Pauline authorship

I find I’m late to a topic that has always been intregiuing to me. I noticed it as James (@jammycakes) … referenced some earlier thoughts I posted on the larger topic. Additionally, I noticed that Phil (@jpm) noted what concerns innerancy devotees would have, and how that might limit their objective inquiry, and thought that may benefit from a certain clarification as well. So if interesting, a few thoughts on Pauline authorship from this inerrancy affirming believer.

Firstly, I am sympathetic to the idea Phil @jpm aised:

But I wonder if “lie” is a fair discription of what is going on. Books may well have been written by those in the tutorage or school of Paul, and not intended to deceive but rather to support his work. I does give me pause to consider the the nature of canonization, inspiration and such.

For what it is worth, us inerrancy-affirming types don’t take issue with this per se… it is theorized by numerous evangelical scholars that this is the case among at least some works of the prophets, the proverbs or psalms as attributed to David or Solomon, and the like, that they were collected or arranged by later disciples, collecting material along with the larger school of thought, etc. There are different conclusions, but most evangelical scholars I’m aware of wouldn’t see the attribution “Proverbs of Solomon” as intending to deceive if not every proverb was from the mouth of solomon directly. That is understood and common enough.

While I would be personally skeptical, I wouldn’t take issue if someone suggested the same abou certain New Testament books; James, for instance - there is really nothing in his book, besides the initial assertion in the first few words, that it was written by “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…” Nothing else in the entire book is lost, changed, modified in any way if it were proposed that it was written really by a “School” in the tutorage of James, never intending to deceive its readers to believe that the actual James was really the author.

But compare those vague or simple attributions to what we have in the disputed epistles of Paul:

"I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write."

"When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments."

"Do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there."

And of course I could give countless other similar examples.

These are not vague or simple attribtions, comparable to what might be found in James, Epistles of John, James or Jude, or for that matter, in Isaiah, Ezekiel, or Joel. If they are not authentic, then someone intentionally invented numerous personal details, entered adamant claims of authorship by authenticating signature line, historical references, that all amount to a significant intent to deceive the readers into believing they were indeed written by the historical Paul.

So if these letters are not by Paul, it isn’t simply that we lose some nostalgic or sentimental attachment to the letters as being from Paul; it is that we have outright forgeries, written by a liar who included numerous deliberate and outright falsehoods with intent to deceive the reader as to the actual authorship. This is not a complication limited only to us adherants to inerrancy… The question is why in the world would anyone hold in any way authoritative letters that are demonstrated to be complete forgeries, written with such a willingness to invent falsehoods for the sole purpose to deceive readers as to the actual identity of the author. Why would I trust anything in these letters at that point, and trust eternal verities or other spiritual truths to the words of these proven liars?


I don’t believe in inerrancy and I still think Paul wrote these letters. I’ve personally have not read anything to convince me otherwise.

I think your observations are valid, To some extent, what with editing changes, additions etc. I think we have to accept their inspiration by faith in that we hold that God preserved the message he wants us to receive in the form we now have, even if it is not the original form in all respects what with all the textual variants that are known. That also leads me to take with a grain of salt discussions focusing on word studies and verses taken out of context, as I am not sure that inspired meaning can be retained without context.


Now, also for what it is worth; regardless of my commitment to inerrancy, I do not on that basis rule out the possibility of forgeries. As @Vinnie referenced the works of Bart Ehrman as a reliable authority, may I present an alternate perspective.

I read “Forged” by Bart Ehrman a few years ago as the topic is indeed engaging to me, and I had hoped to engage with some new observations and arguments, and/or see what responses he presented to the (common-sense) rebuttals from evangelical scholarship on the topic over the years. I was deeply disappointed that his work simply regurgitated the very same arguments I had discovered, and had quickly refuted by my own amateur study, back in my college days. I posted some of my thoughts on his book elsewhere (I don’t think it was on these pages but I may be mistaken). Those examples that I found the most egregious examples of the utter poverty of Ehrman’s (lack of?) scholarship and arguments in this book are as follows:

1. 1Tim/Titus can’t be early or by Paul, because it mentions the “overseers and deacons,” a late development only after Paul’s time.

“[in 1 Corinthians, an authentic letter] there were no bishops or deacons. There were no pastors… Contrast that with what you have in the Pastorals… Here you have the pastors Timothy and Titus. You have the church leders: bishops and deacons.”

