the Pastorals to three different causes. First, Paul’s subject matter, age, and life experiences may have led him to use a different mood and manner of expression from that which he used in his other writings. D. Guthrie, a staunch defender of Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, has expressed it this way:

Advocates of Pauline authorship must, in any case, be prepared to accept the fact that the Paul which the Pastorals present has undergone a change, but there seems to be no psychological reason for maintaining that the character of this change is incompatible with the man we know from the earlier Epistles.

We would not expect a minister to use the same words on Mothers’ Day and Easter, nor would we expect a younger pastor to use the same vocabulary as a more mature cleric.

Second, the needs of Paul’s readers may have prompted his omission of certain terms and theological ideas which he used in other epistles. Kelly points out that the Pastorals deal with new subjects such as church organization and the qualities needed in a minister. Paul faced new challenges from heretical worship practices and propaganda.

Third, Paul may have used an amanuensis or secretary in writing the Pastorals and could have given him the freedom to choose some of his own words. In Rom 16:22 Paul mentioned Tertius as the framer of the words of the Epistle. In several of his Letters (1 Cor 16:21; Gal 6:11; Col 4:18; 2 Thess 3:17) Paul added a statement that he was inserting a line in his own hand. Kelly points out that it is less likely that Paul personally dictated every word of his writings and more likely that he gave a trusted amanuensis a freer hand in the composition of a letter. Specifically in the instance of 2 Timothy it is likely that Paul required some secretarial assistance. If Paul were a prisoner awaiting his death (2 Tim 4:6–8), it seems highly unlikely that he could have penned the writings without some help.

All of these observations indicate that it is precarious and unnecessary to reject Pauline authorship based on the stylistic contrasts between the Pastorals and the other Pauline Epistles. Too many other cogent explanations for the differences lie close at hand.


(2) The Problem of Heresy

By the second century Christianity was locked in a battle with a heretical movement known as Gnosticism. This heresy denied the resurrection of Christ, alternated ethically between moral license and rigid asceticism, and insisted that human beings could not enjoy full knowledge of God and fellowship with him. Gnostics felt that the transcendent majesty of God so removed him from contact with mere mortals that he created a system of aeons or subordinate creatures between him and the world. Critics of Pauline authorship find some of these beliefs in the Pastorals. This has led some of them to suggest that the Pastorals are a product of the second century.

Those who seek to link the heresy addressed in the Pastorals with Gnosticism find support for their views in the reference to a Gnostic-like denial of the resurrection, a teaching Paul opposed in 2 Tim 2:17–18. The reference to Christ as the “one mediator between God and men” (1 Tim 2:5) could provide a Christian response to the systems of aeons in fully developed Gnosticism.

Others also try to link the heresy with the second-century heretic Marcion. They note that in 1 Tim 6:20 the term “opposing ideas” (antitheseis) is the title of a work by the heretic Marcion. They attempt to date the Pastorals in the time of Marcion. Although most scholars admit that Marcion was not a true Gnostic, they recognize that his negative attitude toward the body and the physical world resembled that of the Gnostics.

Marcion also distinguished between the God of goodness and the inferior God of justice, who was the creator and God of the Jews. He viewed Christ as the messenger of the Gods, and he rejected the entire Old Testament.

The heresy Paul described in the Pastorals was characterized by an interest in Jewish law (1 Tim 1:6–7) and showed the influence of “those of the circumcision group” (Titus 1:10). It is unlikely that any of this could be said of Marcion or his followers. This makes it less likely that any reference to Marcion is intended.

Some who compare the heresy addressed in the Pastorals to Gnosticism suggest that the Pastoral errors are more advanced and developed heresies than those in Col 2:8–23. They see these more developed heresies as resembling Gnosticism. They note that Paul gave thoughtful answers to the errors in Colosse, but in the Pastorals he simply denounced his opponents and warned Timothy and Titus to avoid them (1 Tim 1:20; 6:20; Titus 3:9–11; cf. Gal 1:8–9).

