Authorship of the Pastorals

A complete and updated version of this essay is available in our resource Trusting the New Testament.

Many biblical scholars question the attribution of this or that letter of the NT to the Apostle Paul, but none come under any greater fire in this regard than the Pastoral epistles - 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Critics commonly assert that the Pastorals are "pseudox", and that they may be dated to c. 100-120 AD based on any number of factors.

Glenn Miller has previously addressed this topic of "choosing" an Apostle's name at random and attaching it to a given epistle, then foisting that allegedly authentic work on the laity. Was the early church really composed of easily fooled people? We share Miller's basic conclusions on the issue of "pseudox" here; those wishing for more detail should refer to this link which goes very much in-depth. It is illegitimate to do as Houlden does in this case [Hould.PE, 21]: appeal to the alleged pseudonymity of other epistles to support the idea that the Pastorals were pseudonymous! However, our purpose here shall be to address the matter of the authorship of the Pastorals - 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. As is always the case (Eccl. 1:9), old arguments die hard - critics in 1996 [Bass.12TT, for example] are still using arguments that have been refuted time and time again - including a few from the time of F. C. Baur ! [Ellis.PP, 45]

For our newest edition of the essay, however (July 1998), we would like to express our further allegiance - having now looked at the evidence in more detail - to a thesis promulgated in various degrees by Moule, Quinn, Wilson and others: That the Pastorals were the work of Luke, writing under the authority (and we would add, with the direction of) the Apostle Paul. We will discuss this in more detail as we progress.

Major Objections

Kummel [Kumm.Int, 371-4], along with Dibelus and Conzelmann [Dibel.PE, 1-4], use the six standard arguments against Pauline authorship, which we cite below; others use one or more of them as well. I will deal with the first of Kummel's objections last (entry #7) ,because it involves a special pet peeve of mine! In entry #6 I will put any out of the ordinary arguments that I have observed.

A word is in order as a preface. Dibelus and Conzelmann insist that the burden of proof is on those who hold for Pauline authorship of the Epistles. It matters not to them that the claim is made WITHIN the Pastorals that Paul is the author - they, and many other critics, they are far too secure in their arguments, and far too presumptuous - Dibelus and Conzelmann, for example, note passages in the Pastorals that are much like those in the Pauline letters that they accept; but rather than accept this as an indication of Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, they dismiss them as works of excellent imitation by the pseudonymous writer.

Formerly, such passages were regarded as "fragments" lifted from genuine and otherwise unknown Pauline letters - a theory now very much in disuse. - For one advocate, see Barc.TTP When an argument runs in circles like this, one wonders how strong the case truly is.

Theological Issues

[Definition of the Law (1 Tim. 1:8-10)] [Use of "Faith"] [Lack of Pauline Mysticism] [Baptism (Titus 3:5)]

I've found only four instances of these (see Pric.INP, 506):

1a) Confusion over definition of the law. Cited in this regard is 1 Tim. 1:8-10 -

1 Tim. 1:8-10 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers--and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.

Hanson objects [Hans.PE, 3] that whereas in Galatians and Romans, the law is "a power hostile to man," here it simply condemns evildoers. Scott [Scot.PE, xx] similarly claims that the Pastoral writer:

...has confused the Mosaic law with law in general, and think of it merely as a necessary check on evildoing.

Scott also adds: "Paul with his reverence for Jewish law, could never have said that it was not intended for righteous men." In reply to these authors [see also Hould.PE, 28; Bass.12TT, 41], we may say:

i) The views about the law are complimentary and compatible - not contradictory. I don't see a great deal of force in these objections; it seems to me that Paul could easily conceive of the law both as hostile to man AND as a check on evildoing - as indeed I would.

I also fail to see any reason why Paul's reverence for the law contradicts the idea that it was not intended for righteous men (because at any rate, according to Romans 3, there aren't any). This is conceptually much the same as saying that when Jesus said that He came to call not the righteous, but sinners, He was denigrating His own mission.

