Who wrote Paul?

Did Paul actually write the letters the New Testament says he did? 

“…the extended missionary activity of Paul of Tarsus and a broad circle of co-workers and congregations they established in cities across the northeastern quadrant of the Mediterranean basin… they are the best-documented segment of the early Christian movement. We have at least seven indubitable letters by the principle figure [Paul] (which in their received form may contain fragments of yet other letters”. (Wayne A. Meeks – Professor Yale)

There are thirteen letters in the New Testament which are attributed to Paul:  but did he write them all?  Differences in theology, style and vocabulary make it difficult to believe that he did… There is general agreement that Paul wrote seven of the letters that bear his name. (Morna Hooker – Professor Cambridge)

Many people– then and now– have assumed that these letters [of Paul] are genuine, and five of them were in fact incorporated into the New Testament as “letters of Paul.” Even today, scholars dispute which are authentic and which are not. Most scholars, however, agree that Paul actually wrote only eight of the thirteen “Pauline” letters now included in the New Testament collection: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Virtually all scholars agree that Paul himself did not write 1 or 2 Timothy or Titus– letters written in a style different from Paul’s and reflecting situations and viewpoints in a style different from those in Paul’s own letters. About the authorship of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians, debate continues; but the majority of scholars include these, too, among the “deutero-Pauline”– literally, secondarily Pauline– letters. (Elaine Pagels – Professor Princeton)

Paul did not write the letters to Timothy to Titus or several others published under his name; and it is unlikely that the apostles Matthew, James, Jude, Peter and John had anything to do with the canonical books ascribed to them.  (Michael Coogan – Harvard)

Were all the letters credited to Paul actually written by him?  Colossians and Ephesians certainly contain language and thought which is unlike that of Romans and Galatians, but there are strong similarities too.  The Pastoral Epistles seem to flatten Paul’s thought and to be more concerned with church order and respectability than with the power of the gospel.  … writers in a particular school may have felt themselves so indebted to the ideas of their master that they continued to write under his name.  in doing so they may also have on occasion wished to defend him from subsequent attacks.  This may explain how some of the letters in the New Testament came to be attributed to Paul.  (John Riches – Professor Glasgow)

“From both the letters and Acts it is evident that Pauline Christianity was not the work of a single person, but of an extended group of associates. Furthermore, there are six letters in the canon of the New Testament that are supposed to be by Paul but whose authorship modern authors dispute. Two of these, the Letter to Colossians and the Letter to Ephesians, were most likely written by disciples of Paul. The same may be true of 2 Thessalonians”. (Wayne A. Meeks – Professor Yale)

[Paul’s]undoubtedly genuine letters are… commonly limited to seven, though some say eight, nine or ten; rarely are all 13 deemed to be from Paul… But even the seven-letter Paul is not problem-free, for some letters may be composite, having been compiled by an unknown editor (notably 2 Corinthians, possibly Philippians, and perhaps Romans…). (Leander E Keck – Professor Yale)

“The Magnificent Seven” (Allen Callahan – Brown and Harvard)

The Letters to Timothy and Titus… The first verse of the first chapter of each book ascribes each letter to Paul.  However some believe them to be pseudonymous and thin they were written after Paul’s death by a follower of his.  If this is write, they could be as late as the beginning of the second century CE, although c. 85 CE is more realistic.  The vocabulary and style are different from Paul’s other letters, reflecting a more sophisticated, literary Greek.  The emphasis on church order points to a community institutionalised to an extent that would have been more unlikely by the 60s.  Very few of Paul’s great theological themes, such as the Holy Spirit or believers living in Christ, appear… The letters are not mentioned by Christian writers until the second half of the second century CE, supporting the view that they were written after Paul died.  (John Bowker – Professor Gresham, Cambridge)

“… seven undoubtedly authentic epistles”  (Robert Morgan – Oxford)

The authenticity of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus is also questioned, even more generally than that of Ephesians.  As they stand they seem to reflect a stage of development in church organizations impossible in Paul’s own lifetime.  They thus raise the whole problem of pseudonymity in Holy Scripture. (Joseph Sanders – Cambridge)

Without qualm, [Pope] Benedict reads Acts as the historical itinerary for all of Paul’s missionary journeys. In his treatment of the Pastoral Epistles, he acknowledges that “most exegetes today are of the opinion that these Letters would not have been written by Paul himself”; “they reflect his legacy for a new generation,” and “some parts … appear so authentic that they could have come only from the heart and mouth of the Apostle.” A more felicitous description of ancient forgery has never been written. (Allen Callahan – Brown and Harvard)

