In the realm of academia there is a common trend to discount the traditional authorship of many New Testament books. In most cases, the evidence against the authorship is often overblown, while the evidence in support of it is ignored. The purpose of this page is not to address the authorship of all 27 New Testament books, but only those that are consistently challenged by modern skeptics.
Posted by Clark Bates
May 24, 2016
As we continue in this discussion of New Testament authorship, our third destination is what is commonly known as the “first gospel” or the “Gospel according to Matthew.” The order in which these articles are being presented, haphazard as it may seem, is not without intent. Having begun with John , (a gospel that stands apart from the three Synoptic Gospels in content and theology), attention was then turned to Mark. The reason being that while Mark is the second gospel in order of canonical inclusion, it is considered by most to be the earliest written record, and the source upon which the other Synoptic Gospels draw some of their information. So, having established the most likely authors of the previous gospels, attention will now be turned to the gospel that followed Mark in dating, Matthew.
While it has been the format of the earlier articles to begin with the internal evidence of gospel authorship and then to move into external evidence that supports the text, the discussion on Matthew will differ. The reason for this article beginning with external evidence and moving inward is that a larger portion of authorial suggestion comes from outlying tradition. It seems best, then, to begin with the weightier evidence before analyzing it with the text itself.
Just as could be said of most of the gospels, the Gospel according to Matthew is formally anonymous. The commonly attributed titles by which we now know the fourfold Gospel seem to have originated around AD 125 but this is little more than an educated guess. As was briefly noted in the previous discussion on Mark’s gospel, this educated guess has been called into question. Given Hengel’s detailed examination of book distribution in the ancient world, evidence has surfaced that titles of some sort would have been necessary for proper identification from other works.1
Implicit support for this position is found within Tertullian’s criticism of the heretic Marcion for publishing his own gospelwithout the author’s name. As part of his rebuke, Tertullian writes, “a work ought not to be recognized, which holds not its head erect. . . which gives no promise of credibility from the fullness of its title and the just profession of its author.”2Writing in the mid-second century, Tertullian’s statement regarding the need for titles, falls within the time frame of earlier speculation, but it seems unlikely that such a view could have become prolific within only a few decades. Hengel’s main thesis on the subject is that it would be inconceivable that the gospels could circulate anonymously for up to sixty years, and then in the second century suddenly display unanimous attribution to certain authors. If the authors had been largely anonymous prior to the second century, one would expect there to be more variation within the following attributions; especially given that this was the case with several second-century apocryphal gospels.3
“a work ought not to be recognized, which holds not its head erect. . . which gives no promise of credibility from the fullness of its title and the just profession of its author.”
In detraction to this view, it is often stated that the Greekkata (according to) that precedes Matthew in the title of the gospel need not indicate authorship but merely conformity to a certain style (i.e. The Gospel According to the Hebrews, The Gospel According to the Egyptians). In fact, this is its more common usage in Greek literature of the time.4 Hengel agrees with this but also notes a telling analogy: In the Greek fathers, the one Old Testament is referred to as “according to the Seventy” where the prepositional expression is used to introduce the person responsible for producing the version concerned. Hengel argues that the one Gospel circulated in the same way with four distinct forms (i.e. “according to Mark”, “according to Matthew” etc.).5 The only existing statement of Papias (AD 70-163) regarding this gospel comes to us through the writings of Eusebius in the fourth century in fragmented form and is notoriously difficult to translate.6 It reads, “Matthew (composed, compiled, or arranged in orderly form), (the sayings, or gospel) in (the Hebrew [Aramaic] language or style), and each (interpreted, translated, or transmitted) them as best he could.”7
While this excerpt contains obvious problems, certain textual data within the first Gospel can be illuminating. To begin with, the early church interpreted this text to say that Matthew originally wrote the gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic which was later translated into Greek. However, the Old Testament quotations contained within the text lack Aramiac rendering and read more as from an author writing in Greek but knowledgeable of Semitic languages. Given that Matthew’s dependence on the Gospel of Mark is widely maintained, the verbal connections between the two make Aramaic or Hebrew origins less likely. Finally, the existence of Semitisms throughout the first Gospel do not allow for an average translation form Greek. These Semitic enhancements surround the sayings of Jesus and are used for effect by a writer who is demonstrably capable of writing Hellenistic Greek.8 If this is the case, Papias’ claim that Matthew wrote in Hebrew becomes questionable, and while some have argued that this discredits the entirety of Papias’ statement there is no need for such extremism, as author’s have often been known to err in one point without erring in all.9
Evidence from within the gospel itself provides some leading information regarding authorship. Only in Matthew do we find the apostle referred to as, “Matthew the tax collector” (Matt. 10:30). In Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27, the man whom Jesus calls from his role as a tax collector is identified as “Levi”. However, in the same parallel passage in Matthew (9:9-13) the tax collector is named “Matthew”. While some have sought to create an alternative proposal, the most economical explanation is that Matthew is to be identified as the same tax collector named Levi elsewhere. That this tax collector is the apostle can be confirmed through the apostolic lists of the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-18; Luke 6:13-16).
If Matthew is the aforementioned tax collector, this makes sense of several details within the text. In several instances, recorded exclusively by the first gospel, financial depictions are discussed (17:24-27; 18:23-35; 20:1-16, et. al.). This does not require insider information, so to speak, but does become curious when contained solely within the text of a gospel traditionally held to have been written by a financial dealer. A tax collector would need to be fluent in both Greek and Aramaic, coinciding with what has previously been discussed regarding the textual transmissions of Semitisms in Greek. In addition, The gospel’s connection to Mark could be viewed as perfectly reasonable, given that plagiarism bore no negative connotations prior to the invention of the printing press, and even more so if the underlying message in Mark comes from Peter, as is popularly believed. It would be difficult to find a reason why Matthew would not utilize the writings of a fellow apostle in such an instance.
While it is argued that Matthew’s Christology is far too advanced for the time of its writing, thereby disproving apostolic authorship in favor of a late date authorship, a high Christology demonstrably developed early as seen in the Christ hymns of the Pauline writings (Phil. 2:5-11: Col. 1:15-20). Also, it is clearly distinguished within the first gospel what the apostles thought of Christ in the moment opposed to what the author knew of Christ at the time of his writing.10 Such evidence, rather than disputing apostolic authorship might better be seen as proving it, given that only those closest to the Lord could preserve such clear distinctions.
Matthew’s gospel relates the opposition to Jesus by the Pharisees and Sadducees as a united front, but rather than confusing the two faculties, the author distinguishes them when needed (22:23-33). This should not be seen as ignorance of Jewish customs but a clear effort on the part of the author to depict the unified opposition of the “world” to the things of Christ. Matthew also bears distinction in its attempt to demonstrate the Jewish nature of Jesus mission (15:24; 10:5-6) and the universal call to the world as its result (28:18-20). Taken alongside the long-standing tradition of Matthew’s Hebrew emphasis this corresponds nicely with an author seeking to reach the nation of Israel while not alienating the Hellenistic world.
What does it matter to identify the author of the first gospel with the apostle Matthew? In some cases it doesn’t matter much at all. The message of the gospel stands upon the truth of its claims, not on the identity of its author. However, how one perceives the authorship of this gospel (and others) changes the manner in which one views of the early church and the remainder of the New Testament. To close with an extended quote from D.A. Carson:
“Strong commitments to the view that this gospel reflects late traditions that cannot possibly be tied directly to any apostle inevitably casts a hermeneutical shadow on how the evidence, including the external evidence, will be evaluated. Conversely, the judgment that in all probability the apostle Matthew was responsible for the work casts a hermeneutical shadow on the reconstruction of early church history. The web of interlocking judgments soon affects how one weighs evidence in other parts of the New Testament.”11
1Martin Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 64-84.
2Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4.2.
3D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 141.
4Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According ot Matthew (London: Robert Stott, 1909), vii.
5Hengel, Mark, 83.
6If you’ve read the two earlier articles regarding the authorship of John and Mark, you will recall that Eusebius contains the writings of Papias and Irenaeus regarding early apostolic authorship of each gospel.
7This translation comes from Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 1, transl. Kirsopp Lake (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1926). The areas in parentheses indicate Greek word usage that remains ambiguous between the three listed options.
8C.F.D. Moule, “St. Matthew’s Gospel: Some Neglected Features,” SE2 (1964). A Semitism is a saying in the Greek New Testament that can only be made sensible by appealing to a Semitic underlay or Hebrew idiom.
9It is possible that Papias was led astray by a common error. Carson notes that Epiphanes claims that a heretical group known as the Ebionites based their beliefs on the Gospel of Matthew that they called “According to the Hebrews,” written in Hebrew but falsified and mutilated.
10D.A. Carson, “Christological Ambiguities in the Gospel of Matthew,” Christ the Lord, (Leicester: IVP, 1982), 97-114.
11D.A. Carson, New Testament, 150.
posted by Clark Bates
May 18, 2016
As a continuation of the earlier article regarding the authorship of the Gospel of John (here), this article will approach the authorship of the second Gospel, attributed to Mark. Of the four gospels, John stands apart as holding the clearest level of internal evidence to attest to its authorship; we continue to Mark as it is considered the earliest gospel, and the one upon which the rest of the Synoptics draw. It is no surprise that the second gospel falls under intense scrutiny and skepticism, for if doubt can be raised to its authorship or accuracy, that doubt must naturally spread to both Matthew and Luke. While it was stated earlier that the authorship of a biblical text is not a necessary element in demonstrating its truth, it can reinforce the authoritative nature with which it speaks. What follows is in no way an encompassing discussion on the various challenges to traditional authorship, but a survey of the evidence from which we can draw conclusion regarding the most likely, or plausible author.
The Gospel According to Who?
Just as is the case for the Gospel of John, the Gospel attributed to Mark is formally anonymous. The attestation which all Christians are now familiar stems the formal titles attached to the documents in the second century. “The first reference to the author and circumstances of the second Gospel comes from Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor. . . composed sometime prior to his death in AD 130.”1 The original writing of Papias has long since been lost, but was recorded within the writings of the early church historian, Eusebius, in the fourth century. It is from Eusebius’Ecclesiastical History that much of these earliest works remain extant.
According to Papias, one who lived during the time of the apostles, as recorded, “Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord. For Mark had not
heard the Lord, nor had he followed him, but later on, as I said, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.”2 If this is, in fact, the case, the gospel of Mark consists of eyewitness accounts from one closest to the Lord. Edwards agrees with this sentiment, writing, “That the Second Gospel was in many respects ‘Peter’s memoirs’ found, as far as we know, unanimous agreement in the early church.”34
By examining the Papias quote, three points are illustrated concerning the author of the second gospel:
- Mark wrote the gospel that, in Eusebius’ day, was identified with his name
- Mark was not an eyewitness but obtained his information from Peter.
- Mark’s gospel lacks “order,” reflecting the occasional nature of Peter’s preaching.
By no later than the mid 4th century, the second gospel was consistently and unanimously attributed to Mark. While Mark himself was not an eyewitness of Christ, his source for information was, giving the gospel the necessary credentials for canonicity. From our standpoint it might seem odd that Papias would suggest a lack of order to the second gospel, given that it seems orderly in English texts, but what is likely meant by this statement is that it lacks rhetorical or artistic order common in first century compositions, particularly the other gospels.5
Given that the name “Mark” is being thrown around in connection to the second gospel with relative ambiguity, it would be helpful to clarify the author in question. The lack of further explanation by Papias or any of the early church when discussing the gospel bearing his name affirms that only one “Mark” could hold such a distinction. He was the son of a prominent Christian woman in the Jerusalem church (Christians gathered in her home during Peter’s imprisonment) (Acts 12:12); cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10); accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:5, 13); left the pair before it ended resulting in a separation between Barnabas and Paul on account of the latter not wanting to take Mark on any subsequent journeys (Acts 15:36-40); reconciled to the apostle Paul later and accompanied the apostle during his Roman imprisonment (Philemon 24; Col. 4:10); and traveled with Peter, referred to by the apostle as his “son” possibly suggesting that Mark was converted through Peter’s ministry (1 Pet. 5:13).
In the New Testament this Mark is often referred to by his full name, “John Mark.” It has been speculated that he was the “young man” who “fled naked” from Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested (Mk. 14:51-52) which could be an account added by the author himself. Some have suggested that this would call into question Papias’ statement that Mark was not an eyewitness of Christ, and while it is mere speculation, it remains curious that Mark’s Gospel contains the only account of this instance.
Difficulties With Traditional Authorship
For many who doubt the traditional authorship of the second gospel, difficulties abound. Among them is the second gospel author’s alleged ignorance of Jewish customs and errors about Palestinian geography. It is claimed that a Jerusalem-bred writer, would not make such mistakes. However, when careful reading is applied to the second gospel, along with careful investigation, these alleged discrepancies or errors, are alleviated. In fact, the narrative of the second gospel corresponds smoothly with all known facts surrounding Jesus’ place of ministry.
“I do not know any other work in Greek
which has so many Aramaic
and Hebrew words and formulae in so narrow
a space as does the second gospel.”
