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Chapter 17

Chapter summary

Chapter 17

In the Wake of the Apostle: The Deutero-Pauline and Pastoral Epistles

Chapter Summary:

Pseudonymity in the Ancient World
Pseudonymous writings (forgeries) are those that claim to be written by someone famous. Individuals might choose to ascribe their writing to others for a number of reasons: economic profit, an act of humility, or to bolster their own authority. This is not to say, however, that this behavior was condoned in antiquity. On the contrary, ancient authors almost universally condemned it. In this chapter, Ehrman argues that at least six of the New Testament books may have been written pseudonymously: the Deutero-Pauline epistles (2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and Ephesians) and the Pastoral Epistles (1-2 Timothy and Titus).

The Deutero-Pauline Epistles
2 Thessalonians claims to have been written by Paul and is addressed to a Christian community experiencing intense suffering. The author assures these Christians that when Jesus returns, those who have kept their faith will be rewarded, and those who have persecuted the faithful will be condemned. In addition, this letter addresses the issue of the immediacy of the parousia. The author's teaching on this issue is one of the main reasons scholars doubt its Pauline origin. Some members of this congregation apparently believed that the end was imminent. This author, however, details a number of events that must take place before Jesus' return. The apocalyptic scenario explains that, before the end comes, an anti-Christ will appear, wreak havoc on the earth, and claim to be God. Because all of these events must take place first, Christians should not abandon their social responsibilities. They must continue to work and provide for themselves instead of being financial burdens on the community.

The main themes in this letter do not correspond with the teachings in Paul's undisputed letters. Nowhere does Paul expect an interim period in which an anti-Christ will appear. In fact, in his first correspondence with the Thessalonians, he warned them that they must be vigilant because the end would come like a thief in the night. Most likely, the author of 2 Thessalonians was not Paul but a member of a Pauline community who attempted to resolve the community's problems and urge them to remain faithful.

In the letter of Colossians, "Paul" writes to a church he did not found and voices concern over false teachers who are living among them. These false teachers may have promoted some type of Jewish mysticism, though the author does not clearly define their views. The author reminds the Colossians that they must not worship angels or follow the Law since they have converted to a belief in the fullest expression of the law; they have faith in the one who is greater than the angels.

Scholars question the authorship of Colossians for a number of reasons. The writing style of Colossians, for example, differs from that of Paul's undisputed letters. The letter to the Colossians also espouses a theology that contradicts Paul's teachings in other letters. In the Corinthian correspondence, Paul argues that Christians have died with Christ through baptism, but they have not yet been raised with him. Colossians, on the other hand, makes the opposite argument: believers have died with Christ and been raised with him. The author of Colossians teaches that an exalted status is already available to believers.

Although scholars continue to debate the authorial claims of 2 Thessalonians and Colossians, almost all agree that Ephesians is not a genuine Pauline epistle. Ephesians appears to be a circular letter: rather than addressing one community, it may have been sent to a number of churches. This letter reminds Gentile Christians that Christ has done away with all differences between Jews and Gentiles; through Christ, Jews and Gentiles have been made one. In addition, Jesus has united all believers with God.

Some of the critical problems with this letter are similar to those mentioned in relation to 2 Thessalonians and Colossians. Ephesians does not resemble Paul's writing style and the letter contains an inordinate number of words that Paul does not use in any of his undisputed letters. As in Colossians, Ephesians suggests that the believer has already been raised with Christ-a view that contradicts Paul's undisputed writings. The author of Ephesians, moreover, uses the term "works" differently than Paul. For Paul, "works" refers to adherence to the Jewish law, actions that cannot save. The author of Ephesians, however, understands "works" to mean those actions that demonstrate one's faith.

The Pastoral Epistles
Most scholars agree that Paul did not write the Pastoral epistles. These three letters are called the Pastoral Epistles because they were not addressed to communities but to men who had been appointed leaders in the churches. This author urges these leaders to maintain their authority and to fight against false teachers who are threatening the faith of their churches.

1 Timothy presupposes that on their way to Macedonia, Paul and Timothy visited the church at Ephesus and decided that Timothy should stay in order to combat false teachings in the church. The nature of these false teachings is unclear, though the author's description, "myths and endless genealogies," may point to an early form of Christian Gnosticism. In order to combat these opponents, the author of 1 Timothy explains how a church should choose appropriate leaders. He also warns against the position of women in the church.

2 Timothy also supports and encourages Timothy to continue his fight against the false teachers. The last of the Pastoral Epistles, Titus, closely resembles 1 Timothy. The opponents in this letter appear to be Jewish-Christian believers whose teachings reflect some Gnostic ideas.

The Historical Situation and Authorship of the Pastoral Epistles
Scholars generally agree that the Pastoral Epistles were written by the same author. The writing style, vocabulary, general themes, and specific content are all very similar, but they are not Pauline. Over one-third of the vocabulary in these three letters is not found in any of the Pauline letters (including the Deutero-Pauline letters). The vocabulary, moreover, carries a meaning that is more consistent with second-century Christian usage than with Paul. The opponents described in these letters appear to adhere to a Gnostic Christology, a form of Christianity that did not exist during Paul's lifetime. Finally, the Pastoral Epistles presuppose a community that is hierarchically organized with bishops and deacons serving specific roles. Paul's communities, on the other hand, were charismatic communities, that is, all members were endowed with spiritual gifts of equal importance so no one could lord it over another. The Pastoral Epistles, then, reflect a church structure that developed well after Paul's death.

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