Co-authorship with Paul’s undisputed letters.
Contemporary scholarship holds that more than half of the letters attributed to Paul were co-sent by one or more associates. The epistles of 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philemon and Galatians are believed to fall within this category. These associates of Paul’s would have delivered his epistles to their destinations and in all likeliness interpreted them for the audiences. The letters: Romans, Ephesians, and the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) do not claim co-senders. Such travel for Paul’s associates was quite efficient due to the Roman Empire’s 50 thousand mile long paved road system that made foot travel generally much easier and safer (4). Travellers, usually hired for people sending letters and other contents, would mostly have been slaves, family members or friends.
Since it is possible that these co-senders interpreted Paul’s letters for audiences, we should then wonder whether or not they added anything into Paul’s letters. Now, if Paul were to send someone to deliver a letter of his it would make sense that Paul would have trusted this person, however, how much the co-sender could have co-authored one of Paul’s undisputed letters is simply unknown.
Paul’s secretaries & some unknowns.
We ought to note that some of Paul’s letters were authored by a secretary, for example Tertius as named in Roman 16:22. Beyond Romans secretaries are certainly implied in the greetings or in the words written by Paul’s own hand at the end of several letters – notable examples include: 1 Cor. 16:21; Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:18; 2 Thess. 3:17 & Philem. 19. Having secretaries author a letter at one’s discretion was a common method employed by the ancients, and these secretaries were sometimes allowed to edit or even compose letters.
This would undoubtedly leave us with the question: “How much did a secretary contribute to Paul’s letter?” or “how much influence did they have?” These are certainly legitimate questions that we simply don’t know the answer to. We will also probably never know to what extent did Paul’s ideas may have circulated and subsequently evolved before finally being penned into a letter.
Scholarly consensus on Pauline authorship & criterion.
Most scholars do not believe that Paul penned all 13 letters that are attributed to him and that bear his name. A criterion has been developed to determine which of Paul’s letters are undoubtedly his as opposed to those which are not. Scholar David Aune explains that “While seven of the letters attributed to Paul are almost universally accepted as authentic (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon), four are just as widely judged to be pseudepigraphical, i.e. written by unknown authors under Paul’s name: Ephesians and the Pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus).” (1)
Scholars put these 13 letters into two general categories such as disputed or contested and undisputed or uncontested. The main criteria to determine this is:
- The author’s language such as the Vocabulary and style of the letter.
- The author’s theology.
- And the historical situations reflected in the letters
Near universal consensus views Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon as undoubtedly authored by Paul. These undisputed letters can be dated and located within the 50s AD. The letters also bear commonality in vocabulary and language, and also have a similar perspective on certain topics. The content within these undisputed epistles also seem consistent with the early churches in the 50s which gives credence to the idea that Paul authored them. Scholar James Dunn writes that “There is general scholarly agreement that seven of the thirteen letters bearing Paul’s name are authentic, but his authorship of the other six cannot be taken for granted… Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon are certainly Paul’s own” (2).
Because these undisputed letters suggest a single author, that of Paul, scholars can use them to match up against other letters attributed to Paul. By doing so they can determine which letters bear noticeable differences to the undisputed letters. For example, the eschatological perspective of 2 Thessalonians is thought to differ from that of 1 Thessalonians while 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus seem foreign to Paul’s theology and tome in his undisputed letters (3). These disputed letters are known as pseudonymous. The following percentages represent the number of critical scholars who reject Pauline authorship of the disputed letters (5):
- 2 Thessalonians: 50%
- Colossians: 60%
- Ephesians: 70%
- 2 Timothy: 80%
- 1 Timothy and Titus: 90%
The figures are approximations based upon an ongoing survey of scholarly publications on the Pauline letters.
Authorship of certain passages,
Scholars don’t only question entire letters but passages within those letters as well, and this is done using the same criterion listed above. In other words, scholars are able to tell whether certain passages are pre-Pauline and post-Pauline. For example, pre-Pauline texts were known to Paul – our best examples of this is the creed found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 as well as the hymn within Philippians 2:6-11. On the other hand post-Pauline texts are texts that are thought to have been added into his letter after he had finished writing it, these are known as interpolations. Notable examples would include Romans 13:1-7, 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 or 36, and 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16.
1. Aune, D. The Blackwell Companion to The New Testament. p. 9.
2. Dunn, James. 2003. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. p. 1274.
3. Collated by Stegmann, R. 2015. New Testament Foundations. p. 85.
4. Johnson, L. 1999. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation. p. 27
5. Collated by Stegmann, R. 2015. ibid. p. 85.