THIS COMBINATION OF THE FIVE BOOKS IS IN PROCESS
The Gospel According To Luke
a.d. 60 – a.d. 90
by Luke, physician, historian, author, and companion of Paul
Who is Luke?
The person of Luke has already found its way into our readings through our discussion of the book of Acts and the travels of Paul. Much of the background of Luke’s gospel has therefore already been considered, including the fascinating possibility that he and Mark were inRometogether with Paul (and perhaps Peter) in the early 60s.
Though we have been attempting to encounter the books of the New Testament in approximate order of their writing, it is obvious that here, with Luke and Acts, we are reading in exact reverse order from how Luke wrote them. I hope our reasons for doing so are well founded as previously explained. Though it is not precisely “according to plan,” breaking up our reading of the four gospels through the year (February, May/June, August, November) interweaves the gospel story itself with the outflowing historical impact of that story as it developed in the first century. I find it wonderfully fitting that this progression has allowed us to consider the gospels not only in the order of their probable writing (with the caveat that there really is no way to assess that order between Matthew and Luke) but also in ascending order of sophistication—from the first gospel, Mark, in all its blunt and unpolished glory, to the towering theological masterpiece of John.
Out of order, then (for Luke clearly wrote Luke and Acts in that order as companion volumes to one another), we now encounter the most historically and biographically sophisticated of the four gospels, penned by Paul’s companion, the beloved physician Luke. “The writing is characterized by literary excellence, historical detail and warm, sensitive understanding of Jesus and those around him.” (NIV Study Bible, p. 1273)
It has been said that the gospels are not “biographies” of Jesus in the modern sense of the word. Biographies, as we know them, did not exist in the ancient world. The few life stories that were written were told from a point of view, with an agenda. For all their pro-Jesus “bias” however, the three synoptic (“viewed together”) gospels probably come closer to true biography (in a sense initiating a new literary form) than anything else of the time. And of the gospels, Luke comes closest of the three to writing an objective, researched, historically sound “life of Jesus.”
Of all the major New Testament authors, Luke is unique in having had no personal connection to Jesus. (If one grants Paul’s visionary encounter as a “personal” connection. The only other possible exception is the unknown author of Hebrews. Some conjecture Barnabas, who knew Jesus personally, to have authored Hebrews. Paul has also been suggested as a possibility. But it is generally assumed that the Hebrews author was someone not connected to the events of the gospel.) This disconnectedness with the events about which he is writing is actually Luke’s strength. Not having been there as were Mark, Matthew, and John, Luke is forced in his writing to fall back on the time-tested method of the biographer and historian—research. Rather than relying on his memory, Luke has to start with a clean slate and then interview and research and rely on whatever other sources he can lay his hands on. Luke is also unique as being the only gentile writer in the New Testament. In all likelihood he is probably the only gentile author in the entire Bible. This cannot help but give him a very special perspective from which to put the life of Jesus Christ into perspective.
Luke thus comes at his gospel first of all, not even as a believer, but as a historian. We know that Matthew wrote primarily for Jews. Mark probably wrote for the Christians of Rome. Though their appeal is now universal, at the time of their writing they had limited audiences. Suddenly that changes with the appearance of Luke. The whole world is Luke’s audience. He has written the Everyman’s Gospel. In Luke we encounter a work of such professional and historic stature that it became the gospel most widely respected in the higher echelons of the secular Roman world.
This was exactly Luke’s purpose. His address of both Luke and Acts to the “most excellent Theophilus,” while sometimes viewed as a generic greeting to all Christians (Theophilus—one who loves God), the general consensus of opinion is that Luke’s words were rather intended for a specific individual. The “most excellent” would seem to indicate someone of high position and wealth, possibly a Roman official. There have been numerous speculations about this mysterious Theophilus, ranging from his being Luke’s patron who financially supported the project, to his being an interested Roman of high rank to whom Luke wanted to explain the gospel more fully, to those who take the name as a fictional device employed by the author.
It is a fascinating, and by no means improbable, suggestion that one of the reasons which shaped the writing of Luke-Acts was the desire to commend Christianity to members of the Roman court circle. T. Flavius Clemens, joint consul in A.D. 95, whose wife Domitilla was an adherent, if not a baptized member of the church at Rome, was probably favorably disposed to the new faith, and excavations suggest that other members of leading families were also interested in it. The content of Luke-Acts lend support to this suggestion. The gospel is related to world history…In the Acts, Roman officials are not unfriendly…The climax of Luke-Acts describes Paul’s preaching and teaching in Rome as being carried on “quite openly and unhindered”…Luke may well have wished to suggest that Christianity was not politically dangerous. (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3 (?), p 181)
All this supports the traditional view, perhaps based on Colossians and Philemon placing Luke and Mark both there, that, like Mark’s gospel, Luke was written in Rome for a Roman and gentile audience. That Luke used Mark, even based his gospel on it, as did Matthew, also fits theRome scenario. (If there was twenty or more years between the writing of the two gospels, however, both those connections would lose much of their force.)
luke the man
About Luke himself, little is known other than that he was obviously (from what can be reconstructed of his movements from Acts and the epistles) a longtime faithful companion of Paul’s, whom Paul calls the “beloved physician,” and who remained at his side with the others mentioned in Colossians and Philemon, all the way through Paul’s first Roman imprisonment.
Cyrene, Philippi, and both Antiochs (Syriaand Pisidia), have all been suggested as Luke’s hometown. The reason for Philippi is clear: The we-sections of Acts begin just prior to Paul’s arrival at Philippi in Acts 16, suggesting that Luke was either a convert or a believer from that region of Macedonia. This we-account ends when Paul leaves Philippi, suggesting that perhaps Luke remained behind (perhaps because it was his hometown), rejoining Paul later (Acts 20:5) when Paul again came throughPhilippi. One ancient manuscript, though apparently not original (of which I have not been able to find a direct quote—sorry) is mentioned as using “we” in Acts 11:28, a fact that, if accurate, would place Luke in Antioch at a much earlier date, in time to have witnessed Paul’s blow-up over circumcision. Luke is also potentially identified in Acts 13:1 with a certain “Lucius of Cyrene” present atAntioch (“Lucius…my kinsman” is also mentioned as a companion with Paul in Romans 16:21), linking Luke, if he is indeed the same Lucius, with bothAntioch andCyrene. But all these are mere guesses.
