Critics are keen to say that most of the Epistles were not written by those who claim to be their authors but by anonymous men. They allege they are pseudonymous (anonymous and false, but written by Christians who believed that: ‘gaining converts justified telling lies’).
Of the 21 Epistles, 7 are generally accepted and the Epistle to the Hebrews will be discussed in Chapter 21. We lack room to examine all the remaining 13, but will look at the five most rejected by the critics. These are the three Pastorals by Paul, the second epistle of Peter and the one by Jude.
These are 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus. These provide their recipients with advice for managing their flocks, so are called ‘Pastorals’
We will give the arguments put forward by critics and a reply.
. ‘Acts’ provides an account
of the travels by Paul but do not include a visit by him to
Reply: This is an example of how ‘a difficulty’, concerning the reliability of the New Testament, is not caused by historical or literary evidence, but by the Markan priority theory itself. Because Markans claim Luke wrote his Gospel about 85, they have to date his Acts as later still.
History places ‘Acts’ in the 60s ((CCHS 815a)). And the historical evidence tells us that Paul was released from prison and continued his missionary journeys. Let us look at the evidence:
Although ‘The Acts of Peter’ was not inspired by the Holy Spirit, it was written
in 180-190. It states that when Paul was released from prison he was granted permission to go where he wished.
He chose to visit
The Muratorian Fragment of the same period states clearly that Paul went from ‘the
We may note that the alleged offence of Paul was minor, Agrippa had not found him
guilty (Acts 26: 31-32) and Festus would have included this favourable opinion in his report. Also the Apostle
himself expected to be released so he could see his friends. (Phil.1: 25-26; 2: 24). Paul had previously voiced
his ambition to preach in
In Acts itself, Luke makes no mention of Paul’s trial, judgement, or his martyrdom. Yet up to this point Luke has detailed the witness and suffering of Paul in great detail. The obvious conclusion is that Acts does not cover the latter part of Paul’s life. So Paul could have written the Pastoral Epistles in his latter years.
Once we accept that Luke concluded ‘Acts’ prior to Paul being released from prison, the ‘insurmountable difficulty’, created by Markan priority, disappears.
Michael Prior held that the second letter of Paul to Timothy may be seen as a request for assistance in the proposed Spanish mission. In the past the whole letter has been interpreted to accord with the translation of one word in chapter 4: 6. But as this Greek word, which has may be translated as ‘departure’, was rarely used, its precise meaning in this context is unsure. Prior believes this word should be seen in the context of the whole letter.. A man on the point of execution is unlikely to make a request for books, parchments and a cloak before winter. However a man about to make a missionary journey would find them very useful. He suggests the translation should read: ‘For my part I am already spent and the time for my release is at hand’ ((MP 89-90 and SB Jan 2001, 19)).
. The style is not the same as that seen in the recognised Pauline Epistles.
Reply: The ‘recognised Pauline epistles’ were co-authored, as may be seen from their opening and closing words. They were also addressed to the leaders of churches for public reading. On the other hand, the Pastoral Epistles were private letters to friends. It is a fallacy to think we can learn of the personal and private style of Paul from official co-authored letters addressed to communities.
Dr. Johnson, when visiting
 175 of the 848 words used in the Pastoral Epistles do not occur in the New Testament, but 93 of these 175 do occur in the Fathers and Apologists. This shows the vocabulary of the PEs belongs to the second century.
Reply: Some years ago these statistics were used to convince people. But it has since been shown, with less publicity, that 95 of the 175 occur in the writings of Philo who died 20 years before Paul. Also 153 of these 175 words occur in writings from before 50 AD ((SB Jan 2001, 6)). Almost the same proportion of unusual words are to be found in 1 Corinthians, accepted by nearly all as first century, as occur in the much later Apostolic Fathers ((JNDK 24)). So the vocabulary of the Pastoral Epistles was in use during New Testament times.
. The heresies implied in the Pastoral Epistles did not develop till the second century.
Reply: By the second century Christian heretical sects, incorporating Gnostic and cultic ideas, were well organised. But there is no evidence that earlier and incipient forms were absent from apostolic times ((CCHS 656h)).
. The Pastoral Epistles fit the structured church government developing in the second century rather than that of the Charismatic earlier forms.