Guthrie defends Pauline authorship of the Pastorals by pointing out the following features of the heresy: First, Paul emphasized more the irrelevance of the heretical teaching than its falsehood. His pejorative reference to “myths” (1 Tim 1:4; Titus 1:14) and to “controversies and quarrels about words” (1 Tim 6:4; cf. Titus 1:10; 3:9) shows that “the main stock-in-trade of these teachers was empty platitudes which Paul did not even consider it worthwhile to refute.” Second, the error had many Jewish characteristics (1 Tim 1:7; Titus 1:10, 14; 3:9). The reference to “genealogies” (1 Tim 1:4; Titus 3:9) resembles Jewish speculations centering around the genealogies of the Pentateuch. Third, Paul saw some tendencies toward asceticism (1 Tim 4:1–5; 5:23; Titus 1:15–16). The errorists abstained from certain food and practiced celibacy. The use of the future tense in 1 Tim 4:1 may indicate that the error had not arisen in the church at Ephesus, but it was already a problem in Colosse. Fourth, the only doctrinal error Paul mentioned was a denial of the resurrection (2 Tim 2:17–18). When Hymenaeus and Philetus maintained that the resurrection of believers was past, they denied the truth of the event altogether.

These facts do not seem to point to a fully developed heresy. Lightfoot observes: “Floating speculation, vague theories, coalescing gradually to a greater consistency and tending more or less in one direction—this, and not more than this, we are at liberty to assume as the date of the Pastoral Epistles.” Paul may have refrained from extensive discussion of the heresy because he assumed that Timothy and Titus did not need additional instruction in answering the vague speculations. They had proven themselves competent enough in discussions to respond without additional help from Paul.29

Kelly’s examination and comparison of the teachings of the Pastorals with the Gnostic systems led him to conclude that “in general there is nothing in the sparse, vague hints we are given to indicate that the doctrine attacked had the elaboration or coherence of the great Gnostic systems.”

There is clearly a strain of aberrant Judaism in the heresy addressed in the Pastorals. While the errorists may not be the same as those Paul encountered in Galatia, they were ascetics who disparaged marriage and certain types of food. That Paul encountered a similar ascetic heresy (cf. Col 2:16, 21–23) suggests that we do not need to search outside the first century to discover parallels to the heresy described in the Pastorals. Paul was not opposing a second-century Gnosticism; rather, he had encountered a variant form of Judaism tinged with incipient Gnostic ideas which were not an isolated phenomenon in the first century.


(3) The Ecclesiastical Structure

Ignatius served as bishop of Antioch during a part of the first half of the second century a.d. He was martyred in Rome around 115. While traveling under armed guard to Rome, he wrote his Letter to the Ephesians in which he said: “We ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would look upon the Lord Himself.”

Some have suggested that the position of the elders in the Pastorals possesses the authority Ignatius gave to the bishop (see 1 Tim 5:17). If this were true, it would be easy to date the Pastorals beyond the time of Paul and into the second century a.d.

Kümmel feels that the Pastorals come from “a community which is establishing itself in the world as Paul never knew it.” Hanson remarks that the attention which the Pastorals devote to ordained offices in the churches “in itself marks them as belonging to a later generation than Paul’s.”35 It will be convenient to arrange the arguments made against Pauline authorship on the basis of ecclesiastical structure into five statements.

First, those who oppose Pauline authorship based on this consideration often accuse Paul of having no interest in church organization. They observe, for example, the church in Corinth pictured in the Corinthian Epistles and see little discussion of church order. There the charismatic ministries are important, and they find the greater attention to organizational details of the Pastorals conspicuously lacking in the Corinthian writings.

