You may live your whole life and never once hear about the issues of authorship that arise in the discussion of the pastoral letters of Paul. And that life would be just fine. But questions do come up as to whether or not Paul wrote the New Testament book we’re reading this week for Year in the Bible, 1 Timothy.
As I said, you could live a full life without spending great time and energy on this question. But I bring it up because the authors of these books are important and I don’t want to make it seem like this issue is hidden. When churches never touch on controversial issues there can be a feeling that it is because if the controversy is true and some new idea becomes the norm, everything will fall apart. If Paul, by his own hand with his favorite quill, did not write 1 Timothy, do we then throw away the Bible and quit church? I do not think so.
One thing we shouldn’t do is use these questions as an excuse to dismiss parts of Scripture that we find difficult. Just recently at a conference at Princeton Seminary a professor, instead of tackling an issue that is raised in 1 Timothy, just dismissed whichever parts she was unsatisfied with saying something like, “Well, Paul probably didn’t write that book.”
1 Timothy is still part of the Bible. Clear on that? If Moses didn’t write all five books of the Pentateuch, does that mean we can then say, “Well, that’s in Genesis, and Moses probably didn’t write it.” The Bible is God’s book and he has worked upon many people throughout generations so that we may know his story.
That introduction aside, here is a very brief rundown of some thoughts about 1 Timothy. First, the issue of who wrote it is brought up because of different styles in grammar and form between a book like 1 Timothy and Paul’s epistles. I am no great expert, but in hearing these objections while in school I couldn’t help think to my own writing and how different it must have been my first year in college compared to my final year, my first year in seminary to my final year, and compare that to my writing today. Take that into consideration along with different causes for writing and different audiences and I thought that could account for a good deal of change. Perhaps that is far too simple an explanation. But I do know Paul was not perfect, and even though he was a teacher to many, he certainly had lessons to learn as well, and as he matured he may have had a better sense of what to say, how to say it, and to whom to say it.
Without further ado, here are three views quickly summarized with the help of New Testament Theology by I. Howard Marshall (397-398).
- Paul is aided by a colleague in ministry who had a certain degree of freedom in composing the message.
- The letter was written by someone else who wanted to bolster the authority of the letter by associating Paul’s name with it.
- This letter contains Paul’s materials that were appropriate for the needs Ephesus and were formatted into a letter so as to be better received by the church.