Critics began to question Paul’s authorship of the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) early in
the nineteenth century with the rise of German literary criticism. Because
1 Timothy 2:8-15 places explicit restrictions on a woman’s
role in ministry, the controversy continues today especially by those who disagree with this perceived
inequality. These critics prefer to believe that 1 and 2 Timothy were not authored by the Apostle Paul, were
pious forgeries, and therefore, should not be part of the Bible. Is this true?
How tradition began
With little written record, oral tradition established that Paul authored 1 and 2 Timothy, and this was
well known and universally recognized by the Church (Eusebius). Early theologians and writers who lived during
and were contemporary with the apostles or contemporary with Timothy (Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp)
were familiar with the letters and accepted 1 and 2 Timothy as genuine letters from the apostle Paul. As further
evidence that their authorship was never in doubt, the Pastoral Epistles were found in the early Latin and
Syriac versions of the New Testament.
Clement, the Bishop of Rome (100 A.D.), wrote a letter to the church of Corinth, which was
preserved and can be seen today.
Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch (67-110 A.D.), was the pupil and friend of the Apostle
Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna (69-156 A.D.), like Ignatius, was the pupil and friend of
the Apostle John.
Of the Church fathers, three were great scholars who wrote and cited the New Testament extensively.
Iranaeus, the Bishop of Lyons (130-200 A.D.), was a pupil of Polycarp and Papias. Of his
works in possession, he made 1200 references to the New Testament, including the earliest quotations of 1 and
2 Timothy around 170 A.D. in his apologetic against Gnosticism.
Tertullian (born about 150 A.D.) was the first Christian writer to write in Latin
and coin the phrase "New Testament". Trained as a lawyer, he was considered an "Apologetic Father" for
his vigorous defense of Christian doctrine against Greek philosophy and Hellenistic culture. Of his known
works, he made 2,500 references to the New Testament.
In one of his works, Tertullian acknowledges that the Pastoral Epistles were written
by Paul to Timothy and Titus and expresses surprise that the heretic Marcion did not believed that the
Pastoral Epistles should be part of the canon. Marcion’s version of the canon, which he assembled around
140-150 A.D., only had Luke (which he heavily edited), and only ten of thirteen of Paul’s epistles; the
heretic omitted all of the Old Testament and 16 books (or 60%) of the New Testament.
Clement, the Bishop of Alexandria (born about 165 A.D.) is considered, after Justin
and Irenaeus, to be the founder of Christian literature. Alexandria was renown in the ancient world for
its scholars, university, and library. Clement succeeded his teacher Pantaenus to be the head of the
famous Catechetical School of Alexandria, which would produce other great Christian writers such as Origen.
Clement of Alexandria, notable for his expansive knowledge of classical and biblical
literature, cited more pagan and Christian authors than the work of any other ancient author. Of the
New Testament, he cites all of the books except Philemon, James, 2 Peter, 2 John and 3 John.
In light of how tradition was established, the claim of pious forgeries of 1 and 2 Timothy would
imply that the early church fathers were either at best duped or at worst conspirators of the forgeries,
and that the heretic Marcion was correct. What is the basis for the claim of pious forgeries?
The critical arguments can be categorized into 4 areas:
1. Chronology – does the event of 1 Timothy correspond
with the chronology of Paul’s travels in the book of Acts?
2. Literary Style – does the literary style (vocabulary,
logic, structure, etc) match with Paul’s style of writing?
3. Ecclesiology – does the church
structure found in the letter reflect the early first century Christian church?
4. Theology – does the letter
address a form of Gnosticism found only in the second century? Does the soteriology correspond to
Pauline thought and concept?
As a side note, what if the Pastoral Epistles were forgeries?
Pious Forgeries – Was it possible for a forgery
to be accepted in the Canon?
The Problem of Chronology
Critics charge that the book of Acts does not mention the situation where Paul goes to Macedonia
and leaves Timothy at Ephesus
(1 Tim 1:3). With the belief that the chronological
references of 1 Timothy does not correspond with the book of Acts, critics have assumed that 1 & 2 Timothy
were written by a later author.