Another such guess links Luke and Titus as brothers on the basis of 2 Cor. 8:18 and 12:18. Though purely speculative, this might explain the fact that Luke never mentions either himself or Titus by name in Acts. Whether true or not, it is fascinating to consider the familial connections throughout the New Testament, and that families did tend to come into belief together. Perhaps the most well known are Mark and Timothy, both of whom grew into manhood from households with believing mothers. Tracing actual blood-relationships in the writings of Paul is precarious in that he frequently uses terms of familial affinity in their broader spiritual context (brother, kinsman, mother, etc.—Romans 16:13: “Greet Rufus…also his mother and mine.”) Yet surely Luke is speaking of true blood relation in Acts 23:16, where Paul’s own nephew warned him of a conspiracy to kill him. We tend to think of Paul in a relational vacuum, knowing nothing of his family and background. Yet here is his sister mentioned and his nephew playing a major role in the drama. Obviously more of his family than Paul alone came into the Christian movement. It is entirely probable that many of the people mentioned by Paul in his letters had more interconnections than we know.
The authorship of Luke is the least disputed of all four gospels. Considerable doubt in liberal scholarship surrounds the traditional authorship of the other three. But tradition of Lukan authorship dates from very early. The Muratorian Canon at around 170 AD stated that Luke “composed in his own name” the third Gospel. Irenaeus (AD 185) wrote that “Luke, the follower of Paul” was its author. These traditions of authenticity came from unanimous church opinion that had been passed down from the first century. On that basis, it seems almost impossible to dispute it.
There are revisionist scholars, however, who note what they consider “theological differences” between Luke and Acts and the epistles of Paul that make Luke’s authorship unlikely. This is not a factor I perceive with great clarity. But I feel I should make you aware of it so that you will be able to look for it as you read—if it is indeed there.
I made a great point earlier of the distinction between Paul’s perspective, as revealed in his letters, on the Gentile mission and his role in it, and the impression one gains from reading Acts. It is such things as these that some scholars look to as revealing this tension between Luke-Acts and the Pauline epistles, concluding that a man as devoted to Paul as Luke obviously was would surely have done more to support Paul’s “position” and Paul’s “theology” than the Luke-Acts author has done.
I look at it a little differently. It seems to me that the author of Acts actually portrays Paul in a far more favorable light than comes across in the epistles. Paul’s letters are so full of boasting and self-justification and what I call “resume enhancement,” who but a devoted and faithful follower could cast him in the heroic light in which he comes across in Acts? I note the differences between Acts and the epistles and draw exactly the opposite conclusion from the revisionists. I see in the neutrality of Acts one more example of Luke’s objectivity as a historian. Devoted to Paul, he yet portrays Peter as the true initiator of the Gentile mission. Devoted to Paul in spite of much that is self-serving in his letters, he is yet able to write an objective account of his historic contribution to the spread of Christianity.
The following, however, will give you some sense of the alternate point of view to consider in the matter of the authorship of Luke and Acts.
One consequence of Luke’s larger narrative goals is that his understanding of Paul stands in considerable tension with biographical and theological details in Paul’s own letters. This raises doubts about the traditional identification of Luke as a companion of Paul…Luke’s denial of the status “apostle” to Paul in Acts is a bit of literary license almost unimaginable for an actual companion of “Paul the apostle”…Morever, according to Luke it is not Paul’s theological argument but the conversion of Cornelius through Peter, ratified by the apostolic council, that establishes the freedom of Gentile Christians from the law. Discrepancies between the Paul of Acts and the Paul of the epistles have long been recognized. (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 184 NT)
The Biography of God’s Son
All commentators point to the high level of polish and sophistication evident in Luke. Luke was clearly well educated, probably multi-lingual, and a skilled writer and wordsmith. The NIV Study Bible notes:
Luke had outstanding command of the Greek language. His vocabulary is extensive and rich, and his style at times approaches that of classical Greek (as in the preface, 1:1-4), while at other times it is quite Semitic (1:5-2:52)—often like the Greek translation of the OT. His vocabulary seems to reveal geographical and cultural sensitivity, in that it varies with the particular land or people being described. When Luke refers to Peter in a Jewish setting, he uses more Semitic language than when he refers to Paul in a Hellenistic setting. (p. 1272)
As I try to analyze the English of Luke’s first sentence, I simply note its length and intricacy as a complex sentence. I face the same thing when reading (or editing) George MacDonald’s words. The sentences are long and involved, and if I happen to be editing I shorten sentences of one hundred (or even two hundred) words to make the progressions of ideas more linear. But MacDonald and I still use the same language, mostly even the same idiom within that language. I am simply adapting MacDonald’s text to a more straightforward style.
As I read the opening of Luke’s gospel, I seem to encounter the same thing—a long and complex sentence, followed by the beginning of the story told in more straightforward fashion: In the days…there was a priest…he had a wife…they had no children…while he was performing his duty…an angel appeared, etc. Nearly all the sentences follow the straightforward subject-predicate word order. It is not difficult to see the difference between such a linear and simple style and the more tangled first sentence, with its numerous commas and clauses.
But is this a difference of style of mere sentence length and complexity, or do these truly represent distinct idiomatic types of the Greek language, as manifested by word subtleties and verb forms and unique cases and tenses and other linguistic characteristics which I am incapable of detecting? I don’t know.
