Pauline authorship

Let the cards fall where they may.

I remember well when I heard Sproul say the Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books, and then in an assuring voice said that he had no doubts concerning the decisions that were made about the canon.

Yes, there are a number of ways to reconcile the OT violence attributed to God. Theologian Greg Boyd’s book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God is a rather complex explanation, but proposes that it is humans which pictured God as violent, and not something that is actually true of God’s character. God let humans write about him in the bible as if he was behaving like any other ANE deity because he does not lobotomize people to believe things.


I like this approach from Dale B Martin wrote:

We may trust scripture to provide what we need for our salvation. We may trust that we can read scripture in prayerful hope that God will speak to us through our reading that text. But ultimately this belief-or, perhaps better put, this stance, attitude, or habitus-is actually an expression of our faith not in a text but in God and the holy spirit. We “leave it up to the holy spirit” to protect us from damnable error in our readings of scripture. We depend on God to keep us with God in our readings of scripture. Properly understood, the doctrine of the infallibility of scripture is a statement less about a text and more about God." [The Meaning of Scripture in the Twenty-first Century]

My trust is in God. He speaks to me through the Bible. It doesn’t have to be perfect or infallible for this to occur. It could be perfect or infallible but it doesn’t have to be. It is my sacred scripture because it is how I identify myself and how the Sacred is mediated to me. It is also the same for the church. God has used fallen sinners since time immemorial to accomplish his will. I will not reject the possibility that the Bible exists within that fallen and sinful nature that God accommodated. In fact, for me, the text itself necessitates that view.

How to interpret and apply it (hermeneutics) scripture is a separate issue along with how exactly inspiration is to be defined. They are all intertwined, however.



Which if true, softens any problems with someone writing a letter in Paul’s name. But that means scripture “as its written open the page” is not really the “word of God” anymore. You have to dig behind the text. I am personally okay with that. Took me a long while to get there but I made my peace with it.

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Yes, you’re right. Greg Boyd’s thesis does require one to concede that the “literal description of God in the text on the page” may not be accurate, but clouded by human perception. This may be troubling for some with a strict concept of inerrant. But if one thinks of Jesus as the true/ accurate/ inerrant revelation of God’s character (i.e. Jesus is the Word as opposed to the text), then it is not so troubling.


That’s all pretty nice and would probably fit well with Keener’s book Spirit Hermeneutics.

“We ‘leave it up to the holy spirit’ to protect us from damnable error in our readings of scripture”

The thing is, what does one mean by “damnable” error? That God is a God that will ■■■■, or he isn’t. It seems to more or less come down to that issue.

Kind of goes back to that talk Longman gives on divine violence.

I am not sure if he meant damnable in the dictionary sense (as in hellbound). Its definitely a complicated issue. We have 40,000 denominations with some serious and not so serious disputes. Lots of genuine Christians read the Bible prayerfully and come away with different conclusions. I get the impression that God doesn’t really care if we are post, pre or amillennial.

So when I think of mediating the Sacred I think of the Bible convicting us of sin and moving us into a proper relationship with God. Its about salvation and equipping us to do good works. I think giving us correct theological beliefs or proper facts is low on God’s priority list. Just the opinion of a guy who has spent (wasted?) a lot of time studying and arguing over precisely these things.


Just a thought, what if one’s view on the doctrine of inspiration has more to do with how far one is willing to go in viewing the books with less certain authorship?

What I mean, is I doubt there are any (or an extreme minority of) critical scholars holding to an orthodox view of Scripture even with the books whose authorship we are certain.

So in an important way, it’s an unfair comparison to put the critical view along side of (and outweighing) the evangelical view.

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(Have I ever mentioned that like Bonhoeffer’s take? ; - )

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Reading the passage in full this morning, I wonder when in his life did Bonhoeffer write this. It’s an intriguing question as the Bible comes alive at very unexpected times and in quite diverse ways throughout the believer’s life.

