Among the New Testament letters, few have come under as immense fire as the pastoral epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus). Although they purport to be written by the Apostle Paul, many Biblical scholars today are convinced that the letters are pseudonymous and in fact written after Paul’s death. It is generally thought, however, that at least 1 Timothy and Titus are written by the same author. Thus, these two letters may be taken as a unit. Evidence that one of these letters comes from the hand of Paul is also evidence that the other likewise comes from Paul’s hand. In a series of articles, I am going to present the case that the traditional view — namely, that the author of these three letters really was Paul the Apostle — is correct. More than that, I will show that the denial of Pauline authorship of these epistles is very difficult to reconcile with the evidence. In future posts I will also examine some of the objections to Pauline authorship and assess how convincing they are.
Why Does It Matter Who Wrote the Pastorals?
Establishing the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals is significant for a few reasons. For one thing, the author of 1 Timothy regarded Luke’s gospel as Scripture (1 Timothy 5:18). Thus, if 1 Timothy was written before Paul’s death in the 60’s A.D., Luke’s gospel (probably the latest of the synoptic gospels to be written) must pre-date the writing of this epistle by long enough to be regarded as authoritative Scripture by the time of Paul’s writing. This places the date of the gospels way back. Second, 1 Timothy 6:13 mentions Jesus bearing witness before Pontius Pilate, which provides testimony independent to that given in the gospels for that scene — also refuting some of the Jesus Mythicists who maintain that Paul’s view of Jesus did not entail Jesus actually living upon the earth. Thirdly, the Granville Sharp construction in Titus 2:13 (“our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”) affirms the deity of Christ, adding to the body of evidence from the non-disputed Pauline letters for Paul’s high Christology. 1 Timothy 3:16 also affirms the Deity of Christ, where Paul speaks of God being “manifest in the flesh”.
Commonalities with Paul’s Works
One interesting consideration is certain commonalities with the letters of Paul. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:9 contains the first utilization in Greek literature of the term ἀρσενοκοῖται (arsenokoitai). This expression literally means man bedder, and is used by Paul to refer to homosexuals. It is derived from a conjunction of two Greek words found in the Septuagint translation of Leviticus 20:18. The exact same term is also used in 1 Timothy 1:9.
Another interesting similarity that is worth mentioning is that 1 Timothy 5:18 quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4 (“You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain”), which is exactly the same Scripture quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:9.
These similarities, however, are at best suggestive and certainly do not clinch for us Pauline authorship. How, then, can we demonstrate convincingly that the author of the Pastoral epistles was indeed Paul the Apostle?
In previous articles, I have written on the subject of the principle of undesignedness. For those readers who are unfamiliar with the concept, I suggest reading my previous articles on the topic (here, here and here). An undesigned coincidence arises when one has two different historical accounts that interlock in a way that is unexpected it (a) the story is being made up out of wholecloth; (b) one account is borrowing from the other; (c) both documents are copying the story from a common source.
In addition to helping us to corroborate Biblical history (as shown in my previous articles), cases of undesignedness can also often help us to corroborate the authorship of a letter. This is the case with the epistles of Paul, which often dovetail with incidents which we read of in the book of Acts.
One simple example of where the pastorals dovetail with the book of Acts is the statement in 2 Timothy 3:14-15:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
We also read in 2 Timothy 1:5,
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.”
This means that either one, or both, of Timothy’s parents must have been Jewish. When we flip over to the book of Acts, we read (16:1),
“Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek.”
Sure enough, the verses from 2 Timothy fit like a hand in glove with what we read in Acts. Notice also that Acts makes mention of the mother alone being a believer. Acts suggests that the father was not a believer. Likewise, in the epistle, Paul praises Timothy’s mother Eunice for her belief (even making mention of her name, which is not given in Acts). But he makes no mention of the father.
Another, somewhat more compelling, example of an undesigned coincidence can be found in 2 Timothy 4:20: “Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus.” Paul here mentions his solitude, and urges Timothy, “Do your best to come before winter,” (verse 21).
We know from the book of Acts 19:22 that Timothy and Erastus were “two of his helpers”, which means Timothy and Erastus evidently knew each other well (hence it is fitting that Erastus should be mentioned in a letter to Timothy). It seems also a fair presumption that the city of Corinth was Erastus’ home, hence why Paul mentions to Timothy that “Erastus remained at Corinth.” It is fascinating, then, that when we turn to the epistle to the Romans (16:23), we read, “Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.” Now it turns out that Erastus was the city treasurer for the city from which Paul was writing his epistle to the Romans. If, then, we can establish a firm case, on completely independent grounds, that the epistle to the Romans was written in Corinth, this then would explain why Paul at the close of his letter specifically mentions Erastus’ greeting of the Roman church — and it would be a coincidence too subtle to be the product of design.
How, then, can we be sure that Paul was writing his epistle to the Romans from Corinth? In 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, we read,
“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.”
Here, we learn of a collection that was going on in the city and Paul wants the collection to be ready by the time he arrives in Corinth. In Romans 15:28, we read,
“When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you.”
Paul mentions here that the collection is ready and that he intends to deliver it. This implies that he was in fact writing from Corinth. This then explains why he mentions in 2 Tmothy 4:20 that “Erastus remained in Corinth” and in Romans 16:23 mentioned Erastus as the city treasurer.
Notice that it is only by putting together the pieces from different sources that we can arrive at a coherent picture. These patterns are not at all what would be expected from a forgery.
As seen in the above examples, we have a powerful argument for Pauline authorship of the pastorals from undesigned coincidences found in them. In future posts, I will document other cases of undesigned coincidences supporting the Pauline authorship of the pastorals. Finally, I will refute some of the popular objections to the pastorals having been written by the Apostle Paul. The reason that I have decided to present the positive case first, and then answer popular objections is that I want to present first a context, lest we miss the forest for the trees.