The most specificity I have discovered comes from William Barclay and Donald Guthrie:
It is the best bit of Greek in the New Testament. Luke uses here the very form of introduction which the great Greek historians all used. Herodotus begins, “These are the researches of Herodotus of Halicarnassus.” A much later historian, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, tells us at the beginning of his history, “Before beginning to write I gathered information, partly from the lips of the most learned men with whom I came into contact, and partly from histories written by Romans of whom they spoke with praise.” So Luke, as he began his story in the most sonorous Greek, followed the highest models he could find…
It is most significant that Luke was not satisfied with anyone else’s story of Christ. He must have his own. Religion is never a second-hand thing. It is a personal discovery….the four gospels were important, but beyond them all came the gospel of personal experience. Luke had to rediscover Jesus Christ for himself. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, The Gospel of Luke, pp. 7-8)
That Luke was acquainted with good literary style is apparent in the main body of the Gospel, when he uses certain idioms which are relatively absent from the other New Testament writers, e.g. the optative, the articular infinitive, the use of the article in indirect questions, the use of πρίν with the subjunctive or optative. (Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, p. 116)
All commentators on Luke point out these linguistic shifts and I therefore take the matter as of some importance. You may therefore also find the following interesting:
Luke writes a Greek of high quality. E.g. he occasionally improves on the style of Mark. Foreign words like “rabbi” and “Golgotha,” since they might grate on the ear of the Hellenistic reader of the Greco-Roman world, are omitted. A distinctive feature of Luke’s style is his fondness for 2-fold constructions. He likes double names (e.g. “Martha, Martha,” 10:41) repetitious sentences (e.g. 19:31, 34) and parallel illustrations (e.g. Noah and Lot, 17:26-32). This parallelism probably finds its background in the LXX [Septuagint]… (The Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible, p. 673)
Luke’s Greek is remarkable for its adaptability…Particularly noticeable is the type of Septuagint Greek used for the infancy narratives which seem to have been strongly influenced by the style of the canticles which he includes in his narratives. The strongly Hebraistic character of Luke’s Greek in this section is admirably adapted to link the incarnation of Jesus with the Old Testament history and that may well be the effect that Luke wished to create. By his obvious familiarity with the Septuagint, which he often cites throughout the Gospel, Luke’s Greek has become strongly coloured with Hebraisms. At the same time Luke’s vocabulary is unusually rich and varied for a New Testament writer, for he uses several hundred words which no other New Testament writer uses. (New Testament Introduction, pp. 115-16)
Luke reveals the ability to write in different literary styles. The initial four verses of the book are a single Greek sentence that forms a highly stylized introductory statement typically found in ancient historiographical writings. The Greek is formal and refined in a fashion that would have been familiar to well-educated citizens of the Greco-Roman era. After this distinctive start, however, the storytelling shifts into a style of Greek reminiscent of the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, with additional writings from Hellenistic Judaism)…This Semitic-influenced form of Greek permeates the stories surrounding the birth and childhood of Jesus. Yet the Septuagint-like style lightens into a more normal (and more typically secular) form of first-century Greek (called “koine”) in the narrative that comprises the remainder of the Gospel. When situations shift in the story, the language of the account varies appropriately to suit the locale and characters in the narrative. Luke’s appreciation of stylistic variation in narrative communication is apparent from his skilled employment of this technique. Indeed, it seems that Gospel itself captures and communicates the universal significance of the story of God’s salvation in and through Jesus Christ in the variety of ways that Luke styles the story. Readers from different religious, ethnic, and social backgrounds would find one level or another of the overall account to which they could relate and, thereby, find a point of identity and entry into the story of Jesus Christ. (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, p. 93 NT)
Luke’s excellence as a writer and “biographer” is not limited to linguistic style. He is the consummate New Testament historian. All the other New Testament writers come at their topics from the perspective of message. They had something to say, and they said it.
Luke’s entire approach is different. By his own admission, the topics he intends to cover have already been told by others. His intent is to tell a history, more thorough and “orderly” than what has been attempted before. This does not imply that the message is unimportant to him, only that he intends to frame that message in its historical context. In so doing, he has given the world one of the most important historical documents of all time.
In light of the relationships between Mark, Luke, Peter, and Paul, and Peter’s influence on Mark, many commentators read a similar influence of Paul into Luke, even view it, opposite to the above revisionists, as an attempt to support Paul’s theology. There is obviously much difference of opinion.
Basically his [Luke’s] interests are historical…He does not write as a modern historian would…His intention is to record what Jesus had said and done in the light of certain definite interests of his own. He is not primarily a theologian, and certainly now a “Paulinist.” Irenaeus, we have seen, says that he recorded the gospel preached by Paul; but this statement is quite general and cannot be pressed…Luke’s purposes are not doctrinal, but practical in the best sense of the word. (The Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3(?), p. 181)
My image of Luke is of a calm, intelligent, observing man, one content to stand back watching others take the lead, a behind-the-scenes man, taking mental notes of everything going on around him. There is no way of knowing how accurate this is. But the thoroughness of his research, the absence of overt doctrinal bias in his work (especially remarkable for one who had been Paul’s companion for so many years), and the sophistication and excellence of his finished set of books all speak to me of a man with a sense of history, a man capable of taking the long-range view, a man capable of discerning the big picture, a man with far-seeing vision and insight…in short, a man walking just a little taller than many of his peers.
It is fascinating to consider how Luke actually carried out his research. How did he find out some of the things that are in his gospel. How did he learn of Zechariah and Elizabeth? How could he have quoted the angel’s message or Elizabeth’s song with such precision so long after they were dead? I know a little about writing biographies, and I know how difficult it is to get new information so long after the fact. Clearly Luke had Mark and the collection of sayings called Q to use, and possibly other fragmentary written sources. Scholars conjecture numerous “documents” that may have been floating around through the first century. This is a fascinating study in its own right. Some hypothesize what is called an “L” document, and Luke’s potential first draft is called “proto-Luke.” Whether such sources really existed or not, they are consistent with Luke’s expressed intent to research everything available and then write the definitive life of Jesus.
Luke had a considerable amount of further information of his own (generally indicated by the symbol ‘L’).
Two theories of the way in which he went to work are held. The older view is that he made Mark the basis of his work and inserted into it at appropriate places large blocks of additional material from Q and L. A more recent view is that Luke first combined the Q and L material into one document, and then later combined this ‘proto-Luke’ with Mark; one may plausibly associate the first stage of this process with Luke’s period in Palestine while Paul was a prisoner there, and the second stage with his arrival with Paul in Rome, where Mark very probably wrote his Gospel. The arguments for and against these theories are highly technical, and…must remain hypothetical…
A growing body of radical opinion has stressed the creative ability of Luke and holds that he manipulated the sources in the interests of his own theology. For example, where Luke records an incident also told by Mark in very different wording or tells of a similar but apparently different incident, such scholars are inclined to attribute the differences to Luke’s rewriting of his sources rather than to his possession of additional, authentic information. Now it must be admitted that Luke has made a thorough stylistic recasting of his sources and has made many changes of a minor character in his narrative, but against this must be set his expressed intention of faithfully recording his story, his great accuracy in portraying the geographical and political background of events, and the way in which he makes very little alteration when reproducing the actual words of Jesus. To say, as some scholars have done, that Luke was not concerned with historical accuracy, is to fly in the face of his own expressed intentions. When these things are borne in mind, the case for Luke’s fidelity to his sources is a strong one. If, like John, he has given us an artist’s portrait of Jesus rather than a photograph (and even photographs are taken from a particular point of view and contain an element of interpretation), he has given us a true portrait. (The New Bible Commentary: Revised, p. 888)
When all is said and done, and all the written sources exhausted, my image is of Luke traveling up and down Palestine (or wherever there were believing Christians gathered, one of whom might be from “the old days in Galilee”) talking to people, asking questions, probing, following leads—“What do you remember…what can you tell me about so-and-so…were you there when…where might I find someone else who was there?” I cannot imagine that Luke was not close to Mary during this time. Not only has he given us her magnificent prayer of praise, from Luke’s hand we have the intensely personal: Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Where else could such a statement have originated but from Mary herself? Luke is also the only gospel writer to tell us about the incident at the temple when Jesus was twelve, and the wonderfully insightful comment about his youth: And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. These glimpses of the Lord’s boyhood also hint of Mary’s (or some other family member’s, James or Jude perhaps) potential involvement in Luke’s research. Mary might well also have been his source for the information aboutElizabeth. I even envision Luke interviewing one or two of the wizened old scribes and rabbis who were there at the temple that day and were forever changed by the eyes and voice and spirit of the twelve year old who had appeared among them, as much as admitting even at that young age to being the Son of God.