However critics have misunderstood the reason for Paul’s first imprisonment and assumed that he
was executed. This would have ended any chance of Paul going east; thus, he could not possibly write
1 Timothy. Biblical and extra-biblical evidence clearly suggest otherwise. 1 Timothy does not fit
within the chronology of Acts, because it took place after the end of Acts.
At the conclusion of his third missionary journey, Paul had organized a relief fund
among the Gentile churches to help the poorer members of the Jerusalem church. He was returning to
Jerusalem with representatives of the Gentile churches carrying their respective donations
Rom 15:25-32). Shortly after his arrival in Jerusalem,
Paul was attacked by a Jewish mob and rescued by Roman soldiers
23:10). He was imprisoned at the Roman governor’s
headquarters in Caesarea for the next 2 years (Acts 23:11-
In response to God’s prompting of "so you must witness at Rome also"
(Acts 23:11), Paul exercises his privilege as a Roman
citizen and appealed to Caesar, which transferred his case to Rome. Paul was sent to Rome in 59 A.D. where
he spent 2 years under house arrest waiting for his case to be heard before the supreme tribunal
When Luke finished writing the book of Acts, he does not reveal what happened to
Paul’s case, and there is little information about the rest of Paul’s career. But there is implicit
evidence that Paul was released.
1. Paul was innocent by all Roman officials up to this point.
Paul was arrested to save him from a Jewish mob not from any legal offense.
The Jews did not bring any charges or testify against Paul during his 2-year imprisonment
At this time, Christianity was considered a part of Judaism and was not considered
an illegal or forbidden religion and therefore not an offense punishable by death.
Agrippa and Festus believed that Paul did nothing wrong and would have been freed
had he not appealed to Caesar (Acts 26:30-32).
While in captivity, Paul expresses confidence in his release
2. Ancient tradition says that Paul did go to Spain as he intended
Clement of Rome wrote that "Paul...preached in the East and the West, and won
noble renown for his faith. He taught righteousness to the whole world and went to the western limit.
He bore witness to the rulers, and then passed out of the world..." (1 Clement 5:6-7)
During the first and second century, a reference to the "western limit" always meant
In other extra-biblical sources, such as the Muratorian Fragment and Acts of Peter,
there are indications that Paul was released from prison.
It is believed that, upon his release, Paul resumed his missionary journeys for at least 3 more
years before being arrested, tried, condemned, and executed around 67 A.D. during the persecution of
Christians under the Roman emperor Nero. Marking Paul’s burial near the Basilica in Rome, a stone
inscription says "To Paul, Apostle and Martyr."
This means that there was enough time for Paul to go on a fourth missionary journey and pen his
The critics’ contention of a problem of chronology is further eroded when evaluating the epistle
2 Corinthians, which is undisputedly a letter from Paul.
In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, Paul mentions his
experience of frequent imprisonments, 5 whippings, 3 beatings with a rod, 1 stoning, and 3 shipwrecks;
all of which was not mentioned once in the book of Acts.
The Problem of Literary Style
Critics have contended that the Pastoral Epistles were not authored by Paul, because the letters
lacked the typical vocabulary, grammatical phrases, and literary style of Paul’s other epistles. For
1 Timothy has 356 of 529 words, or 67%, that do not appear in ten of Paul’s letters,
including 96 hapax legomena (words that appear only once in the New Testament).
Typical Pauline words used in ten of Paul’s letters are not found in 1 or 2 Timothy.
1 and 2 Timothy also use different words than Paul’s other letters to say the same
1 and 2 Timothy have grammatical forms, such as how definite articles, prepositions,
and conjunctions are used, that are unique to the Pastoral Epistles and lack grammatical forms typical
of Paul’s other ten epistles.
The Pastoral Epistles lack the distinctive writing style of Paul. Many aspects of
his literary style, such as his use of prepositions and pronouns are absent; consequently, the tone
and character of the Pastoral Epistles are different from Paul’s other ten epistles.
However this evidence is hardly conclusive against Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles.
It is less conclusive than the explicit evidence within the Pastoral Epistles themselves, which indicate
Paul as the author (1 Tim 1:1,
2 Tim 1:1,
Evidence of non-Pauline vocabulary and frequent hapax legomena used to deny Pauline
authorship of the Pastoral Epistles does not hold up under closer examination.
