Minor problem with commentary on the Biblical letters of Paul.


"A few small stylistic variations in Colossians and Ephesians make some scholars suspect Paul didn’t write them, but the evidence is sparse and unconvincing. The letters to Timothy and Titus are suspect as well, and some critics feel they were later edits of some of Paul’s more personal correspondence to individual church leaders, or pastors. Hence, they are often referred to as the Pastoral epistles.

“The author of the letter to the Hebrews is completely unknown. Stylistic or literary criticism has failed to match it with any known author, although it is usually included among the letters of Paul. Some names that have been bandied about are Barnabas (an associate of Paul), Apollos, or even a dual authorship of Aquilla and Priscilla, two Christians who ran a church out of their house in Rome. Early tradition knew that it was anonymous, but since it was such a popular work among the early Christians, it was included among the letters of Paul in order to insure its apostolicity and thus its place in the Bible.”

The problem that I have with the above: why assume that Paul necessarily would have personally written these letters? Paul basically became the Top Dog, Head Honcho, whatever of the new Church. He had many followers; presumably some who were quite literate. It was common practice back then, and still is today, for leaders when sending correspondence to just tell their secretaries what they wanted in the letter, and let the secretary choose the actual words. (By “secretary” here this would just be a trusted and devoted assistant.) Thus, Paul could have just told his secretary the points he wanted made in the letter, and the secretary then wrote this out in their own words. Paul likely would have reviewed the letter to make sure it made the points he wanted, and if any part was unsatisfactory state he wanted that section rewritten. However, even in that case when it came to linguistic analysis, these letters wouldn’t match correspondence actually written (or, directly dictated) be Paul.

It was also fairly common to write a sermon or preach some lesson, and attribute it to some great earlier person. That makes your sermon or lesson more noteworthy, being the thoughts of some great person.

We’ve seen this phenomenon in many fields over many centuries, including people painting in the style of someone Great Master and then selling their work as if it were his. We have it today, with writers making up “lost biblical books” with which to pepper their hisotric fiction. And most biblical scholars are convinced that such things happened in the 'way back then, too.

A further difficulty with the Pastoral letters is that it is perfectly reasonable to believe that Paul might have adopted rather a different style in writing to an individual acquaintance than he would use in writing an Official Communication to a group.

It is also quite possible that a secretary of Paul just took it upon himself to respond to some communications writing as if he were Paul, without telling Paul. And possibly Paul didn’t care. If I write to the head honcho of some company, unless there really is something highly unusual and significant about my letter, there’s a decent chance that one of his secretaries will actually write the reply using the bosses name. Remember, 2,000 years ago it ain’t like they had cell phones or e-mail to contact the boss. When a letter came in to a secretary, Paul might have been many hundreds of kilometers away preaching. The secretary, knowing Paul’s general position on issues, may have just thought a prompt reply was more appropriate rather than waiting for the boss to come back who knows when and reply personally.

This does seem plausible. I do the same myself. When it comes to posting in forums, or what I put on my websites, I am very conscious that I am addressing a group. And, my writing style reflects this. However, if someone e-mail me personally, I’ll write tailoring the response to that specific individual. And possibly toss in some personal anecdotes, etc. I wouldn’t if the communication were aimed at a large group.

The main point is that all of these suggestions are possible and plausible, and we just don’t know.

To be included in the Bible, the various letters needed to be attributed to Paul, and so they were. Modern scholarship (and even some ancient commentary) casts considerable doubt on this attribution.

It’s worth noting, though, that most of the Pauline epistles are generally regarded as being by the same author. So if they were penned by assistants, then either it was the same assistant each time, or they were good copiers of style.

I’ve heard the creators of one analysis program, at least, say that they can still identify a person’s “wordprint” regardless of the style of writing or speaking they are using in a particular letter or speech or whatever. But then, they have incentives to say that, so they may be massively lying.

Isn’t that backwards? IIRC, only a relatively small number of conservative scholars believe Paul wrote those epistles, while almost no critical scholars believe so.

Well, we know Paul wrote Hey Jude, so let’s work backward from there. (joke, btw)

As for assistants pennig his words, Galatians 6:11 seems to suggest that it was rare for Paul to take the pen himself. Rare enough to receive special mention, anyways.

Doesn’t prove anything one way or the other, but it is interesting, with know?

No, that’s not why they’re called the Pastoral Epistles. They’re called the Pastoral Epistles because they deal with pastoral matters. The fact that someone uses the term “Pastoral Epistle” does not suggest that he or she questions their Pauline authorship (though many people do).

That’s not my understanding of what people think. Most, including people who are sure that some of the epistles we not written by Paul, believe that at least some of them are genuinely Pauline. I think the only people who believe that they were all written by the same person believe that that person was Paul.