The authorship of the pastoral epistles by Saint Paul is conceded by most secular scholars to be pseudonymous. In other words, they are forgeries ascribed to Paul. There is certainly some grounds for this, as the epistles contain repetitious details found nowhere else in the Pauline corpus. Most traditionalist Christians respond with an outright rejection of textual-critical arguments. In so doing, they concede the intellectual high ground to Biblical liberals.
In this article, it is my intent to turn the tables on the liberals. I will employ the methodology of textual-criticism to prove that they cannot consistently argue that the pastorals are pseudonymous and that, in fact, an impartial look at the evidence demands that they were written in the 60s AD by Paul himself.
What’s with the obsession with “sound doctrine” and “faithful sayings?”
The letters contain a strange degree of repetitious phraseology which are found (almost) nowhere else in Paul’s letters. For example, the term “doctrine” is used only six times if we include the rest of Paul’s letters (including Hebrews), but 16 times in the pastoral epistles alone. Similarly, the term “good works” is found three times in the rest of Paul’s letters, but eight times in the pastorals.
Perhaps the most strange repetition between the pastorals is its citing of “sound doctrine” (used four times) and “faithful sayings” (used five times). Neither term is used once in any other epistle. As follows are a few examples of the pastorals’ obsession with this eccentric (as compared to the rest of the Pauline corpus) phraseology:
…the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine (1 Tim 1:9-10)
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief (1 Tim 1:15)
If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed (1 Tim 4:6)
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. (1 Tim 4:9-10)
Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 1:13)
This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. (2 Tim 2:11)
But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience. (Titus 2:1-2)
This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. (Titus 3:8)
Where does Paul want Saints Timothy and Titus?
We have indications from Paul’s varying requests for the apostles to be here or there that it is meant to be understood that the pastoral epistles were written with some significant period of time between at least 1 Tim and 2 Tim. It is possible Titus was written at the same time as 1 Tim. If the pastorals are forgeries, the details seem to be planted to convey a false chronology.
…remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine (1 Tim 1:3)
I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy (2 Tim 1:3-4)
[F]or Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia [Croatia] (2 Tim 4:10)
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you (Titus 1:5)
As we can see, Timothy is asked to be in Ephesus and then asked to pack his bags to go to Rome. Paul (writing from Nicopolis, Titus 3:12) asks Titus to stick it out in Crete, only to later lament that Titus did not stick it out in Rome! We can imagine at least one or two years to have elapsed between Paul’s (second?) arrest and pending execution. This makes any attempt to say that the letters share details and verbiage due to being written during a short period of time between one another (such as 1 and 2 Thessalonians, which I defend as genuine) to be an indefensible, fundamentalist tact.
Why do the letters have nearly identical introductions?
The answer to the question in this section is pretty simple. Almost all of Paul’s letters have similar introductions. However, it is worth pointing out that the letters appear to follow the exact same formula with the exception of Titus, which follows the same formula with a long doctrinal interlude in the middle:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope, to Timothy, a true son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Tim 1:1-2)
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, a beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (2 Tim 1:1-2)
Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior. To Titus, a true son in our common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior. (Titus 1:1-4)
By way of comparison, Paul’s other letters appear to have a beginning that makes more of the recipient in the introduction:
Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 1:1-3)
Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:1-2)
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philemon v. 1-3).
There are exceptions, however. Both Eph and Col have introductions which have a simple description of the recipients, similar to the pastorals:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 1:1-2)
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Col 1:1-2)
The above introductions are only about half a step down in their description of the recipient as compared to Philippians–but the difference is noticeable.
Can we identify a possible scribe for the pastoral epistles?
Are the introductions the only thing Eph and Col have in common with the pastorals? Interestingly, no! Saint Tychicus appears to find his way into Eph, Col, and the pastorals.
We have some indication that Tychicus had a hand in the deliverance of at least two of the pastoral epistles:
And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus (2 Tim 4:12)
When I send Artemas to you, or Tychicus, be diligent to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. (Titus 3:12)
Additionally, we know elsewhere that Tychicus delivered the letters of the Colossians (4:7) and Ephesians (6:21)!
Interestingly, as we can see in the previous section, Eph begins very similarly to the pastoral epistles in that it does not name co-authors or senders. This is strange, as the only exception to not having co-senders is Rom, which was written by Tertius according to Rom 16:22. Because Timothy co-sent Col, we can presume that he also co-sent Eph (or the scribe used Col as reference when writing Eph.)
