Fake Paul and the Pastoral Epistles

For most evangelicals, the debate about whether or not Paul wrote the Pastorals is a non-issue. The Bible says so, and that is good enough.

But anyone who has read the commentaries will know there is a real debate on this topic, with many scholars opting to reject Pauline authorship. Much of the debate rests on issues outside of my area of expertise, such as the Greek vocabulary and grammar, but I would nevertheless like to present a few brief thoughts of my own on the topic, after spending the last few months studying the Pastorals.

First, it is not hard to be convinced that the same author wrote all three Pastorals. There are so many points of contact between them that to imagine a different author wrote them feels weird to me. You’d have to imagine that “fake Paul” wrote 1 Timothy, and then someone else, fooled into thinking it was real Paul, wrote 2 Timothy in the style of 1 Timothy.

Having said that, it is also possible to discern some variations from Paul’s more “normal” way of speaking that we are familiar with from his earlier writings (e.g. “trustworthy sayings”, or non-characteristic words like epiphany). Of course, there are some quite plausible natural explanations for this, including a development in his own writing style and vocabulary over time, and the possible use of an amanuensis. The trustworthy sayings are in fact evidence that Paul was happy to borrow from other Christian’s creedal statements and hymns, thus broadening his own way of speaking.

But let us contemplate for a moment that someone else did write these letters. “Fake Paul” is writing a letter, but we need a motive. Is he trying to trick the real Timothy and the real Titus into thinking they are receiving instructions from the real Paul? This seems very unlikely indeed. They would be the hardest people to fool, and would soon enough find out that the letters were a fraud. So “fake Paul” is also writing to “fake Timothy”, a fabricated recipient, when in fact the real target audience of the letter is someone else entirely.

Various motives for writing as “fake Paul” have been suggested. Some argue for a well-meaning person telling us “what Paul would have said to Timothy”, but never intended to deceive anyone  or teach anything Paul wouldn’t have agreed with. Another possibility is that someone uses this technique to lend authority to some theological ideas of their own that otherwise would be hard to persuade people of.

To choose between these options, we must reconstruct what we can about “fake Paul”. First, he knows quite a lot about Paul. He must have read other Pauline letters, and be familiar with the accounts from Acts. He comes up with some brilliant pithy summaries of the gospel (1 Tim 2:5-6; Titus 1:1-3; Titus 2:11-14) which makes him a pretty astute theologian in his own right. He has got all kinds of Pauline mannerisms down to a tee, from the way he does the introductions, to the occasional spontaneous doxologies (e.g. 1 Tim 1:17), to the Christian adaption of household codes, to the greetings to assorted colleagues at the end of letters (e.g. 2 Tim 4:19-21).

What’s more, he uses his knowledge of Paul’s missionary movements to add authenticity (e.g. 2 Tim 3:11), as well as his knowledge of Paul’s companions and their locations (e.g. 2 Tim 4:10,19), and yet at the same time chooses to locate Titus on an island never mentioned in Acts, and introduce a random assortment of additional companions not known elsewhere. He either has a very fertile imagination or insider information not contained within Acts.

Even more curious is the personal details “fake Paul” knows about Timothy. He recalls incidents that include prophecies made Timothy’s ordination (1 Tim 4:14) and baptism, who Timothy’s mother and grandmother are (2 Tim 1:5), and knows that Timothy has stomach problems (1 Tim 5:23).

When we search for fake Paul’s hidden agenda, it is hard to find. The letters are greatly concerned with opposing false teaching, but we don’t really get told much about what that teaching entailed. If this is real Paul writing to real Timothy that makes perfect sense. But surely “fake Paul” would want his audience to know what teachings in particular were in need of rejecting. Instead he names and shames the (presumably fake) false teachers.

We have already established that fake Paul isn’t addressing the real Timothy or Titus, so why address so much of his letter directly and personally to them? The genuine Pauline letters are more broadly directed to a whole church, so why not utilise that style as the model which would give fake Paul much more freedom to make his point without having to resort to ridiculous fictions such as “please go to Troas and get my cloak and scrolls” (2 Tim 4:13).

One of the most readily identifiable features of Paul’s letters is his trademark greeting, “grace to you and peace” which is found in all his other letters: Rom 1:7, 1 Cor 1:3, 2 Cor 1:2, Gal 1:3, Eph 1:2, Phil 1:2, Col 1:2, 1 Thess 1:1, 2 Thess 1:2, Phil 1:3. Even the other fake Paul, you know, the one who wrote Ephesians, remembered to include it. This fake Paul clearly has read other letters by the real Paul, so why on earth would he diverge from Paul’s standard greeting and use “grace, mercy, peace” (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2) instead? Even Tit 1:4 doesn’t get it quite right. We have to either put this down to a remarkable blunder on the part of fake Paul, or, more plausibly in my view, it is real Paul writing it in which case he has complete freedom to give an alternative special greeting to his close friend Timothy.

In other words, we have to imagine someone who has brilliantly done his homework in pretending to be Paul, fabricates all kinds of pointless details just for good effect, and yet introduces a major faux pas by failing to precisely copy Paul’s most readily identifiable catchphrase. He goes to great lengths to include fictitious personal information, with no discernible purpose other than to lend authenticity to his hidden agenda, which he in large part forgets to include, since the overriding theological themes of the Pastorals are in full agreement with the other Pauline letters.

In short, while the Pastorals do indeed have a different feel and flavour to the other Pauline epistles, the theory that someone else wrote these requires us to believe in a “fake Paul” who I find to be frankly unbelievable.

4 thoughts on “Fake Paul and the Pastoral Epistles

  1. This is logical and makes sense plus this is far more concise and clear than the way John Stott deals with it in the BST book!

  2. Well said. I don’t think that any of this stuff denying Paul’s authorship would even be considered for five minutes, were it not that biblical Christianity is seen to be a threat to many of those involved in secular bible scholarship.

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