Pastoral Forgeries
Joseph Francis Alward
March 23, 2011

The comments and observations in this web article relate to the book, “Forged,” by Bart Ehrman, who argues that some of the pastoral letters traditionally believed to have been written by Paul of Tarsus are forged. Below, I dispute some of Prof. Ehrman's conclusions.

No Early Objection

As there is no evidence that anyone who knew Paul, or knew of his teachings, who said, "Wait a minute, that doesn't sound like the Paul I knew," I take that as evidence that the disputed writings were Paul’s. Not proof, of course, but evidence nonetheless that should be taken into account by Ehrman when he argues that some of Paul's writings were faked by others.  People at that time who might have known Paul, or knew someone who was with Paul, would be in a good position to know what his views were, and absence of any type of objection by such persons is evidence that they believed or knew the words were Paul’s own, not forged.  Nowhere in Prof Ehrman's book does he address this issue.


Difference in Style

In a number of places, in discussing the possibility of forgery in Paul’s letters, Ehrman points to differences in style. I believe there are good reasons to believe that Paul would have used different writing styles, and even had different attitudes, depending on whether he was writing at a later, or earlier, time in his life, when aging and illness might or might not have been a factor, or because he at times was writing from prison, where the stresses associated with confinement could have a serious and dramatic impact on the thinking and writing of anyone. Another possible reason for any differences in style would have to do with the intended recipient. I will elaborate on these points below.

If there is a difference in style, perhaps the difference might be attributed to the growing lack of skills caused by aging or illness, or imprisonment, or maybe some or all of Paul’s letters were dictated by Paul to a scribe who improved the writing, and who may have taken some editing liberties, such as joining shorter statements by Paul into longer sentences, or breaking longer sentences into shorter ones, and perhaps suggesting during dictation different words to use instead of the ones Paul had spoken to him. Don’t all successful authors use editors to clean up their writing most of the time? Maybe even Prof. Erhman's editors did this with his writing in some places. Maybe some of the letters were not dictated, and others were; that could account for some of the differences in style. Maybe some of the letters were composed by someone (amanuensis), not Paul, following an outline of the points Paul wished to make.

On the issue of style, my concerns are well represented by the following passage, taken from the website on which the author makes the following points:

There is the distinct possibility that Paul used an amanuensis to whom he gave great freedom in the writing of these letters.21 Longenecker (among several others) has shown that the nonliterary papyri display several different kinds of amanuenses at work—sometimes they wrote by dictation, other times, with greater freedom. His application to the Pauline epistles is illuminating:Just how closely the apostle supervised his various amanuenses in each particular instance is, of course, impossible to say. The nonliterary Greek papyri suggest that the responsibilities of an ancient secretary could be quite varied, ranging all the way from taking dictation verbatim to “fleshing out” with appropriate language a general outline of thought. Paul’s own practice probably varied with the special circumstances of the case and with the particular companion whom he employed at the time...

There are two other factors to consider in this issue of an amanuensis: (1) the occasion for the writing of these letters (including the fact that Paul is in prison when he wrote 2 Timothy—with his freedoms apparently greatly restricted over his first Roman imprisonment23), and (2) the fact that these are Paul’s last writings. On this second point it should be observed that the most disputed letters in the Pauline corpus are those which were written toward the end of his life. Apart from 2 Thessalonians (which is sometimes disputed), all of the disputed letters, if authentic, would be dated in the 60s. The significance of this may be that as time progressed, and as Paul dictated more and more letters (most of them now lost), his long-time companions could be trusted more and more to work from an annotated outline, rather than copy down a verbally dictated letter. If so, then any arguments from vocabulary or stylistic considerations which do not take sufficient account of an amanuensis at work are immediately suspect.24

(Note: I address Ehrman's evidence against amanuensis in the case of alleged forgeries of the writings of Peter in a separate artice, Were Peter's Writings Forged?

As for perceived differences in Paul’s attitudes, could they be attributed to his imprisonment? Are not the attitudes and beliefs of one who has lost his freedom sometimes more cynical, less hopeful, and his writings more circumspect, more cautious, than they are when the writer is free? But, in some cases, the prisoner becomes more spiritual, more hopeful. Either way, we expect one's views to change in prison. Couldn’t this alone account for all of the “evidence” of forgery? If not, why not? This possible exculpatory evidence is not mentioned by Ehrman.

Ehrman argues that the letter in 1 Timothy, in which Paul insists that the woman is to keep silent, was not by Paul because of the difference in writing style and attitude, but Ehrman in my opinion does not provide a balanced argument. He seems mainly to offer reasons why we should believe in the forgeries, and not reasons why they might not be forgeries. I describe what I think some of these omissions are.

The Recipients

1 Timothy may have been unlike others in style and attitude in part because of the recipient.  Other letters were written to groups, so Paul would have wanted to be more careful, more politically correct and formal, more circumspect in his writing to them, but 1 Timothy was written to a good friend and companion, with whom Paul could share his innermost thoughts, and be freer, looser in his writing style.

It is like the difference between an open-hearted letter to one’s son or daughter, and a more formal letter to all of the members of one’s church.  Indeed, Paul seemed to think of the younger Timothy as a "son," because in 2 Timothy he says, "son Timothy."  One naturally says things in different ways--less formal, less guarded ways, to one's son or daughter, or a close friend, than you would to a group, many of whose members you might not have met. If Ehrman discussed the issue of recipients in his book, I missed it.