I am now reminded of reading, “Peace I give you, and the peace I give is not like that of the world.” I think that was the first promise that I received from the Bible as if it was given to me. And at a time when I did not know peace. What a mess I was in my early twenties!

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This is an assertion, not an argument or even a demonstration. I think that is exactly the problem that James (@jammycakes) was raising.

And hence the problem with so much critical scholarship, much as you seem to see it in conservative evangelicals like myself… there is such a confirmation bias, a willingness to see the desired narrative which blinds the inquirer to what should be obvious contrary facts.

It is one thing to see these facts, engage with them, and dismiss them on some reasoned basis. it would also be one thing to acknowledge these contrary facts and simply hand wave them. the problem i am offering is that Ehrman doesn’t even seem to notice the obvious elephant in the room enough to even bother hand waving them.

hence, he commits some rather egregious errors and unwittingly makes numerous demonstrably false statements.

How else do you explain (regardless of whether it was in Erherman’s “popular” or “academic” word, he can proffer such demonstrable falsehoods?) Claiming that authentic Paul always speaks about salvation as a future event when numerous counter examples exist that are so easy to find that any layman with a basic concordance can find them…?

If you have any actual explanation, rather than either hand-wave or baseless assertions, for these errors, i’d truly and sincerely be delighted to hear them.


I’m sorry Vinnie, but that’s just shouting. As I said, we are asking you for specific answers to specific objections, and all you’re doing is fobbing me off with hand-waving about “special pleading” and “confirmation bias” and “conservative echo chambers” and “scholarly consensus” just because I’m pushing back against being spoon-fed by Bart Ehrman. You’re just blindly dismissing everything that doesn’t swallow the “scholarly consensus” completely uncritically as “mental gymnastics” and “twisting the Bible to be what we want it to or say what we think its supposed to” without actually making the slightest attempt to engage in the actual points that we are raising.

Just trotting out the names of random logical fallacies tells us nothing. They all have very specific definitions and very specific meanings. “Special pleading,” for starters, means taking a general rule or principle and insisting, for no good reason, that it doesn’t apply to you. Exactly what general rule or principle, pray tell, am I demanding an exemption from? As for confirmation bias, what matters is not the confirmation bias itself but the consequences of the confirmation bias. For example, if it is causing us to make errors or omissions in matters of fact, you need to tell us what those errors or omissions are.

And I am not seriously disputing that either. But just because forgeries exist, that does not necessarily mean that everything is a forgery. If it did, then we would have to reject the undisputed epistles of Paul as forgeries as well, so we need to take other criteria into account as well. But that is not the question at hand. The aim of discussions such as this is to get an overview of all the different arguments against Pauline authorship, and to assess the strength or even the factual accuracy of those different arguments. Some of them may carry some weight or even considerable weight; others may be fallacious to the point of being nonsensical or even outright factually untrue. If you’re just going to fob off every attempt to carry out such an assessment as “conservative” “confirmation bias,” then our attempts to get such an overview are just going to go nowhere and the whole exercise will only end up with frustration and irritation all round.


Some biases are correct. :slightly_smiling_face:

You have basically straw manned Ehrman. This is directly out of his book Forgery and Counter Forgery which addresses your complaint specifically:

“It should not be objected that Philippians 1:1 presents us with the same situation already in Paul’s lifetime. Overseers and deacons are mentioned there, but there is nothing either in that verse or the entire letter (or set of letters) of Philippians as a whole to indicate that these are persons selected for an office out of a pool of candidates, or that they were ordained by the laying on of hands. In fact, nothing is said about them at all, giving us no way of knowing whether they are comparable to the figures addressed in the Pastorals or not. If we assume they are it is not because of any evidence, since, in fact, there is no hint of evidence; it is simply a hopeful assumption. The fact that these Philippian overseers and deacons are never addressed in the letter(s) is itself far more telling: Paul does not tell them to correct the false teaching in the congregation, or to make sure Euodia and Syntyche fall in line, or to deal with any of the problems of the church. The differences from the Pastorals are apt.”