All the while Luke is taking notes, listening, absorbing, gathering material, as the thorough historian he is, preparing for the time he will put it all together in a document that will be powerful and persuasive at the high, literate, sophisticated level of the Roman court.
Obviously, this may not be an accurate picture. But however Luke gathered his sources, and especially if he traveled throughPalestine and elsewhere conducting the kind of personal interviews I envision, it obviously took time. This process might easily have taken Luke years.
There are two logical possibilities. One, as noted in the quote above, Luke could have carried out much of this personal research when he was with Paul during Paul’s Palestinian imprisonment in the late 50s. He might have then traveled toRomeand, perhaps under the influence of Mark, written his gospel then. If Paul was in prison inRomefor two years in the 60s, perhaps longer, that time would have provided Luke with ample leisure for his work. On the other hand, he might have waited until after Paul’s death to carry out his research and writing, a view that seems strengthened by Luke’s longer-range perspective on the second coming. The Jewish revolt of 66-70, with the destruction ofJerusalemin 70 would obviously have figured heavily in Luke’s potential travel plans toPalestineduring that time. There is no way to know. But the generally accepted time of writing is between the years 70 and 90, with most scholars preferring a date in the second of those decades.
How Luke uses Mark is intriguing:
While Luke uses Mark, he omits nearly half the material in his source, and…the verses which he takes over do not amount to a third of his own gospel…Luke is indebted to Q, L, and oral tradition to a far greater extent than he is to Mark…
The evangelist owes more of his material to L than to any other source…It is best to regard L as a body of oral tradition which Luke first reduced to writing atCaesarea.
It is the L material which gives much of its distinctiveness to the Third Gospel. To it belong the parables and narratives peculiar to Luke…
A reasonable conjecture is that this L material was collected by Luke ca A.D. 60, when, as he tells us in Acts 21:8-9, he remained with his companions “many days” in the house of Philip the evangelist at Caesarea…The probability that his information reached him in an oral form is supported by the fact that his distinctive style is especially marked in the narratives and parables derived from this source…
Proto-Luke is not a lost gospel, but a first draft on which, it is presumed, Luke drew when composing his gospel. According to the hypothesis, he began with Q and expanded it with material from L and an account of the Passion and the Resurrection. Later he enlarged it with many longer or shorter extracts from Mark, with the birth stories, and with the Preface. (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3 (?), p. 184-85)
The historicity of Luke’s gospel has had profound and widespread impact throughout history ever since. Luke leaves nothing to doubt or chance. He solidly links the events of Jesus life to known, documented, verifiable facts. Luke’s factual detail is immediately more striking than anything found in the other gospels. Luke 2:1-3 is one of the most important passages in the entire book. To the Roman reader, here are facts straight out of their own history. Luke uses them skillfully to establish Jesus as a real human being, born at a certain time and place, indisputably linked to the history of the Roman Empire. Just as important are the first two verses of chapter three. Here Luke’s specificity becomes even more detailed. He gives the exact year of Jesus’ baptism. To our ear these are familiar verses. But to the Roman reader of the first century, this was validation of the exploding Christian movement rooted in factual history. Luke made the Roman world stand up and take notice.
It is upon these two significant passages, in fact, that the entire future dating of the world would be based. Luke’s painstaking research changed the way the world measured time.
At the time of Luke’s writing, the year referred to in 3:1 (the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar) would have been called the year 783 AUC (ab urbe condita—“from the foundation of the city [ofRome]”).
According to that Roman dating scheme, the following dates are of interest:
723 AUC Augustus becomes Caesar
758 AUC Tiberius becomes emperor
750 AUC Death of Herod the Great
780 AUC Pilate becomes governor ofJudea
783 AUC 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.
After that time, especially after the fall of Rome, countries throughout the world used all manner of different calendars and chronologies to measure the years. One of the most confusing aspects of this diversity for the church was how to date Easter, a confusing enough matter on its own. (In 324, theCouncil of Nicea decreed that Easter should be observed on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. Therefore, Easter can fall on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25.) A dispute over Easter arose in 525 (our time…525 AD). A certain abbot and historian by the name of Dionysius Exiguus (Denis the Little) was working in the pontifical archives. The pope asked him to sort the matter out. Dionysius did so by preparing a new chronology of years based on his calculation—from Luke’s gospel—of the birth of Christ on December 25 of the year 753 AUC.
December 25 of that year would henceforth be 0. The year 753 AUC would be known as the year 1 BC (Before Christ). The year 754 would be known as the year 1 AD (anno Domini). There would be no year 0, only a single day 0—December 25 of the year 1 BC.
(Hmm…a little brain teaser—where do the days December 26-31 of that year fit? They are part of the 1 BC year, but come after Christ’s birth. It is also a given that the day December 25 was randomly selected by Dionysius, and that the actual day is completely unknown.)
In any event, based on information provided by Luke and Dionysius’ calculations, the world’s current calendar was born.
Henceforth, the above years were changed to:
754 BC Romefounded
14 BC Augustus becomes Caesar
4 BC Death of Herod the Great
14 AD Tiberius becomes emperor
26 AD Pilate becomes governor ofJudea.
You may notice a problem. Luke and Matthew plainly state that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod. Dionysius had goofed by at least four years, perhaps even a little more. Jesus had to have been born before 750 AUC. The “under two years” of Herod’s infant slaughter suggests perhaps as early as 748 AUC.
Unfortunately, the new chronological system was in place by the time the error was discovered, and has remained in place ever since .
