As my church family goes through the book of 1 Timothy over the next couple months, I want to share what I am learning as I prepare sermons to preach to the kids I have the privilege to minister to.
Yesterday, I began a two-part series looking at the authorship of 1 Timothy. The Pastoral Letters are the most hotly disputed letters that Paul wrote. Of all letters traditionally attributed to Paul, these three are most disputed. Today, we will look at two more reasons for dispute and briefly evaluate them from a more conservative perspective.
Reason #3: The style of the Pastoral Letters differs from other letters written by Paul.
A common argument for non-Pauline authorship is that the method of communication or style of writing. The argument here is simply that critical scholars do not believe the Pastorals “sound like Paul.” Critical scholars contend that the style of the Pastoral Letters differs from the style of other letters that Paul wrote. Scholars believe key Pauline themes are absent from these letters, which clearly means Paul did not write them.
But this argument and reasoning is highly unsatisfactory (at least in my mind). Not only are countless Pauline themes imbedded throughout the Pastorals, but is it really that farfetched that Paul’s style could change based on his recipients and the situations he is addressing? Even though the change in style is often over exaggerated, the subtle changes actually prove the genuineness of Paul’s authorship. It would be strange if the style of Paul’s letters never changed in the least in light of the fact they are addressing various recipients and situations.
Reason #4: The false teachers and false teaching seems to be much later than Paul’s day (Gnosticism)
The biggest argument from critical scholars that leads them to date the Pastoral Letters much later than conservative scholars is the Gnosticism argument. Not only in 1 Timothy, but also in letters like Colossians, critical scholars believe the false teaching mentioned in the letters is an early form of Gnosticism. Gnosticism was a false teaching that the church combatted in the second century. If the author is dealing with early forms of Gnosticism, it is nearly impossible to say that Paul authored the letter.
There is reason to believe a form of what would later become known as Gnosticism is present in the church at Ephesus, particularly with the author’s use of the word gnosis to describe the heresy (1 Tim. 6:20). Some scholars believe the reference to genealogies references Gnosticism as well, believing that they refer to gnostic aeons (1 Tim. 1:4; Tit. 3:9).
A big issue with this argumentation is an overemphasis on the use of gnosis. Paul uses this word 22 times elsewhere in the New Testament where Gnosticism or any elements relating to it are not in view at all (see Knight, 26-27). There is also what I see as an error in interpretation regarding the genealogies. It is a true stretch and product of erroneous preconceived notions that would see the reference to “endless genealogies” as referring to Gnosticism. The wrong approach to the law and Jewish genealogies is more likely the case in the Pastorals, which makes it more likely that Paul is the author.
Is it possible that the author of the Pastoral Letters was addressing a form of Gnosticism? Well, technically, yes. But this does no harm to the argument for Pauline authorship. Scholars are uncertain of the origins and development of Gnosticism, so is it possible that some early remnants of Gnosticism existed in a booming economic and religiously diverse city like Ephesus? Absolutely. In the words of scholar J.N.D. Kelly,
“It is in fact unrealistic to look to the well-known Gnostic, or near Gnostic, systems of the seconf century for light on the teaching that provoked the Pastorals…It is best defined as a Gnosticizing form of Jewish Christianity…There is no need…to look outside the first century, or indeed the span of Paul’s life, for such an amalgam of Jewish and Gnostic traits in the Levant” (A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles [HNTC], 12).
There are other reasons to support Pauline authorship, including the close relationship with the recipients of the letters (Timothy and Titus). We see each of these young men in Paul’s life elsewhere. The personal nature of the letters makes it unlikely that a pseudonym was used. And while it is technically possible that someone using a pseudonym could have construed these situations a century or so later, it is highly unlikely. Plus, if that were the case it would be entirely disheartening due to the disingenuous intent of the author.
Scholar, George Knight believes the content of the letters themselves provide enough information to conclude that Paul is in fact the author:
“The self-testimony of the letters is most explicit in the identification of the author in the first verse of each letter, but it is also found in the repeated and pervasive personal references that the author makes about himself and about his relationships with the addressees and other individuals. On this background, it is not difficult to understand why the almost unanimous consensus of the church until the nineteenth century was that the letters were from Paul the apostle” (The Pastoral Epistles [NIGTC], 6).
So, with Knight and the 1900 years of Christian interpretation, I feel we are safe and within reason to conclude that the apostle Paul authored 1-2 Timothy and Titus.
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.