A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 4). The case for an active amanuensis.
A number of scholars refer to a work by Otto Roller whose short title is *Das Formular* (1933). It investigates Paul’s letters in the light of letter-writing practices in antiquity, especially his use of an amanuensis. I rely on Professor Moule’s summary. Roller’s conclusion was that verbatim dictation would have been too laborious for most authors, and extremely inhibiting to ‘a torrential thinker like Paul’. It is more probable, therefore, first that the apostle would write part of each letter in his own hand (as at the end of Galatians), secondly that elsewhere he would tell his amanuensis what he wanted to say, letting him frame it in his own words, and thirdly that the apostle would read the end-product, amend it as necessary, and sign it personally. Professor Moule proposes this as a solution to the linguistic problems of the Pastorals, in that Paul would have allowed his secretary to fluctuate between free composition and a near-verbatim reproduction of Paul’s own phraseology.
This general thesis has been considerably elaborated by Dr. E.Randolf Richards in his work *The Secretary in the Letters of Paul* (1991). From a thorough study of letter-writing practices in Graeco-Roman antiquity, and especially in the letters of Cicero, he demonstrates that the writer ‘could grant to the secretary complete, much, little or no control over the content, style and/or form of the letter’. He then reduces this spectrum into a fourfold classification. The secretary might serve as a ‘recorder’ (taking down the authors dictation verbatim). ‘editor’ (working from his instructions, or from an oral or written draft supplied by him), ‘co-author’ (co-operating with him fully in content, style and vocabulary), or ‘composer’ (having the whole task delegated by him). The first procedure Dr Richards calls ‘author-controlled’, the fourth ‘secretary-controlled’ and the middle two ‘secretary-assisted’.
For our purposes the first is eliminated, since verbatim dictation would leave no room for the changes in vocabulary. So is the last, since a free composition would destroy Pauline authorship altogether, whereas we are asking whether the secretary hypothesis could explain the phenomenon of Pauline and non-Pauline words alongside one another. The reality is likely to be found in the middle two ‘secretary-assisted’ processes. The difference between them is only one of degree, yet the second (’editor’) seems to me to take precedence over the third (‘co-author’) for a reason we must now consider.
It has often been observed that in most of Paul’s letters he associates a colleague with him in the writing, e.g. Sosthenes (1 Cor.1:1), Timothy (2 Cor. 1:1; Phil.1:1; Col.1:1), and Silas and Timothy (1 Thess.1:1; 2 Thess.1:1. Otto Roller suggested that amanuensis were deliberately identified by and in the greetings). Although Paul calls his missionary associates ‘co-labourers’, it would be misleading to call them ‘co-authors’. For Paul was careful to affirm his own apostolic authority as the author, and to distinguish his colleagues from him (since they were not apostles) by referring to them as ‘our brother Sosthenes’ or ‘Timothy our brother’. The Thessalonian letters are significant in this respect. Although they both begin with ‘Paul, Silas and Timothy’, and although the first person plural ‘we’ is used much of the time, it is nevertheless plain that the leadership role and apostolic authority were Paul’s. So he frequently lapses from ‘we’ to ‘I’ (E.g. 1 Thess.2:18; 3:1, 5; 5:27 (‘I charge you…’); 2 Thess.2:5). The end of the second letter puts the matter beyond doubt: ‘I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write’ (2 Thess.3:17; cf. 1 Cor.16:21; Gal.6:11; Col.4:18; Phm.19. This apostolic authentication of his letters was necessary because of the circulation of forgeries (2 Thess.2:2)).So the letter was essentially *his* letter, written with *his* apostolic authority. Paul, Silas and Timothy were not joint authors, although there is no reason to deny that Paul may have involved them in the writing process, by encouraging them to contribute their thoughts to it.
An amanuensis, however, was different. Not only did he undertake the actual mechanics of the writing, but Paul may have given him some liberty in clothing the apostle’s thought with words. It is possible that this was the arrangement when Tertius wrote down the letter to the Romans (Rom.16:22). But the only specific New Testament reference to this practice is the apostle Peter’s statement that he had written his first letter ‘with the help of Silas’ (1 Pet.5:12), literally ‘through Silas’, whom he regarded, he adds, as a ‘faithful brother’.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy. 4). The case for an active amanuensis (continued).
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.