“Being honest about how the New Testament took shape” – Seminary students study for three years at the major seminaries such as Princeton Theological Seminary… then they leave us to serve a local church… fearing that the local church leaders may not be supportive, they frequently forget our teachings and process to preach and teach, far too often, as if the uneducated have the final word on the comparison of the biblical books.  For example, 1 Timothy, which is a work by someone influenced by Paul, is placarded as Paul’s own composition.  It is no wonder then that most people in the highways and byways of our culture assume that the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of John were composed by the disciples of Jesus who are called “Matthew” and “John the son of Zebedee”.  The assumption is that these works are by eyewitnesses -  Matthew and John heard what Jesus said and saw what he did.  Furthermore, it is presuppose that we have exactly what they wrote and that no changes have been made by the Greek scribes who copied what had been written.  We are assured that the Gospels we have are identical to the compositions that left the desks of Jesus’ disciples.  Now, let us be honest.  All of this is incorrect.  It is false, and the truth about the origins of our Gospels has been known for about two hundred years.  The Gospel attributed to Matthew cannot have been written by an eyewitness of Jesus and his first disciples.  All New Testament scholars would be pleased if this assumption could prove to be the father of a valid conclusion.  But, alas, the First Gospel was written over fifty years after Jesus’ crucifixion and – most important – the author, who is anonymous and unknown, based his story of Jesus on the Gospel of Mark, which was written first.  And Mark never met Jesus.  Attempts to prove that the Gospel of Matthew is either early or not literally dependent on Mark are usually fired by Christian apologetics, in the sad attempt to “shore up the faith”. Moreover the author of the First Gospel is understandably more interested in serving the needs of his community than in giving us a factual , objective, and uninterpretive account of what Jesus said and did.  The identity of the Fourth Evangelist is also unknown. .. Another point needs to be clarified.  We do not have even one fragment of the gospels from the first century.  We must work on second century, and even much later, copies of the gospels to discern what the author may have written… We text critics of the New Testament have grudgingly been forced to admit that many times scribes, who were copying the books of the New Testament, deliberately alerted the text.  Sometimes the alterations were for doctrinal reasons, sometimes they were caused by what seems to have been an embarrassing saying or episode.  Often it was to “correct” the text in light of more recent theologies and Christologies. .. Obviously, Christian salvation and teaching cannot be based on what is false.  The discovery of the truth can transport us back into the time of the evangelists…into the time of Jesus, perhaps even into his presence.  (from “The Good and Evil Serpent” by Professor Reverend James Charlesworth of Princeton University)

Six or more of his other letters survive [in addition to Romans] (Robert Morgan – Oxford)

A late-nineteenth century consensus was reached that most scholars today accept:  seven letters are universally accepted as genuine….scholars continue to debate 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians.  In contrast virtually all scholars regard 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (“The Pastoral Letters” as inauthentic.  They argue that such letters were composed pseudonymously by a “Pauline school” writing in Paul’s name.  Why were such letters supposed to have been written?  In order to direct Paul’s teaching in a more conservative direction, scholars who hold this theory note elements in the disputed letters that suggest a more repressive stance, for example, toward women (see Tim 2:8-15).  (Luke Timothy Johnson – Professor Candler, Yale)

In antiquity it was not uncommon for writings to appear bearing a claim to have been written by a given author but commonly understood not to be from that author.  Apocalyptic writings, for example, are often said to have been written by Enoch or Moses or some other great person from antiquity.  It is not known whether the first readers would have accepted them as coming from the great names they bear.  Writings other than apocalyptic were published under assumed names, among the Greeks and Romans as well as among the Jews and the Christians… … … Plagiarism in the modern sense, and the shame associated with it, developed in the wake of the invention of the printing press and the financial gain that could be associated with the mass production of some writing.  The wholesale takeover, without acknowledgement, of someone else’s literary work, with or without changes, was a common practice in the ancient world, and no opprobrium was connected with it.   (D.A. Carson – Professor Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

From the Epistles traditionally attributed to Paul, but generally accepted as not
written by him, I focus on the Epistle to the Hebrews when studying the issue
of sacrificial metaphors. (Marie-Zoe Petropoulou)

His Jewish name was Saul and his Roman, Paul, which in his extant works written in Greek he naturally preferred.  (W.D. Davies – Professor Princeton and Duke)

We shall here use those letters which are generally agreed to be Pauline Ð 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, Philemon Ð but also more cautiously 2 Thessalonians1 and Colossians2 despite the doubts cast upon their authenticity. (W.D. Davies – Professor Princeton and Duke)