Marshall [Mars.PE, 375] also notes that this statement is similar to Romans 7:16.

ii) This verse may indicate Lukan influence. Wilson [WilsS.LkPE, 90] points out that the word here for "teachers of the law" (nomodidaskaloi) appears in the NT only in two other places: Luke and Acts. We may perhaps see here a "shadow" of Lukan influence.

I would also add that:

iii) In context, Paul is addressing a heresy that misuses Jewish beliefs. In verse 7, Paul refers to the heretics thusly: "They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm." Obviously, these heretics were making IMPROPER use of the law, [Fee.12TT, 10] and Paul was simply "emphatically opposing the futilities of much Pentateuchal speculation" [Guth.PE, 60] - hence the seeming lack of "reverence" for the law.

In addition Marshall [Mars.PE, 376] points out that when addressing a Hellenist audience, Paul's response will be unlike that made to Judaizers in Galatians and Romans, where a positive view of the law could be easily misinterpreted.

1b) Confusion over "faith" - personal, or loyalty to a church tradition? Throughout the Pastorals, Paul refers to "the faith" in the sense of a creed or a tradition, which is said to contradict Paul's usual way of referring to faith only in a personal way (Barc.TTP, 6).

However, Paul refers to "the faith" in a creedal way in other places (Rom. 4:12, 4:16; 1 Cor. 16:13, 2 Cor. 13:5, Gal. 1:23; 3:23, 6:10; Phil. 1:25, 27; Col. 2:7). It was therefore not a foreign usage to him; he simply uses it that way more often in the Pastorals, as we would expect if he were writing to church leaders whose job it was to safeguard creeds and traditions - and considering that he was near the end of his life, this would not be a bad idea [Town.PTPT, 312].

1c) The Pastorals lack the Pauline mysticism. I can only ask here why critics expect personal letters to contain mysticism, and why they expect Paul to always be the same way every time he writes a letter. May we also ask what Paul has to get mystical about in these letters?

1d) Confusion over baptism. Critics cite Titus 3:5 -

Titus 3:4-5 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit...

Scott [Scot.PE, 175] claims that this is reflecting a step towards later sacramentalism, seeing baptism ("washing") in itself as effective for salvation. In reply, we may note:

The "washing" is referred to metaphorically. There is an allusion here to water baptism, but the basis of this verse is metaphorical, referring to the spiritual cleansing ("rebirthing") power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the word Paul uses here for "renewal" is used elsewhere in the NT in connection with the renewing, cleansing work of the Holy Spirit. (Fee.12TT, 157; Kell.PE, 252, Allen.EPEP, 337 - For similar imagery, see Romans 6:4, 1 Cor. 6:11, and Eph. 5:26; see also our comments here.)

It may be further added that the word we translate "rebirth" had broader meanings in Jewish and pagan contexts as well. [Barc.TTP, 300] This adds to the interpretation that the rebirth itself is the washing, not the act of baptism; which would actually be counted as a "righteous thing" to be done that could not save us.

Contra Acts?

[Acts 20:25, 38] [Indications of Later Pauline Work] [Time for the Journey]

Some critics object that he Pastorals cannot fit into the chronology of Acts - which is rather orinic, since many of the same critics do not regard Acts as reliable in the first place. At any rate, the standard answer here is that these letters were written after the time given in Acts. Kummel is aware of this, but objects that:

2a) Acts 20:25, 38 indicates Paul would no longer be able to return to the East. (see also Bass.12TT, 19) Let's take a look at these verses first, in context.

Acts 20:17-38 From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: "You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.
They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.

Kummel seems to have allowed his imagination to run away with him! This does not say that Paul will not return to the East; it DOES say that Paul did not THINK he would see them again, which is not the same thing.

