Someone Other Than Paul as the Author of the Pastoral Epistles: The arguments, rebuttals, and conclusion

About: this paper was delivered to Dr. Art Patzia at Fuller Theological Seminary during my second year for a class covering Acts through Revelation.

Does Paul in 1 Timothy 2 prohibit women from preaching at the pulpit? In answering this question, it is sometimes stated that Paul was not the author of the pastorals, which includes 1 Timothy, and as a result, the difficult statements therein have little or no binding authority. In the issue of authorship, Christians have split into opposing camps, sometimes declaring opponents to be uncommitted to the authority of Scripture. Indeed, there is a camp of scholars who do not believe that Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles. For the other camp Paul is certainly the author. What are the arguments for and against Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles? Although Paul is identified to be the author at the beginning of each of the Pastoral Epistles, some scholars look at other pieces of evidence from throughout the letters as a whole and determine that they are not genuinely from Paul but from someone else. Others find a way to explain how Paul is in fact the author of these epistles in keeping with the Pauline attribution at their beginnings. We will explore the various arguments against Pauline authorship and allow arguments in favor of Pauline authorship to interact with them. However, in the end we must ask ourselves what we can make of the situation by asking ourselves if the question of authorship is as important as we have made it out to be.

Someone Other Than Paul as the Author of the Pastoral Epistles

There are two kinds of arguments that maintain Paul was not the author or sole author of the Pastoral Epistles. The pseudonymous arguments maintain for various reasons that someone other than Paul wrote the pastorals using his name. The fragment theory argument maintains that there was a collection of personal correspondences of Paul that were used to create the pastorals. These fragments of the personal letters were augmented and adapted to a new letter to meet the needs of a particular situation. But Paul was not the direct author of the actual Pastoral Epistles as we know them today. Let us look at these two types of arguments that maintain someone other than Paul as the author of the Pastoral Epistles.


The Pseudonymous Arguments

As a whole, the pseudonymous hypothesis assumes several ideas dealing with accepted practices, stylistic differences, and historical features. First, pseudonymous hypotheses assume pseudonymity was an accepted practice during the late first and early second centuries. Second, it assumes stylistic differences can be attributed to different authors other than Paul. And third, it assumes historical features present in the pastorals are post-Pauline. These three ideas in general result in the argument that Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles, but rather a pseudonymous writer who perhaps knew Paul wrote them instead.1 We will look closely at some of the popular arguments from the pseudonymous vein, such as those that focus on post-Pauline Gnosticism, the Pauline school of theology and literary style, Paul’s activities as reported in Acts, and other details and considerations.

Gnosticism is thought very strongly by many scholars to be the heresy addressed in the Pastoral Epistles. Gnosticism was a post-Pauline development. Therefore, these scholars argue that the pastorals were post-Pauline. In other words, Paul did not write them, because the heresy addressed did not come until after Paul’s death. Someone else wrote the pastorals and put Paul’s name to them, a practice known as pseudonymous writing.2 Many scholars who argue for this understanding suggest that the pastorals were written around the late first or early second centuries, in order to revive Pauline teaching and to provide the definitive method for denouncing Gnosticism.3 However, Gnosticism as a systematic religion came after Paul’s death, but its thoughts and ideas as an informal structure were present during the latter half of the First Century A.D.; it is likely that Paul was familiar with these informal ideas and to have addressed them when writing the pastorals.4 Furthermore, statements in the pastorals indicate the author was dealing with a prominent Jewish element of heresy. These statements refer to circumcision, Jewish myths, and law disputes, as in Titus 1:10, 14; 3:9. These require a broader understanding of Gnosticism as the heresy being addressed. There is plenty of evidence that indicates the heresy of the Pastoral Epistles was mixed. This Gnosticism apparently attached itself to some parts of Judaism, whereas the Gnosticism of the Second Century A.D. was opposed to the features of Judaism with one exception, the Jewish cosmology. If the Gnosticism addressed was an early one that was mixed with Judaism, much like what we find in Colossians, then an early date of authorship for the Pastoral Epistles is best. If the date was early, not only was it possible that Paul wrote the pastorals, but a pseudonymous author was very unlikely, since a different author would not have succeeded in writing them so close to Paul’s life and death.5

Some scholars arguing for the pseudonymity of the pastorals maintain that Paul had a theological school. Students at the schools of Pythagorus and Plato wrote letters in the names of their respective philosophers; with this fact in view, some scholars believe Paul could have had a school of his own and the students would have likely practiced writing in his name as did the students of Pythagorus and Plato.6 Paul and his close coworkers over time assembled into a group that discussed his theology. Following his death, members from this school could have written in the name of Paul, containing his theology while expressing it in a different style. Vocabulary and grammar could be different, for example. This practice would have been considered authoritative, for the new writer would have been revealing Paul’s thoughts and ideas; since he was Paul’s pupil and Paul was his teacher, he had the ability to do so.7 Therefore, the student from the school could write in the name of Paul, thus expressing Paul’s theology after Paul had died, and the writing would have been accepted as Paul’s own material. This practice would account for the stylistic differences evident in the pastorals and the accepted letters—those letters that are accepted to be genuinely Pauline. What are those differences?