Writing from Prison

Some of Paul's letters were written while he was in prison, and some not. Could the stress of confinement and an uncertain future have affected his attitude and writing style and explain the difference in style between 1 Timothy and the other letters?

As far as I can see from a cursory reading of Prof. Ehrman's book, he doesn't discuss the possible effect of Paul's imprisonment on the style of his writing.


2 Timothy Letter is Too Personal

Ehrman wrote,

"But one point sometimes raised is that there is so much personal information in 2 Timothy, it is hard to see how it could be forged.  Why, for example, would a forger tell his alleged reader (who was not actually his reader!) to be sure to bring his cloak to him when he comes and also the books he left behind?

"This objection has been convincingly answered by one of the great scholars of ancient forgery, Norbert Brox, who gives compelling evidence that this kind of "verisimilitude" (as I called it in Chapter 1) is typical for forgeries.  Making the letter sound "homey" removes the suspicion that it's forged.  The personal notices in 2 Timothy....serve, then, to convince readers that this really is written by Paul, even though it is not."

What if there had been no "homey-isms"?  Would not Brox then have "convincingly" argued that the absence of any of the type of familiarity that would naturally arise in a letter to a dear friend should convince anyone that the letter could not have been written by Paul?

The author of 2 Timothy, if it was Paul, would thus be damned by Brox if he did, and damned if he didn't. Any letter that contained the expected personal notes would be given no points in favor of authorship, but any letter that did not contain them would lose favor. The same is true for almost any other expected similarities; there may no way to come out ahead in debate against those who argue forgery.

This “having it both ways” tool some historians use can be extended to any similarities of style or attitude with the real Paul that might appear in any letter one wishes to dispute. If there are similarities, one says they can be discounted (as Brox does) because a good forger would know that he should include them to make the letter seem real, and if there are very few similarities, one could say that the lack of similarities is evidence of forgery, because one expects similarities. Either way, no matter what, similarities, or not, the argument will work in favor of the one who wishes to demonstrate forgery, or at least not work against him, so Brox and other skeptical historians can have their cake, and eat it, too.

Did Paul Think He Would Die Before the Rapture?

One of the arguments Ehrman offers in support of his view that the author of 1 Thessalonians was not Paul, is based in what he believes is a difference in beliefs by the Paul in 1 Thessalonians about how soon the rapture would come, and the Paul in other letters. The Paul in Thessalonians, Ehrman says, thinks the rapture is coming very soon, but the Paul in other letters thinks it won’t come for a long time, he says. This, along with other evidence, Ehrman states, shows that Paul was not the author of
that letter. I don’t see what Ehrman sees.

Here are the relevant remarks by Prof. Ehrman.

          "Paul himself thought the end was coming in his lifetime.  Nowhere is this more clear than in [the following verse[:

The dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air. (1 Thessalonians)

"Read the verse carefully,” Ehrman says.  “Paul expects to be one of the ones who will still be alive when it happens."

I don't think that what Paul is saying necessarily means that he expects to be one of the ones alive when the rapture comes. Maybe that is what he meant, but maybe not. The "we who are alive" in this verse doesn't have to refer to Paul and the ones he's addressing. He could be referring to those who are in the church at the time of the rapture, whenever that might be. I'm reminded of the last words in John Steinbeck's novel, "Grapes of Wrath," when Grandma Joad said,

"Rich fellas come up an' they die, an' their kids ain't no good an' they die out. But we keep a'comin'. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people."

The "we" Grandma Joad is referring to is not herself and her family, of course. She is referring to the hard-scrabble people like the Joads that will "keep a'comin," the group of people that will never die out. In the exact same way, in Paul's letter the "we who are alive" he was referring to may just be the people who are like Paul and his church family, who will never die out, the people who will be alive at the time of rapture, that, who knows, might not come for decades, who will be caught up and meet the Lord in the air.

Why Were There No Letters to Timothy?

If it's true that someone forged the 2 Timothy letter, the one that is chock full of personalisms from Paul to "son Timothy," then the forger must have known that Paul was very good friends with Timothy, otherwise, he wouldn't have dared to put so many personalisms in it, because people would say, Paul didn't know Timothy that well at all, this is a fake. The forger's work--if indeed he was a forger--provides good evidence that Paul and Timothy were very close.

Now, if it's true that Paul and Timothy were good friends, then why are there no letters from the "real" Paul to Timothy? Surely, one would expect that of all the people Paul would write, Timothy would be the one person he would write to. The absence of any real letter to Timothy from the real Paul--if indeed Prof. Ehrman is right, and 1 Ti
mothy and 2 Timothy are not from Paul--is indication that something is fishy. There should be letters from Paul to Timothy, but by Prof. Ehrman proclaiming 1 and 2 Timothy to be fakes, there are no real letters to Timothy. I consider this to be moderately strong evidence that the only extant Timothy letters are more likely to be real, than fake.

In conclusion, I am not convinced one way or the other about the Timothy letters, but I am convinced that a great many arguments that could be presented on behalf of the other side by Prof. Ehrman in defense of the letters' integrity were not offered, and they should have been.


Evidence that the Old and New Testaments teach that woman is inferior to man, and must never be allowed to lead or teach men, is found on websites at the following addresses:

The Glory of Man

Usurping Women

Joseph Francis Alward