Thursday, April 28, 2011

Paul’s Pastoral Epistles: Forgeries?

Bart Ehrman insists that “Paul’s” Pastoral Epistles – 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus – are forgeries: “All three letters were written by the same person, and that person was not Paul.” (Forgery, 97).

How can Ehrman be so sure of this, especially in light of the fact that the early church had been unanimous in their ascription of these letters to Paul? Ehrman writes:

• The vocabulary and the writing style are very different from those of the other Pauline letters…there are 848 different words used in the pastoral letters. Of that number 306—over one-third of them!—do not occur in any other of the Pauline letters…

However, Ehrman then admits:

• At the same time, probably not too much stock should be placed in mere numbers. Everyone, after all, uses different words on different occasions, and most of us have a richer stock of vocabulary than shows up in any given letter or set of letters we write.

Ehrman then brings out his big guns. In the genuine Pauline Epistles,

Faith refers to the trust a person has in Christ to bring about salvation through his death. In other words, the term describes a relationship with another; faith is trust “in” Christ. The author of the Pastorals also uses the term “faith.” But here it is not about a relationship with Christ; faith now means the body of teaching that makes up the Christian religion. That is “the faith.”

He cites Titus 1:13: “Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith.” Although Ehrman is correct that faith here refers to a “body of teaching,” his point is simply erroneous. “Faith” refers to a “body of teaching” about Christ and trust in Him. They aren’t exclusive; it’s not an either-or! Besides, “faith” also pertains to a “body of teaching” in the other Pauline writings:

• But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through BELIEF IN THE TRUTH. (2 Thes. 2:13)

However, I shouldn’t appeal to the above verse, since it doesn’t come from one of the seven letters that Ehrman regards as genuinely Pauline – letters that he claims preach a trust in Christ without any content about Christ. Ehrman’s position is so ludicrous that it hardly warrants a response. Paul wrote extensively about the “good news” and the “good news” implies that it contains content – teachings about Christ:

• "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:8-9)

This represents a “body of teaching” – the very thing that Ehrman denies about Paul. Romans continues:

• How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone PREACHING [“a body of teaching”] to them?..."How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:14-15)

Without the preaching of the “good news,” there can be no trusting in Christ! By trying to separate trusting in Christ from the “good news” about Him, Ehrman is making an unbiblical distinction in whatever book he chooses as an example.

Besides, the Pastorals place the same emphasis on faith in Christ as “a body of teaching” as do the other Pauline Epistles:

• These promote controversies rather than God's work--which is by faith. 5The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim. 1:4-5)

• The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 1:14; also 3:13; 5:11-12)

Clearly, faith content is also important in the Pastorals. Nevertheless, Ehrman’s insists that the Pastorals embody a different theology:

• Even more significant, some ideas and concepts in the pastoral letters stand at odds with what you find in the letters that Paul certainly wrote. For example, we have seen that Paul was highly concerned with arguing that performing the “works of the law” could not contribute to one’s right standing before God. It was not the Jewish law that could bring salvation, but the death and resurrection of Jesus. When Paul talks about “works,” that is what he means: doing the things that the Jewish law requires…In the Pastorals, however, the Jewish law is no longer even as issue, and the author speaks of works as “good works,” that is , doing good deeds for other people.

Once again, this distinction is entirely erroneous. The Pastorals are clearly concerned about teaching that the law can’t save:

• …who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of ANYTHING we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time. (2 Tim. 1:9)

• ….he saved us, not because of RIGHTEOUS THINGS we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)

Furthermore, the non-Pastoral Epistles also have the same respect for “good works” or the works of the law as do the Pastorals.

• Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31)

However, Paul acknowledges that these works can’t save us. Ehrman then makes the bizarre claim that the Pastorals teach salvation through child-bearing:

• For women, at least, we are told in 1 Timothy 2 that they will “be saved” by bearing children.

Ehrman is so desperate to make his case that he completely overlooks the fact that no one suggests that this epistle is teaching salvation-by-child-bearing. Instead, it is much more in line with the context that the mother’s life will be protected through the ordeal of birthing.

Ehrman also alleges that while the Pastorals affirm marriage, the non-Pastorals don’t. In support of his wild allegation, he cites 1 Corinthians 7 in which “Paul is insistent that people who are single should try to remain single.” To establish his alleged contradiction, he then alludes to 1 Tim. 3:2, which reads:

• Now the overseer [elder] must be above reproach, THE HUSBAND OF BUT ONE WIFE, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…

However, Paul isn’t insisting that an elder must be married! Instead, he can’t be a womanizer (or perhaps a polygamist?)! All of moral qualifications we find in the Pastorals define what it means to be “above reproach.” Surely, singleness doesn’t violate being “above reproach.” However, Ehrman insists that singleness is a moral problem in the Pastorals. We would then have to ask, “At what age does singleness become a sin?” Of course, this is ridiculous.

Ehrman then suggests that while the genuine Pauline letters expect Jesus to return immediately, the Pastorals anticipate a much later return. “Paul thinks that he himself will be alive when Jesus returns from heaven” (100):

• We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that WE WHO ARE STILL ALIVE, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, WE WHO ARE STILL ALIVE and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thes. 4:14-17)

However, there is no reason to believe that Paul includes himself in the “WE” phrases. Instead, he is referring to “we believers,” whoever they might be. The next two verses make this clear:

• Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thes. 5:1-2)

Here, Paul is clearly admitting that he doesn’t know the “times and dates.” Christ could return at any time. Therefore, there’s no assurance that Paul and his contemporaries would still be alive.

Ehrman then tries to argue that while the Pastorals envision a church hierarchy, the other Pauline letters don’t. However, this distinction is easily explainable by two factors. First of all, Paul had been writing to two pastor/elders – Timothy and Titus. Therefore, it is unsurprising that church structure and order should be themes of these letters. Secondly, these letters were written later than the others, perhaps at a time when church structure had become more of a concern.

There is no reason to believe that the Pastoral epistles are not Pauline, especially in the light of the fact that the entire early church ascribes them to Paul. Instead, there is much reason to question Ehrman’s position that differences – however questionable they might be – prove different authors.

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