Sunday, October 12, 2008

The authentic Pauline corpus

Ben Blackwell draws our attention to a forthcoming book by the late Brevard Childs, on the Pauline letters: The Canonical Shaping of the Pauline Corpus. I look forward to that.

My own relatively uninformed view on the undisputed/disputed status of the canonical Pauline corpus runs as follows:

Genuine Pauline authorship

Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon and ... Colossians and 2 Thessalonians

Likely Pauline authorship


Questionable authenticity

2 Timothy


1 Timothy, Titus

What thinketh thee? I am very open minded and flexible on these matters, and I am yet to get into E. Randolph Richards’s, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing, which may change my mind on a fair bit. I think it may as my notion of 'authorship' probably needs more work.

Peter Stuhlmacher writes about "Paul's" authoriship of the disputed letters (note the ""). That seems a bit clumsy to me, but it is perhaps one way to negotiate the matter.

For me, despite some earlier canon-choosing criteria, the text doesn’t need to be written by Paul for it to be inspired, to be useful for the church. Truth is a multifaceted creature, difficult to pin down in only one or two directions; and neither will inspiration be confined to a test-tube. So the truth of Titus, for example, is not to be located in that the historical Paul did or did not write it; it remains as much scripture for the church as 1 Thessalonians, as much a part of the NT canon as any other text which God has led the church to recognise.


At 10/12/2008 9:39 PM, Anonymous mike said...

Luke Timothy Johnson is worth reading on the subject as well as is Philip Towner.

At 10/12/2008 11:47 PM, Anonymous Jonathan Robinson said...

Yes but the problem with Pseudapigrapha is that deception is is not one of Truth's many facets. The early church accepted Titus and 1 Tim cos they thoght they were genuine, not because they liked pseudapigrapha and thought it was OK. If they were fictitious letters written polemicaly for a later context, then they contain a number of attempts to mislead which i think does pose a substantial problem for idea of Canon and inspiration.

At 10/13/2008 3:56 AM, Anonymous reflectivechristian said...

I differ from you in that I take Ephesians as definitely Pauline. Ephesians seems to assumes a lot in the letter and manner of communication that another author would not be capable of doing.

Also, I classify all the pastorals as questionable, although I am mixed on whether to put 1 Timothy as pseudographical or not.

But, if any are pseudographical, I am mixed as to whether they are still useful or not (in an authoriutative sense). Even if the practice of writing in another's name isn't looked down upon in the time of its writing, why should I value the letter as any more value that say something written today?

At 10/13/2008 5:06 AM, Anonymous Weekend Fisher said...

1 Timothy, of all letters, has so many personal touches (e.g. 1:1, 1:2, 1:3, 1:13 ... and that's just chapter 1). It's not a letter of 'general truths' but also a distinctly personal letter that recollects past experiences shared by "Paul" and "Timothy", the specific situation of Timothy (age, stomach ailments), the specific past of Paul (his past as a persecutor, using shipwreck as an analogy).

1 Tim seems such an odd one to figure for pseudepigraphal, esp given that you accept 2 Tim.

Take care & God bless

At 10/13/2008 9:48 AM, Anonymous simon said...

I struggle with these authorship debates because I don't think we have enough examples of an author's writing to make judgments about what is and what isn't authentic. Because the Pauline letters are by their very nature 'occasional', written to respond to particular issues in spoecific locations - indeed specific small churches in those locations - I think it's tricky to make firm judgments about whether they were or were not written by the person who's name appears at the top.
Tom Wright has suggested that the New Perspective on Paul could upset all the so-called assured results of scholarship.
Having said that, I do find David Horrell's argument about family language being littered through the so-called genuine letters but being absent from those judged non-authentic to be intriguing and worth thinking about.

At 10/13/2008 12:14 PM, Anonymous matthew r malcolm said...

Richards' book is excellent, and worthy of careful consideration. Murphy O'Connor also has a useful book on a related topic, "Paul the Letter Writer", and Harry Gamble's book "Books and Readers in the Early Church" is also worth considering.

My own view is that it is no longer valid to use "style" as a reason for considering whether something is "Pauline" - there are too many variables, such as co-authorship(Sosthenes/Timothy/Silus/etc), secretarial involvement, use of pre-formed materials, etc etc...

Also, as others have mentioned, I'm yet to be convinced that it was acceptable to write a LETTER in someone else's name, close to the lifetime of that author - I'm currently looking through anthologies of Greek & Roman letters, and I can't find anything comparable to the category "deutero-Pauline" - it seems pseudonymous letters were either designed to deceive, or else were written substantially after the time of the named author, in a rather stylised manner. I can't find any letter that was written very close to the time of the named author, includes personal details and moral exhortation, and was considered an acceptable convention.

I was at an event at Cambridge on the weekend, where I heard Simon Gathercole say that he believes that all the letters ascribed to Paul in the NT are actually by Paul - this is from a good scholar, and the editor of Journal for the Study of the NT - so I think this position shouldn't be dismissed too quickly.

At 10/13/2008 5:37 PM, Anonymous Michael Barber said...


I'm eager for you to read Barry Smith's treatment of the various books:

I'd love to hear what you think.

Whether you agree with him or not, you can't say the guy isn't thorough!

God bless!

At 10/13/2008 5:39 PM, Anonymous Michael Barber said...