Some have speculated doubt regarding what appears to be Pauline-influenced theology within the second gospel. It is argued that such influence would indicate a later date of authorship and likely indicate an author far removed from the actual events of Christ. Again however, given the aforementioned connection of John Mark with the apostle Paul, this could be an adequate explanation for such influence. In addition, the amount of Hebrew and Aramaic Semitisms found in the Greek of the second gospel match what would be expected from a Jerusalem-bred Christian.6 This led Markan scholar Martin Hengel to exclaim, “I do not know any other work in Greek which has so many Aramaic and Hebrew words and formulae in so narrow a space as does the second gospel.”7
Mark’s connection to the words of the apostle Peter are also in great scrutiny, as many critics view the message of the gospel as a culmination of complex tradition-history developed by a later Christian community. While this approach garners much support, this kind of sweeping promulgation requires considerably more evidence than has been brought to bear. Although, it should be noted that while such hyper-skepticism is largely without warrant, it would not be unacceptable to allow for Mark to have used sources in addition to Peter in the compiling of the second gospel, but the link between the information contained within the second gospel and an eyewitness perspective cannot be easily glossed over.
Only in Mark do we find the added description of the grass being green when the five thousand are fed by Christ (Mk. 6:39). Likewise, while the apostles are often presented in critical fashion throughout the gospels, Mark stands out with its vivid characterizations of the twelve. In Mark they are seen as cowardly, spiritually blind, and hard of heart, descriptions reserved for someone that would have known them closely, and only in Mark do we read of Peter “remembering” earlier occurrences (Mk. 11:21; 14:72). Finally, the similar structure of the second gospel and Peter’s early sermons (Acts 10:36-41) only further the claim of Papias that Mark recorded the testimony of the apostle.8
While this evidence is not conclusive, it supports the traditional interpretation of Mark’s authorship, and it should be acknowledged that skeptics like Bart Ehrman and others have no positive alternative. Some have suggested the apostle John, others a Pauline community, but common recourse is to simply label the author of the second gospel as “unknown”. In a similar fashion to the fourth gospel, much of the authorship for the Gospel of Mark must be determined indirectly. While this may not be the most desired method, it is all that is available and not uncommon for ancient literature. A sense of skepticism regarding traditional claims can be a healthy and natural response if it causes one to investigate deeper, but when the traditional claims offer the most probable explanation given the available evidence and no positive alternative can be suggested there remains very little reason to persist in doubt.
1James R. Edwards, Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark,”(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 3.
2Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.15.
3Edwards, Mark, 4.
4Justin Martyr, Dialogues with Trypho, 106; Jerome, Commentary in Matthew, Prooemium, 6; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.15; 5.8.2; (Irenaeus) 6.14.6; (Origen) 6.25.5.
5 In fact this is exactly the position of Pierson Parker’s article, “The Authorship of the Second Gospel” that should cause readers to doubt Markan authorship. Pierson, Parker, “The Authorship of the Second Gospel,” Persp-RelStud, 5 (1978), 7.
6D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament: Mark, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 175.
7Martin Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 46.
8C.H. Dodd, “The Framework of the Gospel Narrative,” ExpTim 43 (1932): 396-400.
posted by Clark Bates
June 6, 2016
As it regards the Gospel according to Luke, there is very little debate, still existing surrounding its authorship. Just as with the other gospels, formal titles were not believed to have been applied to this gospel prior to AD 130. Debate over the reliability of this belief was discussed in a previous article (here), making it sufficient to merely comment here that the belief that the fourfold Gospel was transmitted for more than a century without any form of identification or distinguishing titles, seems implausible and unlikely, especially given the testimonies of the early church. Just as the other three gospels, Luke is formally anonymous. The author of tradition is the “faithful companion” of the apostle Paul, referred to as the “beloved physician” (Col. 4:14 ESV). Most of what can be known about the presumed author comes from external evidence, but a considerable amount of internal support can be found from the book of Acts.
The opening of the gospel clearly suggests that the author was not an eyewitness of the Lord Jesus and, therefore, not an apostle (Lk. 1:1-4). Some debate exists regarding the meaning of the phrase, “having followed things closely” (ESV translation, of the Greek pareklouthekoti) v.3. Cadbury argues that this phrase is best translated as, “one who kept a close personal watch over the events that transpired”, implying that the author provides a form of personal account, but he stands apart from the larger body of tradition which translates the phrase to be, “one who investigated” without any direct personal observation.1 The third gospel betrays a heavier interest in Gentiles than the other synoptics and may point to a Gentile author. The Greek of Luke is formal and in keeping with educated classical style, suggesting an educated man, very aware of the Roman literature of the first century.
The opening to the book of Acts connects it to the Gospel according to Luke by way of a common recipient, the unknown “Theophilus” (Acts 1:1). Whether the critic ascribes the authorship to the traditional Luke or some other source does not dispute that it is unanimously accepted that Luke and Acts were written by the same author as a collection. It is in this book that the most light is shed on the identity of the author of the third gospel. There are multiple passages within the book of Acts known as the “we” passages.2 In these sections of Scripture the author identifies himself as a companion with the apostle Paul. The argument against the authenticity of these passages rests largely on the theory that they are used as a literary device rather than an attribution to personal experience.3 This perspective has rightly diminished over the years, particularly in light of how arbitrarily the “we” sections are applied. Were these sections meant to b a literary device it would only serve an effective purpose if they were used to introduce more portions of text or various theological points. As Bock notes, “The ‘we’ sections are more than mere inserts of notes from someone else, and their haphazard use reflects authenticity.”4
If the author of Acts is a fellow-laborer with the apostle Paul (which seems to be the case) and the author of the third gospel as well, then we are left with a narrow group from which to choose. This companion was with the apostle on his first missionary journey to Philippi (16:10-17), third missionary journey (20:5-15; 21:1-18), and on his voyage to Rome (27:1-28:16). The perspective of the account reveals that he author could not have been any of the fellow travelers named in these accounts, and given his travels to Roman, would suggest that he would be a companion listed in one of the letters written by the apostle from that period of time.5 The companions named in these letters are: Mark, Jesus Justus, Epaphras, Demas, Luke, Tychicus, Timothy, Aristarchus, and Epaphroditus. While internal evidence cannot take us much farther than this list, it has also been noted that the Gospel according to Luke appears to contain an assortment of “medical language” absent from any other biblical writing, which could further bolster the traditional authorship to the “beloved physician” of Colossians 4:14.6 This leads us to the external evidence of the early church.
The heretic known as Marcion (famous for printing his own version of the Bible) identified Luke as the author of the third gospel in second century. This same attribution is made by the Muratorian Canon circulated sometime between the second and fourth centuries. The early church father Irenaeus (AD 130-202) claimed Luke, a companion of Paul and doctor, wrote the gospels.7 In addition to Irenaeus, Tertullian (AD 160-220) characterized the third gospel as a summary of the gospel according to Paul.8The earliest extant copy of the Gospel of Luke, known as the Bodmer Papyrus XIV or P75, ascribes the work to Luke and is also dated between AD 175 – 225.
While there still remains an element of skepticism to this external evidence, it must again be stated that the likelihood of first century writings being transmitted without some form of authorial attribution is highly unlikely. While both Luke and Acts remain formally anonymous, not having an author explicitly stated within the text, the earliest copies would have been shipped with an attached tag bearing the author’s name.9 It should also be acknowledged that no recorded opposition to Lukan authorship exists within the early church. Given the more common requirement of apostolic authorship for canonicity it seems even more reasonable that Luke’s name would even be attached to the third gospel from the beginning. To quote Carson, “The universal identification of a non-apostle as the author of almost one-quarter of the New Testament speaks strongly for the authenticity of the tradition.”10
Lastly, returning to the ascription to Luke in the letter tot he Colossians, we read that in verses 10-11 of chapter 4 that Paul transmits greetings from three men followed by, “These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers. . .” (ESV), indicating that the previously mentioned three were Jews, whereas those that follow are not (i.e. Gentiles). It is at this point the apostle extends greetings from Epaphras and Luke, leading to the early tradition that Luke was a Gentile believer and subsequently supporting the earlier stated facts regarding the Greek writing of the gospel and its Gentile emphasis.
“The universal identification of a non-apostle as the author of almost one-quarter of the New Testament speaks strongly for the authenticity of the tradition.”
Given the weight of the evidence, both internal and external, it is highly likely that the Gospel according to Luke was written by the physician/follower of the apostle Paul. Its quick and early acceptance into the canon by the early church is a substantial support for the book’s authority and historicity. The author’s careful attention to detail has long since garnered him respect within the historical community and serves as a commanding force toward confidence in the Christian text. As with the discussion regarding the previous gospels, authorship does not determine truth, but continues to serve as a bedrock behind the cumulative case for the reliability of the New Testament.
1For Cadbury see: F.J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake, The Beginnings of Christianity Part 1: The Acts of the Apostles, “The Tradition” (London: Macmillan, 1920-33), 2.501-3. For the more traditional response, see: Darrel L. Bock, The NIV Application Commentary:Luke, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996).
2Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16.
3E. Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971), 85.
4Darrell L. Bock, The NIV Application Commentary: Luke, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 20.
5During his Roman imprisonment it is traditionally accepted that Paul wrote Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, and possibly Philippians. Although there is dispute about Pauline authorship of Colossians and Ephesians.
6D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction tot he New Testament: Luke, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 204.
7Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.1, 3.14.1.
8Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4.2.2, 4.5.3.
9Martin Debelius, Studies in the Acts of the Apostles, (ET: London: SCM, 1956), 148.
10Carson and Moo, Introduction, 206.
Posted by Clark Bates
May 10, 2016
With the release of his new book Jesus Before the Gospels:How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed and Invented Their Stories of the Savior Bart Ehrman has attempted to revive the modern controversy of biblical authorship. This is not new ground for him, nor is it a new challenge in the world of textual criticism or popular debate. The truth of the matter is that determining the authors of various biblical texts can be difficult at times and all but impossible at others. For those books that proclaim or are attributed to a particular author, it falls to the careful reader to seek out means by which verification can be made. The New Testament books most frequently challenged regarding traditional authorship, are the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), The epistles of John (1, 2, and 3 John), The epistles of Peter (1 and 2 Peter), and various epistles of Paul (Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus). In the next few posts, under the same title, I’ll be looking at what we can know about the biblical authors and why we can know it, beginning with the Gospel according to John.
How Can we Know?
Before examining John’s gospel specifically, it would be helpful to mention how a reader can investigate biblical authorship and what methods are employed by textual critics to determine that very thing. Not being limited to the biblical text, all ancient writings are evaluated under similar programs. In seeking information, authorship in this case, evidence is sought from both within the text and without. Internal evidence can consist of the obvious, such as “This was written by. . .” or more ambiguous clues, such as time and place indicators or specific details surrounding the event recorded. External evidence is that which comes from outside the text but corroborates its message. In the case of authorship it can be the writings of contemporaries or those following after attributing the writing to a particular author. As it relates to the Gospel of John, we have both.
The Gospel of John
Like the Synoptics, the Gospel attributed to John is formally anonymous. That is to say, the author never names himself in the way you might expect from the apostle Paul in many of his letters. That it is formally anonymous does not mean that authorship is impossible to identify with any degree of certainty, however. Just as textual critics, this article will begin with the internal evidence of authorship from the Gospel itself and follow with the external evidence. Early Greek scholar and commentator Brooke Westcott offered the five criteria by which the authorship of John should be judged, and still remains the criteria today. His five points were that the author of John must be ,
- A Jew
- Of Palestine,
- An eyewitness,
- An apostle,
- The apostle John1
Now, to avoid appearing to be circular in argumentation, I will note that the 5thpoint really acts as the logical conclusion to the affirmation of the other four.
The Author was a Jew
Using this guideline, it is easily seen throughout the text that the author is Jewish. He has a clear understanding of Jewish customs, theology, and messianic expectations.2 The author has a clear understanding of Jewish festivals, regarding the law of the Sabbath (7:22) and the ceremonial pollution of Jews entering a Gentile court (18:28). Most tellingly is the account of the Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7. Many details included within this section of the Fourth Gospel are only fully intelligible in light of the circumstances surrounding the festival. Circumstances known to the writer and merely hinted at through the text.3 These circumstances would be the practice of pouring water from the pool of Siloam onto the sacrificial altar, shedding light onto Jesus’ message of “living water” (7:38), the kindling of lamps to impact Jesus’ claim to be the “light of the world” (8:12), and the reference to the last day of the festival as “the great day” (7:37).
The Author was from Palestine
While this assertion might be more difficult for the lay reader to establish, textual critics such as Westcott, Morris, Lightfoot, Carson, and others affirm that the writing style and vocabulary of the Fourth Gospel are inherently Jewish.4 The author’s repeated use of words and themes such as “light”, “darkness”, “flesh”, “spirit”, “life”, “the kingdom of God” and others are found throughout the writings of the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament). To quote Westcott once more, “The words are Greek words, but the spirit by which they live is Hebrew.”5 Only a brief overview of the internal evidence for these first two points is presented here, primarily because they are not widely disputed among scholars.6 This near unanimity has been bolstered by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and requires little defense.
