In his post Secrets and lies and the deeper scandal of the evangelical mind, Fred Clark poses this hypothetical exchange:
Question: Who wrote the second epistle to Timothy in the New Testament?
Fundamentalist preacher: Paul.
Biblical scholar: We don’t know, but Paul was long dead by the time it was probably written, so not him.
Evangelical pastor: (glances over both shoulders warily, leans in, whispering) Who’s asking?
The point he’s making here (and in the rest of his post) is important, and one that I generally agree with. However, in his eagerness to draw distinctions between varying approaches to the Bible, Clark oversimplifies the issue of the authorship of 2 Timothy.
First, it’s interesting that Clark singles out 2 Timothy for his example — usually the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus) are discussed as a group, since most scholars think that they were written by the same author. Perhaps he chose 2 Timothy because of verse 3.16, which is the linchpin of most arguments for Biblical inerrancy.
Second, many “Bible Scholars” do argue for Pauline authorship of the Pastorals. Yes, they tend to be from the conservative end of the theological spectrum, but their scholarship shouldn’t be dismissed for this reason. Scholars who make cases in favor of Pauline authorship of the Pastorals don’t all do so out of prior theological commitments, nor do they merely represent an out of touch fringe that should be summarily ignored.
Finally, the argument against Pauline authorship isn’t that Paul was “long dead” when 2 Timothy was written, as if we have a date of publication stamped on the manuscript that is centuries after the date on Paul’s tombstone. We simply don’t know those exact dates, but that doesn’t really matter. The Pastorals were likely written prior to 100 C.E. — and given that Paul probably died in the mid-60’s C.E. the Pastorals don’t date much more than thirty years after his death. So, perhaps Paul was “long dead” after they were written, but that seems an odd way of describing events that occurred within a generation of each other nearly 2,000 years ago. A more appropriate description might be that they were likely written shortly after Paul’s death. But the strongest argument against Pauline authorship has nothing to do with dates, it is regarding linguistics: the style, vocabulary and grammar of the Pastorals differ notably from the authentic Pauline epistles. There are additional theological, historical and contextual issues as well, but most scholars are primarily persuaded by these linguistic issues.
So, not being a Fundamentalist preacher, a Biblical scholar, or an Evangelical pastor, what’s my answer to the question “Who wrote the second epistle to Timothy in the New Testament?”
Dan: I’m not sure, but it seems unlikely that it was Paul. Who’s asking the question and why? There’s an interesting discussion to be had regarding the grammar, theology and historical circumstances of the Pastoral Epistles. I’d love to discuss it more, but I don’t want to bore you with discussions of hapax legomenon, Greek cognates and Gnostic heresies. There’s an ongoing and lively debate among scholars about the authorship, theology and context of the Pastorals. Perhaps we can discuss it more over a cup of coffee?