However, references to Paul’s actions in other New Testament writings clearly show that Paul always had some interest in proper organization. He and Barnabas appointed elders in the Galatian churches on the first missionary journey (Acts 14:23). In Acts 20:17 he asked the Ephesian elders to meet with him and acknowledged their existence even if he had not appointed them. The Thessalonian church had in it those who stood over others in the Lord (1 Thess 5:12), and the Philippian church contained both overseers and deacons (Phil 1:1). Paul’s reference to these leaders indicates his recognition of their function.

Second, it is common to see the elders in the church as bearers of traditions and as charged with the duty of passing on the teachings of the church. Kümmel leans toward this view of the roles of Timothy and Titus by saying, “The actual task of Timothy and Titus consists rather in preserving the correct teaching which they received from Paul and passing it on to their pupils.” Those who support this view of the function of Timothy and Titus think that the tradition was not fixed and wonder how Paul could appoint tradition-bearers at that time. Thus, they feel that the function of Timothy and Titus is too advanced for the time of the apostle.

Paul’s statement in 2 Tim 2:2 urging Timothy to find “reliable” recipients of the tradition does not indicate that the main function of Timothy was to pass on tradition. It properly reflects an interest in accurate tradition guaranteed by authorized transmission. Paul’s statement need only be seen as an evidence of concern that the gospel be properly understood by the succeeding generation. It is also true that Paul must have had some fixed body of doctrine to which he gave some assent. His statements in 1 Cor 15:3–8 represent a definition of the content of the gospel. In the Pastorals the apostle was showing concern that a proper understanding of this gospel be transmitted to the next generation, but he did not suggest that all Christian truth had been formulated, nor did he indicate that Timothy and Titus were mere guarantors of the truth of tradition.

Third, some who oppose Pauline authorship of the Pastorals find it strange that Paul would prohibit the appointment of a new convert to an office of leadership (1 Tim 3:6). They view the Ephesian church as newly organized and thus posit a conflict between the statements attributed to Paul and the situation of the Ephesian church. To those who oppose Pauline authorship of the Pastorals the words in 1 Tim 3:6 sound like a directive to a long-established church.

It is true that the original elders in a congregation would be novices. At the outset a church would have no other choices for positions of leadership. By the time of the writing of the Pastorals, however, the Ephesian church could have been over a decade old; and the word “novice” would describe new and untested believers in the congregation. It is interesting to note that Paul did not repeat the prohibition against novices to the Cretan church, which was presumably a more recently developed congregation than Ephesus.

Fourth, some who observe the positions of Titus and Timothy compare them to the monarchical bishops of the second century. In this function a bishop attained a role of authority or leadership over a surrounding area and appointed elders to serve over local congregations. Although Hanson does not use the term monarchical, he does feel that the authority of appointment (1 Tim 5:22; Titus 1:5) to be exercised by Timothy and Titus was not performed in Paul’s lifetime.

It is true that Timothy and Titus had greater authority than those whom they were appointing, but there is no indication that each church or local area had only a single bishop. Their authority certainly was not as autocratic as that of Ignatius. The unusual nature of their authority can be explained by viewing them as representatives of Paul charged with the authority to correct abuses in their church.

A final objection to the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals based on the ecclesiastical organization of the church notes that the Pastorals appear to minimize the experience of endowment by the Holy Spirit. Paul’s discussions concerning spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 12 and gifted leaders in Eph 4:11–16 seem to envision church leaders equipped by the Holy Spirit.

The Pastorals appear to suggest a process of election or choosing to office (Titus 1:5), and they emphasize the requirements for the office more than endowments. The Pastorals are the final writings of Paul. It should not be a surprise that Paul would focus upon the office of “overseer” or “elder” by discussing the requirements for office. The conclusion of J. N. D. Kelly seems appropriate:

Our picture of the organization of Paul’s churches is admittedly incomplete. There is nothing in it, however, which requires us to place the Pastorals outside his lifetime on the ground that the administrative arrangements they presuppose are more advanced than anything he could have known.

For additional information on the ecclesiastical structure of the churches in the Pastorals, see the section entitled “Theological Themes of the Pastorals.”


