Problem: Paul didn't write all the Pauline epistles
Verses: Multiple; Status: Unsure

The New Testament contains thirteen epistles (or letters) attributed to the apostle Paul. These are thus called the Pauline epistles. They all contain an opening sentence where Paul (sometimes along with others) is explicitly named as the sender of the letter. For example, this is Galatians 1:1-2:

Paul, an apostle - not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead - and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia (ESV)

The problem is that modern scholars doubt that all these letters were actually written by Paul. The majority opinion seems to be that perhaps seven of these were certainly written by Paul, but that some of the others probably were not. If that's correct, the authors were practicing pseudepigraphy: writing with another's name to give their own opinions more authority.

If this really is the case, it is a serious blow for inerrancy, since it would mean the letters falsely claim to be from Paul.

The letters that are most doubted today seem to be Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. The arguments are too lengthy to go into, but surround issues of both style and substance. Most troubling are cases where Paul seems to be adopting a second century perspective, which of course he cannot do, having died around 67 A.D.

The ESV Study Bible makes a couple of general counterarguments. Firstly, the letters all claim Pauline authorship, which they say "should weigh heavily in the debate". That would be fine if pseudepigraphical works didn't exist, but actually they were common in the ancient world, and so the assertion of Pauline authorship isn't strong evidence one way or the other.

Secondly, the ESV Study Bible points out that the early church rejected other spurious letters. But the church could only reject texts that they actually detected as forgeries. There's no obvious reason to suspect they couldn't ever be fooled.

Ultimately, this isn't an issue that I can decide upon, but it's worth knowing about it, at least.

Updated: 2010-02-28

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