A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. The authenticity of the Pastoral Letters.
Ever since F.C.Baur of Tubingen rejected the Pauline authorship of all three Pastoral Letters in 1835, the voices of critical orthodoxy have confidently followed this tradition. The letters are declared to be pseudonymous or deutero-Pauline, that is to say, composed by a disciple of Paul who attributed them to the pen of his master.
Yet the older view that these letters are authentically Pauline refuses to go away. During the twentieth century, and particularly during its last fifty years, a vigorous defence has been mounted by both Protestant and Catholic scholars. Some of the most notable are Newport J.D.White (1910), Walter Lock (1924), Joachim Jeremias (1934), C.Spicq (1947), E.K.Simpson (1954), Donald Guthrie (1957), William Hendricksen (1957), J.N.D.Kelly (1963), Gordon D.Fee (1984), Thomas C.Oden (1989), George W. Knight (1992) and Philip H.Towner (1994).
Perhaps the most helpful way to handle this controversy here will be to rehearse briefly the case for and against Pauline authorship, and for and against pseudonymity, and then to consider the possible contribution to the writing of Paul’s letters made by his amanuensis.
1). The case for Pauline authorship.
The case has always rested on two grounds – internal (the claims which the letters make that they were written by the apostle) and external (the acceptance of the letters as genuine by the church from the earliest days until the last century).
a). Internal evidence.
The internal evidence is plain, and is so comprehensive that the theory of pseudonymity would credit Paul’s imitator with historical and literary genius. All three letters begin with the announcement of Paul’s name as author, and go on to identify him as ‘an apostle of Jesus Christ’. Both letters to Timothy add that his apostleship is by God’s ‘command’ or ‘will’. The letters then purport to be addressed to Timothy and Titus, whom Paul has stationed in Ephesus and Crete respectively, in order to silence false teachers (1 Tim.1:3ff.) and appoint true teachers in their place (Tit.1:5ff.). Paul also indicates his affectionate relationship with his delegates by calling each either his ‘dear son’ or his ‘true son’. This is the framework; are we really to believe that it was all fabricated?
1 Timothy and Titus, with which we are concerned in this book, contain apostolic directions relating to the doctrinal, ethical and pastoral welfare of the churches. This is especially the case in 1 Timothy in which Paul twice states his intention to visit Timothy personally (3:14; 4:13) – a statement which Professor Moule calls ‘a piece of gratuitous irony and in bad taste’ if it was made up by a pseudonymous writer. Interspersed with his instructions to Timothy the apostle makes a number of personal references to his ordination (1:18; 4:14), his youthfulness (4:11ff.) and his gastric problems (5:23), as also to his own former violent persecution of the church and marvellous conversion and commissioning by the sheer mercy of God (1:12ff.). He concludes his letter with a poignant appeal to Timothy to lead a life appropriate to a man of God (6:11ff.) and especially to guard the deposit of truth committed to him (6:20).
In the letter to Titus, which probably comes next chronologically, there are fewer personal references. Yet Paul carefully adapts his instructions to Titus’ particular circumstances in Crete (1:10ff.), and seeks to regulate the Christian behaviour of different groups in the church (2:1ff.). He ends his letter with specific messages to or about four named individuals. He is proposing to send either Artemas or Tychicus to Titus to relieve him, so that he can join Paul in Nicopolis (3:12), and Titus is to help Zenas and Apollos on their way (3:13).
The second letter to Timothy is the most personal of the three; it claims to be the apostle’s farewell message to Timothy shortly before his anticipated execution (1:13; 2:2; 3:14; 4:1ff., 6ff.). In addition, he recalls Timothy’s tears, the faith and ministry of his mother and grandmother (1:4ff.), and his personal knowledge of the apostle’s teaching, lifestyle and sufferings (3:10ff.). He begs Timothy twice to come to him, especially before winter will make navigation impossible (4:9; 21). He then mentions no fewer than seventeen friends by name, adding either news of them or requests or greetings to them.
Are we to suppose that all these specific and personal references were made up? Some scholars do not hesitate to say so. Here, for example, is L.R.Donelson: ‘In the interest of deception he [sc. the pseudonymous author] fabricated all the personal notes.’ Others defend their authenticity, but have to resort to ingenious theories as to how they were first preserved and then incorporated into the letters. It is much more natural to hold that all the specifics about Paul, Timothy, Titus, Ephesus, Crete and other people, places and situations, are authentic parts of an authentic letter. Above all, as Bishop Handley Moule wrote about 2 Timothy: ‘*The human heart* is in it everywhere. And fabricators, certainly of that age, did not well understand the human heart.’
b). External evidence.
Turning now to the external evidence for the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, we find that their genuineness was almost universally accepted by the church from the beginning. The first probable allusions to them are to be found in letters from Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (c. AD 95), from Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians (c. AD 110), and from Polycarp to the Philippians (c. AD 117). Then towards the end of the second century there are a number of indisputable quotations from all three Pastorals in Irenaeus’ work *Against Heresies*. The *Muratoriam Canon* (c. 200AD), which lists the books of the New Testament, ascribes all three letters to Paul. The only exception to this positive witness occurs in Marcion, who was excommunicated as a heretic in 144AD in Rome, on account of his rejection of most of the Old Testament and of the Old Testament references in the New Testament. So he had theological grounds for repudiating the Pastorals, not least their teaching about the goodness of creation (1 Tim.4:1ff.).
This external witness to the authenticity of the three Pastorals Letters continued as an unbroken tradition until Friedrich Schleiermacher rejected 1 Timothy in 1807 and F.C.Baur rejected all three letters in 1835. The question now is whether the case against the Pauline authorship can overthrow the strong internal and external evidence for it.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 2). The case against Pauline authorship.
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.