Historians have been trying to figure out Jesus’ exact year of birth ever since. The best guess is 6-4 BC. The closest empire wide Roman census of that time took place in 8 BC, which doesn’t correspond exactly unless it took a few years for the enforcement of the census decree to reachPalestine. In possible confirmation, however, is the astronomical evidence of the Star of Bethlehem.
Chinese annals record novae in 5 BC and 4 BC…A triple conjunction in early 6 BC, in which Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn stood at the points of a triangle, has often been mentioned as a possible explanation of the star. Prior to that, in 7 BC, Jupiter and Saturn were for eight months within three degrees of each other and three times within that period passed within one degree. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008 Ultimate DVD)
But Jesus’ year of birth is not the only problem. If Jesus was born in approximately 5 BC, and steps onto the pages of Luke 3 during “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar [29 AD], when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea[after 26 AD],” then he clearly had to be more than thirty years old. Jesus would have been 33 or 34 in 29 AD. Many commentators fall back on Luke’s “about thirty years of age.” They are certainly on firm ground for doing so, given the biblical propensity for round numbers. The fact that Luke does not make a claim of exactitude here—the Greek word used is more imprecise than other forms of “about”—makes it reasonable to assume that Luke didn’t know how old Jesus was and intended to convey a mere general impression of approximate age. Still…if he was in communication with Mary…mothers don’t forget such details. [See dating in James Intro…inconsistent at present.]
A Larger Perspective—
Luke’s View of History and the Universality of the Gospel
history and the second coming
One of the unfortunate hallmarks of a preoccupation with the Lord’s return, and a “prophetic” outlook in general, is a lessening emphasis on the practicalities of daily life and an interest in the ongoing history (both past and present) of the temporal world. This was true in Old Testament times. It has been seen throughout history. An unrealistic and misguided prophetic preoccupation certainly characterized the evangelical church between 1970 and 2000. We have already noted how widespread was the glaring misunderstanding in the young church that Jesus would return soon, within the lifetimes of those then alive, a problem that Paul addressed in his letters to the Thessalonians.
In light of this common area where Jesus’ words have been misunderstood by Christians of all ages, Luke’s gospel, as history, takes on added significance. All the Christian writing that had preceded it can be seen, in a sense, as temporally motivated, as focusing on the present, on now. Mark wrote as an adjunct to Peter’s preaching, to urge response to the immediacy of Christ’s claims. Paul’s letters were written, not for posterity, but for a particular moment in time, to address specific needs and situations, and to explain faith to those then alive. Matthew’s gospel was, in a sense, a “gospel tract” to the Jews of the first century, urging belief in the true Messiah. It may reasonably be assumed that none of them dreamed anyone would be reading their writings two thousand years later.
The reason was simple: They believed in an imminent second coming that was right around the corner.
Then along came Luke, who had not been with Jesus and possibly as a result was less prone to be swept up in parousia-fever. Here was a man probably educated in the classics and aware of the cultures ofGreece andRome, with perhaps a wider worldview than some of his fellow Christians who had grown up in the insular environment of Jewish Jerusalem orGalilee. After traveling with Paul for some years and watching the church develop and change and move through its initial ups and downs, weathering conflict within and persecution without, it was Luke who was able to put the “times and seasons” of his present era into perspective and say, “We need to take a longer range look at this. The Lord is probably not coming back as soon as many of you think.”
In this light, Luke’s role as a Christian “historian” is all the more important. He is not merely telling the Christian story for non-Christians and Romans framed in the context of known history (“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar…”) he is also framing the story for Christians as fitting into an ongoing flow of history in the world that is not going to end tomorrow or next week or next month. He is the first Christian writer to incorporate history, as history, into the account and make it intrinsic to the gospel story.
William Baird amplifies on this theme:
Unlike many Greek histories…Luke is religious history—it is written with a purpose. As a gospel it follows the pattern of a unique kind of Christian literature whose prototype is Mark. A gospel is not primarily biography; it is proclamation. Yet as a historical work Luke makes clear that the gospel is preached through history.
In order to accomplish this purpose the author develops an apology for Christianity. He insists that what God has done in history is according to law and order…The Crucifixion is the responsibility of the leaders of the Jews…[who] have so perverted their heritage as to have abandoned it. Christianity has become the true Judaism, and the coming of its leader heralds the fulfillment ofIsrael’s hope…
The author is also anxious to explain why the end of the world has not come. Mark imagined that the Son of man would return before the first generation of Christians had passed away…Now the time has grown late. Why has he not come? To answer this question…Luke develops a theology of history—a view of the course of events which is grounded in faith. He seems to see history as divided into 3 eras: the time of the Jews, which is finished; the time of Jesus Christ, which is the key to history; and the time of the church, which is now. This last may be extended into the distant future so that the time of the end remains remote. (The Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible, p. 672)
The New Bible Commentary: Revised adds:
Luke is part of a two-volume work…Luke…believed that the Christian faith was based on historical events…and he was trying to establish a firm historical foundation for the faith of his readers…
Luke narrates the story of Jesus as a piece of history…He traces out the continuity between the ministry of Jesus and the rise of the early church, thus making the story of Jesus part of the history of the church. This is not unimportant, for even Paul does not place so much emphasis on the earthly life of Jesus as part of the gospel…
The keynote of the ministry of Jesus is the gospel of salvation. Two of Luke’s favourite words are ‘preach the gospel’, and ‘salvation…
If salvation is for the lost, it is for all men, since all are lost. No-one can fail to observe that Luke shows particularly how Jesus brought salvation to the less privileged people inJudea—the poor, women, children and notorious sinners—and how…the gospel embraced the Gentiles, and in particular the despised Samaritans…
It is a curious feature of Luke’s Gospel that it has very little to say about the significance of the cross as the place of salvation…
If no writer has emphasized more than Luke the ‘wideness in God’s mercy,’ at the same time in no other Gospel are the claims of Jesus expressed more stringently…
Luke has reserved for his second volume the story of the church, but already in the Gospel he has indicated the characteristics of that period. It is the time during which Jesus, having ascended to heaven, sits at the right hand of God. His servants must continue His work of preaching the gospel of salvation to all nations…Only when this task is complete will Jesus suddenly return…and set up His heavenly kingdom. (p. 887)
luke’s universality and other special emphases
That Luke contains unique points of emphasis is agreed on by all who study the book carefully. Though some of the specifics differ, most agree that of all the gospels, Luke shines a brighter light than the others on: Women, the poor, sinners and social outcasts, prayer, joy, and the Holy Spirit. Others note also a key interest in the demands of Christ, the lordship of Christ, the passion of Christ, poverty and wealth, and social relationships. One of the most important of these uniquenesses is the “universality” of the gospel message as portrayed in Luke. No Calvinist doctrine of “election” can be derived from Luke. Jesus is “not just the son of Abraham, he belongs to humanity; he is ‘the son of Adam, the son of God.” (The Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible, p. 672)
Two overviews of these distinctive attributes of Luke will hopefully add interest to your reading of the gospel.