(4) Conflicting Circumstances

The reader of 1 Timothy and Titus gets the impression that Paul had made many travels in the eastern half of the Roman Empire. In 1 Tim 1:3 Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus to deal with false teachers, and in Titus 1:5 Paul had left Titus in Crete and headed eventually for Nicopolis (Titus 3:12), where he intended to spend a winter. In 1 Tim 3:14 Paul expressed the hope that he would return to Ephesus. When we open 2 Timothy, Paul was again in prison, clearly in Rome, and his expectation was that death was a distinct possibility (2 Tim 1:16–17; 2:9; 4:6–8, 16–18). He also requested Timothy to bring him his cloak and books from Troas, informed him of Erastus’s residence at Corinth, and described Trophimus’s illness at Miletus as if it were a recent event (2 Tim 4:13, 20).

A problem appears when we attempt to correlate these journeys with Acts. Although Paul may have briefly visited Crete on his journey to Rome (Acts 27:7–12), there is no indication in Acts that he engaged in any missionary work on Crete. We have no evidence in Acts that he visited Nicopolis. In Acts 20:4–6 Timothy accompanied Paul during his journey to Ephesus and was thus not in Ephesus to receive a letter from Paul. It is difficult to fit Paul’s journeys in the Pastorals into the chronology of Acts. This fact leads some to feel that a pseudonymous writer has added the above incidents to Paul’s life.

The traditional answer to these observations is that Paul was released from his imprisonment of Acts 28, returned to the East, and then was later arrested and imprisoned again in Rome. Those who opposed this view would argue that Paul had intended to travel west from Rome but had not indicated a trip eastward (Rom 15:23–29). Many are also skeptical of the likelihood that Paul could be released from a Roman detention or, if released, would be arrested again.

An examination of Paul’s writings will indicate the possibility that he had changed his mind about the journey westward. In Phlm 22 Paul expressed his plans to return to Asia Minor. He also expected to be released from the first imprisonment (Phil 1:18–19, 24–26; 2:24). Acts does not record all of Paul’s activities, and we would not be surprised that many significant events in Paul’s life occurred without a complete description in Acts (e.g., 2 Cor 11:22–33, which includes many events omitted in Acts).

Clement of Rome was a prominent Roman Christian leader who penned an epistle to the Corinthians in the late first century a.d. In his epistle Clement said, “Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity.” The accuracy of Clement’s report on the total number of Paul’s imprisonments may be questionable, but the report is evidence that there was a tradition that Paul had endured more than one imprisonment. Another source of support for a second Roman imprisonment comes from Eusebius, who said:

Paul spent two whole years at Rome as a prisoner at large and preached the word of God without restraint. Thus after he had made his defense it is said that the apostle was sent again upon the ministry of preaching and that upon coming to the same city a second time he suffered martyrdom.

Kümmel, who opposes Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, admits that the evidence from 1 Clement suggests the possibility that Paul was set free in Rome and later became a martyr after missionary activity in Spain. However, he finds no support in Clement for any journey to the East during which time he could have written the Pastorals. He dismisses the relevance of Eusebius’s comment with the statement that it “is by no means adequately attested and must be characterized as an ungrounded construct.”

It is difficult to extract the order of events from the Pastoral Epistles. A possible reconstruction is that Paul went to Crete with Titus and perhaps Timothy soon after his release from Roman custody. There they evangelized many towns and encountered opposition. Paul left Titus on the island to deal with the difficulties the churches were encountering. Paul and Timothy in the meantime headed for Ephesus, where they faced difficult circumstances. False teaching similar to that in Colosse had undermined the church. Paul disciplined two leaders of the movement (1 Tim 1:19–20), but he pressed on for Macedonia and left Timothy behind to grapple with the situation (1 Tim 1:3). Later from Macedonia Paul wrote letters to both Timothy and Titus. At some point Paul was arrested again and returned to Rome, where he had a hearing before a Roman tribunal (2 Tim 4:16–18). He was bound over for a full trial, received a visit from Onesiphorus (2 Tim 1:16–18), and sent Tychicus to replace Timothy at Ephesus (2 Tim 4:12). Paul sent the Letter of 2 Timothy with Tychicus and urged Timothy to make his way quickly to Rome before winter made the trip impossible (2 Tim 4:21).