A man with more than a touch of fanaticism, Paul was a member of the populist
Pharisee sect, and had done his best to round up and crush this small but
irritating local heresy [i.e.  some of the very earliest Jesus-followers].  (Andrew
Marr – BBC journalist and historian)

… polemics – the Greco [i.e. Greek] idea to put your own ideas into the mouth of an important person to give them credibility.  (Robert Eisenman – Professor California State, Oxford)

It is well known that the letters which are most securely attributed to Paul have nothing to say about the functions of ecclesiastical ministers.  (Mark Edwards – Oxford)

One of the chief reasons why we still have so many of Paul’s letters is that his teaching was quickly challenged by varying opponents from both within and without the churches he established (James Dunn – Professor Durham)

One of the main reasons why most scholars regard the Pastoral

Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) as post-Pauline, though written from

within the tradition he inaugurated, is that they seem to present a softer,

somewhat idealized Paul, more amenable to the faith forms and structures

of mainstream Christianity as it emerged from the first century. Similarly

the Paul of Acts seems to have been stripped of much of the controversy

known to us from his letters, even of some of his more distinctive teaching,

and to have been shorn of most of his prickles. It should also be

recalled that there were some strands diverging from mainstream Christianity

in the second century which claimed that Paul was their principal inspiration

(Marcion, Valentinian Gnosticism); Tertullian could even call Paul

‘the apostle of the heretics’ (adv. Marc. 3.5). Equally significant is the fact

that the most direct heirs of the Jewish-Christian groupings within earliest

Christianity regarded Paul as the great apostate, an arch enemy (Epistula

Petri 2:3; Clem. Hom. 17:18–19). And so it becomes still more apparent that

the Paul retained for Christianity was a domesticated Paul, Paul rendered

more comfortable, an ecclesiasticized Paul. (James Dunn – Professor Durham)


Were all thirteen letters attributed to Paul actually written by him? There

has rarely been much doubt about the principal letters (Hauptbriefe) –

Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians and Galatians; 1 Thessalonians and Philippians

usually slip easily under the rope too. And not many have the heart

to deny Paul the intriguing personal note to Philemon. But for nearly two

hundred years there have been weighty voices raised against the Pauline

authorship of 2 Thessalonians and Colossians, and still more against the

Pauline authorship of Ephesians, even though it can be justly described as

a classic exposition of ‘Paulinism’. And it is probably a minority of modern

scholars who would regard the Pastoral Epistles as penned or dictated by

Paul himself. Over that period the debate on Pauline authorship has ebbed

to and fro, without much final resolution being achieved, beyond the universal

agreement that the letter to the Hebrews was not by Paul, despite old

church tradition reflected in the heading of the King James Version (KJV). (James Dunn – Professor Durham)

Paul makes clear that this appearance to him of the resurrected Jesus was fully on a par with the appearances to Peter and the others in the days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.  (1 Cor 15:5-8; see also 9:1). … Because Paul was an apostle by God’s call, he could claim an authority equally to that of Peter, James, John, and the rest of the twelve – those whom some of Paul’s opponents had labelled “super-apostles” (2 Cor 11:5).  Paul writes from the consciousness of this apostolic authority in every one of his letters.  True, Paul can sometimes distinguish between his authority and the teaching of the Lord (e.g.  1 Cor 7:6, 10, 12; 2 Cor 11:17), and nowhere does Paul make it clear that he thought his letters to be inspired Scripture.  Nevertheless, in differentiating his teaching from the Lord’s, Paul does not suggest that it carries any less authority.  (D.A. Carson – Professor Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

“I am Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city” (Acts 21: 39)

[The Letters to Timothy and Titus] Some believe them to be pseudonymous and think that they were writing after Paul’s death by a follower of his.  If this is right, they could be as late as the beginning of the second century CE, although c85 CE is more realistic.   The vocabulary and style are different from Paul’s other letters, reflecting a more sophisticated, literary Greek.  The emphasis on church order points to a community institutionalised to an extent that would have been most unlikely by the 60s.  Very few of Paul’s great theological themes, such as the Holy Spirit or believers living in Christ, appear.   (John Bowker – Professor Gresham, Cambridge)

[Paul telling us that he was a Pharisee]  Phil. 3:4b–11 We can confidently assume that in (Gal. 1:13–14) when Paul tells us that he was zealous and that he advanced in Judaism beyond many of his own age, he means that he has received a Pharisaic education and that he was quite zealous and convinced of its truth before he converted to Christianity, convinced enough that he became a strict guardian of its truth and persecuted those who he felt had impugned or violated it. His conversion made him just as convinced of his previous zeal’s mistake and just as zealous for his new Christian commitment… … … Paul, like everyone of his day, testifies that the Pharisees were known to be expert interpreters of the Torah, and that they were zealous about the performance of the Torah. He says the same about himself when he was a Pharisee. But his insistence that he was very zealous and that he pursued the Christians, even to violence, suggests that he was an extremist as a Pharisee, not so much a Pharisee like Rabbi Eliezer, but one who was committed to stamping out those who disagreed with him.  (Alan Segal – Professor Columbia)  


As part of the Hellenistic diaspora, Paul lived in two

worlds simultaneously. Even if not from Tarsus, as Luke claims, he certainly

learned to read and write Greek, and he spent his Christian career

preaching the gospel to the diaspora communities of Greece and Asia Minor.

