Jul 282006

A discussion on the authenticity of the three “pastoral” epistles attributed to Paul – specifically 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus.

The first person to actually draw up a “canon” of the New Testament was, in fact, Marcion (a semi-gnostic). He was a devoted fan of Paul, whom he considered a gnostic apostle, and his canon included a version of Luke (somewhat different from ours) and the Pauline epistles which he ordered as follows: Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians combined, Romans, 1 and 2 Thessalonians combined, Laodiceans (Ephesians), Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. Interestingly, there are passages missing from several of the epistles, and from Luke. Scholars argue over whether Marcion removed them, or whether his manuscripts didn’t HAVE them. The stronger case seems to be that his versions didn’t have these passages. Also, you will note that the pastorals (the two Timothy’s and Titus) either didn’t seem to exist at the time, or were rejected by Marcion as inauthentic.

Forging epistles in the name of Paul was certainly not unknown. You won’t find 3rd Corinthians in your modern Bible, although it was considered authentic for a time in the Coptic Church (and you can read it at http://www.biblefacts.org/church/3cor.htm l) Also, an epistle to the Laodicians (which you can read here: http://www.comparative-religion.com/christianity/apocrypha/new-testament-apocrypha/4/7.php) appeared in a few early versions of the Vulgate. In addition, there were the Acts of Paul, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, the Acts of Peter and Paul, the Apocalypse of Paul, the Revelation of Paul, the correspondence of Paul and Seneca, and probably a few I’ve missed.

So the question is, are the pastorals part of the authentic works of Paul, or forgeries? Obviously, if we go by Marcion, they are forgeries. The earliest mention of them by “catholic” sources is a quotation from them by Irenaeus c. 170 AD. By the time the Church fathers are authoritatively quoting from them, it is at least 100 years after the death of Paul. How can we, as modern students, decide this question (assuming we’re not content to rely on Catholic authority?)

We might try analyzing the style. Do these epistles sound like Paul in style, vocabulary, subject matter, etc? The answer is a definite NO, they don’t. At the risk of boring, let me quote a few facts in this regard.

1. Of the 848 Greek words in the pastorals, 306 words do not occur in Paul’s ten letters, or thirty-six percent. This is a huge change in vocabulary.

2. Of the 306 words that do not occur in the ten Pauline letters, 175 are hapaxlegomena (words that occur only once in the New Testament). This is more than two and a half TIMES as many unique words as all the other Pauline epistles combined. Again, a radical change in vocabulary.

3. A number of typical Pauline words and phrases used in Paul’s ten letters aren’t used at all in the pastorals

4. Some of the unique Pauline words and phrases from Paul’s authentic letters that ARE used in the pastorals are used with quite different meanings. His primary definitions have changed. Here are a few examples:

Rom 2:27 And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter [gamma] and circumcision dost transgress the law?


2Ti 3:15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures [gamma or gammata], which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

When Paul uses “gamma” in the earlier epistles, he means “the letter of the ceremonial law”(in a negative sense) whereas in the pastorals, it means “sacred scripture”. “Gamma” is always negative in Paul, now it’s GOOD in the pastorals.

Here’s another:

Rom 14:14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean (koinos) of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean (koinos), to him it is unclean (koinos).


Tit 1:4 To Titus, mine own son after the common (koinos) faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Paul changes from using “koinos” as “ritually unclean” to “something we share in common”.

5. As the counterpoint to number 4, Paul suddenly uses different words to describe the same things. For example

Col 3:22 Servants, obey in all things your masters (kurioi) according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God:


1Ti 6:1 Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters (despotai) worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.

Paul suddenly calls “masters” of servants or slaves by an entirely different Greek name, and does it all through the pastorals.

Or –

1Co 15:23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming (parousia).


1Ti 6:14 That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing (epipheneia) of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Parousia is a very special word used all through the genuine Pauline epistles for the return of Christ. The author of the pastorals prefers an entirely different word (epipheneia).

6. There are also grammatical differences. It’s difficult to illustrate this here, especially since my Greek grammar isn’t adequate. So I’ll simply quote from one of my sources: “First, the use of the definite article differs in the pastoral letters and the ten Pauline letters. Second, the use of the conjunction hôs (as) followed by a substantive occurs frequently in the pastoral letters but is absent in the ten Pauline letters, nor is the latter’s use of hôs (as) found in the former. Finally, the use of a series of prepositions in a sentence with reference to a single subject, common in the ten Pauline letters, is absent from the pastorals (e.g., Rom 11:36: “from him and through him and to him”).” (from http://www.abu.nb.ca/Courses/NTIntro/1Tim.htm)

In summary, the Greek used by the writer of the Epistles is dramatically different from the Greek used by Paul in his genuine epistles.

7. There are equally dramatic differences in writing style. Paul’s style is bold, dramatic and emotional. There are a lot of spontaneous interjections, and imaginary arguments and conversations. Whenever Paul is responding to an error, he attacks it head on and argues it – showing his reasons. It is the writing style of an extemporaneous speaker putting his speeches into writing. The “Paul” in the pastorals mentions errors, but does not argue about them, simply instructing his audience to stand fast to tradition. He gives instructions, but few reasons or arguments. His style is quiet, meditative and carefully structured.

8. The content and theology of the pastoral epistles is also dramatically different. There are only two references to the Spirit in the pastorals, whereas the Pauline epistles are full of such references. The idea of spiritual unity with Christ, which is a constant theme in the epistles, is basically GONE from the pastorals. Paul frequently uses the phrase “in Christ” in the epistles to refer to this union, whereas in the pastorals, “in Christ” never refers to people, but only to concepts, such as “the faith which is in Christ”. Instead of spirituality, the pastorals are full of discussions of apostolic tradition, piety, good works and obedience – far more than the epistles. And, as has been stated before, the pastorals seem to have a lower view of women than the epistles.

9. The pastorals are also anachronistic. They attack Gnostic ideas that didn’t really come into conflict with proto-orthodoxy until the second century. Scriptures such as these, for example:

Tit 1:14 Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.

1Ti 1:4 Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.

1Ti 6:20 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science [Greek: gnosis] falsely so called:

1Ti 4:3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.


2Ti 2:18 Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.

All seem to refer to writings and beliefs that only came to prominence as gnosticism began to win converts in the 2nd century.

10. Historians also believe the pastorals are anachronistic regarding Church organization. The well defined roles of Bishop or elder (or overseer) and deacon seem to have become much more rigid structures than they were during Paul’s lifetime.

I have simplified each of these points for brevity. There is quite a bit more if you’ll take a visit to a library and check out any textbook on the New Testament. Now none of this can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Paul isn’t the author of the pastoral epistles. But if these sorts of evidence were presented regarding any other sorts of books, we would conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a different author or authors was responsible. The ONLY reason for attributing these epistles to Paul is tradition. And as I said above, the earliest hint of that tradition is 170 AD, with strong suggestion from the canon of Marcion in the 140’s that the pastoral epistles weren’t known.

It would seem very imprudent, therefore, for Christians to rely on the pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus as if they were the genuine writings of Paul.

(in addition to the earlier link, credit also goes to: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/1timothy.html )

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