(5) Theology

Those who reject Pauline authorship of the Pastorals emphasize that the theological content of the Pastorals varies too much from the genuine Pauline writings to be considered as Pauline. Hanson says, “He does not have any doctrine of his own, but makes use of whatever comes to him in the sources which he uses.” Questions concerning the theological content of the Pastorals focus around two important issues. First, many common Pauline phrases and ideas are simply not mentioned in the Pastorals. Second, the writer is seen as using a hackneyed, monotonous style to present Christian doctrine.

Those who reject Pauline authorship note the absence of discussion about the fatherhood of God and union with Christ. They see little reference to the work of the Holy Spirit, and they note the absence of discussion of the death of Christ. Why are such phrases absent? It is true that the term “father” used of God is limited to the opening greeting of each Pastoral, but the subject of God’s fatherly goodness and his mercy toward sinners appears often. God is called Savior in an effort to focus on his saving action (1 Tim 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; Titus 1:3; 2:10; 3:4). God wants all men to be saved and to come to know the truth (1 Tim 2:4). God’s loving-kindness is mentioned in Titus 3:4, and his grace is presented in Titus 2:11. The gracious provision of God is the theme of 1 Tim 6:17. These references do not show a God who is distant and unapproachable but near and filled with fatherly goodness.

Concerning the relationship of the believer to Christ, it is true that Paul used the term “in Christ” in his other writings in reference to persons. In the Pastorals he used the phrase more in reference to qualities (2 Tim 1:1; 3:12). The quality of having “life in Christ Jesus” need not be distinguished from the personal experience of being “in Christ.” A person who has life in Christ is in Christ.

The Pastorals contain references to the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 1:14; Titus 3:5), but these are not as frequent as in some of Paul’s other writings. Paul’s purposes did not require that he make frequent reference to the Holy Spirit. Paul was under no obligation to declare all of his beliefs fully in each of his writings.

There is in the Pastorals a notable absence of significant references to the cross and the death of Christ. However, the concept of the cross is not completely banished. The reference to the “ransom” of Christ (1 Tim 2:6) calls attention to his death. The image of redemption mentioned in Titus 2:14 performs the same function.

The second observation often raised about the theological content of the Pastorals is its stereotypical, monotonous content. Christianity has become “the faith,” “the deposit,” or “sound teaching.” The prevalence of expressions such as “the faith” (1 Tim 3:13; Titus 1:13) and “deposit” (2 Tim 1:14) may sound like a reference to an official body of doctrine. Paul, however, used the expression “faith” in reference to Christian content in Phil 1:27; Col 2:7; and Eph 4:5. Further an emphasis on “sound teaching” (Titus 1:9; 2:1) would be perfectly normal in an environment charged with false and unsound teaching.

Some point out that the demand for ethical commitment expressed so movingly in a passage such as Eph 4:25–32 has come to be expressed in a rather bourgeois list (see 1 Tim 3:1–13).

It is correct to point out that Paul has extended appeals for moderation, self-control, and sober living (1 Tim 3:1–13; Titus 2:2–10) in the Pastorals. Paul’s readers were likely surrounded by an unappreciative population who desperately needed to see a demonstration of generosity, sober action, and self-control more than to hear theoretical discussions about love and joy. Paul realized that a demonstration of traditional virtues appreciated by the Ephesians would make a deep impact.

  1. Kümmel thinks the writer had abandoned “a living expectation of the End.” Those who fault the hope of the end expressed in the Pastorals point to the usage of the Greek term epiphaneia, a word used to refer to a visible manifestation of a hidden divinity. Yet it is difficult to see any absence of a vivid expectation of the return of Christ in a passage such as Titus 2:11–13. The usage of the term (see “appearing” in Titus 2:13) seems fitted to express the majesty associated with Christ’s appearance.