The Author was an Eyewitness
The dispute surrounding the remaining three points hinges upon the identity of the “disciple whom Jesus loved”, who is stated to be the author of this Gospel (21). This persona is first mentioned in John 13:23, reclining on Jesus during the Last Supper and mediating for Peter. He is found at the cross and commissioned by the Lord to care for Mary, the Lord’s mother (19:26-27), and at the empty tomb alongside Peter (20:2-9). His knowledge of events occurring within the chambers of the upper room, as well as those of the events surrounding the trial of Jesus could only be supplied by one present at each occasion.7 This disciple, present at the intimate moments of Jesus’s life claims to have “written these things” in the epilogue of the Fourth Gospel. If what is meant in John 21:24 is that the beloved disciple physically wrote all that is contained within this Gospel, then it can be no other than John the Apostle.8
The Author was an Apostle
The Synoptic Gospels insist that only the twelve apostles were present with Jesus at the Last Supper, placing the ‘beloved disciple” within the ranks of the twelve. He is repeatedly distinguished from the apostle Peter and clearly distinguished from the other apostles named in John 13-16.9 The author is one of the seven to go fishing in John 21, but is not Peter, Thomas or Nathaniel, suggesting that the author is one of the sons of Zebedee or one of the two unnamed disciples (21:2). Neither the James the son of Zebedee nor John are mentioned within the Fourth Gospel, which should be of note, given the space provided for even relatively obscure apostles such as Philip and Judas (14:22).
The Author was the Apostle John
It’s recorded in the book of Acts that the apostle James, the son of Zebedee, was the first martyr of the twelve.10 Given the late dating of the Fourth Gospel, even among conservative scholars, this son of Zebedee, martyred approximately 50 years prior to its writing, could not be the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” The repeated association of this unnamed apostle with Peter is synonymous with the relationship between John the apostle and Peter as seen in the Synoptic Gospels, Acts and the writing of Paul.11 What’s more, it should be noted that most of the important characters in the Fourth Gospel are designated with rather full names, i.e. Simon Peter, Thomas Didymus, Judas son of Simon Iscariot; Caiaphas the high priest that year, and so on. Yet, John the Baptist, is simply called “John” even when he was first introduced.12 While this final point is not conclusive in itself, the simplest explanation is that John the son of Zebedee authored the Fourth Gospel and felt no need to distinguish the other John from himself.
Having given a brief defense of the traditional authorship of the Fourth Gospel from the internal cues provided within the text, I will turn some attention to the traditional external evidence behind John’s authorship. It’s normally assumed that the title “The Gospel According to John”, as well as the other Gospel titles, were not ascribed until A.D. 125. The earliest known reference to the Fourth Gospel is from Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165), who wrote, “Christ indeed said, ‘Unless you are born again you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ It is evident to all that those who have once been born cannot re-enter their mothers’ wombs.”13 This is almost certainly a quotation from John 3:3-5, and while Justin Martyr never attributed his quotations to John or any other Gospel author, he did refer to the Gospels as the “memoirs of the apostles.”
The first attribution of the Fourth Gospel to John is from Theophilus of Antioch (A.D. 181), but before this the Fourth Gospel was quoted as authoritative by Tatian, Athenagoras, Polycarp and Papias. Polycarp is known to be a successor and associate to the original twelve apostles, having been martyred in A.D. 156 at the age of 86. This same Polycarp had a student named Irenaeus who recorded much of his work. As a student of Polycarp who wrote of his discourses with the apostle John, there was no doubt for Irenaeus who authored the Fourth Gospel. He wrote, “John, the disciple of the Lord, who leaned back on his breast, published the Gospel while he was resident at Ephesus in Asia.”14 This certainty carried on into the second century by the church fathers Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian being maintained to the point that by the end of the second century few opposed the apostolic authorship.
As it relates to the authorship of the Fourth Gospel, the internal evidence leaves little room for doubt. We can see within the very pages of the text, how the author reveals himself, and the humility with which he wrote.15 The author was clearly a Jew of Palestinian origin. He was aware of information only available to one who had traveled with the Lord, and more so, information only available to one of the twelve. Each apostle is clearly identified throughout the Gospel with the exception of one, John. The tradition of the church leaders that followed the apostles also attributes the Fourth Gospel to John the Apostle and clearly held an authoritative role in the development of church theology; even so far as to be the centerpiece for the first harmony of the Gospels ever written, the Diatessaron. Such authority would not have been given to a book with dubious authorship then, nor should we doubt its authority today.
It must be said that the authorship of Scripture is irrelevant to the message of Scripture. Even if there were no intelligible way to determine who wrote the New Testament (which is the case for the book of Hebrews), it would have no bearing on the quality or the truth of what is written. What authorship does for those who seek to know their Bible, is substantiate the origins of what we hold dear and observe the profound effect that Jesus had on their lives.
1 Westcott, Brooke Foss. The Gospel According to St. John: The Greek Text with Introduction and Notes. Vol. 1. (John Murray, 1908), 10 – 51.
2John 1:21; 4:25; 6:14-15; 7:40ff.; 12:34.
3Wescott, John, 11.
4Morris, L. The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995); Westcott, Brooke Foss. The Gospel According to St. John: The Greek Text with Introduction and Notes. Vol. 1. (John Murray, 1908).
6With the exception of Margaret Pamment in her “Focus on the Fourth Gospel,” ExpT, 1994.
7Only in John do we find the discourses of the Last Supper and the teaching that follows regarding the Holy Spirit and the Vine and Branches (John 13:31-16:33). Likewise, John contains information of the trial of Christ not found in the Synoptics (John 19:1- 11.
8Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 71.
9The author is distinguished from Peter in John 13:23-24; 20:2-9; and 21:20.
10Acts 12:1-2; during the reign of Herod Agrippa I, AD 41-44.
11Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33; Acts 3:1-4:23; 8:15-25; Gal. 2:9.
12Carson, John, 72. i.e. John 1:6 contra. Mark 1:4.
13Justin Martyr, First Apology, 61.4-5.
14Irenaeus, Against Heresies, iii. 1.2.
15While it has been contested that the author’s self-referral as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” seems arrogant, it is largely viewed in scholarship as a humble assessment of how Jesus changed one who was formerly a “son of thunder.”
Posted by Clark Bates
June 13, 2016
As we continue this series on biblical authorship, we turn our attention to the disputed letters of the apostle Paul. Having been credited with writing approximately 75% of the New Testament and being the source for much of the foundational doctrines of the Christian church, it should be of no surprise that his writings would come under fire. While evidence may exist to support the notion that the majority of skeptical claims against traditional authorship stem from a critical presuppositionalism, that isn’t to say that the reasons given are entirely unfounded. Believers should always be willing and eager to engage with positions that challenge traditional perspectives to better understand others as well as bolster their own convictions. That is the purpose of this series in general and particularly here in this article. Now, on to our investigation into the author of the Epistle to the Ephesians.
Pseudepigraphy and the Early Church
It might seem odd to the average biblical reader that there would be debate over the authorship of a letter like Ephesians which presents itself, unambiguously, as from the apostle Paul (1:1-2). In order to make sense of such a claim, it will be necessary to discuss the practice of pseudonimity in ancient Eastern writings. To say that a text is pseudonymous is to say that it is written by an unknown author, claiming the name of a well-known figure as the author, in an effort to provide more weight to what is written. This was a very common practice in the first and second centuries, and because of its wide spread practice, many scholars have found reason to believe several of the New Testament epistles to be pseudonomic writings. Regarding the pseudonimity, Metzger writes, “There is scarcely an illustrious personality in Greek literature or history from Themistocles down to Alexander, who was not credited with a more or less extensive correspondence.”1
For twentieth century writers, it would seem more logical to steal the writing of another author and attach our name to it. This is, of course, known as plagiarism and is considered highly unethical. However, in the first century and beyond a writing would be less likely to gain traction unless it could be attributed to someone of note; therefore the opposite practice to plagiarism (pseudepigraphy) was exercised. While plagiarism is almost unanimously viewed as unethical in the 21st century West, 1st century pseudepigraphy was not viewed with the same universal, ethical disdain. Thielman writes that,
“The practical reasons and moral justification for the practice were varied and complex. . . . Some pseudonymous letters were probably innocent fictions. . . . letters were sometimes written to deceive their readers. . . . a number of the pseudonymous Socratic epistles describe networks of specifically named friends and . . . details. . . that look realistic. . . . to make the readers believe they are genuine [causing]. . . the people presented [to] become examples of how the Cynic philosopher should live.”2
While the evidence for the existence of pseudonymous Christian letters in antiquity is decidedly slim, there is, within what can be found, an existence of intentionally deceptive writings in the early Christian movement. By the second century, letters to the Laodiceans and Alexandrians were being circulated in support of the Marcionite heresy.3 Officially, Greco-Roman society was not more tolerant of forgery than modern society, despite the differences in perspective regarding pseudepigraphy and plagiarism. While the practice was common and not necessarily deemed unethical in popular opinion, if deception was determined to be intended, the consequence could be as extreme as exile.4 Because of this there is no reason to see early Christians as more tolerant than others regarding forged documents, leaving the motive behind such productions something of a mystery.
It has been proposed that Christian authors might have had in mind the Platonic idea of a “noble lie”.5 Clement of Alexandria adopted this ethic, making it conceivable that other early Christian writers may have felt the same. In any case, Christian pseudepigraphy of the early church existed for polemical purposes to refute false doctrine steadily increasing within the body. The existence of such work is what has led some to see Ephesians as pseudepigraphal in spite of its attribution to the apostle Paul. The validity of this claim will be assessed later.
Other Detractions From Pauline Authorship
It is said that the theology of Ephesians reflects non-Pauline characteristics. Apart from the tendency to see the letter to the Ephesians as pseudonymous, multiple other textual persuasions have been leveled against the traditional, apostolic authorship of the epistle. It is assented that the message of justification by faith (2:5-8) is influenced by Paul, but other emphases, such as the cosmic nature of the church (3:10), realized eschatology, and believers foundation being on the “apostles and prophets” (2:20) in contrast to Paul’s belief that the foundation of the church was Christ alone (1 Cor. 3:11), are considered to be only weakly attested to in the undisputed letters of Paul. It is also suggested that the use of the GreekEkklesia (church, assembly) in Ephesians speaks of the universal church, whereas Pauline usage of the same word is normally reserved for the local congregation.
It is also suggested that the language of Ephesians includes words not found elsewhere in Paul, and that the overall style of the writing is decidedly non-Pauline. Specifically noted is the length of sentences used in the letter. English translations betray this fact by breaking up the sentences into smaller fragments, but in the Greek text passages such as 1:3-14; 15-23, and 3:1-7 are each a singular sentence. This style is often labeled pleonastic (redundant word usage) in the sense that there is a fullness to it. The sentences themselves abound in prepositional phrases, relative clauses, participles, and multiplying synonyms.6 It is leveled by critics that, “there is scarcely anything comparable in Paul.”7
Finally, it is also suggested that Ephesians is an early “Catholic” writing, meaning that the author appears to be looking back on the apostles as a closed group from some later date, as well as the relationship of his letter to that of the undisputed , yet strikingly similar, letter to the Colossians. It is widely believed that the letter to the church at Colossae is genuinely Pauline, but the similarity between the two suggests the later author of Ephesians relied upon Colossians for its writing. The similarity is such that it seems anachronistic to write two letters within the same time frame covering the same message. For skeptics, it becomes far more plausible, given the other objections and the existence of pseudepigraphal writings within the Christian church, that this letter was written at a much later date under the auspices of the famed apostle.
A Response in Favor of Traditional Authorship
With the weight of accusations against Pauline authorship, what response can be given? First, I should note that absolute objectivity in regards to issues such as this can be relatively impossible to achieve. It is disingenuous to believe that one’s presuppositions regarding the Christian faith, biblical inerrancy, and preferred textual-critical method do not in some way influence the amount of value one will apply to various evidences for either position. I do not pretend to be distinct from this, and I believe that if you have read my previous articles regarding biblical authorship, you’ll notice that I lean toward traditional authorship. I do this primarily from the belief that the weight of evidence (when it can be known) for traditional authorship often outweighs that of the skeptical approach. When evidence is scarce for either position I see no need to affirm one or the other, but find that a theological conviction regarding biblical inerrancy should influence us to accept the traditional view.
Regarding the accusation of pseudonimity, it has already been mentioned that the pseudepigraphal writings of the early church were commonly presented in an effort to combat false doctrine. This is not meant to be an apologetic for the practice but an acknowledgment of the circumstances. As it has been written elsewhere, “Christian pseudepigraphy found its main impetus in doctrinal disputes, the endless argument between orthodoxy and heresy.”8 and also, “Ephesians is not a polemical document; there is no theological battle raging behind the text that might justify the extreme measure of a ‘noble lie’ in violation of the author’s otherwise high standards of honesty.”9 Neither does Ephesians bare the markings of an innocent fiction as much of the pseudonymous works of the first century were. In contrast, the author claims to be Paul, speaks of himself throughout in the first person and presents a very realistic portrayal of the apostle’s suffering for the faith. Therefore, if Ephesians is pseudonymous (which it certainly could be), it is an anomaly among Christian pseudonymous letters.