This is an atrocious argument, and it was 30+ years ago when I first heard it in college. At the time I did a quick study, and discovered that one of Paul’s undisputed authentic letters (Philippians - believed authentic by Ehrman himself) was addressed to the “Bishops and Deacons”. Ehrman is either entirely ignorant of this fact, which is inexcusable (and which means he’s never bothered reading any alternate perspective), or he is ignoring it and not addressing this obvious counter-example that disproves his argument, hoping his readers won’t fact-check him. Either is atrocious and unforgiveable for someone claiming such scholarly expertise on the topic as he does. But it sounds like he simply, uncritically, regurgitated the same argument I’d heard some 30+ years ago and never bothered reading the constant refutations that have been raised over the years.

2. The real Paul understood a person to be saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus, in contrast to Pastorals (saved by childbirth).

Think about the basic issue of how a person is “saved.” For [authentic] Paul himself, only through the death and resurrection of Jesus cn a person be saved. And or the Pastorals? or women, at least, we’re told in 1 Timothy 2 that they will “be saved” by bearing children. It is hard to know what that means, exactly, but it certainly doesn’t mean what Paul meant."

Again, I find this atrocious… he is either inexcusably ignorant or culpably ignoring clear and obvious counterexamples that should be obvious to any New Testament Scholar. Has he never read I Timothy carefully enough to notice that the author thereof affirms “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all”; or read in Titus about the “…Savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us…”?

3. Ehrman claims there is a hard distinction between uses of the word “faith”, meaning trust or relationship in the “authentic” epsitles but meaning a body of doctrine in the pastorals:

In books such as Romans and Galatians faith refers to the trust a person has in Christ to bring about salvation through his death. In other words, the term describes a relationship with another; faith is trust “in” Christ. The author of the Pastorals also uses the term “faith.” But here it is not about a relationship with Christ; faith now means the body of teaching that makes up the Christian religion. That is “the faith” (see Titus 1:13). Same word, different meaning."

This is simply false and should have been easy for a New Testament scholarto notice: Ehrman doesn’t seem to have read Galatians carefully enough to notice where Paul was “preaching the faith” he once tried to destroy", or similar examples in authentic letters (“Stand firm in the faith,” “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel”, etc). Nor, apparently, has he read the Pastorals carefully enough to notice discussion of Timothy’s “sincere faith”, “faith and love that are in Christ Jesus”, being wise “for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”, etc.

4. Extremely oddly, Ehrman claims that the real Paul viewed himself as blameless, but unathentic Paul as acknowledging his sinfulness??

The main reason for thinking that Paul didn’t write Ephesians is that what the author says in places does not jibe with what Paul himself says in his own letters. Ephesians 2:1-10, for example, certainly looks like Paul’s writing, but just on the surface… But here, oddly, Paul include himself as someone who, before coming to Christ, was carried away by the “passions of our flesh, doing the will of the flesh and senses.” this doesn’t sound like the Paul of the undisputed letters who says that he had been “blameless” with respect to the “righteousness of the law” (Phil 3:4)

Yes, that does sound like Paul of the undisputed letters who wrote in Romans that “While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” Again, Ehrman’s ignornace of such counter-examples I find inexcusable for someone claiming to be an expert on this topic.

5. He falsely claims that the verb “saved” in authentic Paul always references the future.

As it turns out, the verb ‘saved’ in Paul’s authentic letters is always used to refer to the future. Salvation is not something people already have, it’s what they will have when Jesus returns on the clouds of heaven and delivers his followers from the wrath of God.

Again, this is absurdly and demonstrably false and I think an inexcusable error. It isn’t difficult for a New Testament scholar to verify his own absolute claims to make sure they are true, especially given such numerous counterexamples; this is utter sloppiness or laziness or the like. Obvious counterexamples include
Rom8.24 “In this hope we were saved” (past/aorist)
1Cor1.18 “to us who are being saved” (present)
1Cor1.21 “to save those who believe” (past/aorist infinitive)
1Cor9.22 “I might save some” (past/aorist subjunctive)
1Cor15.2 “By this gospel you are saved” (present)
2Cor2.15 “those who are being saved” (present)
1Thes2.16 “they may be saved” (past/aorist subjunctive)

Many of Ehrman’s arguments will remain convincing only if his claims aren’t fact-checked. But perhaps the most egregious issue I take with claims about authorship (Ehrman’s and others’) is this: For all the erudite sounding arguments about differences in style between Authentic Paul and the Pastorals, it is also painfully obvious to even the most casual observer that anyone and everyone will write differently when writing to a broad, lay audience and when writing an personal individual letter to a professional colleague. Now, it would be one thing if this observation (regularly raised by conservative and evangelical scholars) was engaged, addressed, and systematically refuted by those disputing Pauline authorship. But in all my study, this observation has never even been noticed by critical scholars. Never raised, never addressed. When this most obvious of factors is so regularly or systematically ignored, this begins to look not like a pursuit of objective reality but adherence to a favored narrative and pusuit of a foregone conclusion.