The Pastorals do contain a change in theological emphasis. Factors affecting this could be Paul’s advancing age, the needs of the readers, and the subject matter to be discussed. Changes in theological vocabulary such as the reference to Christianity as “the faith” and the return of Christ as an “epiphany” may be related to the same causes.

  1. E. Ellis has called attention to another phenomenon of the Pastorals which has important implications for the theological argument concerning authorship. Ellis has found evidence in the Pastorals for the presence of preformed tradition which may stem back to Paul. He detects some of these traditions by observing such introductory formulas as “faithful is the Word,” “know this,” or “teach these things.” Ellis feels that the deeply embedded Pauline features of the Pastorals come from these preformed traditions the apostle used. Ellis’s argument shows the complexity of the process of authorship. It also provides a warning against presuming that an unknown author attempted merely to imitate Paul’s style or theology. Ellis suggests that the likenesses of the Pastorals to Paul come because Paul used in all of his writings preformed tradition which he fashioned to his own needs. The presence of such tradition in the Pastorals is an additional indicator of Pauline authorship. For additional discussion on the theological content of the Pastorals, see the section in the Introduction dealing with “Theological Themes of the Pastorals.”
The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

(6) The Question of Pseudonymous Writings

Pseudonymous literature has appeared in writings from many cultures. In America, Samuel Langhorne Clemens entertained millions using his better-known pen name of Mark Twain. During the intertestamental period and portions of the first Christian century, Jewish writers used pseudonymity in producing such literature as 1 and 2 Enoch and the Testament of Job. The most important question for our investigation concerns whether or not the church would have admitted a work of known pseudonymous origin into the New Testament canon.

In 2 Thess 2:2 Paul apparently warned against the acceptance of a pseudonymous writing attributed to him. His insistence in Gal 6:11 that he had written “large letters” in his own hand may indicate that the letter had indeed come from him and not from an imposter.

Tertullian was a North African theologian who lived in the late second and the early third centuries. In On Baptism he described what happened when an elder of a church in Asia wrote pseudonymously in the name of Paul:

But if the writings which wrongly go under Paul’s name claim Thecla’s example as a license for women’s teaching and baptizing, let them know that, in Asia, the presbyter who composed that writing, as if he were augmenting Paul’s fame from his own store, after being convicted, and confessing that he had done it from love of Paul, was removed from his office.

Such statements as those of Tertullian and Paul indicate the rejection by the early church of pseudonymous writings. In addition to this issue the advocate of pseudonymous writing in the New Testament must face the ethical issue posed by a writer who would write falsely in the name of another when such proscriptions as Eph 4:15, 25 had been previously given by Paul. The practice of pseudonymity cannot be easily correlated with the high appeals for truthfulness and honesty among the early Christians.

Those who advocate the idea of pseudonymous authorship for the Pastorals do not normally insist on a willful imposter who deliberately attempted to mislead a gullible readership into thinking that he was actually Paul. P. N. Harrison has expressed his own ideas about the identity of the pseudonymous writer in the following words:

He was, in my view, a devout, sincere and earnest Paulinist who set out to express in this familiar form what he and his readers really believed the Apostle would have said had he been still alive. The mistaken idea that Paul himself wrote these Epistles arose later in the century, when their author was no longer there to correct it.

Still another defender of pseudonymity for the Pastorals is A. T. Hanson, who feels that they are “wholly pseudonymous, and were composed by a writer subsequent to Paul’s day who wished to claim Paul’s authority for his material.” He finds that the Pastorals contain no authentically Pauline elements, but he admits that those advocating pseudonymity have a wide variety of options in stating their views.