There are many differences between the Pastoral Letters and the accepted letters, depending on the perspective from which the two categories are being examined. From a vocabulary perspective, word choice is quite different in the Pastoral Epistles compared to the accepted letters. The pastorals have a sum of 902 words. Of the 902 words, 54 of them are proper names. With the proper names aside, there are 848 words. Of the 848 words, 306 never occur in the accepted letters. About 36 percent of the vocabulary of the Pastoral Epistles does not exist in the Pauline vocabulary of the accepted letters. Furthermore, 175 words in the pastorals exist nowhere else in the entire New Testament. Only 50 words out of the 858 words occur in the accepted letters but nowhere else in the New Testament. From a content perspective, the Pastoral Epistles express the same general ideas but with different words and phrases than the accepted letters. From the perspective of favorite words, words that are clearly Paul’s and are distinctively his, the Pastoral Epistles do not use any of these key words. Words like “cross” or “crucify” occur 27 times in the accepted letters, but never in the pastorals. Neither do the words “son” or “adoption” occur in the pastorals, whereas they occur 46 times in the accepted letters. From a grammar or syntax perspective, the Pauline characteristic of particles that link sentences together in the Greek language are over abundant in the accepted letters while non-existent in the Pastoral Epistles.8 One other particularly convincing piece of evidence regarding literary style deals with the dating of particular vocabulary. There are a large number of words in the Pastoral Epistles that occur nowhere else in Paul but are characteristic of second century writings.9 Indeed, there are a large number of stylistic differences between the pastorals and the accepted letters of Paul.

These differences do not necessarily indicate that the author was a student of Paul’s who was writing pseudonymously. In other words, the stylistic differences do not require that a different author other than Paul was responsible for the Pastoral Epistles. There are a number of other factors that must be considered when attempting to arrive at a conclusion concerning these differences. Paul used an amanuensis in composing other letters, such as Romans, so it could be possible that he used at least one when writing the pastorals. The use of an amanuensis would certainly account for the stylistic differences between the Pastoral Epistles and the accepted letters. It should also be considered that most of the accepted letters were co-authored between Paul and Timothy. If we consider that the pastorals were written only by Paul, then the letter is certainly going to be different from the letters where Paul was not the sole author.10

And what about other reasons for differences? The differences in vocabulary, grammar, or style could simply be attributed to the fact that Paul was addressing different subject matter, which required different vocabulary. He also had a different audience from the audiences of the accepted letters. How does that affect our understanding of the differences? What of the fact that age and time could have caused the differences? Could Paul have changed his style over time? And what do we do with some of the criteria in the conclusions of the differences? The letters within the accepted letters could be denied acceptance according to the same criteria. For example, Paul’s use of “examine” occurs 10 times in 1 Corinthians, but nowhere else in Paul’s letters. Should 1 Corinthians be considered pseudonymous because it contains a keyword that does not exist elsewhere in Paul’s letters?11

Finally, there is no evidence for a school of theology. No Pauline school seems to have existed during or after the life of Paul, for none of the post-apostolic writers reference or appeal to such a school, namely, Clement of Rome, Papias, Ignatius, or Polycarp. If there was a school of theology, none of these writers knew of it or felt the need to write about it.12

For many scholars, Paul’s activities in the Pastoral Epistles do not align with the activities mentioned in the Pastoral Epistles, leading them to conclude that it was not Paul who wrote them, since they are supposedly telltale signs of pseudonymity. These scholars point out the factual discrepancies between 1 Timothy 1:3 and Acts 20:4-6, for example, where in the pastoral epistle Paul urged Timothy to stay in Ephesus as he urged him while he was on his way to Macedonia, but in Acts Timothy went on ahead to Troas where Paul eventually met up with him.13 Furthermore, the pastorals speak of missions and events that Acts do not report, such as a mission in Crete in Titus 1:5 and a winter in Nicopolis in Epirus in Titus 3:12.14