Likewise Ehrman has written:

“We can get a good sense of “Pauline” churches from two corpora of letters, the Corinthian correspondence and the Pastorals. It is hard to see how these derive from contexts that are at all equivalent either temporally or ideologically. When Paul is dealing with the manifest problems in the church of Corinth—disunity, immorality, disorganization, false teachings, and so on—why does he not write to the leader or leaders he has appointed in order to convince them to bring their people into line? Surely it is because there were no leaders, in that sense, who could do so. And the correspondence is completely unambiguous as to why. There were no “offices” in the Corinthian church that were conveyed by the laying on of hands (or by selection) to those who had set qualifications and the ability to lead. Each member of the community had a spiritual gift that was to be used for the upbuilding of the community; each person needed to use these gifts with for the entire community, being concerned not for self-aggrandizement but for the good of the whole. If they followed the direction of the Spirit there would be harmony in the body[…]”

Excerpt From: Ehrman, Bart D. “Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics.” Apple Books.

Ehrman: “They [the Pastorals] instead presuppose that a church hierarchy already is in place, to the extent that there are bishops, deacons, and widows who are to be enrolled. The author does not need to describe what each of these persons or groups does because this is already assumed. That is, it is common knowledge. These books were written well after the transition from a charismatic organization in which persons were authorized by the Spirit given at baptism. Now there are leaders with recognized skills and qualifications, who are ordained by the laying on of hands or selected from a pool of candidates.”

Excerpt From: Ehrman, Bart D. “Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics.” Apple Books.

What I see in your post is the typical play of an apologist. Misrepresent a scholarly view and knock it down bolstering confidence in an obscure, minority, fringe position that the academic world has left behind. A position that is built and grounded entirely on a priori beliefs. I am confident if I went through each one of your claims they would mostly all end up in the same boat.

Ehrman puts forward very solid arguments in Forgery and Counter Forgery. I will not defend all he said nor do I care to bother with “popular level books” written to non-scholars. I’d rather read works at the top of the intellectual food chain directly. Because my job isn’t to just dismiss Ehrman out of hand. It is to read what he writes and reflect on it and steel man his arguments and those against his.

The church structure argument is not absolute but it is sound. That is why critical scholars take it seriously. When taken along with a number of other reasons suggesting pseudonymous composition, it becomes stronger still.

This is the question for me. I refuse to play apologetical games and chase apologists up never ending hills as they back peddle with rhetorical what ifs.

Fact: there are hundreds of forgeries at the time.
Fact: we have a potential sample of up to 20 forged or unforced works in the NT
Fact: the early church is either ambiguous or disputed some of these works.
Fact: some of these works go without external attestation or textual copies for half a century if not longer.
Fact: scholars thing some of the works in the NT were written by their name sakes and put forward many arguments some were not.
Fact: Jammycakes rejects all these arguments and think, unilaterally, every single work inside his Bible was written by who it claims to be.

So, on what grounds should I take your positive judgment in favor of traditional authorship on EVERY SINGLE CANONICAL WORK seriously when the academic world considers a significant number of those works to be written by who they claim to be and some to be not written by who they claim?

Imagine going before a judge where every single person was ALWAYS deemed guilty. Or where every single person was ALWAYS deemed innocent. It would be painfully obvious to every single competent person that there is a problem with the judge.

This is the issue that needs to be hashed out before we can look at all the ways inerrancy evangelists on the internet butcher scholarly views on the Pauline corpus in favor of a priori dogma. Not only is it a miraculous coincidence that traditional authorship for every NT work is correct, but that you can actually look at all this scholarly evidence and side with a positive judgment in every single instance. Sorry, I am not buying it.


