Did Paul Write the Pastoral Epistles? Part IVDecember 13, 2011
This will be the final post on the topic of the authorship of the Pastoral epistles. Follow these links for Part I, Part II, and Part III. We’ll wrap up by examining two apparent conflicts between the Pastorals and other NT writings by or about Paul. These conflicts raise further doubt about whether Paul is the author of the putative letters to Timothy and Titus.
The Pastoral epistles describe travels of Paul that bear little resemblance to what we know of his journeys from Acts and other Pauline letters. They have Paul ministering in Crete and leaving Titus to continue the work they had begun. They have Paul wintering in Nicopolis (Western Greece). They have Paul leaving Timothy in Ephesus when he departs for Macedonia (seemingly contrary to Acts 20 which says that Timothy was Paul’s companion on his journey from Ephesus into Macedonia and Greece).
There is no external evidence for any of these trips and no easy way to reconcile them with the chronologies provided by Acts and the undisputed Pauline epistles. Recognizing this, some have suggested that these journeys must have occurred after the time frame covered by Acts. In other words, maybe Paul managed to survive his Roman imprisonment, was released, and returned to the Eastern Mediterranean to complete the journeys mentioned in the Pastorals.
The first problem with this suggestion is that there is simply no evidence of it.
Second, the idea that Paul survived his Roman imprisonment and went on to complete further missionary journeys is at odds with passages in Acts that give the clear implication that Paul would meet his end in Rome.
In Acts 20:25, Paul bids a tearful farewell to the elders at Ephesus:
Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.
The author of Acts gives us no indication that Paul was mistaken about this. Rather, at verses 36-38 he continues:
When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.
Did Paul surprise everyone (including himself) by surviving his imprisonment in Rome, returning to the Eastern Mediterranean and launching a new work in Crete? I suppose this is possible. But the more likely explanation (particularly in light of all the other evidence pointing away from Pauline authorship) is that the historical details don’t fit because someone is writing these letters in Paul’s name at a later time. The author has sufficient knowledge of Paul’s travels and companions to include personal details that sound plausible, but insufficient knowledge to do so in a way that doesn’t conflict with our more reliable records.
The Role of Women
Scholars have noted that the Pastorals’ teachings on the role of women in church life seems at variance with Paul’s view. Would the Paul who provided instructions on how women should pray and prophecy in I Corinthians (11:4-6) also tell Timothy that women must learn in silence (1 Tim. 2:11-14)? Would the Paul, who frequently commended prominent women in the church (eg. Phoebe, Priscilla, Chloe) and who described Junia (a female name) as “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom. 16:7), now forbid women from teaching or exercising authority over men?
There are several clues throughout the Pastorals that the author is motivated by a desire to reduce tensions with those outside the church, such that Christians might enjoy “peaceful and quiet lives” (1 Tim. 2:1-3). We know from ancient sources that the early church was criticized for the prominent role afforded to women and for teachings that were seen as disruptive to the household.
An extreme example of the sort of teaching that was raising eyebrows is found in the mid-2nd century AD text, The Acts of Paul and Thecla. This early Christian novel portrayed Paul as teaching a strict form of asceticism that forbade marriage and sex. The heroine, Thecla, takes Paul’s message to heart and refuses the marriage arranged for her. She preaches, baptizes herself, narrowly avoids death … it’s all very exciting. But to encourage women to carry on in such a fashion was, to a Roman audience, scandalous.
The Pastorals may be, in part, an attempt by followers of Paul to counter such interpretations of the Pauline message and alleviate tensions with those outside the church. The message: Paul was no enemy of traditional Greco-Roman family roles. Rather, women should strive for propriety, quiet submission and salvation through childbearing (1 Tim 2:15), i.e. by fulfilling their traditional role in the household. [For more on this point, be sure to listen to Professor Phil Harland's podcasts 1.11 and 1.12 at Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean.]
In sum, the Pastorals appear to teach a more restrictive role for women than do the undisputed letters of Paul, possibly as a reaction against interpretations of his message that were bringing the church into disrepute.
Taken in isolation, one might be able to mount a cogent rebuttal to each of the arguments canvassed over the last four posts. But the case against Pauline authorship is a cumulative one. Considered together, the various pieces of evidence make it difficult to resist the conclusion that Paul did not author the Pastoral epistles — a view shared by most mainline scholars.
What does this means for 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus? What does it mean for the Bible as a whole? Must we “throw the whole thing away because it’s not trustworthy,” as suggested by Aaron Armstrong? I certainly haven’t cut the Pastorals out of my Bible. Nor should you. They represent an important record of how early followers of Christ interpreted the message of the Apostle Paul as it had been passed down to them.
The presence of pseudonymous writings in the NT does, however, raise some interesting questions about whether the privileged position given to canonical texts is always warranted. For my part, I would tend to give greater weight to something found in the undisputed Pauline corpus than to a teaching unique to the Pastorals. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.