Those scholars wishing to harmonize these seemingly problematic facts argue that Paul was released from the imprisonment with which Acts closes. They argue that it seems possible that Paul thought release from prison was possible in Rome; it is possible even that Paul expected to be freed. They refer to Philippians 2:24, where Paul says that he trusts in the Lord he would come to see the Philippians, and Philemon 22, where Paul says that Philemon ought to prepare a lodging for him, since he would be coming soon. We do know that Paul wanted to go to Spain, which is clear from Romans 15:24, 28. The Muratorian Canon says that Luke omitted the journey of Paul from Rome to Spain. Both Chrysostom and Jerome in the fifth century were certain Paul reached Spain. Clement of Rome wrote about A.D. 90 that Paul preached both in the East and the West and instructed the whole world, starting in the East and having gone into the far reaches of the West. Although it is not certain that the far reaches of the West necessarily refer to Spain, it is at least a possibility. If it does, then it would indicate that Paul was set free as Eusebius reported in his history of the church and, for whatever reason, Acts is incomplete. If Acts did not give the full story, either because it was written before the rest of Paul’s story was completed or because the reason for writing did not require the full story, then there is no problem between Acts and the activities reported in the Pastoral Epistles. Acts could have been incomplete, selective, or both. The events in the pastorals do not necessarily contradict Acts.15

However, despite the words evidenced in the Muratorian Canon, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Clement of Rome, we still cannot be certain that Paul made a journey to Spain as he planned. There is no evidence in Spain itself that Paul made it there. Furthermore, no tradition regarding Paul’s journey to Spain originated from that location. We cannot know for certain that Paul made it to Spain, or if he was released from his imprisonment in Rome. As a result, the differences between the Pastoral Epistles and Acts are hard to reconcile.16

There are several other factors that lead scholars to maintain a pseudonymous argument, which include, but are not limited to, the following: Marcion’s omission in his own canon; ecclesiastical structure; and orthodoxy. These arguments suggest at the least Paul did not write the Pastoral Epistles. To these various issues we now turn.

Marcion, a Gnostic heretic, omitted the Pastoral Epistles from his New Testament canon. He believed that Paul did not write them. However, it is likely that much of the content of the pastorals did not suit well with Marcion, and he likely rejected its authority and did not give it a place in his canon. Statements dealing with the good value of the law and the rejection of knowledge in 1 Timothy 1:8; 6:20 would likely have offended him.17 He may have omitted it sure enough, but not necessarily because it was thought that Paul did not write the pastorals.

The Pastoral Epistles reflect a higher church structure than the rest of the accepted letters. The church structure contained in the pastorals comes from a much later development than was present during Paul’s time. However, the pastorals mention distinct classes in the Church, such as elders, deacons, and widows, but these classes were referred to quite early, including in the New Testament. The church structure mentioned in the pastorals does not indicate a post-Pauline date.18 But it can be argued that although Paul does mention such classes of church members elsewhere, as in Philippians 1:1 where he mentions bishops and deacons, he is nowhere else concerned with their duties. It is the duties that seem uncharacteristic of Paul in the pastorals, which leads some scholars to believe that Paul did not write them. Since the duties of the church leaders were the concern of the Didache and Ignatius in his letters, which were late First Century A.D. documents, these scholars argue that the Pastoral Epistles came from that same time and were not written by Paul.19

The Pastoral Epistles seem to be largely concerned with orthodoxy, that is, right belief or teaching. This concern seems to imply a post-Pauline date for authorship. Orthodoxy was a stage of theological development when doctrine was finalized and needed to be protected from being corrupted. However, it Paul had a concern for defending orthodoxy from the very beginning, such as the whole of Galatians or 1 Corinthians 15.20

The Fragments Theory Argument

According to this view, a common practice would have been to take something that was in fact Paul’s, fragments of his writings, and adapt it in written form to something else. We cannot, according to this theory, go as far to say that a disciple of Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles because of the personal statements made regarding Paul in the letters. For example, a disciple of Paul would honor him and extol him, but would not claim Paul to be the foremost sinner as in 1 Timothy 1:15. Also, why would a disciple tell Timothy to drink a little wine for health reasons in 1 Timothy 5:23? Furthermore, the fourth chapter of 2 Timothy is so personal and intimate that it could not have been written by a disciple. As a result, Paul may not have written the Pastoral Epistles as we know them, but he did have his part in them.21

Instead, Paul would have likely had private correspondence with other people. Philemon is an example of private correspondence; it is unlikely that this letter is the only one of this nature. There very well could be fragments of Paul’s other correspondence letters in the hands of another Christian, who, seeing a particular need of the Church, applied them to a customized letter. Taking the fragments, the new author could have adapted and expounded on the fragments, making them ever relevant to the situation at hand. If this theory were correct, then it would account for the similarity in concepts between the Pastoral Epistles and the accepted letters, but also the differences in literary style.22