While the theology of Ephesians might seem more “forward-thinking” than other letters of Paul, it is an extreme measure to suggest that the theology it contains is something that was outside the reach of the apostle. Neither the epistle to the Galatians nor to the Romans are disputed as being genuinely Pauline, yet the theology of the latter far exceeds that of the former. Given the emphasis on spiritual warfare at the close of the epistle (6:10-20), the cosmic functions of Christ and the realized eschatology at the letter’s opening can be seen as tailored to the specific needs of the church, and while the apostles and prophets are spoken of as cornerstones of the church (2:20), so too is Christ mentioned as the “chief cornerstone” in the same verse. This corresponds directly with Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians and should not be seen as a contradiction or future theological evolution. The same could be said for Paul’s use of ekklesia in regards to its universal application in Ephesians. While it is true that Paul’s use of the term is regularly applied to the local congregation, it would not be odd for the apostle would to apply this term globally if the letter was to be circulated to all the churches in Asia, as many of Paul’s letters were designated.
The language of Ephesians does contain words not normally used by Paul, but to see this as proof of pseudonymous authorship is yet another leap. It can, and should, be readily acknowledged that many of the words in Ephesians bear more similarities to the writings of the apostolic church fathers than to Paul, but it is also known that those same fathers quoted from Ephesians extensively, leading many to believe that Ephesians influenced their writing as opposed to the language indicating a later author. Also, while the pleonastic style of the letter is something marvelous, it would not be accurate to suggest that this “dominates” the letter. The long sentence structure dominates only the first half of the letter, but what follows is traditionally Pauline in style.
The belief that Paul speaks of the apostles as a past phenomenon in Ephesians is yet another exaggeration, given that there is no direct mention of the apostles having passed, nor is referring to them as “holy” indicative of any past tense formulation given Paul’s regular attribution of holy to all believers. While Colossians and Ephesians are remarkable similar, and many point to the copied information as evidence for later authorship, what is not copied is of equal importance. “If Ephesians had been copied from Colossians, why would the author have omitted Timothy’s name when he is mentioned in the latter as Paul’s co-author? And why are all the other names in Colossians missing in Ephesians except that of Tychicus. . .? No theory of imitation offers a suitable explanation of this incongruity.”10 To put it briefly, the relationship between these two letters is not determinative of much in the domain of authenticity.
Positive evidence for Pauline authorship is as follows:
- Both in the body and the opening of Ephesians, the letter claims to have been written by Paul (1:1; 3:1). While obviously not determinative on it’s own, any letter coming down from antiquity should be held to be by the author it mentions unless there is strong evidence to the contrary.11The writer inserts multiple personal flourishes, including knowledge of the readers’ faith and love (1:15), he prays for them (1:16), calls himself the “prisoner of Christ Jesus” (3:1; 4:1), asks for the readers’ prayers (6:19-20), and the comment regarding Tychicus at the letter’s close (6:21) is completely incoherent if the author is not the apostle.
- In the earliest known circulation of this letter, its authenticity was never doubted. As was mentioned above, the letter was accepted even by the heretic Marcion as authentic; it is in the Muratorian Canon, used by heretics and orthodox alike, and was viewed as Pauline by many apostolic fathers such as Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement of Rome, and Hermas. The question of authorship is a modern disputation.
- Despite the skeptical claims, the letter to Ephesus is replete with Pauline features. There are words and structure throughout that conform directly to that of the undisputed letters, and there are words and phrases found here and nowhere else in the New Testament. What we are left with is best posed in the rhetorical question of H.J. Cadbury, “Which is more likely – that an imitator of Paul in the first century composed a writing ninety or ninety-five percent in accordance with Paul’s style or that Paul himself wrote a letter diverging five or ten percent from his usual style?”12
- Given the two diverging perspectives regarding the relationship of Colossians to Ephesians, argument can be, and is, made for and against Pauline authorship. Approaching the relationship from a traditional perspective, it would seem that Ephesians can be seen as a development of Colossians rather than a copy. Colossians seems to serve a specific purpose, whereas Ephesians takes similar themes and applies them on a broader scale.
- Many of the themes in Ephesians are decidedly Pauline. For example, justification by faith, the place of grace, the dominance of the flesh in the unredeemed, the work of Christ as reconciler, and the place of Jews and the law. Opposition may argue that this is merely Pauline imitation, but that is using the conclusion to prove the premises.
- Paul claims that he was a prisoner at the time of writing Ephesians (3:1) which corresponds to what can be known of Paul historically. The theological development of this letter is not uncommon for a man nearing the end of his life, and even more so as the church at Ephesus is seen as needing further instruction in the faith. In short, no alternative explanation for authorship stands as more likely than that of the apostle Paul writing from his final imprisonment.
“Which is more likely – that an imitator of Paul in the first century composed a writing ninety or ninety-five percent in accordance with Paul’s style or that Paul himself wrote a letter diverging five or ten percent from his usual style?”
For many, how you view the evidence above will be filtered by your presuppositions. This serves only as a brief overview of evidences that can be investigated in greater detail. Much of the arguments against Pauline authorship are arguments from inference. In any case, there is no justifiable reason to approach any text of antiquity from a perspective of absolute skepticism. If authorship is claimed, evidence to the contrary must be brought to bear and weighed prior to any positive identification to the contrary. The author is admittedly Pauline, and it is the view of this article that the evidence against the claim is unsatisfactory.
1Bruce Metzger, “Literary Forgeries and Canonical Pseudepigraphs,” Journal of Biblical Literature, (1972), 10.
2Frank Thielman, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 1-2.
3Marcion believed Jesus was the savior sent by God, and Paul the Apostle was his chief apostle, but he rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel. Marcionists believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament.
4Herodotus, Histories, 7.6
5L.R. Donelson, “Pseudepigraphy and Ethical Argument in the Pastoral Epistles,” Hermeneutische Untersuchungen zur Theologie, 22 (Tubingen: Mohr, 1986), 18-19. Plato’s “noble lie” was that a lie does not merit abhorrence if told in an effort to dissuade foolishness or insanity. Essentially, it would be a lie that is told to bring about a greater good.
6D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, “Ephesians” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 484.
7Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Epistle to the Ephesians, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991), 26.
8Donelson, “Pseudepigraphy,” 17.
9Thielman, Ephesians, 4.
10Bo Reicke, Re-examining Paul’s Letters: The History of the Pauline Correspondence, (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2001), 79.
11Carson and Moo, Introduction, 480.
12H.J. Cadbury, “The Dilemma of Ephesians,” NTS 5, (1958-59): 101.
posted by Clark Bates
July 11, 2016
The Pastoral Epistles (hereafter known as Pastorals) of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus, are possibly some of the most challenged works within the Pauline corpus. A large number of scholars find the discrepancies in text, setting and style to be insurmountable for traditional authorship and thus suggest that the Pastorals should be seen as the work of a pseudonymous author in the second century. Others examine the same evidence and find it lacking, or even supporting of the traditional Pauline view. In keeping with the series on New Testament authorship what follows is a brief overview of both positions followed by my own personal conclusion on the matter:
Arguments Against Pauline Authorship
As it relates to textual problems within the Pastorals, most modern scholarship has sought to build upon the writings of P.N. Harrison. According to Harrison, “The three Pastorals make use of 902 words, of which 54 are proper names. Of the remaining 848 words, 306 do not occur in the other ten Pauline letters. Of these 306, at least 175 occur nowhere else in the New Testament. . . this leaves 542 words shared by the Pauline letters and the Pastorals. . . no more than 50 are characteristic Pauline words in the sense that they are not used by other writers in the New Testament.”1
The existence of such a large amount of foreign word structure is certainly reason to pause. When one examines the writings of the uncontested letters of Paul, a certain symmetry exists within them. Common openings and closings are contained in most, as is the repetitious use of certain theological phrases and terms. The marked lacking of these, combined with the addition of terms never before seen in Paul’s work certainly suggests another author. Commenting on this stylistic differences, Becker writes, “One notes also that the dramatic vivacity of Pauline argumentation, with its emotional, outbursts, its dialogue form of thought, its introduction of real or imaginary opponents and objections, and the use of metaphor and image, is replaced by a certain heaviness and repetitious style.”2
In addition to the textual difficulties is the question of “when?”. Historical problems arise within the Pastorals directly because nothing that is mentioned within them can be found in the rest of the New Testament account of Paul’s missionary journeys. As it has been noted, “It is difficult to fit the situations envisaged in the Pastorals into what we learn of the life of Paul from Acts and the Pauline letters.” These discrepancies are not minute. The author of these letters has manufactures allusions that would give the impression of an historical setting. For example, Paul’s only known contact with Crete was his brief stop there en route to Rome as a prisoner (Acts 27:7-13), and this does not easily square with Titus 1:5, “The reason I left you in Crete. . .” We do not have any source to confirm Paul’s wintering at Nicopolis (Tit. 3:12). Similarly, the personalia in the Timothy’s do not easily square with what we know of Paul’s ministry.3
Given that the texts contain a large number of foreign terms, more commonly seen in the time of the apostolic fathers (2nd century) and the instances recounted within them cannot be found within the recorded account of Paul’s travels, the case against traditional authorship increases. This evidence is only bolstered by the theological problems that exist. Many contend that these letters contain quite a number of Hellenistic terms for the salvation event that Paul would not have used. Phrases such as, “the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10); “one mediator between God and human beings” (1 Tim. 2:5); “the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (Tit. 2:11) all incorporate some Pauline terms but are used in non-Pauline ways, leading many scholars to propose a pseudonymous author mimicking Paul.
One merely needs to consider how they might respond if someone handed them a letter from, say a pen pal, and when they opened it found that it was written in a way they’d never seen their friend write, discussing events they’d never heard of and covering topics, to this point, never before discussed between the two of you. Your immediate reaction would be that some forgery has taken place. If possible, you might try to contact this friend and verify the letter with them. This is not possible with the ancient text, but skeptics of traditional authorship that the same suspicion would, and should, be warranted.
Arguments For Pauline Authorship
In response to the various factors working against traditional authorship, many scholars have rallied to defend the apostle and mitigate the evidence presented by the opposition as insurmountable. As it relates to textual support, Guthrie has noted, “While it is true that most words found in the Pastorals share more in common with the writings of the apostolic fathers than with Paul, these words are also common in other writings prior to A.D. 50.”4 It cannot be argued that Paul would not have known them, nor could it be argued that Paul’s total vocabulary consisted of those words contained in the ten epistles (2,177). If Paul used these words it would not be questionable that he could use 306 more (The Pastorals), drawn from the vocabulary of his day.
In addition, it is misleading to say that 306 non-Pauline words occur in the Pastorals. 127 of these words occur in 1 Timothy alone, while 2 Timothy contains 81 and Titus 45.5 This means that the vast majority of words are found only in one epistle and the three differ from one another as well. No one suggests that there were three separate pseudepigraphers, yet, according to the earlier reasoning, this should be the case. To put it another way, if the figures show that the three Pastorals were written by one author other than Paul, they also show that the author may well have been Paul.
While much has been said regarding the statistical data of the text it remains that the statistics themselves cannot tells us why the differences exist. They only raise more questions. Is it because of different topics, or because these epistles were written to individuals with certain challenges and not to churches with quite a different set of challenges, or because of different amaneusis?6 7 As was suggested above, these uncertainties are quantified if we posit the use of an amaneusis. Some have speculated that Paul used the historian, Luke as his amaneusis, giving him more freedom in the case of the pastorals than in the ten, while others contend that the differences are accounted for precisely because Paul did notuse an amaneusis in the Pastorals as he did with ten. While each of these positions are possible, both are speculative and lack enough information to be considered as anything beyond a reasonable possibility. Undoubtedly there are differences. The question is how to account for them. One wonders if the difference between the Pastorals and the ten Pauline letters is greater than the difference that might legitimately be expected between private letters to trusted fellow workers and public letters to churches, letters usually addressing specific difficulties.8
Something not regularly addressed by those favoring pseudonymity is the genre of the individual Pastorals. The genres of 1 Timothy and Titus are commonly accepted as “mandate letters” while 2 Timothy is seen as the genre of “testament”. Both of these genres would be well known to the apostle but less so to someone writing in the second century. The mandate letter, in particular, lends considerable support to Pauline authorship, as Johnson notes, “When the letter was read to the people to whom the delegate was sent, the will of the chief administrator would be clear, and the standards expected of the delegate would simultaneously encourage the delegate to faithfulness and provide some written security for the readers against whimsical authority usurped by the delegate. . .”9
The reality is that we know fairly little of what Paul did during those years, and there are huge gaps when other events could be squeezed in.
The difficulty with placing Paul in the locations and circumstances noted in the Pastorals I clearly a matte that requires address, and, as should be expected, there is no shortage of response. In way of historical support for the Pastorals, it’s often disclosed that the epistle 1 Clement offers credence to the writing of the Pastorals within Paul’s lifetime. In 1 Clement 5:7 it is reported that Paul journeyed “to the outer limits of the West.” Within the Roman Empire this would commonly be received as Spain, despite the protests of skeptics. If this is the case, what Clement records could only have taken place after Acts 28.
