Yesterday, I read a short blog post asking the question of whether or not Paul actually wrote the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) and if it matters. A large number of New Testament scholars, including I.H. Marshall, reject Pauline authorship of these books (an argument that’s really only emerged in the last 200 years) for a variety of reasons, primarily due to differences in style, vocabulary, ecclesiology and theology (although these last two in particular are overstated).
But a big question emerges, whatever position you take: does it really matter if Paul didn’t write these letters?
Does it affect how we read them?
Are they still inspired Scripture if we could definitively prove they’re not Pauline?
These are really important questions, ones that we should consider with the seriousness they deserve (and that includes more consideration that I could hope to give in a simple blog post). However, I want to take a second to address the question of whether or not it matters if they’re not written by Paul—because the answer is an emphatic “yes!”
It’s of drastic import to their place within the canon and to their trustworthiness if Paul didn’t write them. If Paul didn’t write these letter, then they’re pseudonymous works, and while writing under a pseudonym was fairly common within the culture of the first century, it wasn’t something commonly done in personal correspondence. It was also rejected outright by the early church itself, as Scripture itself testifies in 2 Thess. 2:2 and 2 Thess. 3:17. Paul, in this undisputed letter, says that the church of God is only to accept and trust genuine letters. So if the pastoral epistles weren’t written by Paul, they would be inauthentic.
Looking outside of Scripture to church history, we see mention of Pauline authorship of these books in the Muratorian Canon; we also see that when an elder wrote a pseudonymous work under Paul’s name he was removed from his office (see Tertullian, On Baptism, 17).
So, if Paul didn’t write these letters, then they would be falsified documents that would have been unwelcome in the early church.
Why? Because they would contain a lie.
More than that, they would be based upon a lie. And if these documents were based upon a lie—that is their authorship—then they absolutely cannot be trusted whatsoever, meaning you have to reject them or reinterpret what it means for something to be inspired of God. This then becomes even more problematic, is that then the entire doctrine of inerrancy evaporates, because you’re left with a position that forces you to say that Scripture errs. And if Scripture errs, then it throws your entire view of the Bible into question and in the end you’re left with either a collection of documents that you choose to trust out of preference (a subjective view) or you’re left having to throw the whole thing away because it’s not trustworthy.
It’s not wrong to ask the question of whether or not Paul wrote these books, but we must be diligent in our study of God’s Word in order to find the answer. There is legitimately too much at stake and on this issue, we cannot afford to be agnostic.