Sincerely Appreciate the thorough response. As I return the courtesy, may I plead that we both carefully examine our reasoning… I humbly perceive you are committing a confirmation bias here, just as (if I understand rightly) you similarly perceive I am essentially doing - carefully examining only those facts that agree with my position while ignoring any conflicting facts, so as to arrive at a predetermined position. I plead that it is vital to examine for any underlying fallacies at such an impasse. So my humble thoughts in return:

Well, in fairness, I did quote carefully from Ehrman’s own (popular) book on the topic… if Ehrman failed to properly represent his own position in his popular book, then that is on him; it is probably discourteous to accuse a reader of committing a straw man fallacy for engaging with exactly what Ehrman wrote.

That said, I do sincerely appreciate the extensive quotes from his more academic and thorough work. But that still leaves me unsettled… It would not have been difficult at all, and would not have been difficult for a lay audience reading his popular work to grasp - for him to simply acknowledge in one sentence that most of Paul’s undisputed letters do not mention Elders or Deacons” or “Elders and deacons are only found in one of Paul’s undisputed letters” Why not simply acknowledge this and present his case that way? Why avoid mentioning that, but still try to make it sound like an absolute contrast: “Constrast that with what you have in the Pastorals… You have the church leaders: bishops and deacons.”

(After all, one could just have accurately said, “Contrast that with what you have in Philippians… you have the church leaders: bishops and deacons.”)

What Ehrman wrote in his popular work strongly implies that there is a directly opposing contrast between “You have the church leaders, bishops and deacons” and the undisputed Paulines, not most of the undisputed Paulines. Why not simply acknowledge that? If he is aware of this argument, then my cynicism still remains - it looks to this reader to be terribly disingenuous, trying to make his argument look stronger than it is, since it would clearly weaken his case had he written that (“most of the undisputed Pauline epistles don’t mention Elders and Deacons…”) I think this is affectionately referred to as “glossing” over inconvenient facts.

But if I may interact with the additional work of his that you have provided…

This is the fallacy confirmation bias and/or selective cherry picking. Here, I fear Ehrman still can’t see his confirmation bias, since his argument clearly goes both ways, but he only lays out the side that he thinks helps his own case. If I grant his point for argument, that we have “no way of knowing whether they are comparable to the figures addressed in the Pastorals or not…” Then (please follow the logic)… If we assume they are not [which he certainly sounds like he is doing] it is not because of any evidence, since, in fact, there is no hint of evidence, it is simply a hopeful assumption. So Ehrman is holding onto a baseless, hopeful assumption that the elders and deacons in Philippians are somehow not comparable to those in the Pastorals, in order to maintain his own position. Would he acknowledge that his own hopeful assumption is just as baseless?

So even granting his claim, we know only that elders and deacons in Philippians either may or may not be comparable to those in the pastorals, so it is largely an irrelevant observation.

Hence, the only "fact* that remains is that Elders and Deacons are, in fact, mentioned in both the Pastorals and in one of the undisputed letters, and (granting his own argument), we don’t know one way or the other whether they are comparable or not, so that factor (“comparability”) is thus entirely irrelevant to our conclusion. We are left only with the obvious fact that elders and deacons are mentioned both in the Pastorals and in the undisputed corpus; a fact that remains and still seriously undermines his claims, which he seems unwilling to acknowledge.

This is so clearly the fallacy of simply cherry-picking data. Why could one not say, “We can get a good sense of ‘Pauline’ churches from two corpora of letters, Philippians and the Pastorals. It is easy to see how these derive from contexts that are essentially equivalent both temporally or ideologically, given the outlined church leadership of elders and deacons.” This is cherry picking data to ignore the letters that would have relevant commonalities and only select for comparison those that have the greatest contrast.

Perhaps my favorite of his fallacies in what you quoted, though:

This again is simply confirmation bias, to reach this conclusion, as he has to ignore what is explicitly in the text to reach his conclusion: He claims that in the Pastorals there is a church hierarchy already in place. But this directly conflicts with the very text itself:

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you…

The text itself explicitly states that there were no elders, and that establishing them is a new undertaking! This directly contradicts Ehrman’s claim that a church Hierarchy is already in place.