In the face of the known practice of the early church and Paul’s opposition to a pseudonymous letter, it seems unlikely that the church would have knowingly accepted a pseudonymous writing into the New Testament. It would present an ethical problem if a writer, knowing the opposition of the church, persisted in writing a pseudonymous epistle. Pauline authorship seems to be the more viable option.

(7) The Picture of Paul in the Pastorals

The Pastoral Epistles provide us with much information about Paul. Paul’s initial verses in 1 and 2 Timothy identify him as an apostle. The initial verses of Titus identify him as both a servant and as an apostle.

Paul described himself as formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor (1 Tim 1:12–17). This identical picture of Paul appears in Acts 8:3; 9:1; and in 1 Cor 15:9. After conversion Paul received a divine appointment to be a preacher and apostle (1 Tim 1:11; 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11). This same picture of Paul can be found in Acts 9:15 and in Gal 1:1. In the proclamation and defense of the truth, Paul suffered much (2 Tim 1:12; 3:10–11). Acts 13–14 narrates Paul’s sufferings in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra.

The structure of the Pastorals is the same as that of the other ten Epistles of Paul. They begin with a salutation that mentions the writer, the recipients, and a greeting. They present a body of material that concludes frequently with a salutation and a benediction.

The Pastoral Epistles indicate a relationship between the writer and the addressees of a spiritual “father” speaking to spiritual “children” (1 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4). The tone of the writing conveys both authority and affection. The relationship between Paul and his two young friends in the Pastorals is identical to that suggested in 1 Cor 4:17; Phil 2:19–23; and 2 Cor 2:13; 7:6, 13.

The similar personal background and the similar portrait of the helpers Timothy and Titus seem to indicate that the same author penned these three writings and Paul’s other ten writings. It appears less likely that a clever copier included these correct bits of information in order to give the impression that the apostle Paul was the writer.

It is interesting also to note that some themes of the Pastoral Epistles are similar to those which appear in Paul’s other ten writings. Paul’s appeal to Timothy to “fight the good fight” (1 Tim 1:18) is similar in tone to the athletic metaphors in 1 Cor 9:26–27 and Phil 3:12–14. The command that Timothy stir up the Holy Spirit of God and endure afliction (2 Tim 1:6–8) bears resemblance to the discussion about life in the Spirit and the cosuffering with Christ mentioned in Rom 8:12–17. The statements about Scripture in 2 Tim 3:16–17 and Rom 15:4–6 both assert that the Scriptures are a source of instruction and encouragement to the faithful Christian. The repetition of such similar themes provides evidence of common authorship.

Two Pauline traits that link the Pastorals with other Pauline material are noteworthy. First, Paul quoted a pagan Cretan poet (Epimenides) in Titus 1:12. Paul also quoted pagan sources in Acts 17:28 and in 1 Cor 15:33 (Menander). Second, Paul occasionally referred to individuals by their name and profession. In Titus 3:13, Paul referred to Zenas, “the lawyer.” Such professional descriptions are also found in Rom 16:23 (Erastus, “the city’s director of public works”); Col 4:14 (“Luke, the doctor”); and 2 Tim 4:14 (“Alexander, the metalworker”).

(8) Conclusion of Arguments Concerning Authorship

The arguments against Pauline authorship of the Pastorals are unconvincing. The internal evidence from the Epistles indicates that Paul was the author of the writings. The external evidence from the orthodox church indicates a uniform tradition ascribing the Pastorals to Paul. The Pastorals appear by name in the earliest lists of New Testament writings. During the period a.d. 90–180 there is clear evidence that the Pastorals were in existence, held in high esteem, and were frequently quoted. Many of these early witnesses do not mention the author by name, but such a method of referring to these books is not unusual. The fact that the Pastorals had many witnesses to their existence indicates that they must have had a wide circulation and that their date of origin must go back to the period of earlier years. The best evidence suggests that Paul wrote these Epistles in the closing years of his ministry.[2]

[1] Norman L. Geisler, A Popular Survey of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 226–227.

[2] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 23–40.



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