Was blind, but now I see.

3 : 10 October 2004


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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai

Mike Leeming


The three letters known as the Pastoral Epistles, 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus, are traditionally believed to have been written by the Apostle Paul.  Indeed, as Professor Anthony Hanson points out, “Nobody ever doubted Paul’s authorship of these letters until the question was raised two hundred years ago [1766].”[1]  The first verse of each of these letters identifies the writer as the Apostle Paul — Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Savior, and Lord Jesus Christ, who is our hope, (1 Timothy 1:1 KJ21)

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, (2 Timothy 1:1 KJ21)

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is according to godliness, (Titus 1:1 KJ21)


Despite this, many critical scholars have questioned the Pauline authorship of these three letters.  There are various reasons why this is so and we will look at these reasons shortly.  First, however, we will look at some of the earlier scholars who either questioned or denied the Pauline authorship of one or more of the Pastoral Epistles.  Homer A. Kent, Jr. gives the following synopsis in his book The Pastoral Epistles:

J.E.C. Schmidt (1804) and Schliermacher (1807) began the attack by rejecting 1 Timothy, suggesting that it had been fabricated out of previously existing 2 Timothy and Titus which were genuine.  The basis of criticism was the internal evidence, especially the peculiarities of 1 Timothy.

Eichhorn (1752-1826) and DeWette (1780-1849) took the arguments that had been directed against 1 Timothy and applied them to all three of the Pastoral Epistles, arguing that none of them was the work of Paul.

F.C. Baur (1792-1860), founder of the Tubingen School, held that the Pastorals were written after the middle of the second century, during the Marcionite heresy.  The unknown author thought he could accomplish more for the cause of Paul’s epistles by putting his attack on the Gnostics into the mouth of Paul.  This view of Baur has met much opposition, even among liberal scholars.

The forgoing scholars established the trend, and many follow their leading today.[2]


There are three predominate views concerning the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles.  These can be summarized as follows:

1. Paul wrote these letters in his old age.

2. The Pastorals are not written by Paul at all, but by some other church leader who lived about fifty years after Paul’s death.

3. The Pastorals are a later writing, but they contain genuine fragments of Paul’s letters.[3]

There are, I believe, considerable problems with the second and third theories.  Concerning the second theory, if the Pastorals were not written by Paul, then how do we account for the personal references we see in so much of II Timothy 4?  These are numerous.

Use diligence to come shortly unto me, for Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Take Mark and bring him with thee, for he is profitable to me for the ministry. And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus. The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil; the Lord reward him according to his works. (2 Timothy 4:9-14 KJ21)


Salute Prisca and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I have left sick at Miletus. Try with diligence to come before winter. Eubulus greeteth thee, and Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren. (2 Timothy 4:19-21 KJ21)


Are these personal remarks just the invention of an imaginative imposter?  Wouldn’t the Early Church have known, since Paul had been dead some fifty years, that the letters were a forgery?  Wouldn’t it have mattered to them that these letters were not written by the Apostle Paul, since they clearly claimed to have been?  And in reference to the third theory, if the writer used genuine fragments from something the Apostle Paul actually wrote, then where was the balance of this letter (or letters) that these supposed fragments were taken from?   Which portions of the Pastoral Epistles are the fragments that Paul really wrote and which portions are the invention of the writer who poses as Paul?    I have not found satisfying answers to most of these questions.


Let’s look at some of the reasons that are used by modern critical scholars for rejecting the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles.  These reasons can be summarized under five main categories:

1. Vocabulary and Style

2. Historical Problems

3. False Teachers

4. Ecclesiastical Organization, and

5. Theology.[4]

Modern critical scholars have often viewed these issues as serious problems, concerns that bring the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles into question.  We will consider each of them in turn.

Vocabulary and style are actually very similar, so we will consider them together.  The argument against Pauline authorship on the basis of vocabulary and style is built upon the idea that there are quite a few words found in the Pastoral Epistles that do not occur in any of Paul’s other writings.  Lea and Griffin put it like this —

The Pastoral Epistles contain many words that are rare in the New Testament.  The technical term used for words that appear only once in the New Testament is hapax legomena… In addition to these unique words there are others which are rare in the other ten Pauline writings but are key terms in the Pastorals.[5]

Some of the scholars who support this theory include P.N. Harrison, H.J. Holtzmann, and W.G. Kummel.  This argument may sound convincing on the surface, but there are some important factors, which may help to account for these differences.  Paul was considerably older and he was addressing circumstances and problems that were in some ways unique.  Moreover, he was writing to individuals he knew quite well rather than to entire churches.   Donald Guthrie accounts for the differences in vocabulary and style found in the Pastorals in this manner.