The only thing every single one of these letters have in common is Tychicus. Therefore, it is possible he acted as some sort of scribe.
Many observers infer that Philemon (co-sent by Paul and Timothy) was probably sent at the same time as Col. This is because Archippus is one of the recipients (v. 2) and he is given a personal greeting in Col 4:17. This means that a lot of the stylistic variances in Eph and Col are probably the result of the scribe’s and Timothy’s input. With the pastoral epistles, we likewise have the same suspected scribe (Tychicus), but no Timothy (who was in Ephesus). Perhaps, the lack of Timothy’s input explains the repeated verbal ticks that are found in no other epistle.
In short, I am blaming Tychicus (or an identical, unnamed scribe) for the awkward, repetitious nature of the pastoral epistles. What we are seeing is the input of a scribe either in interpreting what Paul tells him in a repetitious way, or in suggesting to Paul repetitious wording.
A circular epistle?
How did these seemingly private, pastoral letters make it down to this present day? We have one indication that they were deliberately copied and sent around:
Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. (2 Tim 4:19)
It is hard to locate where any of these characters were located. One may guess Ephesus, as this is where Timothy was when Paul sent his letter. However, though Priscilla and Aquila had a church in their house (1 Cor 16:19), they were also known to be on the move (Acts 18:18). They were tent makers after all (Acts 18:3). So, we cannot push the inference here too far, but its likely that Priscilla and Aquila were not in Ephesus and 2 Tim indicates greetings were conveyed outside of that city. But, being that Rom and 1 Cor convey greetings to Priscilla and Aquila and their house was surely not also in Achaia or Italy, this indicates that it was a common greeting and Paul expected his letter to be copied and send significantly abroad to them.
Why can’t we conclude the pastoral epistles were forgeries?
It is my assertion that by the standards of secular history, we have internal textual grounds to infer a common scribe for five letters ascribed to Paul: Eph, Col, and the pastorals. We can also infer that Philemon, probably sent at the same time as Col, did not make use of the scribe due to its personal nature (I would guess Paul himself in very “large letters,” cf Gal 6:11, or Timothy actually wrote it.)
This is already convoluted. So, to infer that one forger forged them all is already unlikely. Furthermore, the chances of separate forgers maintaining such internal consistency coincidentally is also unlikely.
Additionally, we have compelling evidence that the pastoral epistles were already known between Rome and Asia minor by the beginning of the second century. Saint Clement in 1 Clem 2 and 64 quotes Titus, Saint Polycarp quotes the pastorals five times (chaps 4, 5, and 12), and Saint Ignatius quotes the pastorals twice in his letter to the Ephesians (chap 14). Internal evidence (as opposed to traditional, Saint Irenaeus asserts that 1 Clem was written in the 90s AD) dictates that 1 Clem was written between the 60s and 70s (with the 80s AD at the latest).
The secular historian, when looking at all of this evidence, is forced to abandon his thesis that the pastorals are forgeries. What are the chances that a personal confidante of Paul such as Clement (Phil 4:3) would perhaps less than a decade after pressing the flesh with him personally mistake forgeries for Paul’s letters? How could forgeries (likely from Asia Minor if we believe the textual critics) become so popular it would dupe the most important and erudite Christian alive at the time of 1 Clem’s composition, himself living in Rome?
In order to dispute this, the textual critic is forced to ascribe to traditional chronology (that 1 Clem is written in the 90s AD, making it too long after the fact for the quoting of the pastorals to be relevant). However, this is a self-eviscerating argument. If we reject the traditional ascription of the pastorals because we ascribe to the traditional chronology of 1 Clem, we merely expose ourselves as inconsistent and hypocritical.
From the internal evidence, if we are consistent with our application of the textual-critical technique, we are forced to adopt the following conclusions about the pastoral epistles.
- They all share the same authorship and scribe.
- The author and scribe is likely in some way connected to Eph and Col.
- The dating of the pastorals must be before 1 Clem, which quotes from them a few times.
- A textual critic, applying his methodology to 1 Clem, is forced to adopt an early dating for the pastorals.
- In so doing, the probability shifts that the pastorals were written during the time period that Paul was alive, likely by the same scribe–which would explain the eccentric nature of these epistles when compared to the rest of the Pauline corpus.
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