The Questioned Authorship of St Paul Questioned

As I was watching a video presentation by Dr. Bart Ehrman on the authorship of the pastoral epistles (e.g., 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus), the host casting doubt on the authorship and siding with "the majority of biblical scholars," one evidence he supplies is the variant notion of faith. In the so-called undisputed letters of the apostle, his use of the word "faith" regards personal salvation, and not a propositional element referring to the Christian faith. Any novice could argue that the same author is capable of using the word "faith" in both senses without his authorship being questioned.

For example, in the undisputed letter of 2 Corinthians, we find the apostle using the word "faith" both personally and propositionally: "I do not mean to imply that we lord it over your faith [personal faith in Christ]; rather, we are workers with you for your joy, because you stand firm in the faith [propositional faith in Christian doctrines]." (2 Cor. 1:24, emphases added) He repeats a propositional reference in closing his letter: "Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith [propositional faith in Christian doctrines]." (2 Cor. 13:5, emphasis added) He continues elsewhere.

In the undisputed letter Galatians he begins: "they only heard it said, 'The one who formerly was persecuting us [referring to himself] is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.'" (Gal. 1:23, emphasis added) Throughout this letter the apostle primarily uses the word "faith" personally (cf. Gal. 2:16, 20; 3:8, 11, 12, 14, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26; 5:5, 6); but the reason is granted due to his subject matter -- we are justified before God, in Christ, not by law-keeping but by personal faith (trust) in the works and person of Christ Jesus on our behalf. In yet another undisputed letter the apostle is noted as using "faith" propositionally: "And because I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith. (Phil. 1:25 LEB, emphasis added) He repeats the use two verses later (Phil. 1:27).

Even in the disputed pastoral epistles the author uses "faith" in a personal sense (cf. 1 Tim. 1:4, 5, 14 19; 2:7, 15; 3:13; 4:12; 6:11; 2 Tim. 1:5; 2:18, 22; 3:8, 10, 15; Titus 1:4; 2:2). The author's seventeen uses of "faith" as personal trust in Jesus Christ for salvation is compared to his, possibly, fourteen uses of "faith" as propositional Christian doctrines (cf. 1 Tim. 1:2, 19; 2:7 possibly; 1 Tim. 3:9; 4:1, 6; 5:8; 6:10, 12, 21; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:7; Titus 1:1, 4 possibly; Titus 1:13; 3:15). I remain unconvinced that St Paul could not have authored the pastoral epistles because of the presence of the propositional use of "faith" in these three letters as opposed to his primary personal use of "faith" elsewhere.

Moreover, though "belief" in propositional statements do not "save" someone, the person who is trusting in Jesus Christ for personal salvation will also adhere to necessary propositional doctrines of the Christian faith (e.g., the deity of Christ, His atoning death, His burial and resurrection). We must ask the all-important question: Why? We cannot merely count an author's usage of particular words without asking why the author wrote what is recorded. An author can use the same word in a different sense; what matters is his purpose or motive in writing what he penned.

In the same lecture Dr. Ehrman insists that St Paul could not have authored the pastoral epistles because there is present an ecclesiastical hierarchical structure noted. He argues that, in the undisputed first letter to the Corinthians, St Paul does not write to a pastor but to a congregation (1 Cor. 1:2). He suggests that this is a charismatic community that does not host a pastor/priest/bishop/elder. Yet we find unmistakable hierarchy in Titus 1:5: "I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you" (emphasis added). Dr. Ehrman suggests that a hierarchical ecclesiastical structure did not appear until the second century. I think he is mistaken.

Prior to the apostle Paul's first undisputed letter to the Corinthians we discover a hierarchical structure already blossoming. Early in the post-Pentecost ministry of the disciples, the Twelve call together the whole community and instruct them to select "seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom," so that they might serve as deacons (the word "deacon" refers to serving). Someone from the Twelve then states: "whom we may appoint to this task." (Acts 6:2, 3) The community is able to select its own deacons but they are appointed to the ministry by the Leaders of the Church. Does the community select its own pastor/priest/elder? No.

Just prior to the first Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), when Paul and Barnabas "strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith" (propositional faith in Christian doctrines), they both "appointed elders for them in each church." (Acts 14:23 emphasis added) The community of believers do not select their own pastor/priest/elder. An ecclesiastical hierarchical structure already exists in the first-century Church. Such should be obvious, I think, due to the Jerusalem Council itself: "Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question [regarding circumcision] with the apostles and the elders." (Acts 15:2; cf. Acts 15:6) What is the conclusion (emphases added)?
Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, with the following letter: "The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell." (Acts 15:22-28 NRSV)
These gathered assume themselves an authority in instructing the catholic church, rendering decisions for believers to follow, and to appoint deacons and elders/priests/pastors in each village or city. Even St Paul himself, chosen to be among those in authority, notes a hierarchy: when he trusts in Christ, initially, he does not confer with any other mortal, nor does he go up to Jerusalem to "those who were already apostles before me," but after three years does visit St Peter (Gal. 1:16, 17, 18). He recognizes Jerusalem as a place whence authority is dispatched by the apostles.

Fourteen years after his conversion, though, the apostle Paul notes his travel to Jerusalem, to those in authority, so that he can proclaim to them his gospel "in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain." (Gal. 2:2) I remain unconvinced, then, that St Paul could not have authored the pastoral epistles because of the alleged absence of an ecclesiastical hierarchy in the first-century Church. Just because the church at Corinth appears to be without an appointed pastor is no indication that all the churches were charismatically conducted ecclesiologically. We know from the explicit passages noted above that this is not the case.


Consider that the believers in Corinth most likely did not assemble (come together to worship, share their spiritual gifts, and share the Eucharist meal) in an official church building but in someone's home (cf. Rom. 16:5, 22; Col. 4:15; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; 2 John 1:1, 4, 10). Since the setting is less formal and more intimate in this early assembly of believers, with fewer people to instruct, then a hierarchical structure may not have been required. See Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, eds. Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 220, 223.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.