Reply: It does take time for structures to develop, but they need to exist before they are able to develop. In the first years there were Charismatic and structural aspects to the church, as there are today. Both were developing as they met new needs. Between the Resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit, Church leaders were exercising a self-confident authority with a primitive but effective structure for decision making (Acts 1: 25-26).
. The Pastoral Epistles are like many other epistles, pseudonymous.
Reply: In many epistles, including the Pastoral Epistles the names of the person or persons sending the letter are given in the opening words, or at the end, or in both. So there should be no problem. Both history and the internal evidence are against the critics. But they have developed this idea of wide-spread pseudonymous (false documents written with good motives – the end justifying the need).
Christians are not likely to easily accept that the early Christian leaders produced forged documents so as to fool congregations, gain converts and win arguments. Some say the congregations were not fooled, but did not object.
Those who make these claims come from a world where Christian pseudonymity is considered to have been common in the first century. But there is no evidence that the Church produced or spread such false writings.
Later, in the mid-second century there were some books ascribed to long dead apostles, but Tertullian tells us that an author who was orthodox in his teaching, full of love for Paul and acting with the noblest of intentions, was deposed from the presbyterate for the sole reason that he practiced pseudonymity. Some time later, Eusebius quotes bishop Serapion of Antioch as rejecting writings falsely bearing the names of the Apostles ((JATR 187-8)).
When a pseudonymous letter is sent to the Thessalonians, it is condemned as a forgery, not a harmless Christian convention (2. Thess 2: 2). Robinson has written:
‘There is an appetite for pseudonymity that grows by what it feeds on. If you believe it is everywhere, you cease to have to argue for it anywhere.’
‘If we ask what is the evidence for orthodox epistles being composed in the name of apostles within a generation or two of their lifetime, and for this being an acceptable literary convention within the church, the answer is nil’. ((JATR 186-7)).
. Many of the epistles could not have been early, because there had not been sufficient time for ‘theological development’.
Reply: This argument is often claimed to be ‘conclusive’. Yet the time it took for such developments is purely speculative. The Apostles lived in daily contact with Christ for three years. Three had experienced the Transfiguration. In history, many individuals have been known to develop deep spiritual insights within a few years.
Christianity is a revealed religion, so Christ imparted its basic teachings and structures to the Apostles. Although these were developed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Markans do not know what was known or not known in the first years. Those claiming to make these judgements are living two thousand years after the events, in a completely different environment and with their own ideological agendas and personal presuppositions. Their conjectures are as reliable as measuring a fast growing plant with an elastic measuring tape.
. We are told that Paul would have been too humble to have written: 2 Tim. 4: 7 - 8.
Reply: He was expressing his honest feelings in a private letter to a personal friend. This criticism is based on a false understanding of humility. These replies show there is no need to accept Markan assertions regarding the PEs.
Regarding the alleged errors in the PEs, similar ‘errors’ are to be found in the Epistle to the Corinthians (Col. 2: 4-26), which are accepted by nearly all to be Paul’s ((CCHS 918g)).
. Markans claim 2 Peter was written in the second century because it quotes from Jude written late in the first Century. Also that 2 Peter 3:16 mentions a collection of Paul’s letters which would not have existed till the end of the first Century.
Reply: These assertions are not based on history but on the Markan Priority theory. Recent research indicates that Jude wrote about 62 AD and depended on 2 Peter ((CTP 245)). This would place the composition of 2 Peter sometime in the 50s AD. These are not fully proven, but show an increasing number of exegetes are researching, unrestricted by Markan dogma.
The Markan argument about a collection of Paul’s letters is based on their own false picture of Roman life. Life in the Roman Empire was reviewed in our Chapter 12. The library at Rome would probably have been one of the largest in Christian hands.
When Paul wrote a letter to a church, it is most likely copies would be passed to other churches. In Colossians 4: 16 a specific instruction is given to do this. It is difficult to imagine that none of these copies arrived at the Church’s headquarters in Rome. So Markans have no evidence that it took fifty years for a library to be formed at Rome containing Paul’s letters. Also, Peter’s second epistle does not say all of Paul’s letters were in the collection
It would be difficult to run an organisation and convert an empire, if two thirds of important and treasured letters passing between branches and its head quarters were forgeries.