The biggest problem for critics is Paul’s use of amanuenses (secretaries) to write
his letters (i.e. Rom 16:22).
Because it is unknown how the epistles were originally produced, the
contribution of the amanuenses to the original text is unknown. This makes it impossible to establish
what is typical Pauline vocabulary, grammatical structure, and literary style.
During the first century, Greek secretaries functioned in a variety of ways as
directed by the author. Some secretaries took dictation from authors while others wrote their own
words to convey the thought of the author. In the case of the Pastoral Epistles, it has been postulated
that Luke was Paul’s amanuenses based two observations: 1)
2 Timothy 4:11 states that "Only Luke is
with me…" and 2) there are many similarities in vocabulary with Acts.
In considering the literary evidence against Pauline authorship, most words missing
in the Pastoral Epistles are also absent in epistles that have been unquestionably established as
Paul’s. There is no even distribution of vocabulary throughout all of Paul’s epistles. Yet critics
never mention the inconsistent use of this type of evidence to condemn the Pastoral Epistles or
disqualify those epistles unquestionably Paul’s.
The hapax legomena are not evenly distributed and occur in groups; most of the
occurrences are found where Paul is discussing a new subject. Almost half of the hapax legomena can
be found in the Septuagint, which Paul studied extensively. Roughly one quarter of the hapax legomena
have been identified as part of the Greek language of the time. A little over one quarter of the hapax
legomena may possibly be new Greek words to describe the new subjects associated with the new religion
When one studies Paul’s letters in light of his missionary journeys and experiences,
it is very difficult to see how an even distribution of vocabulary can be expected as he discusses a
variety of subjects, to Christians of a variety of ethnicities and regions, and with the variety of
situations that he writes from.
In contrast to his passionate letters for Christ intended for large audiences, the
Pastoral Epistles were written to two very dear individuals. Their quiet meditative tone reflects
Paul’s love and concern for them and perhaps in context of his age and mortality.
Examine the following tables of the cities he traveled to and gain a sense of some
context that his epistles were written in.
Before Paul’s missionary journeys.
Paul’s First Missionary Journey (46-48 A.D.): Acts 13:1 – 14:28.
|Antioch, Seleucia (Syria)
|Salamis, Paphos (Cyprus)
|Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe (Galatia)
||Acts 13:13 –
||Galatians (approximate date: 48 A.D.) – Believed to be written from Antioch
and to the churches of Southern Galatia, Paul’s letter to Christians in Galatia was a vehement
response to Judaizers who suggested to the Galatians that a) Paul was an inferior apostle, b) his
Gospel was not authoritative, and c) the doctrine of justification required works not simply faith
in Jesus Christ alone.
Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (49-52 A.D.): Acts 15:30 – 18:22.
|Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Pisidian Antioch (Galatia)
|Neapolis, Philippi, Amphipolis, Apollonia, Thessalonica, Berea (Macedonia)
||Acts 16:11 –
|Athens, Corinth, Cenchreae (Achaia)
||Acts 17:16 –
1 & 2 Thessalonians (approximate date: 51 A.D.) – Paul’s time with the church of Thessalonica was
abruptly cut short by of accusations by local Jews of treason for his promotion of Jesus as king instead
of Caesar. From the safety of Corinth, where he writes these letters, Paul learns of the Thessalonians’s
stalwart faith despite the efforts of the local Jews who attempt to discredit him as a cult leader scamming
for money. In his letter to the Christians of Thessalonica, Paul focuses on a) thanksgiving for their faith,
b) encouragement for those being persecuted, and c) exhortation for further work and spiritual growth. Yet
Paul also had to defend his apostleship and integrity.
|Caesarea, Jerusalem (Judea)
Paul’s Third Missionary Journey (53-57 A.D.): Acts 18:23 - 21:17.
|Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Pisidian Antioch (Galatia)
||Acts 18:24 –
1 & 2 Corinthians (approximate
date: 56 A.D.) - Corinth was a cosmopolitan yet immoral city. It’s pagan religious center, the Temple of
Aphrodite, promoted promiscuity and legalized prostitution with its 1,000 prostitutes. Against this
background of loose moral standards, Paul writes from Ephesus to the Christians in Corinth who were
concerned with the challenge of living the Christian life in an amoral society. 1 Corinthians is notable
for its emphasis on practical issues such as divisions within a church, incest, marriage, spiritual
liberty, public worship, and the resurrection. 2 Corinthians is regarded as one of Paul’s most personal
letters focused on reconciliation, philosophy of ministry, refuting accusers, and defending his apostleship.
|Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea (Macedonia)
|Athens, Corinth (Achaia)
Romans (approximate date 57 A.D.) - Considered Paul’s most important epistle for its concise and
logical presentation, Romans is described as a legal brief of the doctrine of justification by faith.
From Corinth, in contrast to his other epistles, Paul is writing to a church he has never started or
visited; it is a letter written to Christians in Rome that presents his Gospel in preparation for his
visit there. Paul begins and ends his letter with a reminder that he is a bond servant of Christ. Paul’s
principle focus: in need of God’s grace, all of mankind, including Jew and Gentile, can live free of sin
through faith in Jesus Christ’ redemptive sacrifice.
|Berea, Thessalonica, Philippi (Macedonia)
|Troas, Asso, (Asia)
|Caesarea, Jerusalem (Judea)
Paul’s prison journey (57-61 A.D.): Acts 27:1 – 28:16.
|Jerusalem, Caesarea (Judea)
|Fair Havens (Crete)
|Rhegium, Puteoli, Rome (Italy)
From his prison in Rome, Paul
writes 4 short letters known as the Prison Epistles:
60 A.D.) – Written possibly as a circular letter to be shared among Christian assemblies around Ephesus,
Paul wrote about the mystery of Christ. Reminding his readers of his apostolic authority, Paul shares
his special revelation from God affirming that both Jew and Gentile form the one body of Christ; Gentile
Believers become fellow heirs of salvation and members of the body of Christ.
(approximately 60 A.D.) – Written to the Christians around Colossae whom he had not met before, Paul was
responding strongly to false doctrinal teaching that was developing in the early church. Some Colossian
members were promoting Judaism and an early form of Gnosticism. Paul emphasizes the supremacy and
sufficiency of Christ; the Believer is complete in Christ and that Christ is in the Believer.
Philippians (approximately 60-62 A.D.) – Paul’s letter to the Christians of Philippi is one of
gratitude for their gift to him and joy in God. His focus is on the joy of a Christ centered life and
their partnership in sharing the Gospel. In setting one’s mind on the high calling of God in Jesus Christ,
differences between Christians can be overcome.
Philemon (approximately 60 A.D.) –
Considered Paul’s shortest and most personal letter, the letter to the slave owner Philemon is a lesson
in Christian relationships; in contrast to many of his other letters, Paul does not write to correct a
theological error or teach doctrine. And while he does not approve or condemn the practice of slavery, Paul
crafts his exhortations with references to the Gospel. While slaves should demonstrate Christian obedience
and humility to their masters, and Christian masters treat their slaves fairly, both slave and master are
ontologically equal before Christ.
Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey and second imprisonment (63-67 A.D.):
1 Timothy 1:3,
||1 Timothy (approximately 62 A.D.) – Written to his dear disciple, Paul instructs Timothy in how
one should conduct themselves in the church. Concerned with the importance of spiritual maturity in the
leadership as a guard against false teaching, Paul is intent on teaching Timothy how to recognize and develop
spiritual maturity with practical advice.
Titus (approximately 63 A.D.) – Aware of the
prevalence of false teaching, Paul advises Titus, who is a pastor on Crete, on the importance of sound doctrine
and warns about false teachers. Paul emphasizes that belief and action are linked; right beliefs lead to right
actions. In encouraging sound doctrine, Paul also encourages good works.
||2 Timothy (approximately 67 A.D.) – An intensely personal letter which he knew was likely his last,
Paul writes to Timothy from prison with two purposes in mind: a) to visit him in prison before he dies, and b)
to provide his final advice to living the Christian life. Use your spiritual gifts, handle the Word of God
carefully, and preach the Word!