Distinctive characteristics…Universalism. This quality has already been noted in the account of the sermon atNazareth…It runs throughout the gospel…
An interest in social relationships. This concern appears in the beatitudes addressed to the poor and woes addressed to the rich…Illustrations from finance are frequent—e.g., in many of the parables, such as the two debtors, the rich fool, the tower builder, the rich man and Lazarus…
A deep concern for outcasts, sinners, and Samaritans…
An interest in stories about women. This interest is illustrated in the portraiture of the Virgin, Elizabeth, Anna, the widow at Nain, the penitent harlot, the ministering women fromGalilee, Martha and Mary, the bent women, and the women mentioned in the parables of the lost coin and the unjust judge. The same interest, it will be recalled, is manifest in the Acts…
An emphasis on joy, prayer, and the Holy Spirit. The angelic message to the shepherds speaks of “good news of a great joy which will come to all the people”…Prayer is mentioned [frequently]…The Holy Spirit is mentioned [four times]…
An emphasis on the graciousness and severity of the demands of Jesus. The graciousness of the Lukan Jesus is universally recognized. AtNazareth “all spoke well of him and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth…Tenderness and compassion shine in the narratives of the woman of the city, Zacchaeus, and the penitent bandit. It is not always immediately recognized, however, that along with this graciousness there is an imperious note in the sayings of Jesus…he demands undivided loyalty…Complete renunciation is required…
The stress on the lordship of Christ. The sonship of Christ, while fully recognized in Luke…is not emphasized to the degree illustrated in the Pauline letters and the Johannine writings. The stress lies…upon the lordship of Christ. This is true also of the Acts…
The interest in the Passion. In this respect the gospel resembles Mark, but there is perhaps a greater interest in its tragic aspects… (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3 (?), pp. 183-84)
Luke’s comprehensive range…It is in fact the longest book in the New Testament…
Luke’s universalism There are several occasions when Luke brings out the wider implications of the gospel of Christ…The angel’s good-will message is directed to all men…Simeon foretells that Jesus is to be a Light for the Gentiles…
Luke’s interest in people…
Focus on individuals. Most of the parables peculiar to Luke centre attention on people, whereas Matthew’s focus upon the kingdom.
Interest in social outcasts. In a greater measure than the other Synoptists Luke portrays our Lord’s deep concern for the socially ostracized…Zacchaeus…repentance of the robber…prodigal son, the two debtors and the publican…
Portrayal of women. Luke mentions thirteen women not mentioned elsewhere in the Gospels…
Interest in children. Luke alone refers to the childhood of John the Baptist and of Jesus. On three occasions he specially mentions ‘only children’…
Social relationships. Luke records three instances of the Lord dining with Pharisees…He includes many of Jesus’ homely illustrations…the belated traveler requiring refreshment…the merry-making at the prodigal’s return…the innkeeper tending the wounded man…
Poverty and wealth. Many of Luke’s special parables relate to money matters… (New Testament Introduction, pp. 91-92)
redating matthew, mark, and luke
We have spoken often of the uncertainties surrounding the authorship and dating of the biblical books, and of the many “theories” circulating about dating. We explore them to glean insight, without making of them more than we should. The Old Testament “documentary hypothesis” (E, J, D, P, R, etc.)—controversial in evangelical circles, accepted across the board by liberal scholars—is just this kind of theoretical reconstruction of events and sources and chronologies about which there never will be any definitive proof. The dating and order of the three synoptic gospels is exactly the same. We have been following the generally recognized sequence which places Mark 60-68, Matthew and Luke 70-90, and John 90-100.
Some observe that the church situation portrayed in Luke fits in well with the general political situation during the reign of emperor Domitian (81-96).
[Luke’s] Gospel breathes the atmosphere of the sub-apostolic period. It is said that Luke gives the impression of being written at a time when the early church had had to come to terms with the fact that the second coming of Jesus had not taken place as soon as was expected, and when the early church had settled down into ‘early catholicism’. (New Bible Commentary: Revised, p. 888)
A bold new hypothesis (no hypothesis in these matters is really “new”; they tend to come round and round from different angles and with readjusted supporting data) was set out by John Wenham in 1992. Its joint publication by Hodder andStoughton and InterVarsity Press, as well as Wenham’s personal credentials, speak of a high degree of balance, scholarliness, and reputability. Because the dating and authorship of the Bible’s books is of such great interest to me, I find Wenham’s theory fascinating. This seems like an appropriate place to share his thoughts. I will do so in brief. His book is unbelievably technical, detailed, and complex, requiring a working knowledge of Greek. I have only read bits of it, but consider his overall analysis fascinating, which, fortunately, he summarizes nicely in a succinct Introduction.
The thesis of this book constitutes a radical departure from the commonly held view of the dates of the synoptic gospels. In spite of a few notable exceptions there is wide agreement among New Testament scholars that no gospel should be put earlier than the late 60s. Usually Mark is placed first at ±70 and Matthew and Luke somewhat later. This book will argue that all three are probably to be dated before 55…
The argument of my book is quite simple. Its starting-point is the strange ending of the Acts of the Apostles…The only satisfying explanation of the writer’s silence concerning the trial…is that when Luke wrote these closing words it had still not taken place: c. 62. But Acts was preceded by an earlier treatise, the Gospel according to Luke, and this, it will be argued, can be dated with some assurance to the early 50s.
Further, there is wide (and, I am inclined to believe, justified) agreement that the author of Luke’s gospel knew the gospel of Mark, which must therefore be dated earlier still. It will be shown that the usual reasons for dating Mark around 70 have little weight and that it can be placed more satisfactorily in the mid-40s…[based largely on] how strong was the case for the presence of Peter and Mark there [in Rome] in 42-44.
