Did Paul Write the Pastoral Epistles? (Schnabel)

Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture Edited by James K. Hoffmeier, Dennis R. Magary, cover image In the past 100 or 150 years, some scholars have argued that the pastoral epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) were probably not written by the apostle Paul. There are various theories out there; it’s hard to summarize all the scholarship and positions in just a few sentences. Basically, some argue that Paul couldn’t have written the pastoral letters because they differ from Paul’s other letters in these ways: vocabulary, Greek style, and method of argument/reasoning.

I appreciate how Eckhard Schnabel refutes these critical arguments in his essay called “Paul, Timothy, and Titus: The Assumption of a Pseudonymous Author.”  It’s important to remember that when critics doubt aspects of Scripture, there are almost always reasonable answers to the criticism.  It’s not like no Christian has ever thought about the critic’s criticism!   Here’s an edited summary of what Schnabel wrote in response to the argument that Paul could not have written the pastorals:

First, the Pastoral Epistles are too small for statistical analysis, which according to linguistic experts requires texts with at least 10,000 words. The Pastoral Epistles together only have 3,488 words, which makes statistical analysis a problematic proposition. Also, the fact that the vocabulary of the ten undisputed Pauline letters (2,301 words) is only a fraction of the total number of words in ancient Greek makes conclusions based on the nonoccurrence of words futile.

Second, the analysis of vocabulary is distorted if it is carried out on the three Pastoral Epistles as a group and on the undisputed Pauline Epistles as a group.  Since the authenticity of each letter should be determined individually and not part of an assumed corpus, the problem of statistical analysis is even more pronounced: 1 Timothy has 1,591 words, 2 Timothy 1,238 words, and Titus 659 words.

Third, the difference in distinctive subject matter accounts for vocabulary clusters with unusual words in all Pauline letters.  Vocabulary that is generally acknowledged as ‘characteristically Pauline’ occurs in a very erratic manner throughoutPaul’s letters.

Fourth, the notion that an author has a consistent style is a romantic notion of the modern Western world.  In the Greco-Roman world, the rhetorical ideal was prosopoiia (writing in character or personification).  It is the occasion that determines the style adopted.

Fifth, the dialogical style of Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Galatians owes at least some of its characteristics to the use of the diatribe mode rather than to Paul’s personal ‘style’ of writing.

Sixth, both Old Testament quotations and early Christian traditions affect the language of Paul’s letters.

Seventh, discussing the question in terms of Pauline or non-Pauline authorship often does not take into account indications that the process of composition seems to have been complex.  Paul dictated some of his letters…and mentions composers in some of his letters, which means others may have had some part in the formulation of the text.

Eighth, the difference in vocabulary and style between the accepted letters of Paul and the Pastoral Epistles can be explained with the difference between (conceptual) orality and (conceptual) writing.

Ninth, the earliest church fathers, who never doubted the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, were native speakers of Greek whose sense of ‘style’ was surely on par with that of modern scholars, who learn Greek in classroom settings as teenagers or later in life and who never attain the fluency of a native speaker.  The certainty of modern scholars concerning the Greek style of the New Testament documents is more impressive in its audacity than convincing in its cogency.

In sum, the degree of the difference between the style of the Pastoral Epistles and the Pauline letters generally accepted as authentic is a matter of judgment.  The language of the Pastoral Epistles, despite some distinctive characteristics, renders Pauline authorship neither impossible nor implausible.

Eckhard Schnabel, “Paul, Timothy, and Titus: The Assumption of a Pseudonymous Author,” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? p. 383ff.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002