If full allowance is made for dissimilarity of subject matter, variations due to advancing age, enlargement of vocabulary due to changing environment and the difference in the recipients as compared with the earlier letters, the linguistic peculiarities of the Pastorals can in large measure be satisfactorily explained.[6]


The next issue we will look at as a potential problem for the Pauline authorship of these epistles is the “historical problems.”  In summary, this has to do with the fact that the information we have, largely coming from the book of Acts, on the life of Paul does quite fit with the historical circumstances connected to the author of these letters.  Gordon D. Fee explains the details of this issue in the introduction to his commentary on the Pastoral Epistles.

One of the difficulties of the PE has been to locate them historically in what is otherwise known of the life of Paul.  The problem is a combination of several factors.

First, the picture of Paul that emerges from 1 Timothy and Titus portrays him as traveling freely in the East.  He and Titus have evangelized Crete (Titus 1:5); he has apparently traveled to Ephesus with Timothy and hopes to return (1 Tim. 1:3; 3:14); at some point in all of this he intends to winter at Nicopolis, on the southern Adriatic (Titus 3:12).  But in 2 Timothy he is again in prison, this time in close confinement in Rome, where he expects to die (cf. 2 Tim. 1:16-17; 2:9; 4:6-8, 16-18).

The problem arises because this cannot easily be placed in Paul’s as it can be reconstructed from Acts and the earlier letters.[7]


The solution to these conflicts are, for the most part, resolved if Paul was released from his imprisonment spoken about at the end of Acts, was able to travel freely for a period of time, and then was imprisoned a second time, resulting in his death.  Robert H. Gundry suggests this in his Survey of the New Testament.

The answer to this argument is the hypothesis that Paul was acquitted and released from his first Roman imprisonment; that he enjoyed a period of freedom, into which the travel data of the Pastorals fit; and that he was later re-imprisoned and condemned to die as a martyr for the Christian faith.  Thus, the historical and geographical data of the Pastorals refer to events that took place after the close of Acts.[8] 


The third consideration has to do with the false teachers (or heresy) dealt with in the Pastorals.  The gist of this argument is that the Pastoral Epistles deal with a heretical problem that did not really exist as a threat to the Church until well into the second century, that of Gnosticism.  This would propose a much later date for the writing of the Pastoral Epistles and, consequently, deny the Pauline authorship of these letters.

The answer to this problem is that, although it is true that Gnosticism was not in full bloom until long after the death of the Apostle Paul, he still had to defend the Gospel against attacks from its enemies, some of which were already being influenced by an earlier form of Gnosticism.  Lea and Griffin summarize their defense as follows.

That Paul encountered a similar ascetic heresy (cf. Col 2:16, 21-23) suggests that we do not need to search outside the first century to discover parallels to the heresy described in the Pastorals.  Paul was not opposing a second-century Gnosticism; rather, he had encountered a variant form of Judaism tinged with incipient Gnostic ideas which were not an isolated phenomenon in the first century.”[9]   


The fourth problem has to do with the ecclesiastical organization found in the Pastoral Epistles.  In brief, some of the critics who deny the Pauline authorship of these letters do so on the grounds that the ecclesiastical organization, or the description of church government, found in the Pastoral Epistles reflects the thinking of the second century church. 

In other words, the ecclesiastical structure contained in these letters is too advanced for the time of the Apostle Paul, and was probably written much later and, consequently, not by the Apostle Paul.   This objection is resolved in the light of the fact that the writer of the Pauline Epistles does not assume that the structure of the church is any different from what we see in the book of Acts.  R.C.H. Lenski, a well-known Lutheran Commentator, proposes this.

The idea that these letters reflect a far later time, namely the second century when a later type of church organization and government were current, cannot be maintained.  The church in Jerusalem already had deacons and already had a widow problem (Acts 6:6, etc.).  The congregation at Cenchreae near Corinth had a deaconess (Rom. 16:1).  These three letters cannot be regarded as second-century forgeries on the basis of the type of church organization which they reflect.[10]


The last concern we will examine has to do with the theology or doctrine found in the Pastoral Epistles.  It is believed by some that the theology found in these three letters is a corrupted or lower version of the theology that is characteristic of Paul’s letters, such as what we find in Ephesians or Romans.  James Moffatt had this opinion of the Pastoral Epistles.