The reality is that we know fairly little of what Paul did during those years, and there are huge gaps when other events could be squeezed in. When did Paul undergo the frequent imprisonments, five beatings, three shipwrecks and other sufferings mentioned in 2 Cor. 11:23-27? Acts 20:31 records that Paul spent three years in Ephesus but records none of Paul’s trips during those years, even though we read in 2 Cor. 1:23-2:1 that Paul visited Corinth at that time. What other journeys might he have taken?
One proposal is that Paul endured two separate Roman imprisonments, only one of which is recorded in Scripture. There is nothing improbable with believing that Paul could have been released after his meeting with Caesar at the close of Acts, and what’s more, numerous patristic sources stipulate that Paul was released from his imprisonment in Rome and ministered once again in the East.10 You may say that it isdifficult to fit the events of the Pastorals into the recorded life of Paul, but it is a far greater claim to say that it is impossibleto do so.
Finally, if the letter were written by a pseudonymous author a century later, what are we to make of the need for Paul’s cloak and scrolls (2 Tim. 4:13); his leaving Timothy in Ephesus when he went to Macedonia (1 Tim. 1:3); his hope to see Timothy soon (1 Tim. 3:14-15); his saying that Onesiphorus searched and found him in Rome (2 Tim. 1:16-17); or his instruction to Titus to help Zenas and Apollos (Tit. 3:13)? No convincing reason has been suggested for the manufacture of hypothetical situations of this nature. The pastorals contain nothing of the legendary accounts contained within known pseudonymous writings like the Acts of Paul in the second century. The Pastorals are more akin tot he Pauline letters than they are to the catalog of known pseudonymous documents of the early church.
Similar arguments for theological support of Pauline authorship are leveled in the same manner as those for textual and historical support. Primarily they rest upon the uneven nature of reporting from those in opposition. Much is made of the theological phrases used in the Pastorals containing Pauline phrases used in non-Pauline ways, but it must be acknowledged that the phrases are still Pauline. Just as it is in the statistical data, the anti-Pauline emphasis is often focused on at the expense of the numerous Pauline phrases used within the Pastorals in the same manner as the uncontested letters of Paul. Terms such as Christ’s coming to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15); salvation because of divine mercy and not our works (Tit. 3:5); the importance of faith in Christ (1 Tim.3:13); of election (Tit. 1:!); and of grace (2 Tim. 1:9), among others. The theological style of the Pastorals is inconclusive. Scholars are divided regarding the implication of specific verses, seeing direct opposition to traditional authorship as well as direct support for it. Historically, each of the Pastorals was quoted by church fathers like Polycarp, Irenaeus. Trajan, Clement of Alexandria and others. Its canonicity was never questioned with the exception of the heretic Marcion and Tatian, both of which were unique in their perspectives and not indicative of the whole.
As I have written before, where tradition maintains a particular author and the evidence against such authorship is weak or speculative, there is little reason to adopt another view. In the case of the Pastorals, I believe it can rightly be said that the evidence for and against authorship rests largely on speculation. It is simply the case that not enough information is known for certain. What remains is what might be seen as more likely. I believe that, given the evidence, it is more likely that the Pastoral epistles are the work of the apostle Paul somewhere near the end of his life in the mid to late 1st century. To believe otherwise creates more problems than it answers and becomes like the pulling of a loose string that unravels a sweater. Each is welcome to conduct their own study to determine where they might fall, for what has been presented is only a cursory examination of the topic.
1 P.N. Harrison, The Problem of the Pastoral Epistles, (London: Oxford University Press, 1921) 20.
2 J.C. Becker, “Pastoral Letters,” IDB, 3.670.
3 D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An introduction to the New Testament, “The Pastoral Epistles” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 561.
4 Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles and the Mind of Paul, (London: Tyndale, 1956), 9.
5Harrison, Epistles, 20.
6 George K. Barr, “Two Styles in the New Testament Epistles,” LLC, 18 (2003): 235-48.
7As a side note, an amaneusis was a term applied to someone hired by a person seeking to communicate a letter or writing but unable or unwilling to write it themselves. This was a common practice in Greco-Roman culture and one employed by the apostle Paul regularly. The level of freedom allowed to an amaneusis was largely left up to the employer. Some were given a wide range of freedom with linguistic style and interpretation while others were directed to merely record. Because of this and the unknown freedom Paul may have allowed, the use of amaneusis creates another caveat into understanding the differences in the Pastorals.
8Carson and Moo, Introduction, 561.
9 Luke Timothy Johnson, Letters to Paul’s Delegates: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, The New Testament in Context (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1996), 106-8.
10 The Muratorian Canon, Eusebius, Athanasius, Epiphanius, Jerome, Theodoret of Mopsuestia, Pelagius and Theodoret.
Posted by Clark Bates
July 30, 2016
Paul’s missionary journey to Thessalonica was a volatile one, but resulted in two epistles that have become foundational to the church overall and in varying degrees to particular denominations. Continuing with our series regarding New Testament authorship, we push forward with the contested letters of Paul. While 1 Thessalonians is widely accepted as authentically Pauline, 2 Thessalonians is not. However, the connection between these letters is such that it would be detrimental to not write of both together. In recent years, contemporary skeptical scholarship has all but dismissed the possibility of Pauline authorship in these letters and it is because of this that we now turn our attention to them.
Against Pauline Authorship
Paul visited the city on his second missionary journey, as recorded in the book of Acts (17:1-9). It was a tumultuous stay for three Sabbaths, resulting in a riot, created by Jews within the city. Because of this, Paul and Silas were sent out of the city. Luke’s account of Paul’s time in Thessalonica, it is suggested, differs dramatically from the references to the visit found in the epistles. If, as Luke recounts, Jews were among the converts during his time, it would be unlikely for Paul to refer to them as having “turned to God from idols” (1 Thess.1:9).
What’s more, Luke suggests that Paul’s visit was merely three to four weeks (three Sabbaths), yet the epistles speak of activities that surely would have taken longer. For instance, Paul claims to have worked long enough to set an example (1 Thess. 2:9) and praises the Philippians for sending him money twice while he was in Thessalonica (Phil.4:15-16).
Beyond this opposition there are three matters that must be addressed regarding the authorship of 1 and 2 Thessalonians:
- The Co-Authorship of the Letters
- The Alleged Interpolations in 1 Thessalonians
- The Pauline authorship of 2 Thessalonians
Both letters name Paul, Silas, and Timothy as the authors of the letters, yet they are traditionally ascribed strictly to Paul. Many scholars argue that this is not accurate, nor is it fair. The dominant use of the first-person plural within the writing of the epistles, even in the thanksgiving section stands out among the rest of the Pauline corpus, including those letters that name someone else in the salutation (1 Corinthians, Philippians, and Philemon).1 In antiquity, it was rare to include multiple people within a salutation and the use of the plural “we” would likely have been understood as referring to authorship.
Interpolations of 1 Thessalonians
The authenticity of 1 Thessalonians is not questioned by many scholars today. It exists as one of the seven letters ascribed to Paul in the critical canon Pauline writings. However, critical scholars do argue for the addition of non-Pauline material into the letter known as interpolations. Some suggested sections of interpolation are 2:1-10 and 5:1-11, but most support for this view surrounds 2:13-16.
The use of the phrase “wrath of God” coming upon the Jews, it is argued, must refer to the destruction of the temple in AD70. Therefore, this section could not have been included in the original text which is dated within the mid-50s. What’s more, the section reflects a very negative view of the Jew’s hope for final salvation which is in direct conflict with Romans 11:26. It is reasonable to assume, then, that this section is especially non-pauline.
Against the Pauline Authorship of 2 Thessalonians
Skepticism regarding the Pauline authorship of this second epistle began in the 19th century with F.C. Bauer, but much of the modern force against traditional authorship is indebted to the writings of Charles Mason in 1957 and Wolfgang Trilling in 1972. While the usual critical arguments have been employed regarding vocabulary and style as theology have been employed these have not survived into much of the contemporary debate. The two main points of debate regarding the letter in modern scholarship are rather paradoxical. It is argued that 2 Thessalonians is too similar to 1 Thessalonians to have been written by Paul and 2 Thessalonians is too unlike 1 Thessalonians to be written by Paul.
The thrust behind the “similarities” argument is that no author would duplicate material from one letter to another so soon after to the same audience. Both letters share commonalities in salutation, verbal application and structural configuration. It is said that every paragraph in 1 Thessalonians has a counterpart in 2 Thessalonians.2 Both letters feature the unusual double thanksgiving (1 Thess. 1:2 and 2:13; 2 Thess. 1:3 and 2:13) and a transitional benediction (1 Thess. 3:11 – 13; 2 Thess. 2:16-17). These similarities lead many scholars to conclude that whoever wrote the epistle clearly utilized 1 Thessalonians as their template.
The striking differences between the letters are also pointed out by much of critical academia, centered largely around the eschatology of the two epistles. It is suggested that Paul displays a sense of imminence in 1 Thessalonians which is very typical of the early church. He has an expectation of being alive for the second coming (4:17) and cautions his readers against trying to calculate the times and dates (5:1-4). However, in 2 Thessalonians warns against thinking that the second coming is imminent. He even states that the rebellion and introduction of the “man of lawlessness” must precede the second coming (2:1-4). If 1 Thessalonians is Pauline and reflects his actual eschatology, it must be that 2 Thessalonians is not.
In Favor of Pauline Authorship
It should be noted that Luke’s account of Paul’s time in Thessalonica makes reference to “God-fearers” as well as Jews becoming converts to the gospel. God-feareres were Gentiles that worshiped the Hebrew God and would still be, in Jewish eyes, Gentiles. Because of this, embracing the one true God found through Jesus Christ would be to “turn from idols to the true God.”3
Regarding the length of Paul’s sojourn in the city, Luke is actually rather vague. The Acts narrative states that Paul and Silas preached for three Sabbaths and that some time after that certain Jews instigated a riot. There is no clear direction of time, therefore a stay of several months cannot be ruled out. Even with this possibility, however, it is not as unreasonable as critics might suggest that Paul could have accomplished the activity detailed in the Thessalonian epistles over the period of one month.4
While it is true that the use of first person plurals dominate the epistles, that does not mean the author(s) only uses plurals. In fact, there are several instances of first person singular references in both letters (1 Thess. 2.:18; 3:5; 5:27; 2 Thess. 2:5; 3:17). If the letters had been genuinely co-authored, this would be rather unusual. The use of a first person plural can be seen as a literary device, but it is also possible that Paul makes mention of Silas and Timothy so prevalently precisely because they were closely associated with the church at Thessalonica. Even if it is accepted that the letter is co-authored, Paul would be the primary author and voice of the writing, and thus the ascription of 1 and 2 Thessalonians to the apostle is not unjustified.
Interpolation of 2 Thessalonians
While it shouldn’t be minimized that this passage contains harsh overtones toward the Jewish people and its potential conflict with Romans 11, there exists no textual evidence that this passage was ever absent from the epistle. What’s more, the suggestion that early Christians would have been able to merely insert new sections into widely distributed Pauline letters without difficulty or trace runs into insurmountable logistic difficulties.5 What’s more, the verses themselves are not out of context. Paul’s commendation of the Thessalonian’s reception of the Word of God and encouragement regarding their persecution fit the theme of 2:1-12 nicely. The use of “God’s wrath” against the Jews is a sentiment found in other areas of the New Testament related to the widespread Jewish rejection of the Messiah (Matt. 23:32; Acts 7:51-53) and brings to close the sin of Israel and her refusal to listen to God.
In Favor of Pauline Authorship of 2 Thessalonians
The letter claims to be written by Paul, Silas, and Timothy, and is even attested by Paul to be in his own writing (3:17). No responsible early church authority questioned Paul’s authorship of 2 Thessalonians.1 It is included within the Muratorian Canon as well as the Marcion Canon and known by the early church fathers, Polycarp, Ignatius, Justin and Irenaeus.
Despite the conventional arguments against Pauline authorship attributed to similarities and dissimilarities, many scholars, not all evangelical, still maintain traditional authorship. The verbal parallels should be acknowledged, but much of the similarities are overblown. The passages in question largely circulate in the opening and closing portions of the letters where you might expect a repetitious formulation. The differences in the letter, especially regarding the body of 2 Thessalonians betray any suspicion of reliance on 1 Thessalonians by a pseudonymous author.
The main point regarding the dissimilarities between the epistles is theological. This argument is considered all but certain by critical scholars but hinges upon the preconceived notion that the apostle could not have held these two eschatological positions simultaneously. As a point of fact, many Jewish apocalypses contain the same mixture of imminence and warning signs that we see in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Even more to the point, the same mixture is found within the gospels. One need only consider Matt. 24:33 with Matt. 24:44b for an example. Like so many circumstances in the dual letters of Paul, the difference in content (eschatological included) rests on the different pastoral needs for each writing.