indeed… additionally, i do like to observe that, except for those few occasions that the evangelists record the words of Jesus in Aramaic, we don’t even have the original words of Jesus, except as translated (and all translation requires some extent of paraphrase). so our understanding of these trachings and doctrines must be embraced as we understand the big picture and larger context… the individual words are important of course but only so far as they help create that larger picture… but it is almost as if God made sure that we didn’t get hung up on the specific words of Jesus, given that we only have them one step removed by translation into Greek.


Since I have never accepted the Bible a-priori, I did not find the ideas from modern Biblical scholarship at all shocking or disturbing. So I think I looked at them in the seminary classes I took with an unbiased perspective. And from that perspective, I have never found the arguments of literary criticism very convincing. I do not entirely dismiss them either. I see them as representing a possibility only. The possibility I can accept. The assertion of its conclusions as fact, I see as being excessive and foolish. Since I see the Bible as a work of God, the question of the human authorship of particular books does not greatly trouble me. I know only too well that my affirmation of the Bible is manifestly subjective. So this is not an issue I would argue too strenuously about.


appreciated, thanks. I think (if my memory serves me) that when i studied this back in college… this became so intriguing to me because it was my first exposure to such criticism wherein I could so easily see through it.

If i recall correctly, prior to discussing pauline authorship, i was exposed to documentary hypothesis (JEDP construction of Pentateuch), and while i wasn’t (and am not) convinced myself, i could (and can) reasonably see where the ideas were derived. Even as a casual observer, one can see the different side-by-side passages where certain things are repeated, certain differences are introduced, different names of God are used in a somewhat conspicuous method, etc… Now, just as you say above, I don’t find them convincing and prefer other views, but i recognize there is a certain prima facile plausibility i recognized even back in college and still do. i would grant the same to certain other questions of authorship (of synoptic gospels, John & Peter’s epistles, etc.) both old and new testament… that while i am often unconvinced, i would grant a certain prima facile plausibility.

In contrast… so many of the claims disputing Pauline authorship were, and remain, absurd in the extreme to me. the one i remember so distinctly from my college days is the one where my class was told that “Bishops and Deacons” in the pastorals reflected an organization too advanced for the primitive church in Paul’s day. And when i took even a casual review (by using a simple hard copy printed concordance if i recall) to fact-check this claim, it failed even the most basic fact-check… there it was right there, in undisputed Philippians, Paul addressing the “Bishops and Deacons” of the church in Philippi… And when i brought this to the attention to the professor, there was nothing but a hand wave and accusation that i was just not willing to accept the assured results of modern scholarship.

after this, i began to look deeper, and began to discover that many of the “facts” used to dispute Pauline authorship were similarly just blatant falsehoods - and that so many of the proofs used were being communicated by my professors… not because they had ever bothered checked these facts themselves (what happened to being “critical” scholars??)l but that they had simply blindly accepted these (false) claims as part of an overarching narrative… almost like these stories had gained accretion upon accretion as they were passed around the campfire, and these critical scholars uncritically absorbed these stories and passed them along… demonstrably doing what they were accusing us evangelicals of doing.

hence why i was so downright aghast at reading Ehrman’s book… 30 years had gone by, and i thought, well, surely he has interacted with or been aware of the many. many, many evangelical critiques of these absurd falsehoods that were presented to me 30 years ago… surely a scholar of his repute would engage with those critiques, refute them with some scholarly insight, abandon using claims based on obvious falsehoods, and/or present new evidence that was actually not simply regurgitating blatant falsehoods…

alas, i was severely disappointed. but even more do examples like his convince me that critical scholarship is hardly the open-minded, objective search for truth it claims, but rather a very partisan echo-chamber pursuing certain predetermined conclusions. when i discuss this in other contexts, there is still almost a desperation to deny these obvious critiques, the basis is still that i’m just an evangelical who isn’t willing to accept modern scholarship, rather than any willingness to acknowledge the weakness of the arguments themselves.

