A Commentary by John Stott

1 Timothy. 2). The case against Pauline authorship.

The arguments put forward against the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals may be summed up as historical, linguistic, theological and ethical. We need to consider each in turn.

a). History.

As we have seen, the text of 1 Timothy and Titus claims to furnish readers with the information they need about the historical circumstances of their composition.

Paul states that, when he went into Macedonia, he urged Timothy to stay in Ephesus in order to curb its rampant heresy, and that similarly he had left Titus in Crete in order to complete what had been left incomplete, especially in the appointment of suitable elders in every town. But when did these events take place, involving Macedonia, Ephesus and Crete? When too did Paul winter in Nicopolis (Tit.3:12), leave his cloak and scrolls behind in Troas (2 Tim.4:13), and abandon Trophimus in Miletus when he was ill (2 Tim.4:20)? It is simply not possible (though valiant attempts have been made) to fit Pauline visits to these places into Luke’s record in Acts. And where are we to place his stay, imprisonment and trial in Rome (2 Tim.1:16ff.; 4:16ff.)?

It is this difficulty of reconciling the historical and geographical references in the Pastorals with Luke’s narrative which has led some scholars to reject the notion that they have been invented and to revive instead the chronology developed by Eusebius in his famous fourth-century *Ecclesiastical History*. He wrote that Paul was released at the end of his two-year period of house arrest, where Luke takes leave of him (Acts 28:20), and that he then resumed his missionary travels, penetrating even as far as Spain as he had hoped (Rom.15:24, 28), before being re-arrested, re-imprisoned, re-tried and finally condemned and beheaded. Although this reconstruction is somewhat speculative, depending almost entirely on Eusebius, it provides a framework into which the historical allusions in the Pastorals can quite easily be fitted, without needing to accuse the author of blunder, fiction or romance.

b). Vocabulary.

In 1921 P.N.Harrison’s book *The problem of the Pastoral Epistles* was published. It is very largely a linguistic study. He advances four main arguments against Pauline authorship.

First, of 848 words which occur in the Pastorals as many as 306 are not to be found in the other ten letters attributed to Paul. Further, there is in the Pastorals a higher number (175) of hapaxes (*hapax legomena*, words occurring only once) than in any other Pauline letter. These linguistic peculiarities of the Pastorals create ‘very serious doubts indeed’ about common authorship.

Secondly, only 542 words occur in both the Pastorals and the other ten Pauline letters. This extraordinary small common usage
strongly suggests that the Pastorals were written by another hand.

Thirdly, the number of genuine Pauline words which are absent from the Pastorals is 1,635, of which 580 are peculiar to Paul. This omission of so much distinctively Pauline terminology ‘constitutes a very serious objection indeed’ to an acceptance of the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals.

Fourthly, if instead of comparing the vocabulary of the Pastorals with that of the other ten Pauline letters, it is compared with that of the apostolic fathers and the apologists of the first half of the second century AD, the opposite result is obtained. Of the 175 hapaxes in the Pastorals, as many as 94 recur in the early church fathers. Thus, ‘the author of the Pastorals does speak the language of the apostolic fathers and the apologists, while diverging from that of the other New Testament writers.

P.N.Harrison’s main argument is linguistic, both in *The Problem of the Pastoral Epistles* (1921) and in his ‘companion volume and supplement’, *Paulines and Pastorals*, forty-three years later (1964). His painstaking statistical tables, when one recalls that he had no access to a computer, must be judged a *tour de force*. At the same time, he was a great deal too self-confident when he pronounced his conclusion ‘rigorously proved scientific fact’.

Harrison has had as many critics as converts. Dr. Bruce Metzger took him to task in 1958 for ignoring the work of British, German and Swedish scholars who had questioned the validity of arguments which are based purely on statistical study of literary vocabulary, and which are applied to ‘relatively brief treaties’. Similarly, Professor C.F.D.Moule has written that ‘there is no cogent reason for denying Pauline authorship to a letter merely because its vocabulary and style mark it as different from others which are firmly established as genuine’. For there are several possible reasons for changes in Paul’s language and style. Donald Guthrie summed these up as ‘dissimilarity of subject matter’, ‘advancing age’, ‘change of environment’ and ‘difference in the recipients’. Besides, as Harrison himself conceded, complete uniformity of vocabulary and style must not be expected in every author, ‘least of all in one with a mind so versatile, pliable, original, fresh, impressionable and creative as the apostle’. So saying, he seems to contradict his own thesis. As E.K.Simpson justly observed, ‘great souls are not their own mimes’.

There are two other possible explanations of the linguistic peculiarities of the Pastorals. The first is Paul’s use of a secretary in his correspondence, to which I will return later. The second is the surprising degree to which, especially in 1 Timothy, Paul made use of ‘pre-formed’ material such as doxologies, credal confessions, and hymns, much of it introduced by tell-tale formulae like ‘this is a trustworthy saying’ or ‘knowing this’. Dr. Earle Ellis, who has drawn attention to this phenomenon, calculates that pre-formed material accounts for about 43% of 1 Timothy, 46% of Titus and 16% of 2 Timothy.

Tomorrow: c). Doctrine.

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.