Critics often overemphasize the teaching of “immediacy” within the early church while also downplaying the importance of imminence in later Christian writings. The eschatology of 2 Thessalonians seems to be dependent on the book of Daniel causing some to consider that the eschatology of each letter are not in conflict but rather two stages of the same crisis.2 If this consideration is correct, there ceases to be any difficulty. While most critical scholars posit a pseudonymous author for 2 Thessalonians, the same difficulties that plague this suggestion regarding other Pauline epistles plague this one as well.
While it can be agreed that there is a potential of co-authorship within the letters, the existence of Paul the apostle as the primary author for both remains the more reasonable position. The argument from tradition, the ratification of verbal and structural similarities and eschatological dissimilarities, and the insurmountable difficulties with the suggestion of pseudonymity should lead readers to find assurance in Pauline authorship. These letters are written by an apostle with a sincere pastoral desire toward his church, seeking to commend them, encourage them, and calm them in times of distress and persecution. They are yet another intimate window into the heart the “least of the apostles.”
1F.F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, WBC, (Waco: Word, 1982), xxxii – xxxiii.
2Consider, 1 Thess. 1:1a v. 2 Thess. 1:1a; 1 Thess. 1:3 v. 2 Thess.1:11; 1 Thess. 1:3 v. 2 Thess. 1:3-4; 1 Thess. 1:4 v. 2 Thess. 2:13 among others.
3Rainer, Reisner, Paul’s Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 348-49.
4It is argued by several that only one of the gifts sent by the church at Philippi was actually sent to Paul in Thessalonica. Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 535-36; Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 3-4.
5Charles Wannamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 30-33.
6D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament: 1 and 2 Thessalonians, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 536.
7Colin R. Nicholl, From Hope to Despair in Thessalonica: Situating 1 and 2 Thessalonians, SNTSMS 126, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). The basic argument is that the second coming has filled the church with fear rather than joy, resulting in words of encouragement at first, followed by words of solace in the second as an effort to counter false teaching that the second coming has already passed.
Posted by Clark Bates
August, 6, 2016
Having discussed the contested books of Paul and the authorship of the gospels, this series on New Testament authorship will now turn toward the writings of Peter. It may or may not surprise some readers to hear that both epistles that bear the apostle Peter’s name are highly questioned, and in many cases, considered pseudonymous. This belief has arisen from the school of source criticism that gained prominence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but recent scholarship has begun to demonstrate the inability of these conclusion to truly account for the authorship of the Petrine epistles.
It has been the format of this series to present the case against traditional authorship, followed by a parallel case for it. I have decided that for this article and perhaps the next, the format will be more amalgamated in which each objection to traditional authorship will be challenged immediately. We will then conclude with a brief summary and discussion on additional evidence for the Petrine authorship of this epistle.
Who wrote 1 Peter?
This question is, of course, the heart of the entire article, but given that 1 Peter begins with a salutation attributed to the apostle himself (1:1) it becomes glaringly important. The nature of pseudonymity has been discussed in earlier articles on Paul and will not be regurgitated here, but it has become a prevalent opinion with many modern scholars to accept authorship of this epistle by a Petrine group in Rome between AD 75 and 95, seeking to accurately represent the apostle’s thoughts.1 For those that embrace a late dating to the book, the existence of such a group would be inevitable from a sociological standpoint, but even if this were a sociological inevitability, it does not explain why such a group would write in such a way.
By way of example, both in the letter’s opening and close, references are made to Mark and Silvanus (1:1; 5:12-13). Are these to be understood as pseudonymous fiction? If this epistle were carried by Silvanus, as has been suggested, how was he to represent the letter to its recipients, knowing it was a forgery? Even if we are to accept that the Gospel according to Mark is Peter’s testimony, the author of the gospel does not presume to write it in the apostle’s name. Perhaps more importantly, while a Petrine group of faithful followers might present an attractive alternative, there is no extant evidence from the first century that such a group ever existed.
Major Challenges to Traditional Authorship
Almost all modern challenges to apostolic authorship can be contained within 4 categories: 1. The Greek of the epistle is to advanced for the apostle Peter; 2. The content of the book reflects a church structure and social environment that corresponds to a time decades after the apostle’s lifetime; 3. The epistle reflects a dependence on the deutero-Pauline letters (those letters contested as pseudonymous in their own right) making its dating to be after them and thus beyond Peter’s lifetime; and 4. Christianity could not have reached the remote areas of Asia Minor spoken of in the letter and become a target of major persecution until a decade after Peter had died.
Taking each of these objections in turn, it must be acknowledged that the Greek of 1 Peter does appear to be of a higher quality than one would expect from a fisherman-turned-apostle. Most who support the earlier dating of this authorship will at least propose the use of a considerably more skilled Greek amanuensis. That being said, quality of language can be, to some extent, subjective. The letter is argued to have such features as, “polished Attic style, Classical vocabulary . . . and rhetorical quality. . . mak[ing] it one of the more refined writings in the NT.”2 But the question persists as to whether such language and style require an author formally trained in Greek, and whether or not the apostle Peter could have attained such skill in his lifetime.
It has recently been noted that, within the syntax of the epistle, 1 Peter exhibits a clearly bilingual interference, consistent with a Semitic author for whom Greek is a second language.3“This is perhaps the most telling feature of the Greek in 1 Peter, for a letter’s syntax flows almost subconsciously from an author’s proficiency with the language. . .”4When the syntax of 1 Peter is paralleled with that of another Semitic author like Josephus we find that rather than demonstrating refined Greek understanding, the author was deficient to Josephus in multiple areas, including use of prepositions, genitive personal pronouns and the dative case with the preposition en. What this demonstrates is that the author of the epistle was likely of Semitic origin (thus limited to the area of Palestine) in the first century. He would not have been a Greek or Latin speaking Roman or from Asia Minor, making the pseudonymous authorship by a Petrine group less likely.
The second argument against apostolic authorship is based on the addressed persecution and church structure of 1 Peter. Three emperors of note instituted Christian persecution in the Roman empire during the first century: Nero (54-68), Domitian (81-96), and Trajan (98-117). The nature of persecution in the book is far too vague to be used as a method of dating however. When examining the letter itself, the persecution listed appears to be limited to malicious talk, verbal slander, and false accusations (1:6; 2:12, 15: 3:9, 16; 4:12, 16). This form of persecution need not necessarily point to the level of martyrdom seen under the emperors mentioned and could easily refer to a time period prior to the escalation of government sanctioned and enforced persecution.
The historian Pliny the Younger wrote approximately 60 letters tot he emperor Trajan over a three year period in AD 90, some of which concerned the persistent problem of Christianity. In these letters he recounted Christians abdicating their faith twenty years prior.5 If what is written in 1 Peter regards a less dire situation than that of Pliny then it must be written more than twenty years prior. Much of the debate around the persecutions centers on the “fiery ordeal” of 1 Peter 4:12. Those who claim t a late dating see this as a reference to Nero who used Christians as living torches to light the streets of Rome at night, but recent scholarship suggests this is more likely am acknowledgment to the philosopher Seneca, a contemporary of Peter, who wrote, “Fire tests gold, affliction tests strong men.”6 The image of trials as a testing analogous to fire smelting gold is characteristic of the epistle (1:7, 18; 4:12). Peter describes the trial as worldwide (5:9), which suggests a persecution faced by all Christians, not one executed by Roman officials in one place.
This type of persecution was common in the early church.7Most who hold to a pseudonymous authorship maintain that the letter was written after AD 70 but prior to the reign of Domitian. This is based on 1 Peter 4:15-16 which suggests that Christians were being arrested simply for being Christians, as though it were akin to a common thief, something argued to be impossible prior to Nero.8
Regarding the church structure, it is stated that the use of the term episkopountes (overseeing) in 5:2 refers to the monarchical bishop of the second century. Given the history of this term, the above challenge is more of a case of reading a second century reality backward into the text. As far back as the book of Acts, the apostle Paul uses presbyteroi (elders) andepiskopoi interchangeably. In Acts 20:17 and 28 the apostle exhorts the Ephesian elders (presbyteroi) to shepherd (promainein) the people of God because they are overseers (episkopoi)! There is clearly no distinction of terms here, nor any suggestion of official offices. Given that 1 Peter is not written tot a local body, but to a wide area likely covering a territory that would surpass a single bishop there is no reason to assume the later meaning is applied to the term here.
Coming finally to the epistle’s dependence on deutero-Pauline literature. First, it must be recognized that this claim assumes the pseudonymity of those letters, which is not a certainty. Second, the argument has been adjusted simply to 1 Peter’s dependency on Paul the apostle as well. Even to assume this dependency would be to suggest a pseudonymous author from a Pauline school rather than a Petrine one, but this creates the added question of why this letter would not then be attributed to Paul instead of Peter? Some have sought to avoid this difficulty by explaining the dependence as an amalgamation of of Petrine and Pauline traditions in which “much Pauline tradition is now set forth under the name of Peter”, the assumed primary apostle of Rome.9 This view struggles some, first in its assumption that Peter was in a position of hegemony in the early church beyond that of other apostles, and second this must be assumed to have consistently developed within twenty years of his death.
Notwithstanding these objections, Peter makes no reference to Paul or his letters in this epistle, and similarities that do exist are of terms and themes that could be less reliant on Paul and more understandably based upon a common faith and Christian tradition. The connection between the two apostles is strained. Too strained even to be a reliable objection to traditional authorship.
Secondary Support for Traditional Authorship
A final note on pseudonymity must be mentioned. While the prevalence of pseudepigraphy has already been discussed, such writings were largely connected to certain genres. Primarily wisdom literature (Wisdom of Solomon) and apocalyptic (1 Enoch). 1 Peter is neither of these and the acceptance of pseudonymous letters as a genre is contestable. To argue that the book is pseudonymous while retaining a direct link to apostolic authority (as is often claimed) is unverifiable when the link can only be inferred, and merely consists of an attempt to remain skeptical while retaining some sense of authority.
However, even a motive of honoring the apostle by way of pseudonymity finds no support in the first century. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The spurious letter of 3 Corinthians, attributed to Paul, enjoyed acceptance until it was recognized as being non-Pauline. When a presbyter of Asia Minor was discovered as its author, he was not congratulated but censured and removed from church office.
Lastly, the epistle of 1 Peter contains several allusions to the teachings of Jesus. While the value of these allusions in determining authorship is debated, the list ranges from thirty to at least fifteen. These verba Christi, as they are known, parallel teachings found in all four Gospels, but do not quote the Gospels which does not indicate a literary dependence but one of experience. On this topic, Gundry writes, “The most striking feature about the verba Christi in 1 Peter, however, is that they refer to contexts in the gospels which are especially associated with the apostle Peter.”10
While more could be said regarding the geography of the intended recipients of this epistle, and even the theology within its text, sufficient is the discussion at this stage to close. As has been seen in may of the earlier articles, source-criticism has always sought to understand New Testament literature from a vantage point of skepticism. While this is not necessarily inappropriate, the result, as we see here, is too often one in which the critic will maintain skepticism even in light of insufferable difficulties. It is not a position of integrity to assert a skeptical position solely on the basis of group think or an unwillingness to admit previous error. The evidence must always lead those investigating to a conclusion, wherever it may lead. In the case of New Testament authorship, what we often see is a magnifying of contrary evidence against authorship and a diminishing of evidence for. However, when the data is objectively analyzed the traditional authorship rises above accusations as the more likely at best or inconclusive at worst
1J.K. Elliott, Essays and Studies in the New Testament Textual Criticism, (Cordoba: Ediciones el Amendro, 1992), 127-30.
2Elliott, ESNTTC, 120.
3Karen H. Jobes, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1 Peter, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 7.
4Jobes, 1 Peter, 7.
5Pliny the Younger, Letters, 10.96.6.
6Seneca, On Providence, 5.10.
71 Thess.1:6; 2:14-16; 3:3-5; Matt. 10:16-20; Gal. 4:29.
8L. Goppelt, A Commentary on 1 Peter, trans. J.E. Alsup, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 39-45.
9M.E. Boring, Abingdon New Testament Commentary Series: 1 Peter, (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999), 43.
10R. H. Gundry, “Verba Christi in 1 Peter: Their Implications Concerning the Authorship of 1 Peter and the Authenticity of the Gospel Tradition,” New Testament Studies, 13 (1966-67), 349.
Posted by Clark Bates
September 3, 2016
In the realm of biblical authorship, few books face as great a tension as that of the Epistle of 2 Peter. Difficulties abound regarding the style and language of the work, as well as its comparison to the Epistle of 1 Peter, and that is to say nothing of its less-than-stellar reception by the early church. In light of these barriers, most of the academic world reject 2 Peter as apostolic, preferring to view it as a pseudepagriphical writing from the second century. Below, I’ll acknowledge and briefly examine the evidence used for objection to traditional authorship and counter them, where possible, with a more measured understanding of what is accused.
