A reader writes:
I am studying at a Catholic college and have had the opportunity to take some classes on scripture. I have been introduced to various methodologies, such as the historical critical method, that have definately aided in my understanding of the scriptures, but there is a point where these modern methods confuse me and don’t strenghten my faith. One area in particular is in the Pauline tradition. Because of differences in Greek syntax in different epistles, my professor tells us that Paul probably did not write some of them. Rather, he believes that someone using Paul’s authority wrote them, which some scholars call Pseudo Paul. Are you familiar with this assertion? If so, what are your thoughts on this? Is there some validity to these claims? Are there any pastoral repercussions of this problem?
I am indeed aware of this claim, and I am not very impressed with it. A hundred and fifty years ago, F. C. Baur was claiming that there were only four authentic Pauline epistles (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Galatians), and the scholarly community has concluded that he was wrong in this claim and that other epistles in addition are authentically Pauline. There are still scholars who don’t accept the whole corpus as Pauline, but the force of the evidence has pushed scholars in the direction of greater recognition of their authenticity, and I think those who continue to deny the authenticity of some are simply resisting the evidence and/or using a flawed methodology.
I think there are several problems here:
1) The individuals making this claim are almost invariably applying a hermeneutic of suspicion to the texts. That is, they are looking for reasons to distrust biblical texts or elements of them, with the result that they inappropriately shift the burden of proof onto those who would say that when a biblical text says that it is written by Paul (that is, he identifies himself within the text itself) that one must prove that this is the case.
Such a hermeneutic of suspicion is unwarranted, particularly for persons of faith regarding their own Scriptures, as well as incompatible with the basic purpose of language, one of whose chief goals is to communicate information. Virtually the whole enterprise of language would be undercut if a hermeneutic of suspicion were applied consistently, signalling that the default setting must be a hermeneutic of trust until evidence for the contrary is produced in particular cases.
It can be warranted to assume a hermeneutic of suspicion regarding particular types of claims in particular bodies of work. For example, authorship claims in the Book of Mormon. But in that case we have multiple reasons to distrust such authorship claims–reasons that in no way apply to the Pauline epistles (e.g., they aren’t claimed to be written by someone who cannot be located in history, from a civilization that cannot be located in history, or to be composed in an unattested language on golden plates that were kept hidden in a bag while being shown to "witnesses" of their existence and then translated by a man who kept his face covered with a hat using a "peep stone" as he dictated them to others).
The pedigree of the documents in question–which is both part of Sacred Tradition and which can be evaluated in historical terms–is just too strong to warrant a hermeneutic of suspicion being applied to the authorship claims of these documents.
Looking for internal literary clues like grammar and word choice to prove or disprove Pauline authorship is also virtually useless, for several reasons:
2) The epistles in question are devoted to different subjects, which is going to force significant changes in word frequency.
3) Many of the samples are simply too short to draw any firm conclusions based on statistical analysis of word choice or grammatical usages.
4) Authors vary their styles quite considerably depending on a variety of factors, such as who they are writing for (are they friendly with their audience? do they have strained relations with them? are they intimate companions? are they about to chew somebody out? are they writing for a group or a single individual?), what venue they’re writing in, what emotional effect they’re trying to create, how their skills have developed as a writer over time, and even what mood they are in.
I suspect that the biblical critics in question are not fully sensitive to this fact because they do not write that much and, when they do, they tend to write only in one style (e.g., academic papers or treatises), on a restricted range of subjects, and (most importantly) because they never stop to apply their own authorship criteria to what they themselves have written. If they did, they’d find out that their own books and papers were written by a hodge podge of different individuals and groups with different and conflicting agendas.
Let me give some illustrations of how an author’s style can change that should be immediately apparent to many readers of JA.O, you’ll find a lot more "YEE-HAW!"s on my blog than you will in my writing for This Rock, and my writings in This Rock (because of space restrictions) will have a different style than my books and booklets. You’ll also find a lot more grammatical and spelling mistakes on the blog since I’m doing this in the evening, without a copy editor, without a proof reader, and am basically putting up first drafts that I may well have only read once and then not edited.
5) Paul used amanuenses. These were individuals who would take dictation from Paul and then write his letters, which Paul would then approve and sign (2 Thess. 3:17). We even know the name of one such individual: Tertius (Rom. 16:22), who I’m guessing based on his name was the third child (or third son) in his family.
Anyone who has ever tried to take dictation from someone knows that there is invariably a smoothing out process that is done when setting down what someone else has said, because the person will stop in mid sentence, change direction, want to scratch things out, and the secretary will inject some of his or her own style into the resulting document, even proposing things that the dictator may wish to say.
How much of the amanuensis’ style gets into the text will depend on what the author wants to allow. In some cases, the author may just give talking points and let the amanuensis virtually ghostwrite the letter, subject to the author’s final approval. (That might be the kind of thing you’d want to do, for example, if you were in prison and didn’t have much contact with your amanuensis but felt you needed to send a letter.)
Whatever degree(s) of liberty Paul gave his amanuenses, the Holy Spirit superintended the process via divine inspiration, but the fact that he used them at all means that we should expect differences of style as he used different secretaries in different circumstances. (It’s unlikely that Tertius stuck with him for his whole career and was the one used on all of the Pauline epistles, or he’d get mentioned more.)
6) The above considerations are simply literary points that illustrate the problems in challenging the Pauline authorship of various epistles, but there is also a theological problem with doing so: Whatever is asserted by Sacred Scripture is asserted by the Holy Spirit, for the human authors wrote down all that the Holy Spirit wished and no more (Dei Verbum 11).
This means that if a document contains an authorship claim you either have to say that (a) the claim is true, (b) the claim is not an assertion of fact, or (c) that the claim is false, in which case the Christian understanding of the inspiration of Scripture is false.
The last is not an option for an orthodox Christian, which leaves you with options (a) and (b).
(b) is a possibility in particular cases. There are books of Scripture which appear to contain clues that signal the audience that the authorship claim is a literary device rather than an assertion of fact (e.g., in Wisdom or Tobit), but this is going to be very hard to maintain with the Pauline epistles.
It is not credible to claim that none of the Pauline authorship claims in Scripture are asssertions of fact. If you acknowledge any of the epistles as being written by him, and if those same books contain assertions that he wrote them (as they do) then I don’t see how you can regard the authorship claims of these books as being anything other than assertions of fact. (Paul is not going to write an epistle and claim authorship of it in the text as merely a literary device.)
That being the case, if you want to hold that a particular authorship claim is a literary device rather than an assertion of fact then you will need to produce evidence by which the original audience could have recognized the literary device for what it is (as can be done with Wisdom and Tobit).
If no such evidence can be found in the text then the text would seem to be misleading the original audience, and I don’t know how you can square that with a proper view of biblical inspiration.
I have heard no arguments as to why particular Pauline epistles should be seen as having cues in them to tell the original audience that the Pauline authorship claims in them are just literary devices, so I see no way to maintain this in the case of works in the Pauline corpus.
I thus find the whole theory a bunch of hooey.