Does it Matter if Paul Didn’t Write the Pastoral Epistles?

Yesterday, I read a short blog post asking the question of whether or not Paul actually wrote the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) and if it matters. A large number of New Testament scholars, including I.H. Marshall, reject Pauline authorship of these books (an argument that’s really only emerged in the last 200 years) for a variety of reasons, primarily due to differences in style, vocabulary, ecclesiology and theology (although these last two in particular are overstated).

But a big question emerges, whatever position you take: does it really matter if Paul didn’t write these letters?

Does it affect how we read them?

Are they still inspired Scripture if we could definitively prove they’re not Pauline?

These are really important questions, ones that we should consider with the seriousness they deserve (and that includes more consideration that I could hope to give in a simple blog post). However, I want to take a second to address the question of whether or not it matters if they’re not written by Paul—because the answer is an emphatic “yes!”

It’s of drastic import to their place within the canon and to their trustworthiness if Paul didn’t write them. If Paul didn’t write these letter, then they’re pseudonymous works, and while writing under a pseudonym was fairly common within the culture of the first century, it wasn’t something commonly done in personal correspondence. It was also rejected outright by the early church itself, as Scripture itself testifies in 2 Thess. 2:2 and 2 Thess. 3:17. Paul, in this undisputed letter, says that the church of God is only to accept and trust genuine letters. So if the pastoral epistles weren’t written by Paul, they would be inauthentic.

Looking outside of Scripture to church history, we see mention of Pauline authorship of these books in the Muratorian Canon; we also see that when an elder wrote a pseudonymous work under Paul’s name he was removed from his office (see Tertullian, On Baptism, 17).

So, if Paul didn’t write these letters, then they would be falsified documents that would have been unwelcome in the early church.

Why? Because they would contain a lie.

More than that, they would be based upon a lie. And if these documents were based upon a lie—that is their authorship—then they absolutely cannot be trusted whatsoever, meaning you have to reject them or reinterpret what it means for something to be inspired of God. This then becomes even more problematic, is that then the entire doctrine of inerrancy evaporates, because you’re left with a position that forces you to say that Scripture errs. And if Scripture errs, then it throws your entire view of the Bible into question and in the end you’re left with either a collection of documents that you choose to trust out of preference (a subjective view) or you’re left having to throw the whole thing away because it’s not trustworthy.

It’s not wrong to ask the question of whether or not Paul wrote these books, but we must be diligent in our study of God’s Word in order to find the answer. There is legitimately too much at stake and on this issue, we cannot afford to be agnostic.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books including the Big Truths Bible Storybook, Epic Devotions, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty, and Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World. His next book, published by Lexham Press, will release in Spring 2023.

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11 Replies to “Does it Matter if Paul Didn’t Write the Pastoral Epistles?”

  1. […] Does it matter if Paul didn’t write the pastoral epistles? […]

  2. […] Bible as a whole? Must we “throw the whole thing away because it’s not trustworthy,” as suggested by Aaron Armstrong? I certainly haven’t cut the Pastorals out of my Bible. Nor should you. They represent an […]

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  4. La
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  5. […] I wrote about whether or not it matters if Paul wrote the pastoral epistles. As I briefly explained, what we believe about these letters is a huge issue, particularly in how […]

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  7. […] of the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). In his second post, Mason responds to this piece by Aaron Armstrong at Blogging Theologically. Aaron is clearly of the view that to admit that the […]

  8. […] Does it Matter if Paul Didn’t Write the Pastoral Epistles? […]

  9. Aaron, thank you for your response in this question. I appreciate an answer that is first and foremost Biblical, and think the way you use and apply scripture to this question as quite beneficial. 

    1. Thanks Tim—grateful that you’ve found this post helpful.

  10. […] morning Aaron Armstrong at Blogging Theologically responded to my question about Pauline authorship of the Pastoral […]

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