I was wondering what you thought about the authorship of Ephesians, Colossians, and the pastoral letters (1 Tim., 2 Tim, and Titus). I’ve read several arguments against the authenticity of Paul writing these books. I was wondering what’s your point of view on the authorship of these epistles and why?


It seems that who wrote a particular book of the Bible is not the essential question. The important question is whether a particular book is inspired by God. Therefore, the fact that we do not know who wrote Hebrews is not particularly important to how we use the book as Christians. I accept, based both on faith in the sovereignty of God and on the evidence that the entire New and Old Testament canon is inspired by God. The canon of the New Testament was chosen by consensus of the churches in the end of the first and the early second century. The books which were considered to have apostolic authority (in other words which the apostles themselves considered to be authoritative) were the ones which became part of the accepted canon of the New Testament.

For this reason, the authorship of a particular letter is secondary to establishing the meaning and use of the book.  Nevertheless, it is a question with at least some relevance to interpreting the books. As for Ephesians, Colossians and the "pastoral letters," I am of the opinion that most likely all of them were written by Paul. I am not sure about this conclusion, but believe this is the most likely explanation of the data.  I have carefully considered the arguments pro and con for identifying Paul as the author of these books. It is my opinion that there is a great bias among scholars against Paul being the author of these books. You cannot get famous or acquire a big reputation by defending the obvious position, which is that Paul wrote these books. Many of those who weigh in on the argument do not even believe that the Bible is inspired by God. When we work from a world view which is not correct, it can hurt our ability to see the correct interpretation of information.

The arguments against Pauline authorship come from two things, in my opinion. One is human pride and a desire to have the more popular or attention-getting position. The other is bias created because people assume that an author will not change subject or writing style over time. Let me use Ephesians for example. Many scholars are absolutely sure Paul did not write this letter. When I look at the arguments they seem very weak to me. For example, they will note a difference in writing style. Such differences are easily understood if we recognize that the subject matter, the audience and the time of writing are different. They will count words used in Galatians but not Ephesians and say that it is obvious Paul did not write this. He uses word x in 1 Corinthians 14 times and only uses the same word x once in Colossians. This is supposed to be evidence of two different authors. As a good friend once pointed out to me, if you use this standard, you can prove that CS Lewis did not write all the books attributed to him. Of course, this "proof" is disproved by the fact that CS Lewis wrote all these books! Critics of Pauline authorship point out subltle difference in emphasis or theological perspective as proof that the writer of Galatians did not write Ephesians, when a far more natural explanation is that the recipient and the subject matter are radically different. In my opinion, these views reflect the theological prejudices of those who create these theories more than any real theological difference between the books.

You will have to decide for yourself, and I already said that, given that all scripture is inspired by God, the implication is not very large, but in the specific case of Ephesians, I believe the internal evidence is very strong that Paul wrote this book. The style of 1 and 2 Timothy is, admittedly, quite different from 1 Thessalonians, but the obvious explanation is that in the pastoral letters Paul is writing a personal letter to a friend he knows well. When I write, I change my style to a rather significant extent when I am writing to a more intellectual audience or to a more general audience. A general letter will have a greatly different style than a personal letter to people I know well.

Another reason I believe that Paul wrote these letters is that the Christians in the first century (almost certainly) and the second century (certainly) believed Paul wrote all of them. From an very early date, the authorship of Hebrews was in doubt, but the authorship of the other books normally ascribed to Paul was never in doubt. It is reasonble to me that the people who actually knew Paul are in a better position to know if he did or did not write a particular letter than some scholar expressing his or her opinion two thousand years later. Paul died about AD 64, give or take a year. A collection of Paul’s letters was circulating by about AD 95, with Ephesians and Colossians included (it is possible that the pastoral letters were not included with his general epistles at this early date), when many of those who actually knew Paul were still alive. This does not prove that Paul wrote these letters, but it is strong corroborating evidence that he did so.

In my brief response here, I have not dealt much at all with the specific arguments for or against the Pauline authorship of the five books you list. To do this would require many pages. My response is to the style and prejudices of the liberal critics rather than a point-by-point rebuttal of their arguments. I will leave the conclusion to you. My suggestion is that, for each of these books, you obtain commentaries both by a liberal and by a conservative scholar. Consider the arguments of both authors, take into account my caution about what I believe are the possible prejudices, have an open mind. Be prepared to agree with those who criticize the Pauline authorship of these books if the evidence goes that way, and reach your own conclusion.

John Oakes

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