Kummel has a second objection:

2b) There is no proof of such a journey to the East, or of Paul's release from prison. Actually, there is some evidence of this:

i) An expectation of release is found in Acts and in the prison epistles. Festus (Acts 26:30) and Agrippa indicate that Paul was guilty of no wrongdoing. Paul shows confidence in his imminent release in the prison Epistles (Phil. 1:25, 2:24; Philemon 22).

ii) 1 Clement 5:6-7 indicates that Paul was released. The letter contains these lines:

Paul...preached in the East and the West, and won noble renown for his faith. He taught righteousness to the whole world and went to the western limit. He bore witness to the rulers, and then passed out of the world...

Dibelus and Conzelmann object that Clement betrays no knowledge of a journey to the East, or of a release from prison, but this is irrational. A writer referring to "the western limit" in that time and place always meant Spain [Knig.PE, 17], as indicated by parallel statements in Strabo and Philostratus [LeaGr.12TT, 34n]- though some have tried to equivocate by saying that Clement is referring to Rome as the western limit. This would be extraordinary, since Clement was writing from Rome.

At any rate, since there is certainly no way to fit a Spanish mission into Acts, it looks as though Paul was released from his first imprisonment, and would have had time both for a journey to the East and for the Pastorals. Simply dismissing this as merely a "deduction of what must have happened" from Paul's stated plans in Romans [Perr.NTI, 265] does not do justice to the fact that Clement, writing only thirty years later, would certainly have known that such a journey took place, as would have many others of his time.

Indications that Paul was released from prison are also found in the Muratorian Canon and in the Acts of Peter [Town.12TT, 17], and in statements by Clement that Paul suffered imprisonment several times [LeaGr.12TT, 34].

In spite of the above, which he does note (saying that there is "beyond a doubt a stream of tradition which held that Paul journeyed to Spain"), Barclay [Barc.TTP, 15] concludes - on the same page, no less - that the trip to Spain was assumed from the travelogue of Paul in Romans 15. Why? He objects that "in Spain itself there is not and never was any tradition at all that Paul had walked and preached there; there are no stories about him, and no places connected with his name. It would be indeed strange if the memory of that visit had become totally obliterated."

Perhaps it would be strange, IF we knew that Paul's journey to Spain had been as significant and successful as his other mission trips - but that is precisely what we do NOT know. Indeed, one might say the same of Arabia - which we know Paul visited from Galatians. Therefore we may not make any decisions on this basis either way.

2c) There is no time for a journey to Spain and to the East between when Paul would have been released and his second imprisonment and execution. This is cited by Scott [Scot.PE, xx]. But there was a span of at least 3 years available - plenty of time, even in the ancient world, to make the journeys. (Other amounts of time have been suggested: 4 years [Hans.PE, 14] or as much as 5 years [Fair.PE, 26].) In Trade Routes and Commerce of the Roman Empire, M.P. Charlesworth has written (p.155):

Communication with Rome [for Spain] was quick and easy, the main ports being Tarraco, Carthago Nova, and Gades. The first town was the seat of the imperial governor, and it was hither that reinforcements and all official messengers were sent, and a regular service must have been ensured. It was only four days sail from Rome, and from it every part of Spain could soon be reached by road. In the ordinary way it took five days to Bilbilis, but an imperial freedman, travelling with important news and at full speed, managed to arrive at Clunia (which was further along the road than Bilbilis) in seven days from Rome, which implies three days land-journey. From Ostia to Gades took seven days under favourable conditions, and the average time was doubtless around ten.

Thus, there was plenty of time for Paul to travel around as suggested.

Finally, let it be added that we should hardly take the absence of a viable peg to put in the chronological hole of Acts as reason for denying Paul the Pastorals. There is also no reference in Acts or in the other Pauline letters to Paul's frequent imprisonments, all five beatings, and all three shipwrecks in 2 Cor. 11:23-7 where they are noted. Obviously, Acts is not intended to be a complete biography of Paul. [Moss.12TT, 15]

For more objections answered, please see Trusting the New Testament (see top of page).


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  2. Barc.TTP Barclay, William. The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1956,
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