However, there is no unified agreement on which parts of the Pastoral Epistles are fragments of Paul’s personal correspondence letters. Additionally, it is not likely that any personal correspondence letters would have been preserved, since they would have not contained theological matters. And there are also questions. Why augment and adapt the letters? Why not simply copy the letters as they were and pass them around? Why did the new author write three letters? Why not one? This theory seems to produce too many unanswerable questions to be of any help.23



We have seen that there are two kinds of arguments against Paul as the author of the Pastoral Epistles. The first argument appeals to the practice of pseudonymous writing. Scholars who maintain that someone wrote the pastorals in Paul’s name to gain authority appeal to various factors, such as Gnosticism, a Pauline school of theology, literary or stylistic differences, historical discrepancies, Marcion’s omission in his canon, church structure, and orthodoxy. However, the opposing side has a rebuttal for each of these considerations. The Gnosticism present in the pastorals is of an early kind, so that the Gnosticism element itself does not necessarily require a late date. No post-apostolic writers make mention of any sort of school of theology. The use of an amanuensis would explain stylistic differences; Paul’s accepted letters were co-authored, but the pastorals were solely the work of Paul, which could also explain the differences in style. It is possible that Paul did make it to Spain and was freed from his Roman imprisonment, so that the pastorals pick up historically where Acts leaves off. Marcion could have purposefully omitted the pastorals due to their conflicting content with his theological agenda. The church structure terms were present early on for Paul and the other epistles in the New Testament and do not require understanding a later date for authorship. The concern for orthodoxy was also present early on and likewise does not require a later date.

The second argument appeals to a collection of personal letters that would have been used by a later writer to instruct the Church in a particular situation. However, this argument raises too many additional questions. Furthermore, there is no evidence for a collection of personal correspondences or the use of fragments from this collection.

Determining the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles is difficult. But the decision or conclusion cannot be made with certainty. The question is, what do we make of this uncertainty? Do we displace the pastorals from the New Testament canon? Are they less authoritative? Do they bear any authority at all? Of course they do. They were accepted early on and have been used to instruct the church ever since. We need to be careful to not allow the uncertainty of authorship divide and conquer us. Instead, we should unite on the issues that matter most, agree to disagree, and uphold the authority of Scripture as a whole, even when we cannot be fully assured of the authorship of each book or letter.


Achtemeier, Paul, Joel Green, and Marianne Thompson, eds. Introducing the New Testament: Its literature and theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001.


Barclay, William. The Epistles to Timothy and Titus. Daily Bible Readings. Glasgow: The Church of Scotland, 1956.


Ellis, E. E. “Pastoral Letters,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Gerald Hawthorne, Ralph Martin, and Daniel Reid, eds. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1993. 658-666.


Gundry, Robert. A Survey of the New Testament. 4th ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003.


Patzia, Arthur. The Making of the New Testament: Origin, collection, text & canon. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 1995.


Towner, Philip. 1-2 Timothy & Titus. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Grant Osborne, D. Stuart Briscoe, and Haddon Robinson, eds. Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1994.

1 Arthur Patzia, The Making of the New Testament: Origin, collection, text & canon (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 1995), 77.

2 William Barclay, The Epistles to Timothy and Titus, Daily Bible Readings (Glasgow: The Church of Scotland, 1956), xxiii.

3 Philip Towner, 1-2 Timothy & Titus, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, Grant Osborne, D. Stuart Briscoe, and Haddon Robinson, eds. (Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 15.

4 Barclay, The Epistles to Timothy and Titus, xxiii.

5 Robert Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003), 442.

6 E. E. Ellis, “Pastoral Letters,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Gerald Hawthorne, Ralph Martin, and Daniel Reid, eds. (Downers Grove, Illinois, and Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 659.

7 Patzia, The Making of the New Testament, 77-8.

8 Barclay, The Epistles to Timothy and Titus, xxiii-iv.

9 Paul Achtemeier, Joel Green, and Marianne Thompson, eds., Introducing the New Testament: Its literature and theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001), 461.

10 Towner, 1-2 Timothy & Titus, 34-5.

11 Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, 441.

12 Ellis, “Pastoral Letters,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 659.

13 Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, 443.

14 Barclay, The Epistles to Timothy and Titus, xxiv.

15 Ibid., xxv-vii.

16 Ibid., xxvii.

17 Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, 442.

18 Ibid., 442-43.

19 Achtemeier, Green, and Thompson, Introducing the New Testament, 462-63.

20 Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, 443.

21 Barclay, The Epistles to Timothy and Titus, xxviii.

22 Ibid., xxviii-ix.

23 Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, 440.