Determining the authorship of the Epistles

I’m not so sure. That may be projecting our current information distribution systems back, and it is unlikely that many handwritten copies made it around, and the ability of those few copies to influence language patterns would be suspect. In it may be just as likely that changes in wording adapted to local language changes as oral transmission used and handwritten copies were made. Chicken and egg problem. While Paul’s letters were respected, I suspect they were not treated as scripture at that point and exact wording was not felt important, but rather the message.
In any case, I think the discussion has been good, and I am comfortable with Paul’s authorship of the disputed books despite the critical arguments, even if the arguments have some merit.


I have been reading a book on Biblical canon and the theory is writings were accepted as authoritative first before they became fixed. The idea that scripture shouldn’t be changed came later.

Precisely true. I for one don’t have that kind of time. But from what I understand of the methods from all my second-hand reading of the topic, it seems that only the hapax legomena in the Pastorals were compared with 2nd century writings. I’ve never seen any work that compared 2nd century use with hapax legomena in Romans or Corinthians. Would be quite interesting.

Copies made it around enough that the pastoral epistles are quoted pretty significantly by Ignatius (born. ~ 50AD), as well as by Polycarp (born. ~ 69AD) and Clement, I understand. I’m not sure how many handwritten copies that implies, though my impression it wouldn’t be “few”. Nonetheless, certainly some of the earliest church fathers and most influential church leaders in their own right had their hands on, and were clearly studying and using the pastorals, in their argumentation and preaching and disputation in the very early part of the 2nd century.

Well, that is 3 at least.

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Rom 16:22 - I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.

Could be the same as with Ephesians etc.


Peter seemed to consider them scripture:

2Pe 3:15 — 2Pe 3:16
and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. (NASB)

Perhaps so! Certainly makes you wonder about the coat Paul left behind.

Only if you think Peter wrote 2 Peter – a decidedly minority position among scholars.

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I accept 2 Peter as being written by Peter. I’ve read the arguments for and against, and I don’t think there is sufficient evidence that that epistle is pseudoepigraphical

I’m also concerned about these “modern biblical scholars” (some of them, such as Ehrman, not even believing in God) saying half the New Testament is pseudoepigraphical. If half of scripture is wrong, why do we even bother with Christianity? They are making an awful lot of assumptions to make these claims. And I suspect a lot of it comes from a desire to take out parts of the Bible modern society doesn’t like. :woman_shrugging:


There are doubts about Petrine authorship of 2 Peter in antiquity, so that particular case cannot be laid entirely at the feet of modern scholars.

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The pastor at the church I go to preached through the gospels of Mark and John. When he reached the long ending of Mark (16:9-20)–and some shorter alternate endings–he dutifully summarized the evidence against any of them being original and then said, “But I feel God wants me to treat these verses as every bit as inspired as the rest of the Bible.” He did the same when he reached the pericope of the adulterous woman (John 7:53-8:11).

Think about it. Whoever wrote the various endings of Mark made no notation to clarify that they were not the words of the original author (and presumably had no direction from him). They left their words to stand as if written by the same person who wrote the bulk of that gospel. The same is true for the pericope of the adulterous woman. The same is true for Deuteronomy 34:1-12. Adding your own words to a document and leaving the reader with the impression that they were written by the original author is, by today’s standards, just plain dishonest.

Yet I, too, am hesitant to start tossing out passages that God has allowed so many believers to accept for so long. The compiling of Scripture was a messy process by our standards, but God chose to use what we might consider objectionable means to get it all into shape.

Many questions of authorship, intent, and editorial activity are tough to answer now. I trust that the Pastoral Epistles and other questioned letters do, in fact represent the thinking of Paul regardless of by what means those thoughts came down to us.


I wasn’t trying to convince you otherwise – just offering a relevant fact for people reading the thread.

I’ve made my own non-scholarly judgments about some of the epistles. I have no trouble believing that Paul wrote Ephesians and Colossians. Sure, the language is a little different than that in the undisputed epistles, but it’s closer to Pauline than the Pastorals, so if that kind of analysis is evidence against Pauline authorship for the latter, it’s also evidence for his authorship of Ephesians.

II Thessalonians, on the other hand, I have real trouble believing comes from Paul. The looong, rambling sentence that runs from 1:3 through 1:10 just doesn’t sound like anything he’d write.

I can easily see this coming from Paul. What he is stating is that the Thessalonian church is dealing with a time of tribulation due to their faith. He is merely stating that their perseverance and faith will help them get through the time of trouble and the God will have the final say and judge those who have attacked the Church and rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Remember, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians is mainly dealing with eschatology and helping the Thessalonian Christians out in seeing that Christ hadn’t returned yet.

Sorry, I wasn’t clear – I wasn’t talking about the content, but about the style. To me it reads nothing like the way Paul constructs sentences. His sentences can get tangled syntactically, and he will get distracted and go off on a tangent from time to time, but that kind of extended rambling just doesn’t sound like him to me. I only read the letter in Greek a few months ago, and I remarked at the time to my wife how little it sounded like Paul.

I’m not claiming this to be a scientific conclusion.

The two epistles to the Thessalonians don’t even claim to be exclusively from Paul.

I have always found many of the arguments from Biblical scholarship to be rather thin and dubious. Inconsistencies don’t prove anything, for the simple fact that Paul was human. And it is all too likely that Paul could simply put his stamp of approval on something written by one of his close friends, so differences in style don’t prove all that much either.

The bottom line, however, is that Paul is not God and thus it does not follow that his opinion on things should be taken as a direct communication from God. I like it that Paul is particularly clear and detailed in his theological efforts. But it seems all too possible that this is more of an human inclination and obsession rather than anything that God really cares about.

You may have a point in this, both letters to the Thessalonian churches say, “Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…” SO it might have been a team work effort for these letters with Paul, Silvanus and Timothy?

I think a strong case can be made for Paul having a hand in practically all the letters attributed to him. The best way to do so is to take seriously the many other hands said to also be involved in the letters (and implied in other cases), and allowing each of those hands some authorial freedom. In some letters Paul’s hand may have never touched the page, but his oversight could still run through it. Basically, the more freedom one allows in the concept of “Pauline authorship,” the more plausible that it applies to them all. Then, the arguments against reduce mainly to questions of dating, which are less persuasive than the differences in style, education, grammar, etc.

One disputed letter that hasn’t come up much is Hebrews. While it doesn’t actually have Paul’s greeting at the front, it came into the canon due to being distributed as part of the collection of Paul’s letters, sometimes tucked right in the middle. So, in this sense, it’s similar to chapters 40–66 of Isaiah: although those chapters never mention Isaiah (who disappears after 39:8), there is an implicit claim that they are also Isaiah’s because they were distributed as part of his scroll.

I think the consensus view that Hebrews isn’t Paul’s is accurate. But since I don’t think apostolic authorship is necessary for a letter to be Scripture, I’m happy with the church’s decision to keep Hebrews in the canon.


My personal conviction is that the author of Hebrews was a woman, and the lack of a named author could either be a redaction once the status of women began to decline in the early church, or perhaps the author was kept somewhat anonymous from the beginning for similar reasons.

Speculation, of course, but I could totally see Priscilla or Phoebe writing it. Whenever a preacher says “he” to refer to the author I always mentally substitute “she”.

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Yes, it really could be. Or maybe it was Junia, in which case it would have apostolic authorship!

The authorship of Hebrews is close to my heart, since it was the topic of my first research paper at seminary: “Striking Out in Search of the Author of Hebrews.” I considered three options, then concluded that I had struck out.