My friend, Hunter Ruch, invited me to participate in a “Summer Reading Challenge” interview, for our church, this past Sunday. We had read 2 Timothy during the prior week, and I talked about an experience in college when I was told that “Paul never wrote 2 Timothy… it was a forgery.”
Unfortunately, we ran out of time for me give an adequate response to the forgery claim. So, after you view this 9-minute video, stick around and read my response below…. But most importantly, consider with me why it is important for Christians in our culture to care to know about these things.
Why We Can Have Confidence that 2 Timothy Was Written Under Paul’s Authority
So, why do some people say that 2 Timothy was never written by the Apostle Paul? Well, if you were to talk with the vast majority of critical, Bible scholars, many who teach at our secular colleges and universities, they would tell you that not only did the Apostle Paul never write 2 Timothy, he never wrote a number of letters traditionally attributed to him. For many Christians who have never heard this type of talk before, it can be quite shocking or alarming. Here is a common list of “disputed” epistles where the authorship of Paul is in doubt:
- 2nd Thessalonians
- 1 Timothy
- 2 Timothy
Now, that’s bunch of forgeries, if the claims are true! And if the claims are true, they would have a tremendous impact on how Christians view their Bible. YIKES!!!!
But are they true? For brevity sake, let us just stick with 2 Timothy, but the same, broad ideas apply to these other letters.
One of the more popular critical scholars today, who writes New York Times best sellers on these topics, is Bart Ehrman. In his book, Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, Ehrman gives several reasons as to why a large consensus of critical scholars question the Pauline authorship of 2 Timothy. I will just bring up two:
- Vocabulary: If you compare the vocabulary between some of Paul’s undisputed letters, like Romans, the type of words used by the writer vary dramatically from the type of words used in 2 Timothy. I am no Greek scholar, but they tell me that this is easier to see in the original languages than in our English Bibles.
- Content: If you compare the theological content in 2 Timothy with what you find in an earlier letter, like 1 Thessalonians, the themes are very different. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul writes a lot about the second coming of Jesus, urging his readers to be prepared for His coming at any minute. However, in 2 Timothy, Paul is more concerned about training leaders for the next generation, as Paul knows that he is about to die soon, and he will not be around for much longer! In 2 Timothy 2:1-2, he urges Timothy to find others Timothy can teach, so that they in turn can teach others.
Part of the differences can be explained by the fact that the letters of Paul were written over a twenty year period of time. Paul, like any other person, surely changed, developed and matured over that twenty year period.
Do you think, act, and write exactly the way you did twenty years ago?
Yet while this explanation makes some sense, it does not completely explain all of the differences in vocabulary and content, among other things. However, new scholarship has helped to provide a more complete answer as to why we can trust the integrity of the Bible.
In many, if not most cases, the Apostle Paul rarely did the actual writing of his letters. If you do not believe me, simply read Romans 16:22, where Paul’s “secretary,” Tertius, acknowledges that he is the one who wrote the letter under Paul’s authority. Here were Paul’s ideas, but Tertius was effectively the guy with “the pen.”
Ancient letter authors, such as Paul, typically employed an amanuensis, which is basically a fancy word for “secretary,” but such a person had a very interesting role in ancient, Greco-Roman society. But more important to contemporary concerns about the Bible, new scholarship has showed that, in many cases, the amanuensis was given a fair amount of latitude to style and mold the letters written, by the person who actually authorized the letter. Such recent scholarship, as helpfully illuminated by evangelical scholar Ben Witherington (see also another good review of Ehrman’s book by Dan Wallace), adequately explains why we can still have confidence that letters, like 2 Timothy, were ultimately authorized by the Apostle Paul himself, while still giving the amanuensis permission to adjust style and vocabulary as appropriate.1
So, technically speaking, the critical scholars could be correct in stating that Paul never wrote 2 Timothy. But having the “pen in hand” is not really the issue. The central issue is whether or not the letter was written under Paul’s direction and guidance; that is, under his authority. In this sense, there is good reason to have the confidence that Paul is truly the author of these letters, like 2 Timothy.
Why We Should Care That There are Good Reasons to Believe that Paul was the Author of Second Timothy
After our presentation at church this week, someone came to me with grave concerns about what I had said in the video. I began to carefully give the preceding explanation, where he promptly cut me short. He wanted me to cut to the chase and tell him if I really believed that Paul was the author of 2nd Timothy.
I think I assured him of my confidence, but then I asked him as to why he had no interest in hearing my explanation? Surely, are there not other people who struggle with these type of issues?
My friend’s answer was basically that these type of questions should simply be taken up with that person’s pastor, if they were really legitimate concerns. Otherwise, we should simply believe what the Bible says, and let that settle the matter.
I appreciate my friend’s answer, but I was also befuddled by it.
Yes, it is good to talk with your pastor about these type of things when they come up. But when you are a college freshman, a hundred miles away from your home church, and your religion professor hits you with “2nd Timothy was a forgery,” how comfortable are you going to be in calling up your home pastor? Maybe you will. But maybe you will not.
And how about this? Have we ever heard of PBS, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel? Scholars, like Bart Ehrman, express their views about the Bible quite frequently in the popular media….And what about the Internet? Ever heard of that?
You do not need to take a college-level religion class to be exposed to these type of ideas any more.
Folks, we have to face the fact that challenges to our Christian faith are facing believers everyday. Sure, we can try to call up our pastor with our questions, and if the pastor has the time, you can hope that they can get back with you with a satisfactory explanation.
But I think it is much better if individual believers take the time to learn these type of things themselves. A good study Bible, such as the ESV Study Bible or the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, has excellent discussions on the authorship questions concerning each book of the Bible. I highly recommend getting such a study Bible, if you do not have one already. So, instead of being knocked over when someone slips you a skeptical, off-handed remark criticizing the Bible, what if you were actually prepared to give your skeptical friend an answer right then and there? Would that not make an impact?
Just something to think about….
1. Not surprisingly, Bart Ehrman disputes this as an adequate explanation in Forged. However, not every scholar agrees with Ehrman. Ben Witherington in Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, makes this statement (p. 26), “The real dividing line between a genuine letter and a pseudepigraphon is whether the material comes from the mind of particular person, not whether it fully reflects that person’s grammar and syntax and vocabulary. To this I would add that a genuine letter comes not only from the mind, but also from the hand, of the author, or is inscribed upon the author’s request or behalf.” ↩