It is not easy to suppose that in three epistles the apostle, for example, would ignore such fundamental truths of his gospel as the fatherhood of God, the union of the believing man with Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit in the Christian experience.  The only explanation of this seems to be that the epistles were written by a disciple of St. Paul who… wrote against tendencies which threatened the later church.[11]

It seems to me that Moffatt has jumped to an unjustified conclusion in saying that “the only explanation” is that that these three epistles were written by someone other than the Apostle Paul.  Some parts of the Pastoral Epistles seem very Pauline to me.  When you compare the following sets of passages, the similarity is striking.  Note the similarity between Titus 3:5-6 and Ephesians 2:8-9:

He saved us not by works of righteousness which we had done, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration, and by the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6  which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, (Titus 3:5-6 KJ21)
For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God— not by works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 KJ21)

Both of these passages emphasize the fact that the way of salvation is not by works, but by the mercy (or grace) of God. 

And also note the similarity between Titus 3:7 and Romans 3:24:

that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:7 KJ21)


being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:24 KJ21)

Justification by grace is certainly a key component of Paul’s theology.

In I Tim. 5:18, the writer quotes from the same text in Deuteronomy (Deut. 25:4) as Paul does in I Cor. 9:9:

For the Scripture saith, "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn," and, "The laborer is worthy of his reward." (1 Timothy 5:18 KJ21)


For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn." Doth God take care for oxen, (1 Corinthians 9:9 KJ21)

These are just a few examples of the similarities we see between the Pauline Epistles and Paul’s writings.  Donald Guthrie succinctly states “There is nothing in any of these statements [from the Pastoral Epistles] which Paul himself could not have written.”[12]


In summing up the discussion in Carson, Moo, and Morris’ An Introduction to the New Testament on “Pseudonymity,” we find this important information:

We should exercise great care before we accept the view than (sic.) any writing in the New Testament is pseudonymous.  That there was pseudonymity in the ancient world is clear… But to this date there is no evidence that the church accepted any pseudonymous epistle…We need much more evidence than we are usually offered before we can agree that any New Testament epistle is pseudonymous.[13]

Did the Apostle Paul really write the three letters known as the Pastoral Epistles?  I believe he did, and so do most ancient and modern evangelical scholars.  Since the first verse of each of these letters indicates to us that the Apostle Paul was the author of these epistles, I believe that the burden of proof is on those who doubt the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles rather than those who affirm it.


Carson, D.A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.

Fee, Gordon D. New International Biblical Commentary: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1988.

Gundry, Robert H. A Survey of the New Testament. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Guthrie, Donald. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Pastoral Epistles. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.

Hanson, Anthony Tyrrell. The Pastoral Letters: Commentary on the First and Second Letters to Timothy and the Letter to Titus. London: Cambridge University Press, 1966.

Kent, Homer A., Jr.  The Pastoral Epistles: Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Revised ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1982.

Lea, Thomas D., and Hayne P. Griffin. The New American Commentary, Volume 34: 1, 2 Timothy and Titus. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.

Lenski, R.C.H. The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1964.

Bible Version:

KJ21 - 21st Century King James Version. Gary: Deuel Pub., 1994.


[1] Anthony Tyrrell Hanson, The Pastoral Letters: Commentary on the First and Second Letters to Timothy and the Letter to Titus (London: Cambridge University Press, 1966) 4.

[2] Homer A. Kent, Jr. (1982).  The Pastoral Epistles: Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (revised ed.) (Chicago: Moody Press) 36.

[3] Hanson, 4, 5, 6.

[4] D.A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992) 360-364.

[5] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, The New American Commentary, Volume 34: 1, 2 Timothy and Titus (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 24.

[6] Donald Guthrie, (1990) The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Pastoral Epistles ( 2nd ed.) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans) 54.

[7] Gordon D. Fee, New International Biblical Commentary: 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1988) 3.

[8] Robert H. Gundry, (1994) A Survey of the New Testament (3rd ed.) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 412.

[9] Lea and Griffin, 29-30.

[10] R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1964) 481.

[11] Kent, 54.

[12] Guthrie, 49.

[13] Carson, Moo, and Morris, 371.



Mike Leeming

Sharing Your Faith with a Buddhist, a book on evangelism by M. S. Thirumalai

If I gained the World, a novel by Linda Nichols

Godwrestling Faith, a spiritual development book by Mike Evans

Short Term Missions, a book by Roger Peterson, et al.

Solitary Poet, Poems of Reflection by Stan Schmidt.

Sharing Your Faith with Hindus by M. S. Thirumalai.

Written on the Heart by J. Budziszewski.

Written on the Heart by J. Budziszewski.

Hadassah, One Night with the King.

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