The authenticity of Paul’s correspondence with Timothy and Titus went unchallenged until the nineteenth century. Since then, more and more commentators have alleged that the letters to Timothy and Titus are an instance of pseudonymous writing (pseudo = false; -nymous = name) in which a later follower attributes his own work to his revered teacher in order to perpetuate that person’s teaching and influence.
Are the Letters Pseudonymous?
Richard Bauckham, for example, one of the major biblical scholars and historians of our day, believes that the author of the Letters to Timothy and Titus “has thought himself into situations in Paul’s ministry and . . . has filled out whatever historical information was available to him with historical fiction” (“Post-Apostolic Letters,” Journal of Biblical Literature 107 : 492). Bauckham goes on to conjecture that Timothy may have written 1 Timothy himself!
Are the Letters Allonymous?
Howard Marshall, another noted scholar, in his ICC commentary used the phrase “allonymous” to argue that someone “other” (the meaning of Greek allos) wrote the Letters to Timothy and Titus, though he is trying to soften the force of the word pseudo in “pseudonymous,” meaning “false,” which has a more negative connotation and implies deception. Marshall, then, argues that someone else wrote the Letters to Timothy and Titus, but that he did so without deceptive intent.
Are the Letters Authentic?
The question is first a historical one. Is pseudonymous letter-writing attested in the first century? Related to this is a second, ethical and moral, issue: If pseudonymous letter-writing was practiced, was such a practice as ethically unobjectionable and devoid of deceptive intent as is often alleged? Could pseudonymous letters have been acceptable to the early church? If so, is pseudonymity more plausible than authenticity in the case of the Letters to Timothy and Titus?
No First-century Pseudonymous Letters
In answer to the first question, the extant evidence suggests that pseudonymous first-century letters are exceedingly rare to the point of being virtually non-existent. The two Jewish letters, the Epistle of Jeremy and the Letter of Aristeas, are really not epistles in the proper sense: the former is a homily, the latter an account of the circumstances of the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. Similar problems attach to Laodiceans and 3 Corinthians.
Warnings against Forged Letters
With regard to the second question, rather than accepting pseudonymous letters, Paul and the early church were demonstrably opposed to such a practice. Paul frequently refers to the “distinguishing mark” in all his letters (e.g. 2 Thess. 3:17) and in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 warns believers against a “letter supposed to have come from us.” Tertullian reports that an Asian presbyter was removed from office for forging a letter in Paul’s name (Bapt. 17).
Another important issue is the significant number of historical particularities in the Letters to Timothy and Titus. While it is possible that a later imitator of Paul fabricated these pieces of information to lend greater verisimilitude to his epistle, it seems much more credible to see these references as authentic instances in Paul’s life and ministry. For this reason we conclude, with D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, that
the Pastorals are much more akin to the accepted letters of Paul than they are to the known pseudonymous documents that circulated in the early church (D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament [2nd ed.; Zondervan, 2005], 563).
For Further Study
See my essay “Hermeneutical and Exegetical Challenges in Interpreting the Pastoral Epistles,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 7/3 (Fall 2003): 4–17. See also my commentary, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12: Ephesians–Philemon (rev. ed.; Zondervan, 2006), 488–625.