The question of Matthew is more complicated. The universal tradition of the early church is that Matthew…was the first gospel. It will be argued with some reserve that Matthew was indeed the first gospel, and that it may possibly have been written in Hebrew or Aramaic, and that it was known to Mark…
A new approach to the synoptic problem is attempted which denies literary dependence as the primary explanation of the likenesses of the gospels and which also questions complete literary independence. The later evangelists are seen as probably writing with knowledge of the earlier gospels—adopting the newly invented genre and in the main following the same order. But they are not seen as systematically altering their predecessor’s work….What they write is fundamentally what they themselves are accustomed to teach. So it is a case of some degree of structural dependence and a high degree of verbal independence. (Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke, John Wenham, IV Press and Hodder and Stoughton, 1992, pp. xxii-xxiii)
It may seem strange to end on such a note of uncertainty. But this reminds us once again how important is individual thought and prayer in the things of faith. We are not trying to pin down every biblical idea, either of doctrine or composition, with complete certainty. We are trying to stir the pot of vigorous individual thought and self-discovery.
With the pot therefore hopefully stirred, Judy and I leave you to discover Luke’s gospel. As if you don’t already have enough to read…probably the best biblical novel of all time is Taylor Caldwell’s Dear and Glorious Physician. It is more than just a fictional life of Luke, it is a sweeping saga that brings the whole era of the early church alive. It had a profound impact on me many years ago and helped inspire me when I was just beginning to write, with dreams of a novel about the life of Mark. Nothing much came of it, but it was an important step along my personal journey, and I recommendCaldwell’s book for those of you so inclined.
For her contribution, Judy suggested that I share the following quote from MacDonald where he comments on young Thomas Wingfold’s discussions with Polwarth as Wingfold grapples with the essential meaning of the gospel message.
Wingfold had taken to his New Testament. At first, as he read and sought to understand, ever and anon some small difficulty, notably, foremost of all, the discrepancy in the genealogies – I mention it merely to show the sort of difficulty I mean – would insect-like shoot out of the darkness and sting him in the face. Some of these he pursued, encountered, crushed – and found he had gained next to nothing by the victory; and Polwarth soon persuaded him to let such alone for the present, seeing they involved nothing concerning the man at a knowledge of whom it was his business to arrive. But when it came to the perplexity caused by some of the sayings of Jesus himself, it was another matter. He must understand these, he thought, or fail to understand the man. Here Polwarth told him that, if, after all, he seemed to fail, he must conclude that possibly the meaning of the words was beyond him, and that the understanding of them depended on a more advanced knowledge of Jesus himself; for, while words reveal the speaker, they must yet lie in the light of something already known of the speaker to be themselves intelligible. Between the mind and the understanding of certain hard utterances, therefore, there must of necessity lie a gradation of easier steps. And here Polwarth was tempted to give him a far more important, because more immediately practical hint, but refrained, from the dread of weakening by presentation, the force of a truth which, in discovery, would have its full effect. For he was confident that the curate, in the temper which was now his, must ere long come immediately upon the truth towards which he was tempted to point him. (Thomas Wingfold, Curate, pp. 145-6)
Paul’s Letter to Titus
a.d. 63 – 65
by Paul fromMacedonia, possiblyCorinth,
or by an unknown later writer in Paul’s name
The Problem Pastorals
In the same way that we considered Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon as a chronological grouping of “prison letters” written in the early 60s (during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment), we now come to the last three of Paul’s New Testament writings, which can also be considered more or less as a unit, and which focus attention on (and raise many questions about) a possible second Roman imprisonment. They are called the pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus. They are unique in the Pauline corpus as being addressed to two of Paul’s intimate co-workers, rather than the whole church or regional groups, about pastoral and ecclesiastical concerns of the developing church.
It is very clear from the nature of the “pastoral” advice given to Timothy and Titus that the Church is growing and changing rapidly, and that its individual congregations are assuming the more organized and regulated structure of churches as we will eventually recognize them. Administration is now stepping up to assume as important a role in Paul’s consideration as doctrine did earlier. Though “right doctrine” and orthodoxy in light of heresies that are afoot are major issues in the pastorals, they are addressed more “administratively” (shunning, excommunication, etc.) than by illuminating the specifics of right and wrong doctrine. In these three pastoral letters we see the beginnings of the transition beyond the Apostolic Age of the Church toward what will become the highly regulated, structured, and eventually legalistic Catholic and Orthodox churches as we will come to know them.
the problematic timing of the pastoral epistles
The circumstances and timing of the writing of every biblical book is essential to a right understanding of that book’s content. As we have already discussed many times, this matter of context is most significant of all when we read the letters of Scripture since they were addressed to very specific situations that were influencing Christian behavior and thought at the time.
At first glance, it may seem that the letters to Timothy and Titus—because they are to individuals not regions, and because they are more succinct and specific and not so doctrinally expansive—are less weighty and important than some of Paul’s other epistles. It has always been the tendency to revere those biblical books that seem more theologically ponderous, while overlooking those that are more straightforward and practical. John has always been more highly acclaimed than Mark. We have seen what Martin Luther thought of James, that it was “an epistle of straw.” And likewise have the pastoral epistles been relegated far down on the list of Paul’s significant writings behind Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. Indeed, they were not included in some early second century compilations of Paul’s letters at all, and were relatively late to be accorded scriptural status alongside Paul’s earlier and longer writings.
But as always, there is more here than meets the eye.
To understand these three letters and the church issues they are concerned with, timing is everything. When were they written becomes the dominant issue surrounding most scholarly discussion of the pastorals?
This question raises many doubts. We have discussed at length the inconclusive ending of Acts. But that ending is only problematic because of these three pastoral epistles. Were it not for the letters to Timothy and Titus, the ending of Acts would merely be viewed as Luke’s desire to end on a high note prior to Paul’s martyrdom, which by the time Luke’s gospel appeared was common knowledge in the Church.
But the three pastoral epistles throw a monkey wrench into everything. Paul speaks of travels and places (Asia Minor, Macedonia, Crete, Epirus, Miletus, Troas, wintering in Nicopolis, etc.) and people that are impossible to fit into the known events of his life according to the Acts chronology. Probably no life, other than that of Jesus, has been so studied and analyzed as that of Paul. Every tiniest detail has been scrutinized. Thousands of scholars through the years who have made Pauline studies the focus of their lives have sought to piece together a consistent chronology of Paul’s travels that fits perfectly with everything said in Acts and his letters. But the fact is, the movements he mentions in the Timothy and Titus letters don’t fit anywhere. Nor do the writing of the letters fit anywhere. The only possible explanation is that they came after Luke’s ending to Acts.
the traditional view—another trip, a second imprisonment
Thus has come the long-held traditional theory that Paul was released from prison in approximately 62 (after the writing of the previous prison letters), and that he then traveled for another several years during which time he wrote 1 Timothy and Titus. It is a theory that explains the movements and writings mentioned in the pastoral epistles. This mid-sixties trip becomes Paul’s hypothetical “fifth missionary journey,” (or the fourth, depending on whether one counts the imprisonment trip to Rome) including revisits to several previously visited churches, even according to some a voyage to far-off Spain, which had been his dream (Romans 15:24, 28).
