Paul’s Use of a Scribe

Years ago, while working on my Ph.D., I was on a university campus in Nashville, TN, for a journal conference where I had presented a paper. After my presentation, I attended other presentations until the evening break. As I walked behind two other graduate students talking, I heard one remark that he didn’t believe that Paul authored the “pastoral epistles” either. I perked up because I was clueless about what they meant and why. Perhaps I misunderstood them?

I began reading background material regarding the New Testament, specifically about 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. I don’t refer to them as the “Pastoral Epistles” because that term isn’t once used in either of these three letters. That’s something that began in the eighteenth century and has stuck ever since. Nevertheless, many scholars believed these letters to have been pseudepigraphical: written in Paul’s name, but by someone else. Why did they think this, I wondered? Historically speaking, the early church did not like this custom. On several occasions, letters were rejected for this very reason (e.g., Gospel of Peter), and Christians who did so were reprimanded (Tertullian, On Baptism 17.4–5). The oldest list of New Testament books, dating from AD 180 or thereabouts, censured letters forged in Paul’s name.

As I gave this issue more study, I learned that the letters’ syntax did not match any of Paul’s other letters. This isn’t the only factor that scholars relied upon, but the one with which I’m concerned here. I believe Paul used a specific scribe to compose these letters; however, I couldn’t necessarily prove it until now, thanks to Ben Witherington III. First, Scripture didn’t hide that Paul used a scribe to compose his letters. Tertius wrote his letter to the Romans, so we’re told in Romans 16:22. Second, some commentators have inferred from Galatians 6:11 that Paul might have had eye-sight issues, or that he may have only written a line or two of his letters (1 Cor. 16:21).

I recently listened to a podcast that featured Ben Witherington III and Jason Myers about views on Paul. Witherington made a statement on this issue towards the end of the episode. He challenged many scholars’ consensus on this claim regarding 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. Witherington argued that he believed that Luke wrote these letters and that Paul may have granted him a level of freedom to write them, which would account for the differences in syntax. He offered this for two reasons: 1) Luke alone was with Paul (2 Tim. 4:11) and 2) several phrases and terms appear only in these three letters as well as Luke-Acts. We already know that Paul quoted from Luke’s gospel account in 1 Timothy 5:17–18 (see Luke 10:7), so this makes Witherington’s point all the more plausible.

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