Seven, ten, or thirteen? Scholars are still deciding.

We raised the question on Sunday.

The last 3 weeks we have read from “Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians” in our worship. In the discussion on Sunday (7/29/12) Stan and I raised the question about who authored the letter to the Ephesians. In part, our question arises from our reading of commentaries and essays by a variety of scholars including, most recently, the scholarship of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

Quote . . .THREE PAULS

Mainstream scholarship as it has developed over the last two centuries has concluded that some of the thirteen letters attributed to Paul were not written by him. Rather, they fall into three categories.

First, a massive scholarly consensus: at least seven letters are “genuine” – that is, written by Paul himself. These seven include three longer ones (Romans, I and II Corinthians), and four shorter ones (I Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon). Written in the 50s of the first century, plus or minus a year or two, they are the earliest documents in the New Testament, earlier than the gospels (recall that Mark, the first gospel, was written around 70). Thus the genuine letters of Paul are the oldest witness we have to what was to become Christianity.

Second, an almost equally strong consensus: three letters were not written by Paul. These are I and II Timothy and Titus, commonly known as “the pastoral epistles” or simply “the pastorals.” Scholars estimate that they were written around the year 100, possibly a decade or two later. The reasons these are seen as “non-Pauline” include what looks like a later historical setting as well as a style of writing quite unlike the Paul of the seven genuine letters.

Thus the letters to Timothy and Titus were written in the name of Paul several decades after his death. In case some readers may think that writing in somebody else’s name was dishonest or fraudulent, we note that it was a common practice in the ancient world. It was a literary convention of the time, including within Judaism.

Third, letters about which there is no scholarly consensus, though a majority see them as not coming from Paul. Often called the “disputed” epistles, they include Ephesians, Colossians, and II Thessalonians. We are among those who see these as “post-Paul,” written a generation or so after his death, midway between the genuine letters and the later pastoral letters.

From Chapter 1 of their book The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon. Chapter 1 is online at: Paul: Appealing or Appalling?

In your reading and study have you formed an opinion? What role does the Holy Spirit play in the writing, preserving, handing on, and interpreting of these letters? What role does the Spirit play as you grapple with this kind of information? Let’s keep the conversation going.

Author: Daniel Rondeau

I am a husband and father and an Episcopal Priest (from the Diocese of San Diego; "Retired" due to illness).

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