My church family is currently going through the book of 1 Timothy on Sunday mornings. My pastor is preaching through this book to the congregation, and I am preaching through this book to the children. I have greatly enjoyed this method so far as it gives me the opportunity to better learn from my pastor as he prepares his sermons and when our sermons are in sync it creates a better post-sermon atmosphere for conversation in the home.
As we go through this series, I would like to share some things I am learning about 1 Timothy, preaching, kids, prep, or anything else I feel may be of help to some of you. Today and tomorrow, I want to take a look at some preliminary issues regarding 1 Timothy.
The Dispute of Paul
This may come as a surprise to some of my Christian friends, but there is great dispute over whether or not Paul actually wrote some of the letters in the New Testament bearing his name. While there are certain letters that no one disagrees was written by Paul, there are others in which Pauline authorship is doubted. There are three letters from Paul in particular that probably are in highest dispute: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.
These three letters are better known as the Pastoral Letters because they are written to young pastors and deal with church polity and conduct, as well as Christian living. While Paul’s name is attached to each of these letters, and though from the casual reader’s eye there is no reason to doubt that Paul wrote them, modern scholars have serious concerns that Paul did not pen the Pastoral Letters at all. Although the church held that Paul wrote the Pastorals from the early church through the 1800’s, the modern/liberal theological movement of the 1900’s, which is alive and well today, began to question authorship of nearly all books in the Bible. Critical scholars nearly are in consensus in their denial of Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Letters.
Over the next two days, we will look at four reasons given by critical scholars as to why they believe Paul did not write the Pastoral Letters. This is highly important to discuss, because the difference between Paul writing this letter in the 60s AD or someone else writing it in the second century AD is of tremendous. And as you will see, the integrity of both the authors and text itself is at stake in the evaluation of authorship.
Two Things to Keep in Mind
Here are a couple things to keep in mind while reviewing the following claims of critical scholars:
(1) Scholars and truly anyone evaluating evidence cannot help but be influenced and even biased by cultural situations and academic expectations. So, if there is a preconceived notion that Paul did not write certain letters bearing his name, it is much easier to interpret data in that light, and vice-versa.
(2) Many assumptions must be made when evidence is slight or lacking completely. These assumptions often fall to biases or preconceived notions that can cause the evidence that is present to be skewed.
Let’s look at two of the four reasons why scholars doubt Pauline authorship of the pastoral letters and quickly evaluate them. We will look at the other two reasons tomorrow.
Reason #1: Using pseudonyms to write letters was common practice in the Hellenistic culture of the first century.
The argument goes something like this: In the Greco-Roman first century culture it was commonplace for people to use pseudonyms when writing letters. This was especially true when they were writing in the line of someone’s tradition. And since much of the pastoral letters contains elements of Pauline theology, it is likely that someone, either a contemporary of Paul or more likely a later “disciple” of Paul, would have written this letter and ascribed it to Paul.
Problems with this common assertion are mostly ethical. While it is possible that someone other than Paul used his name as a pseudonym, since he was highly influential, the content of the letter would be filled with bold face lies, fictionalized events, and fabrications.
Reason #2: The pastoral letters do not fit well within Paul’s overall ministry.
The question scholars raise here is this: Can the pastoral letters be fitted within the framework of Paul’s ministry as recorded in Acts and in his other letters? Modern scholars doubt that they do. An example they give is that there is no evidence of a man named Onesiphorus ever visiting Paul when he was imprisoned, such as is recorded in 2 Timothy 1:16. To me, this is unsatisfactory and assumes non-Pauline authorship from the start. Because for those who believe Paul wrote the pastoral letters, 2 Tim 1:16 is the occurrence of Paul describing this visit. Just because Luke did not include it in his historical volume (Acts) or Paul did not mention it elsewhere does not mean that it did not happen to Paul.
What’s worse with many of these observations and assumptions is that it paints an incredibly unethical picture of the author. So, Paul is just lying about Onesiphorus, someone writing for Paul is lying, or a later author simply fictionalized the event.
This reason also seems to fall on its face when passages like 1 Tim 1:12-14 are considered. The author describes himself as one who was “formerly a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” This fits perfectly within the framework of Paul’s ministry. Should we take this passage as referring to someone other than Paul who had a similar experience? We would be taking a great leap to makes such an assertion. It is much more likely that the one who claims authorship is the Paul of Acts 9 who was converted from his life of blasphemy and persecution.
Mathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.