Oh... I should have said, check out his treatment of the disputed epistles. His arguments for their authenticity are well worth reading.

Actually, there's some surprising stuff there.

At 10/13/2008 6:00 PM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

If you had to whittle down "Scripture" to its essential books and/or essential verses, how far do you think you could whittle it down? How big a "Bible" do we really need?

And don't various systematic theologies already do something like that, i.e., focusing on, or emphasizing certain verses as "most essential" while the rest are "less essential?"

At 10/13/2008 9:58 PM, Anonymous Douglas Dobbins said...

Hello Chris. I agree that a non Pauline work can be "useful" or even "true." But, unless a work has the authoritative endorsement of the Apostolic Council, how can we consider it "as much a part of the NT canon as any other text"?

At 10/13/2008 11:49 PM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

I can be inspired by the courage and/or determination of people I read about, or inspired by their words alone, but to claim everything they wrote is "inspired" in a way superior to all other writings on earth, and to shoehorn everything they wrote into a soteriology of eternal salvation that's NECESSARY TO BELIEVE OR BE DAMNED, and all without ever having met Paul in person, and without having had his alleged knowledge and/or visions of people "beneath the earth" or what lay in the "heavens" above the earth, is to take some "letters" of a human being a bit too seriously, even laughably so. Wouldn't you say?

I also wonder what people are trying to prove to themselves by becoming "theologians?" That you HAVE to believe ALL THIS lest fear of death, despair and emptiness overcomes you?

At 10/14/2008 12:42 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Robinson said...

the theological task isnt one of fear and prescription, but one of faith seeking understanding, that results in discovery, surprise and worship. Its nice :)

And no one becomes a theologian, we are all theologians, there are just some that are more deliberate and thoughtful about it than others. May i humbly suggest that your description of theologians lacks nuance?

At 10/14/2008 5:37 PM, Anonymous Douglas Dobbins said...

Adding to paroikos' statement, I would also point out that, by simply assembling a chain of Christian doctrines together, as you have done, then saying that you find them laughable, you have not made an argument. You have only revealed that you do not believe that Jesus Christ is God. If you did, then you would trust Him to send faithful apostles, who would, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, accurately transmit His teachings.

At 10/15/2008 12:04 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, all, for some very helpful comments. I have much to think on and will follow some of this up. Cheers.

Ed, "but to claim everything they wrote is "inspired" in a way superior to all other writings on earth"

I thought John Webster's little book on Scripture was useful on this - such that what you are claiming is being said needs huge nuancing.

At 10/15/2008 10:35 AM, Anonymous N T Wrong said...

I don't think there is sufficient evidence to discount any of the first-century letters attributed to Paul. There is insufficient data on which to determine style and vocabulary. And style is governed by the content, none of which can be convincingly shown to be from another person.

All 13 letters are, in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, Paul's.

At 10/17/2008 12:18 AM, Anonymous Brian said...

I am with NT Wrong on this one - the burden of proof the the suppossed disputed letters are not by Paul rests on the non-pauline people not on the pro-pauline people.

At 10/19/2008 3:30 PM, Anonymous Phil Sumpter said...

C.Stephen Evans wrote a good article on the significance of apostolicity within the New Testament Canon in "Canonicity, Apostolicity, and Biblical Authority: Some Kierkegaardian Reflections." It's in the same volume as the Seitz article you menteioned you had read: Canon and Biblical Interpretation.

For me, the hermeneutical function of apostolicity is the crux to the whole issue of "theological exegesis."

At 12/01/2008 3:45 AM, Anonymous T LEWIS said...

Sorry I'm a bit behind I'm guessing there is still yet adequate literature treating the problem of how someone writing in Paul's name mightn't be Paul, at a time when pseudepigraphy was still frowned upon? Could it have anything to do perhaps with the anthropological understanding of 'true' in collectivist cultures? "Collectivist persons are not expected to have personal opinions...and [are] presumed to always speak in its name [the in-group]'s private knowledge has nothing to do with truth." Pseudepigraphy whether created from in-group knowledge or out-group knowledge could be key if the above quote is accurate (from Malina and Rohrbaugh _Social Scientific Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels_ pp.404-5). They claim that truth here is a consistency between 'private self' and 'in-group self' (rather than between private self & public self) since the public self has no obligation to reveal in-group truth (which would be a risky, stupid, dangerous and shameful thing). Perhaps an idea worth pursuing.

At 4/27/2009 3:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon as Aunthetic Pauline letters, when Colossians and 2 Thessalonians are part of the Deutero-Pauline Letters. Colossians and II Thessalonians are not Authentic because there is controversy around if Paul really wrote these letters or if other people did. You probably need to research that being you are a NT tutor.

At 10/31/2009 12:30 PM, Anonymous Janet said...

I have felt somewhat unsettled about the content of 1 Timothy for some time because there are several ideas in it which seem totally out of character with Jesus' teachings, and the teaching in the rest of the NT. I think the confusion comes because 1 Tim chapter 1 seems to synch with the heart of Paul: So, what I am wondering is whether a fragment of Paul's letter has been added to at a later date. I also notice the word combination "trustworthy (Strongs 4103) statement (Strongs 3056)" occurs 6 times in 1 Tim, 2 Tim and Titus, but nowhere else.


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