To begin, the author of 2 Peter identifies himself as Simeon Peter, the apostle of Jesus Christ (1:1). In addition the author includes several personal flourishes including his experience with the Lord Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration ( 2 Pet. 1:17-18 cf. Matt. 17:1-5; Mk. 9:2-7; Lk. 9:28-35). The author also seems to feel the imminence of his death while alluding to the prophetic utterances of Christ, as recorded in the Gospel of John (1:14; Jn. 21:18-19). The author refers to this as his “second letter”, inferring that he is the same author as that of 1 Peter (3:1) which, in the last article this was argued as being apostolic in origin, strengthening the apostolic authorship of this epistle as well. What’s more, the author speaks of himself as a companion in ministry with the apostle Paul (3:15-16), placing his own teachings on par with those of the apostle to the gentiles. Therefore, the internal evidence demonstrates that the author of 2 Peter sought to identify himself as the apostle Peter.
This notwithstanding, 2 Peter stands apart as one of the most contested New Testament epistles today. As previously mentioned, modern Academia believes it to be a pseudepigraphical writing of the 2nd century. According to NT scholar Richard Bauckham, “The Petrine authorship of 2 Peter has long been disputed, but only since the beginning of this century has the pseudepighraphical character of the work come to be almost universally recognized.”1 Attempts by many scholars to defend the traditional authorship of 2 Peter have not been received favorably, even to this day, and it would be disingenuous to attribute all of this opposition to entrenched skepticism within Academia. That is not to say that no response can be made, but that any response should be made with respect to the evidence presented.
“The contemporary reader must, on one hand, decide whether the arguments against the book’s authenticity are cogent,and, on the other, whether there is sufficient warrant to affirm that the letter came from Peter.” 2
A common assertion in defense of forgery is that 2 Peter is not quoted in any church documents, prior to the third century.3 This is not universally accepted, however, given the argument from several regarding its limited use in the second century by way of allusion. While even Bauckham recognizes that there is better evidence than is sometimes admitted for second century use of 2 Peter, the evidence is decidedly weaker than that of any other accepted writing.4 writing from the fourth century but speaking of the second, the historian Eusebius recognized 1 Peter as authentic but doubted the authority of the 2 Peter, “The so-called second Epistle we have not received as canonical, but nevertheless it has appeared to be useful to many, and has been studied with other Scriptures.”5 However, even though 2 Peter finds itself within the Eusebius’ list of “disputed books” (2 Peter, James, Jude, 2 and 3 John), it is in good company as all these works were included into the canon of Scripture. Therefore, although inadvertently, Eusebius has given credence to the early disputation of the letter while simultaneously demonstrating its use in in the second century! By the fourth century 2 Peter found its way into the canons of Laodicea (AD 360), Athanasius (ca. 296-373), Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 315-387), Gregory of Nazianzus (ca. 390) and Carthage (AD 397), among others.
In modern scholarship, 2 Peter has been rejected as authentic due to its use of Jude, largely because the epistle of Jude is deemed to be “post-apostolic”, and if the author of 2 Peter utilizes Jude, it must have been written after the apostle’s death.6 However, if it can be ascertained that the dating of Jude is incorrect, this argument against 2 Peter fails. Another argument against Petrine authorship as linked to the epistle of Jude is the use of imitation from one letter to the other. 2 Peter appears to mimic sections of Jude, making it submissive to the latter. Given the apostle Peter’s primacy in the early church, it is considered doubtful that, were his letter authentic, it would be in a secondary position.7 However, even this argument is based on suppositions. If the epistle of Jude is authentically penned by the brother of Jesus, it would be customary that the higher status would be bestowed upon the family member over the apostle.
Literary Style and Language
Concerning literary style and language, the letter contains a considerable amount of rare words gleaned from a variety of literary works, poetry and obscure sources. This would suggest that the author is widely read, something the biblical accounts seem to contradict, regarding the nature of the apostle (Acts 4:13). This is deemed so conclusive that the “Hellenistic influence . . . rules out Peter definitely.”8 This uniqueness in style, when compared to the first epistle, is so distinct that it is concluded that each letter is written by separate authors. 1 Peter speaks of the “revelation” of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:7), while 2 Peter refers to His “coming” (2 Pet. 1:16; 3:4) and “the day of the Lord” (3:10). 1 Peter describes God’s redemption as “the salvation of your souls” (1:9), but 2 Peter prefers to speak of “entry into the eternal kingdom” (1:11). 1 Peter quotes the OT extensively, while 2 Peter scarcely; and while 2 Peter refers back to the first letter, there is virtually no intersection between the two.
While a great deal of credence is given to the differences in style and vocabulary of the two epistles (and the differences should not be minimized) there simply is not enough of a corpus of Petrine literature to determine what the apostle could, or could not, have written. The apostle could have referred to Christ’s “revelation” in one instance, and to His “coming” in another. Similarly, the use of Hellenistic terminology is insufficient grounds to reject apostolic authorship given the Hellenistic world within which the apostles lived, wrote and ministered. It is a well-known fact in the early church that the apostle Peter was in need of linguistic help. Thorough knowledge of Greek was not as widespread in Galilee and the ability to write well was not universal by any means.9 The use of an amanuensis has been discussed in previous articles and was common practice, especially for the apostle. To quote the Beatles, Peter “got by with a little help from his friends.”10 While there is little documented on either side of this debate regarding the license which the apostle may have given his “secretary”, it is common knowledge that various amanuensis throughout the centuries would contribute as little as dictation or as much as linguistic style and language. Because of the broad range of secretarial practices it becomes impossible to say what kind of style Peter could have used.
It is also argued that the letter provides historical clues to a late dating. The author speaks against heretics “since the time the fathers died” (3:4) suggesting the letter was written to a problem occurring after the first generation of Christians. In 3:2 the author speaks of “your apostles” suggesting the apostles were a group to which the author did not belong, and in 3:16, the author speaks of Paul’s letters as “Scripture,” indicating that that the book was written in a post-apostolic age.11
Regarding the use of the term “fathers” in 3:4, there is no reason to see this as a referent to first generation Christians unless you operate from a position of skepticism regarding the dating of the text. The early church did not refer to the first generation of Christians as “the fathers”, however it was a term utilized for the Jewish ancestors.12 Likewise, in 3:2 the use of the term “your apostles” does not suggest a post-apostolic authorship, but is merely a designation of those who have preached and ministered the gospel to the readers. Regarding the use of “Scripture” in light of the apostle Paul’s writings, a suggestion of pseudonymity must be forced upon the text. While it is true that during the apostle Peter’s time the term “Scriptures” referred to the divinely inspired works of the OT, but early into the life of the church, the same term was applied to the teachings of Jesus (1 Tim. 5:18; 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Pet. 2:6).
The majority opinion that 2 Peter exists as a pseudephigrical text is not without its difficulties, even given its wide acceptance. As has been discussed in early articles, there is no secured reasoning that a document, known to be pseudonymous, would ever be allowed into the canon. Very little attention is given to this feature because most who argue for the pseudonymous nature of this epistle already accept a limited canon of authentic Pauline writings and presuppose a New Testament filled with pseudepigraphy! Ironically, the above-mentioned “personal flourishes” within the epistle are also used as a reason to accept pseudonimity!13 It is argued that the emphasis on Petrine authorship is too heavily stressed and suggests the author is covering their work. This approach tends to overflow with an unnecessarily extreme form of hyper skepticism to the text, and cannot explain why the author would use the instances that they did, rather than more foundational events that ascribe higher authority to the apostle.
The contemporary objections to Petrine authorship are not without their weaknesses, and we must not allow the volume of opinion to decide a case such as this. These objections should be received and analyzed, but also responded to. The verdict of the early church was certainly ambiguous but the epistle was clearly used, and widely so. What’s more, while the epistle bears little similarity to its earlier counterpart, it bears no similarity to the later apocalyptic literature that also bore the apostle Peter’s name. Academic consensus aside, we are left with three options regarding the authorship of this epistle:
- The prima facie claim of the letter to be apostolic should be accepted.
- The evidence of its forgery is determinative, therefore it does not deserve canonical status.
- Or, the evidence is inconclusive.
Many prefer a form of the second option but seek to keep the epistle’s canonicity, but this is disingenuous. Others, in the face of the dispute, find the third option best. I see the acceptance of the epistle into the canon as a clear rejection of the second option, and while I can sympathize with the third, only the first is permissible in light of the existing evidence and a high view of biblical inerrancy.
1Richard Bauckham, “2 Peter: An Account of Research.” Aufsteig und Niedergang der romischen Welt, 2.25.5 (New York: de Gruyter, 1988), 3719.
2Gene L. Green, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Jude & 2 Peter, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 140.
3Pheme Perkins, Interpretations: First and Second Peter, James and Jude, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1995), 160.
4Richard Bauckham, World Biblical Commentary: Jude, 2 Peter, (Waco: World Press, 1983), 160.
5Esuebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.3.1.
6Green, Jude & 2 Peter, 144.
7It has been argued by some that Jude imitates 2 Peter, but this line of argumentation is not corroborated by the evidence.
8W.G. Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament, transl. H.C. Kee, 2nd. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975), 431.
9Green, Jude, 146.
10 Mark, Sylvanus, and a certain Glaucias are three such “friends”.
11Earl Richard, Reading 1 Peter, Jude and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary, (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 308.
13Kummel, Introduction, 430, 433.
Posted by Clark Bates
September 17, 2016
The epistles of 2 Peter and Jude are closely intertwined within the early church and the New Testament. Because of this, it is often viewed that if one can be deemed pseudepigriphical in nature, the other must necessarily follow suit. In this series on New Testament authorship, it has been my desire to not only provide an accurate overview of the issues, but to communicate an adequate defense for the traditional view of New Testament authorship. It is my conviction that, given the available evidence, it is reasonable to ascribe the existing canon of Scripture to the authors by which they are named or assigned. In our last article, the defense was laid for the second epistle of Peter, so we must now turn our sites to its companion piece, the epistle of Jude.
In keeping with ancient Greco-Roman conventions, the Epistle of Jude begins by naming the author, “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James. . .” (Jude 1). This opening identification serves to distinguish this “Jude” from others that would have been known at the time. The name “Jude” is Semitic in origin and a very common name in the Palestinian region, given it’s Hebrew equivalent “Judah”. In the New Testament there are several men named Jude:
1. Judas Iscariot (Matt.10:4)
2. The revolutionary Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:37)
3. Judas of Damascus ( Acts 9:11)
4. Judas called Barsabbas (Acts 15:22-32)
Of these four, only the last two are plausible candidates for authorship, however the additional identifier, “brother of James” eliminates them as potential authors. There is one of the Twelve identified as “Jude, son of James” (Lk. 6:16), but the use of the Greek adelphos in Jude, in opposition with the lack of designation in Luke, suggests that these are not the same individual. The only man named in the New Testament that would be comparable with this identifier is Jude, brother of Jesus, listed alongside James (Matt. 13:55). His being listed last in the grouping may also suggest that he is the youngest of Jesus’ siblings. This Jude also feels confident in mentioning his relationship with an undefined “James”. Given that they appear together without qualification, it is reasonable to identify this James as “the Lord’s brother”, a “pillar” of the Jerusalem church (Gal. 2:9). Since honor in the Mediterranean world is shared among members of a family, the honor ascribed to James would enhance the status of Jude in the eyes of the reader.
In the early church, some disagreement circulated regarding the identity of this particular “Jude”. Some of the fathers identified the author as Jude, the apostle, while others believed him to be the one also known as “Thaddeus” (Matt. 10:3), but the majority of the church agreed with his familial link to the Lord Jesus. Clement of Alexandria (c.150- 215) wrote,
“Jude, who wrote the Catholic Epistle, the brother of the sons of Joseph, and very religious, whilst knowing the near relationship of the Lord, yet did not say that he himself was His brother. But what said he? ‘Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ,’ – of Him as Lord; but ‘the brother of James.’ For this is true; he was His brother, (the son) of Joseph.”
This is seconded by the Muratorian Canon (A.D. 180-200?), Tertullian (c. 155-240), and Origen (184-254). While it is true that these same men, and others, refer to Jude at times as “the apostle Jude” it must be recognized that, in the Western Church, the apostle Jude of Luke 6:16 was believed to be the synonymous with the biological brother of Jesus Christ.
As has been discussed many times in this series, even in the last article, the practice of writing under the name of another, well-known figure (pseudepigraphy) was common and practiced in the ancient world for a variety of reasons. Serious questions in the ancient church were raised regarding the epistle’s authenticity in spite of its wide acceptance in the Western and Alexandrian churches. The Church of Alexandria adopted a “maximalist” approach, adopting a wider array of books at first, but culling them later, whereas the Syrian church adopted a “minimalist” approach, slowly admitting any contested texts.
The church historian Eusebius also acknowledged that Jude was one of the “disputed” books, but also recognized that it was read publicly in many churches. Much of the disputes regarding the book can be traced to its use of the apocryphal text 1 Enoch (Jude 14-15). This, according to Jerome, who wrote, “Jude, the brother of James, left a short epistle which is reckoned among the seven catholic epistles, and because in it he quotes from the apocryphal book of Enoch it is rejected by many.” Because of its wide use in antiquity and no clear voice raised in opposition to the possibility that the Lord’s brother wrote this text, it remained canonical and authoritative.