One other point about the “Bishops and Deacons” argument is that it relies on the assumption that the early Church in Paul’s time had no leadership structures in place whatsoever. I find this highly implausible to the point of absurdity. Sure, they may not have had all the formal procedures and ceremonies and exams and qualifications involved in selecting and ordaining deacons and bishops that we know today, but the disputed letters of Paul don’t describe any of those formal procedures and ceremonies and exams and qualifications but just says that the people in charge were called “bishops” and “deacons”. To suggest that they didn’t even have names for the leadership posts is almost like saying that they didn’t have any leadership structures in place at all, and that sounds very, very far fetched to me. In fact we see some form of leadership structures in place right at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles and even in some of Jesus’s teachings (e.g. Matthew 16:17-19, 18:15-17).

We could make an analogy by considering the history of the Internet. Most people only first heard of the Internet in the 1990s, after Tim Berners-Lee released the first web browser at the end of 1990. But references to the Internet were knocking around in tech circles long before that. One of the earliest examples was a document that rejoices in the name of RFC 675, which was written as long ago as December 1974 and which describes the communication protocols that the Internet was to use. By Bart Ehrman’s reasoning, that particular document could not have been written any earlier than the 1990s and must be a forgery because the Internet “was a much later development.”


Indeed, apposite observation…. I would only add, that if Ehrman et al are correct, not only did these churches not have leadership during Paul’s time, but moreover, it took these churches decades to figure out how to organize some kind of leadership structure. For anyone who has been part of any organization we know it doesn’t take that long to figure out how to have some kind of leadership, and it certainly doesn’t take decades.


His works are mainstream. I also did not advance any of the arguments you are critiquing and definitely not in the fashion you promote them. I did put forward strong arguments in regards to 2 Thess in the other thread.

Forged is Ehrmans popular work. If you are interested in steel manning against him specifically, I would do so against Forgery and Counter Forgery, his work written to scholars.

And for me this is why discussing the issue with conservatives is ultimately pointless. Nothing is going to convince them their faith is wrong/the Bible is unreliable. I wouldn’t even want to do that. For me, this is just another critical issue and the evidence is certainly against Pauline authorship. I see gross injustice and immorality in the Bible. That God could speak through a “forged” letter is low on my list of concerns given some other parts of the Bible.

In the Bible God can murder children by the millions. He can condone slavery, misogyny, rape and a host of other unethical things. No problem, we can harmonize this away. But heaven forbid someone authored a letter in someone else’s name? That is the deal breaker?

Many Christians accept that our canon includes pseudonymous works. Maybe this is asking the wrong questions. Maybe we shouldn’t be blindly trusting anything in the Bible “as written on the page.” Maybe instead we should be wrestling with the text? Reading the text in light of itself, church tradition and the person of Jesus.


Yet you feel compelled to do just that. And it’s a worthwhile discussion and one that I am following.

Did you see Temper Longman’s Confronting OT Controversies? I thought he had a truly great insight regarding herem. He also spells it out in a lecture which is available on youtube.

And for me this is why your own contributions to the discussion aren’t going anywhere, @Vinnie. Not everyone on this forum is a “conservative” for whom “nothing is going to convince them that their faith is wrong/the Bible is unreliable.” You are addressing a variety of different people who have a variety of different views on the subject. You are also addressing people who, “conservative” or not, have made specific points that need specific answers, and to hand-wave away those points by dismissing the people making them as just “conservatives” who aren’t going to change their minds is an ad hominem attack that is completely lacking in substance, and in any case will just leave people who lean in that direction with a quite justifiable impression that you have proved their point.

If the points that are being raised are wrong or fallacious, please explain clearly and precisely what is wrong with them. On the other hand, if you’re just out to throw bricks at “conservatives,” then there is nothing to discuss and I would go so far as to say that such contributions are off-topic.

In this case, it would be helpful if you could provide a link to the other thread so that anyone reading this one can read and review what you did write. It would also help if you could explain precisely how the arguments that you advanced (or that Bart Ehrman advances) differ from the arguments that @Daniel_Fisher is presenting here, and what it is about those differences that adds weight to them.


Very good questions to think.
It seems that God works with humans in historical contexts without trying to force their lifestyle to comply with the worldview of the modern humanist thinking. Development of cultures through millennia have brought much good, there is no doubt about that. Yet, is the modern humanistic thinking the only correct way to think and believe?

The questions you lifted up are especially interesting for me because I just completed a course on the historical books of the OT. How God acted or reacted in the violent historical context with genocides was one of the questions that was lifted up.