Now, of course, one might argue that the forger of Titus was so ingenious and conniving that he anticipated this 19th century criticism, and invented wholesale this narrative about Titus in Crete to establish new elders in these new churches to preemptively buttress against this argument against authorship… But as it is, Ehrman simply cannot use the claim that the Pastorals present Elders as an established hierarchy already in place when the Pastorals themselves explicitly state that establishing elders was a completely novel development.

Again, I cannot see how he can miss this obvious contradiction to his claim if he was simply reading the text with an open mind.

Hence, I fear that claiming

Is quite a bit overoptimistic.

Now, one quick question to clarify… I’m not following the supposed “fact” you claimed below - can you clarify why you’re limiting to 20 books, specifically?

Finally, one last observation:

This is a premise being used as a reason @jammycakes should accept your position?

I could also, quite accurately, say:

Fact: scholars think all of the works in the NT were written by their name sakes and put forward many arguments in support of this position.

Just as true and accurate a “fact” as the one you outlined, no? Or should we clarify by saying “all those scholars with whom I agree think that…” Not to mention, that if @jammycakes is supposed to accept that supposed “fact” that you presented as evidence for his position, this would be the “appeal to authority” fallacy. Expert testimony and authority is indeed very valuable when we examine any such topic, but to use “the experts [that I agree with] all say X, therefore you should believe X” as an actual argument is the “appeal to authority” fallacy; and neither @jammycakes nor anyone else should embrace that position or any other just because such and such number of experts (but only those with whom you agree) all say “X”.

Finally, I sincerely appreciate you bringing more info regarding Ehrman’s more thorough work. I may have to get that in due time, but I am traveling presently, and can’t find it in those e-book libraries I currently have access to.

If you have time and inclination, I’d be interested in any further thoughts you can give me of my other four critiques above - I have a hard time imagining how he can qualify is “salvation is always future” error in his popular book, or if he simply erred there.

Most significantly, I’d be deeply interested to see if, or how, he engages with the obvious and common-sense observation that the Pastorals were written to professional colleagues while the other epistles were written to the laity at large, and how much that nullifies most other claims of disputed authorship, if he did that in his more thorough and scholarly book.

Final thought…

No, a position that is built and grounded on skepticism and critical thought. I listened quite intently, and with an open mind to the claims as they were presented to me during my undergraduate study, and as I noted above, I fact-checked them and found every single evidence presented to be fallacious, vacuous, baseless, and/or simply non sequitur. And I generally refrain from embracing beliefs supported by only faulty evidence or exaggerated claims, however many scholars may repeat these false claims. To borrow from C. S. Lewis:

agnosticism is, in a sense, what I am preaching. I do not wish to reduce the sceptical element in your minds. I am only suggesting that it need not be reserved exclusively for the New Testament and the Creeds. Try doubting something else.


Yes, but they are not the better for being biases, correct? If we remember how those who taught us reached us and changed our minds with humility, we can see how others see that as attractive. If we are to approach truth with the plan to prove all things, it is also a humility to recognize where we can learn–and all the better if our initial intuitions were proved correct. However, in the process of approaching the truth with kindness and a willingness to learn, we can witness even better, can’t we?

No, not in the sense that I’m using it. A bias does not mean it has no good footing. If I said I was biased towards obeying the law, that’s a bad thing? I hope as a physician that you are biased towards objectivity and hygiene. Jesus wasn’t above telling the Sadducees that their bias was wrong and that they were badly mistaken. A bias towards seeing God’s sovereignty and a Father as trustworthy even though we may not understand some things is better than being biased to distrust.

Another way of thinking about a bias (a bias in thinking or a bias in behavior) is it is what you do as ‘second nature’ or without second thoughts. All biases are not evil prejudices or something that intrinsically needs to be changed for the better. Some positive or neutral synonyms: predisposition, tendency, leaning, propensity, proclivity, proneness, predilection.

Thanks for your response here, Vinnie. Your reply to @Daniel_Fisher is a step in the right direction because you are at least addressing the actual points that he makes, even if you are still peppering your responses with rhetoric against “apologetics.”

