Pseudonymity in the Ancient World
Pseudonymous writings 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, to impugn an enemy, 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 the practice. Pseudonymity is most commonly detected when the forgery exhibits differences in writing style, foreign ideas, and/or anachronisms. In this chapter, Ehrman argues that six of the Pauline letters may have been written pseudonymously in the wake of Paul: the Deutero-Pauline epistles (2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and Ephesians) and the Pastoral epistles (1 and 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 end. 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 “man of lawlessness” 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.
Many scholars believe that the main themes in this letter do not correspond with the teachings in Paul’s undisputed letters. Nowhere else does Paul expect an interim period in which an antichrist will appear. In fact, in his first correspondence with the Thessalonians, he warned them that they must be vigilant because unbelievers would experience the coming of the end like a thief in the night. Ehrman argues that the author of 2 Thessalonians was not Paul but a member of a Pauline community who attempted to explain the delay of the end, 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 Because 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, most 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 Christa view that contradicts Paul’s undisputed writings. The author of Ephesians, moreover, uses the term “works” differently than within the undisputed letters. In the undisputed letters, “works” typically denotes “works of law” (adherence to the Jewish Law, actions that cannot save), while the author of Ephesians, 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 designated as pastoral because they are 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 oppose 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 to combat false teachings in the church. The nature of these false teachings is unclear, though the author’s description of “myths and endless genealogies” may point to an early form of Christian Gnosticism. To combat these opponents, the author of 1Timothy 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 1Timothy. 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.