The instructor in my religious class at college (VCU) teaches that 1-2
Timothy, Titus and 2 Peter where written in the early 2nd century. Why do
they think that? How do we know the letters really were written by the
apostles? What would it mean to us if they were written in the 2nd
century? Would they still be scripture? (My feeling is that they couldnt
be inspired, if it says they were written by an apostle but not, because
that would be lying, and God’s word cant lie.) Anything that will help my
faith in these letters would be great!
It is quite common for theologians and Bible scholars to make the spurious
charge that certain New Testament letters were written well into the
second century AD. Those doing so make this claim, not because of the
evidence, but because of their own notions of what was taught at what time
in New Testament times and in the early church. The fact is that there is
no physical evidence whatsoever to support a claim that any of the New
Testament books were written in the second century, while there is a lot
of evidence to support a claim of first century authorship.
The evidence for the more conservative date of writing (for example about
AD 63 for I Timothy) is of varying quality, depending on which New
Testament book one is discussing. For example, for the gospels and some
of the major letters, we have extremely good evidence for an early date of
writing. One piece of evidence which supports a first century date is the
wealth of quotes of the early church fathers from most of the letters.
Early church fathers such as Polycarp, Ignatius and Clement of Rome wrote
letters in which they quote from almost every New Testament book. For
example, Polycarp is a bishop who was martyred in AD 156. He met the
apostle John when he was a young child. In his letter to the Philippians
(about AD 120) he quotes or refers to the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke,
Acts I,II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesian, Philippians, I,II
Thessalonians, I,II Timothy, Hebrews, I Peter, and I,III John. Clement
of Romewrote his first letter in AD 95 or 96. Similarly, he quotes from
ten of the twenty-seven New Testament books. Ignatius (about AD 110)
quotes from Matthew, John and Luke. Other examples can be given.
For books such as the gospels and almost all of Paul?s letters (including
1,2 Timothy) we can say from those who referenced them, that all these
books were written by the end of the first century. First Peter falls in
this category as well. Some books are very likely to have been written in
the first century, but it would be a bit too strong to call this proved.
Examples would include Second Peter, Jude, Hebrews and Revelation. Titus
may fall into this second category.
This begs the question. Why would the instructor in your religious
studies class claim that these books were written in the early second
century? I have read a number of authors who make this claim. Their
argument is indirect. What they say is that the things taught in the
pastoral epistles represent a later point in the history of Christianity.
For example, they will point out that I Timothy has a list of rules for
appointing elders. Both letters seem to be a bit more formulaic in giving
advice. I believe that the reason for this trend in these letters is that
Paul is addressing an evangelist, giving practical advice for how to
direct the churches, whereas in the general epistles, he is addressing the
church as a whole. I would say that in the absence of other information,
the argument your professor used would be a reasonable one. In fact, it
is a reasonable one even in light of what we know. However, I believe
that in light of the totality of evidence, the final conclusion that the
letters to Timothy were not written until over forty years after Paul died
is in very thin ice indeed. It is my strong belief that those who reach
this final conclusion do so more because of a theological agenda than
because the evidence points in this direction.
Now that I just made a pretty strong statement, let me say that this is
not a fundamental issue. It is possible to be saved and to still be in
some doubt as to the date at which these books were written. Still, the
evidence in weighs very strongly toward the conservative view, which is
that they were written in the 60?s or at latest the 70?s AD.
You say that if these books were not written by Paul and Peter, that would
imply they were not inspired. I am not sure that it is as simple as
that. Let me describe a scenario. It is not that I believe this
scenario, but I use it to explain my answer. Let us imagine that an
inspired writer wrote 1 Peter, but that author was not Peter. Let us
imagine that by the second century this inspired letter had been passed
around for two or three generations without a signature, but many claimed
it was from Peter. Let us extend this scenario a bit more. Let us
imagine that a scribe added the phrase at the beginning, “Peter an apostle
of Jesus Christ” not because it was inspired, but to explain to those
reading who was commonly believed to be the author. In this scenario, the
letter could be inspired but not written by Peter. I am not saying this
is what happened, but I am saying that it is not absolutely required that
Peter be the author for the book to be inspired. I agree that God does
not lie, but scribes do make mistakes. We know this because some of our
manuscripts do have mistakes in them.
In conclusion, I believe that all these books were written in the first
century. The case for all but Titus is solid, and even with Titus, I
believe it is strong. Whether or not Paul and Peter wrote these letters
is on slightly less stable ground, but on balance, I believe these are the
most likely conclusion.