The greatest confirmation of the authenticity of Jude, while not conclusive on the grounds of pseudepigraphy, is its reproduction in 2 Peter. As was discussed in the last article, if it can be concluded that 2 Peter is authentic, the only plausible answer to this reproduction is that the apostle Peter borrowed from the existing epistle of Jude in his writing. If this is the case, the author of Jude is a first century Hebrew of note within the Christian church, and not a pseudepigriphical concoction.
As is the case with all contemporary debate regarding authorship, much of the protestation surrounds the use of Greek style, sub-apostolic outlook and identification of the heretics mentioned. The use of Greek in this epistle is clearly by one who has mastered the language, which, just as it has for the Petrine epistles, raises doubts as to whether a Galilean might accomplish such a task. Much in the same way that Origen saw in the epistle, “powerful words of heavenly grace”, so too have modern scholars seen “a relative purity of Greek style and prose. . . suggest[ing] both careful composition and deep Hellenization,” and concluded that, “while a Galilean like Jude must have spoken Greek fluently, it is not easy to imagine him handling the language with such art.”
Given the assessment that linguistic ability of the ancient world was closely tied with one’s social status, a Galilean son of a carpenter is unlikely to be so skilled in the language of Scripture. However, there are two factors that work to mitigate the negative assessment of traditional authorship. First, Jude, along with other brothers of Jesus, engaged in itinerant ministry, which presupposes a fluency in Greek. As Green mentions, “They hardly traveled with a phrase book as a modern tourist might do.” Secondly, very little weight is ever afforded its due regarding the use of secretaries in the writing of these epistles, especially from critical scholars. It is an established fact that those who did not possess a high degree of literacy, “paid professional scribes to draft communication on their behalf. The practice passes undetected in private correspondence.” Because of this, Jude should not be rejected on stylistic grounds.
With yet more similarities to the disputes over 2 Peter, it is argued that the Judean Epistle speaks of the apostolic community as having since passed. If this is the case, then the letter must have been written after the first century and could not have been authored by the traditional Jude of the early church. In vv. 17-18 the author writes, “remember the words previously spoken by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” suggesting to some that this emerges from a post-apostolic era. However, this argument flounders in v. 18 in which the author then writes, “they said to you. . .” suggesting that the readers of this epistle heard the words of the apostles in their own lifetime.
Lastly, the identification of the heretics the author seeks to combat has become troubling for some. If they can be identified as Gnostics, the epistle is second century at best and subsequently pseudepigraphical. The profile of these heretics as presented in the epistle is that they have distorted the gospel of grace as to promote a theology where one is freed from moral constraint (v.4). They were familiar with the church and even participated in the “love feasts” suggesting they were seen as disciples of the church (v.12). They denied the Lord (v.4). They appear to have rejected any authority over their conduct (v.8) and could be understood as having rejected apostolic authority (v.17). Finally, they also claimed to have divinely inspired revelation in dreams (v.8). If this assessment is correct, the heretical profile finds more in common with first century antinomianism, rather than second century Gnosticism. The lack of any mention of Gnostic cosmology and anthropology only furthers this position, allowing for clear credibility of traditional authorship.
While the debate over this epistle’s authorship will likely continue into perpetuity, the absence of compelling arguments against the traditional authorship leave the reader with no credible reason to reject it. Yes, it certainly can be asserted that the brother of the Lord required scribal assistance in its composition, but the issues raised in opposition fail to account for the other specific details of the text. The weight of internal evidence and the support of the early church stand in favor of its authenticity. Jude continues to exist as a representative of non-Pauline Christianity and gives us valuable insight into the character of the early church. It is invaluable to all who read it and profitable for training and instruction in righteousness.
Tal Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity, part 1: Palestine 330 BCE – 200 CE, (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002), 112-25.
Gene L. Green, Baker Exegetical Commentary Series: Jude & 2 Peter, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 2.
Clement of Alexandria, Comments on the Epistle of Jude.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 907.
Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development and Significance, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987), 284.
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.23.25;3.25.3; 6.13.6; 6.14.1.
Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, 4.
Origen, Commentary on Matthew, 10.17.
J.P. Oleson, “An Echo of Hesiod’s Theogony vv.190-2 in Jude 13,” New Testament Studies 25 (1979):495.
J.N.D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and Jude, (London: Black, 1969), 233.
Green, Jude & 2 Peter, 8.
James L. White, Light from Ancient Letter, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 216.
Simply put, antinomianism is the belief that the grace of God frees the believer from moral requirements.
Posted by Clark Bates
September 24, 2016
For those who argue against the traditional apostolic authorship of the Johannine Epistles often favor what’s commonly called the “Johannine School”, or a community of believers that followed the apostle John. In fact, so prevalent is this approach, much of scholarship presupposes it as fact a priori. The question that must be asked, is whether or not this presupposition is warranted, or is there enough internal or external evidence to support the alternative, apostolic authorship? As with other articles in this series, it is exactly this question that I will seek to answer below.
While this article is meant to discuss the authorship of the three Johannine epistles the bulk of the arguments leveled against traditional authorship comes from the link between 1 John and the Fourth Gospel. Because the second and third epistles bear such close textual and thematic connections to the first, what can be said of 1 John will hold bearing upon 2 and 3 John as well. At the outset it must be stated that, “Early on, by the second century in fact, Christian tradition identified their author as John the son of Zebedee, one of the twelve apostles.”1
Allusions to the epistles in the first two centuries of the church include:
1. Clement of Rome (c.96) describes God’s elect people as being “perfected in love” (1 Clem. 49:5;50:3; cf. 1 Jn. 2:5; 4:12, 17-18)
2. The Didache (c. 90-120) speaks of the world passing away in 10:5-6 (cf. 1 Jn. 2:17)
3. The Epistle of Barnabus (c. 130) speaks of Jesus as “the Son of God come in flesh” (5:9-11; 12:10; cf. 1 Jn. 4:2; 2 Jn. 7)
4. Polycarp (c. 135) warns against deceiving false brothers in these terms: “For everyone who does not confess Jesus Christ to have come in the flesh is Antichrist” (Phil. 7:1), surely dependent on 2 Jn. 7 and 1 Jn. 4:2-3; 2:22.
In addition to the above, as recorded by the 4th century church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, the first author to refer specifically to a Johannine epistle as the work of John is Papias of Hierapolis (c. 70-163) in the middle of the second century.2 It should be noted that Eusebius makes this reference regarding a disputation on the authenticity of 2 and 3 John, but the acknowledgment that the apostle whom Jesus loved was accepted as the author of 1 John remains valuable to the discussion at hand.
By the time of Irenaeus (c. 180). at least the first and second epistles are explicitly attributed to John, the disciple of the Lord and the author of the fourth gospel.3 Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215), prolific writer and leader of the early church, knew of more than one Johannine epistle. This is evident when he wrote of 1 John as, “the greater epistle” ascribed to the apostle John.4 Furthermore, Regarding 2 and 3 John it is Origen (c. 253) who first mentions all three epistles, and while this is only recorded late into the third century it cannot be asserted that Origen created this particular stance but merely repeated what was common consideration of that day.5 IN fact, it can be easily asserted that never, at any time, are any of the three Johannine epistles attributed to anyone other than John the son of Zebedee.6 These facts lead eminent theologian D.A. Carson to affirm, “In line with the majority view among Christian students during the past two thousand years (though out of step with today’s majority), I think it highly probable that John the apostle wrote the Fourth Gospel and the three letters that traditionally bear his name.”7
Much like the Pauline epistles, the opening verses of 1 John claim that the author was an eyewitness of Jesus’ life. And, as was stated in the opening, since 2 John and 3 John stand in close conceptual relation – to each other and to 1 John – the gravity of their admittedly sketchy content is maximized.8 Because of this, the claim to authorship of all three epistles rests firmly on the relation of 1 John and the fourth gospel. This is also the area of contention in modern scholarship as we will see shortly, but first it is widely acknowledged that the fourth gospel and 1 John contain many striking similarities:
1. They both contain the themes of light and darkness, life and death, truth and falsehood, as well as love and hate; all with no third alternative.
2. Both writings contain the same syntax and the same “scheme of salvation”.9
3. Within this theme we are “of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8/Jn. 8:44); “from the world” (2:16;4:5/8:23; 15:19); we “sin” (3:4/8:34) and “have” sin (1:8/9:41); “walk in darkness” (1:6; 2:11/8:12; 12:35), and are “dead” (3:14/5:25).
4. Jesus is the “Savior of the world” (4:14/4:42) so that “we might live” (4:9/3:16). We pass “from death to life” (3:14/5:24); “have life” (5:11/3:15). Life is in the Son of God (5:11-12/1:4; 14:6).
Those who appeal to a different author appeal to three kinds of phenomena:
1. There are subtle but significant differences between the fourth gospel and the epistle of 1 John. For example, only in John is the logos (Word) personal (Jn. 1:1, 14); in the epistle, the “word” is the “word of life” and it is the life that is personal (1 Jn. 1:1-4). In the fourth gospel, the Holy Spirit is the parakletos (Counselor) (Jn. 14 – 16); In the epistle, Jesus is the parakletos (1 Jn. 2:1). John states that “God is Spirit (Jn. 4:24); 1 John says that He is light and love (1:5; 4:8). In the gospel, Jesus’ death is portrayed as his being “lifted up” and “glorified”; in the epistle, Jesus’ death is propitiatory (2:2; 4:10)
2. There are words and expressions in John’s gospel that are not found in 1 John, and vice versa.10
3. There is a “Johannine school” of writers which took turns writing parts of the books attributed to the apostle.11
In response to objection 1, it is true that the prologue to the fourth gospel uses logos to refer to the pre-incarnate Son of God, but it uses the same word numerous times throughout the gospel with its more common meaning of “message” (8:31). In contrast to the claim, some scholars also see the personal aspect of the “word” in the epistle’s use of “word of life” as well. That Jesus could be called the parakletos in 1 John should not be surprising given that in the fourth gospel, John recounts Jesus insisting that He will send “another” counselor in reference to the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16). This suggests that there is a “Counselor” prior to the Holy Spirit, as John reveals in the epistle, namely Jesus Christ. And lastly, If the fourth gospel looks at Jesus’ death as “lifting up” and a “glorification,” it is partly because it is focusing on the historical Jesus and partly because it is intent on showing that the cross was not the defeat that some Jews thought it was. If the epistle casts Jesus’ death in terms of its propitiation, that owes much to his polemical purpose: he is concerned to show that sin has serious effects, and the only way to remove those effects is by the provision that God himself has made.
In response to objections 2 and 3, the divergent vocabularies enjoy greater similarity than those of Luke and Acts (known to come from the same writer) or Ephesians and Colossians (also from the same writer, i.e. Paul). These variations actually suggest common authorship rather than servile copying. While a great deal of weight is being made to ride on a “Johannine School” whose existence is not more certain than a number of questionable inferences, there is little more than a presupposed hyper skepticism supporting that weight. What’s more the epistles of 2 and 3 John are so closely linked in vocabulary and theme, any suggestion of separate authorship must bear an almost untenable burden of proof.
While much is made of the author’s reference to himself as John “the elder” in 2 and 3 John there is nothing anomalous about an apostle designating himself as such (1 Pet. 5:1). Also, the term “elder” can also be used to refer to an old man rather than an office of the church. If the author of these epistles is the son of Zebedee and subsequently the last remaining apostle, such an allusion is perfectly appropriate. This is even strengthened by his use of “the elder” possibly suggesting that among all the elders of the Ephesian church, this author is one of singular importance. Finally, the author of separates himself from his readers with “we” versus “you” statements (1:1,3; 4:14; 5:6-7). The author distinguished himself as a writer and eyewitness from his readers, a second generation believers.
It can be difficult in the realm of academia to want ot contest a rising tide of skeptical criticism in regards tot he New Testament documents. It can be even more daunting for the average layperson to stand against such claims made by scholars in the field. However, the oft repeated claim that “all of scholarship says…” is largely overdrawn and should be received with its own healthy level of skepticism. The truth of the matter is that there are good reasons to accept the traditional authorship of these books as represented from within the text and maintained by the first two thousand years of the Christian church. Given the evidence above and the inability for the “Johannine school” to effectively prove the opposite, I see no reason to doubt that the author of the 3 epistles of John is any other than “he whom Jesus loved”.
1 D. Rensberger, The Epistles of John, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 2.
2 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.39.17
3 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.16.18
4 Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 3.4.32; 3.5.42; 4.16.100.
5 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.25.10.
6 D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament: 1,2,3 John, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 671.
7 D.A. Carson, “The Johannine Writings,” New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T.D. Alexander and B.S. Rosner, (Leicester, UK: InterVarsity Press), 132.
8 Robert W. Yarbrough, Baker Exegetical Commentary Series: 1-3 John, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 6.
9 John R.W. Stott, The Letters of John, TNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 21-23.
10 A.E. Brooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, ICC, (Edinburgh: T & T. Clark Publishing, 1912), xvi.
11 R. Alan Culpepper, The Gospel and Letters of John, IBT (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 152.