He has to keep two different and often opposing cultures in his mind

at once – Judaism and Hellenism. Not only can they be at political odds, but

they can be at ideological and cultural odds too. At first his solution was

to deny the validity of the outside world and retreat to a kind of fanatical

Pharisaism. Luckily for him, he was able to throw this away for a different

and more tolerant position. But whether he was able to achieve true

toleration is a matter of interpretation of his Christian position, a subject

beyond the scope of this chapter. Let us hope that his conversion and mission

not only allowed him to see the error of his previous intolerant ways

but also showed him how to treat all the world’s inhabitants with justice and

respect. (Alan Segal – Professor Columbia)

The earliest known collection of Paul’s writings is found in a manuscript known as P46, written on papyrus about AD 200.   P46 contains most of the Pauline letters (including Hebrews!), but it, too, does not include the Pastorals or Philemon.  (Morna Hooker – Professor Cambridge)

The earliest and most important sources for Gentile Christianity are the seven authentic letters written by Paul c 50-60 to assemblies of Christians:  Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon.  (Margaret M. Mitchell – Professor Birmingham)

There is not complete scholarly agreement on which letters were actually written by Paul and which by these later “Pauls”, but the strongest consensus judges Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians to be “deuteron-Paulines”, and the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, late first or early second century (“trito-Paulines”.  Such conclusions are based upon interlocking comparisons of historical, theological, linguistic and literary features with the presumed “genuine” Pauline letters.  (Margaret M. Mitchell – Professor Birmingham)

The text of Paul’s letters, like that of the gospels was in that period [back from c200 to the early decades of the second century] still fluid, susceptible both to scribal corruption and critical emendation.  (Professor Harry Gamble)

That is to say we rely on the Paul of the seven indubitably genuine letters – through some of these may already be themselves composite documents (1 Thess, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Gal, Rom, Phil, Philem).  (Professor G.W. Clarke – University of Western Australia)

I don’t think Paul wrote Colossians or Ephesians. What is even more interesting is that the writer of Ephesians obviously used Colossians as the model for his own letter (see Chapter 17 in this book). He takes many of the themes and images
and much of the vocabulary from Colossians, which he may well have
thought was an authentic letter of Paul. Notice, therefore, that one
disciple of Paul is forging a letter in Paul’s name, and he is using
another letter, also forged in Paul’s name, as his model: an imitator
imitating another imitator imitating Paul. So Paul’s letters were circulating, new ones were being written in his name and added to the circulation, and all were being copied,
recopied, and circulated. (Dale Martin – Professor Yale)

Pseudo-Aristotle – list of works attributed to Aristotle

“Arguably the most distinctive feature of the early Christian literature,” writes Bart Ehrman, “is the degree to which it was forged.” The Homilies and Recognitions of Clement; Paul’s letters to and from Seneca; Gospels by Peter, Thomas, and Philip; Jesus’ correspondence with Abgar, letters by Peter and Paul in the New Testament–all forgeries. To cite just a few examples.  … … Christian authors forged documents in order to lend their ideas a veneer of authority in literary battles waged with pagans, Jews, and, most importantly, with one another in internecine disputes over doctrine and practice. In some instances a forger directed his work against views found in another forgery, creating thereby a “counter-forgery.” Ehrman’s evaluation of polemical forgeries starts with those of the New Testament (nearly half of whose books make a false authorial claim) up through the Pseudo-Ignatian epistles and the Apostolic Constitutions at the end of the fourth century.  (Bart D. Ehrman Professor University of North Carolina)  (from book summary on Bart D. Ehrman’s own website http://www.bartdehrman.com/)

It comes as a surprise to many that, as far as we
know, no non-Christian contemporary of Jesus wrote anything at all about him,
but that’s the fact. Even our earliest Gospel was written by someone who didn’t
know him and published 40 years after his death. (Dale
Martin – Professor Yale)

Did Paul ever meet Jesus? 

“Paul… had never met Jesus during his lifetime”.  (Elaine Pagels – Professor Princeton)

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