It is possible that when the Deuteronomistic history was written, decisions made by the leaders were understood as decisions of God. For example, in Joshua 6:2 the Lord gives Jericho in the hands of Joshua. After that, Joshua designated Jericho for destruction for the honor of God (Joshua 6:17-24). This passage indicates that it was the leader (Joshua) who ordered genocide. When something was designated as belonging to God, after that God acted as it belonged to Him - demanded faithfulness.

These are multifaceted questions and there are probably more than one correct answer. Whatever our favorite explanation is, it is shallow to judge God for what happened in the violent and inequal history, just because what has been described in the biblical scriptures does not fit to modern humanistic ethics.

The actual question “does it matter if someone authored a letter in someone else’s name?” is also a multifaceted question. It depends. If the content of the letter is consistent with the other original teaching and the letter is generally recognized as authorative teaching, probably not much. The apostles were not the only ones writing reliable letters. On the other hand, if the writer says he is an apostle and is not, a natural question is whether something else in the letter is also wrong? A matter of trust.

1 Like

Its your choice to make this a deal breaker. I am certainly not going out of my way to start this discussion. I’m interested in a different question:

The NT has forgeries. What now?

Unfortunately, apologists would rather spend their efforts denying the obvious (the elephant in the room) as opposed to addressing the actual elephant in the room.


The problem is your methodology consists of special pleading and confirmation bias. It also starts from the presumption of authorship (pure bias all the way).

There are hundreds of Jewish and Christian forgeries in antiquity that no one would seriously dispute.
So when we look at the ~20 or so works in the NT that actually make self-authorship authorship claims it is important to note critical scholars dispute all of them but 7. Of those that are disputed there are different levels of confidence in how certain we can be about who did or did not write them.

Of these other dozen or so, when a conservative exegete comes down conclusively on the side of traditional authorship for every single work every single time in the canon, it is clear their methodology is flawed and bias is leading the way. When you can look at the dozen or so works scholars think are pseudonymous in the NT and come up with a single negative judgment I will take your views and criticisms seriously. The majority of Biblical academics in universities – outside conservative echo chambers (seminaries)–are convinced Paul did not write all these letters and Peter didn’t write his either. I am weary of mental gymnastics and twisting the Bible to be what we want it to or to say what we think its supposed to. Until you demonstrate a methodology that can assess scholarly evidence fairly as opposed to apologetics grasping at what if straws there is nothing to discuss.

I am under the impression this topic was made specifically because of that thread. We really didn’t need a new topic. But its here none the less.


1 Like

What do you mean by “this”?

And I am suspicious of what it is you think you are doing.

Then don’t bring the other stuff up if you are not interested in discussing it.

If murdering babies and raping women–what some apologists might try to dismiss or relegate as mere “modern humanistic ethics”-- isn’t wrong per the Bible, it has nothing to offer me. My whole world would be unraveled. I think raping women and murdering babies is a far more serious deal breaker than God speaking through a text someone decided to pen in someone elses name (justifiably or unjustifiably). Fortunately, I think the love of God is depicted through Christ and shines through and overcomes all the darkness in our sacred scripture.

Or like when the bible assumes the earth is flat or doesn’t move, there is a solid firmament in the sky, hell is in the earth, stars are small and can fall through the atmosphere, thoughts originate in the kidneys or make 100 other incorrect scientific statements. If the Bible can make incorrect scientific statements it can’t be trusted. Heard this a thousand times from YECs and atheists. Apparently my line is draw a little too far out for some. But we all draw lines and if we don’t, we are fundamentalists and young earth Christians.

And for the record, I don’t trust the Bible. I trust God. The Bible is not infallible or overly special without God and the Holy Spirit. I am not a sola scripture Protestant nor do I make a book the fourth member of the “Trinity” (quadrunity? quaternity? quadrinity?). The Bible has a special place in my heart because 1) its a literary masterpiece at times and influences my thought process but more importantly 2) it mediates the sacred. Nothing about it even remotely suggests it is inerrant, infallible or textually stable on its own. Without faith in God and faith in the Church the Bible can’t stand on its own.


1 Like

It makes no claim to authorship. Though its probably only in the canon because many in the early church incorrectly thought Paul wrote it. The irony. Or maybe God wanted it there. And I used round numbers because I didn’t feel like counting.


1 Like

I also caught the part about the 20 or so books making an authorship claim after making the comment. So I deleted it. Good catch on quoting it before I could remove it.

1 Like

I honestly couldn’t remember if Revelation and the Johannine epistles make very specific authorship claims hence my rounding. 13 Paul, 2 Peter, James and Jude are the ones I remembered off the top of my head.

1 Like