However, even after having read your more scholarly exposition of Ehrman’s church structure argument, I still find it completely unconvincing because it does not address the objections that I raised earlier. It overlooks the possibility that the early Church may have had an embryonic form of leadership structure in place right from the very beginning, or that Paul himself could have been laying the foundations for the development of such a leadership structure if there wasn’t. It also overlooks the fact that charismatic groups where everyone has a gift to bring are not mutually exclusive with having some form of leadership structure. The early Church may have been much more egalitarian than the prevailing Roman culture, but I find it highly implausible to think that it could have been some kind of free-for-all hippie commune.

You need to be careful here, because attitudes such as this are venturing deep into Dunning-Kruger territory. What you are advocating is like trying to rollerblade before you can walk.

Scholarly works are not scholarly works because they are “at the top of the intellectual food chain.” They are scholarly works because they are addressed to people who share a specific body of background knowledge and terminology. That’s why “popular level books written to non-scholars” exist in the first place: they are supposed to provide an introduction to a scholar’s field of research to people who do not necessarily share that specific body of background knowledge and terminology, and possibly also an introduction to that background knowledge and terminology in the process. This means that one needs to start there before progressing to the more scholarly works, otherwise one will run the risk of misunderstanding the scholarly works and making claims about them that are not justified.

Furthermore, as @Daniel_Fisher pointed out, if an objection to an argument put forward by Bart Ehrman in his “popular level books” is a straw man, then that is because it is Bart Ehrman who is misrepresenting his work, not the person arguing against him. Yes, they may contain an oversimplification, and yes, there may be caveats, but he has a duty to at the very least acknowledge that those caveats exist and to provide a pointer to where one can examine the issue in more depth.

Now about “steel manning.” You’ve used that phrase several times now, so we need to be aware precisely what it means. It does not mean simply taking someone’s most complex, erudite and highfalutin arguments and repeating them uncritically. It means arguing against someone’s position by taking his or her strongest arguments, constructing a stronger version, and showing that the stronger version doesn’t work. I’m sorry Vinnie, I just don’t see you doing that. With Bart Ehrman, all you are doing is repeating his arguments uncritically without presenting a single argument against anything that he has to say let alone a stronger version of it, and your response to arguments against his position seem to consist largely of ad hominem attacks, invective, appeals to authority, and hand-waving about “conservative echo chambers” and “apologetics” and the like.

Fact: this is a false dichotomy and a straw man.

I have already stated what I am asking for: a realistic assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments for and against Pauline authorship of the epistles attributed to him in the New Testament. Nothing more, nothing less. If I see good, persuasive arguments one way or another I shall acknowledge their persuasiveness. If I see problems with them, I expect to see those problems addressed. Cheap shots such as this one do nothing whatsoever to achieve these objections.

Absolutely. It is an appeal to authority, pure and simple.

I do not believe in blindly accepting scholarly consensus just because it is scholarly consensus. Scholars, like any other community, are people too. They are just as subject to groupthink, peer pressure and cancel culture as any other community, and anyone who thinks otherwise is very naive. That doesn’t mean rejecting anything and everything that they have to say out of hand just because I don’t like it or because I find it inconvenient, but it does mean that I look for factors beyond the scholarly consensus before accepting it. Factors such as, for example, the reasoning as to why it is the consensus in the first place, practical or commercial applications, political or cultural pressures, conflicts of interest, a prevalence of ridiculous or easily falsified claims and so on and so forth are all factors to be borne in mind when deciding one way or another.


However…if we transposed all these arguments about bias and substituted the words “evolution” and “age of the earth,” I can’t help but see the YEC parallels. I do note that some, at least, of Sparks’ reviews make sense and changed my mind that I have been quite biased in my pro inerrancy approach in the past. I don’t feel at all equipped to argue the case, but I don’t feel equipped to ascribe bad intent to critics, either…whether they are mistaken or not (which I can not say). I feel the same in observing responses about Covid. In any case, I am more open to accepting that people have valid intentions, and can learn from them.