Nero came to power in 64 and set in motion the most horrific and inhumane persecution of Christians ever seen. At some point Paul was either captured out on his travels or returned toRomeand was imprisoned again, this time in chains, possibly with Peter at the grim Mamertine Prison (often referred to as the Mamertine Dungeon). Both men knew that their lives were coming to an end. The church was being forced underground inRome’s extensive labyrinth of catacombs. During these final days, Paul wrote his last epistle, a second letter to Timothy. Whenever their deaths occurred, both men were surely dead by 67 or 68. Tradition has it that Peter requested to be crucified upside down, not worthy to die like his Master. As a Roman citizen, Paul was executed in a more humane manner and was beheaded.
This is the traditional perspective of the timing and circumstances of the writing of the pastoral epistles. But while apparently resolving the chronology of the movements and writings of the pastorals, however, this traditional theory makes all the more difficult the unanswerable questions we discussed earlier about the end of Acts. It is the same thing we have frequently encountered in other instances—where a particular theory helps explain one biblical conundrum, but then makes a second conundrum worse. Still another theory then comes along which resolves the second problem, yet makes the first one worse. It’s why we have to look at all the evidence, and all the theories, including those from both the liberal and revisionist end of the spectrum as well as those from the more traditional and conservative side. Because no one possesses all the answers.
why did luke not recount paul’s final travels?
One glaring fact makes the discrepancy between the end of Acts and this possible later writing of the pastoral letters seem highly unlikely. At the end of 2 Timothy, Paul’s final letter, when he is still, or again, in prison, he notes that only one of his longtime companions remains with him.
That companion is none other than Luke himself!
That is a huge fact that throws another major monkey wrench into all these theories. If Paul was indeed released from his house imprisonment during 61-62, and then embarked on an entire new series of visits about the Mediterranean and even Spain, clearly Luke would have known all about it. The enigmatic ending of Acts in this light simply makes no sense. Even the theory that Luke wanted to end the story of Paul’s career on a high note doesn’t ring true. What could be a more triumphant ending than to have recorded a trip to Spain, and Paul’s own summation of his life to Timothy: I have fought the good fight, I have run the good race, I have kept the faith. Wow, what a climax! It is hard to imagine that Luke thought the inconclusive ending to Acts better than that!
So it is obvious why these discrepancies have puzzled scholars for centuries, and why we are left scratching our heads with the many aspects of the Acts ending and writing of the pastorals that don’t seem to fit.
The traditional perspective of these years of the early and mid 60s is summarized by Jesse Hurlbut:
At last Paul arrived atRome, the goal of his hopes for many years. A prisoner awaiting trial, he yet had his own hired house, wherein he lived, chained to a soldier…For two years his house was a church wherein many found Christ, especially among the soldiers of the Pretorian Guard. But his greatest work inRome was the writing of four epistles, which are among the treasures of the church—Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. There is good reason to believe that after two years in prison, Paul was acquitted and set at liberty.
We might look upon Paul’s three or four years of liberty as continuing his fourth missionary journey. We find hints or expectations of visits to Colosse andMiletus. If he was so near toEphesus, as were these two places, we might be almost certain that he visited that city. He visited also theislandofCrete, where he left Titus in charge of the churches; and Nicopolis on the Adriatic Sea, north ofGreece. Tradition states that at this place he was arrested, and sent again toRome, where he was martyred in 68 a.d. Three epistles may belong to this period: First Timothy, Titus, and Second Timothy, his last letter written from his prison atRome.
In the year 64 a.d. a large part of the city of Romewas destroyed in a great conflagration. It has been said that the fire was started by Nero, worst of all the Roman emperors, but this is disputed. It is certain that Nero was charged with the crime by common report. In order to clear himself, Nero declared that the Christians had set fire to the city, and began a terrible persecution. Thousands were tortured and put to death, among them St. Peter by crucifixion, in the year 67; and St. Paulby being beheaded in the year 68. These dates are not certain, and the apostles may have suffered martyrdom a year, or two years earlier. (The Story of the Christian Church, 30-31)
doubts about pauline authorship
The questions of timing raised by the three pastorals, and the fact that they fit nowhere into the chronology of Acts or Paul’s other epistles, serves to partially explain why more doubts have been raised about Paul’s authorship of these letters than any of his other epistles. It is not merely liberal and revisionist scholars who raise such doubts, many conservative scholars also recognize problems that are very difficult to reconcile and find themselves forced to look with honest and open-minded scrutiny at the question of Paul’s authorship. One of the significant facts of history that may be telling is that in the earliest collections of Paul’s letters that were gathered together, the three Pastorals were apparently not among them. It is not until late in the second century that explicit quotations and references begin to appear from the Timothy and Titus letters in the Christian writings of the time. By the time the New Testament canon began to be organized—the Muratorian Canon of 190 AD includes them where they now stand at the end of Paul’s letters—they had begun to be considered authoritative. Even then, however, one major New Testament manuscript from later, in the middle of the third century, still did not include the Pastorals.
These issues of timing and authorship bear directly on the content of the letters. Therefore, we need to look at them in some detail.
The differences noted by scholars between the pastorals and Paul’s other writings are chiefly four:
—The advanced state of church organization and institutionalization.
—The absence of the large characteristic doctrines of Paul’s other writings.
—Differences of style and linguistics.
—The advanced state of heresy referred to, and Gnosticism in particular.
One of the first things that becomes obvious in the pastorals is that the church seems to have changed a great deal in a very short time. Suddenly there is much attention to administrative policies, qualifications for elders and deacons and bishops, instructions for worship and dress and widows’ lists, teachings for various groups within the church. None of these things by themselves are new. We have, of course, heard of deacons before. But the emphasis is different. It sounds like Paul is addressing a church twenty or thirty years later than anything we have witnessed up till now. The tone is highly ecclesiastical. 1 Timothy and Titus especially read like Pastor’s Manuals. It’s not the kind of thing Paul has done before.
There are evidences of an ordered and more regulated congregational worship, found in references to the necessary place of reading of Scripture, exhortation and teaching (1 Tim. 4:13), and of supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings (1 Tim. 2:1). There are traces of hymns, of creedal and liturgical fragments, of doxologies (see 1 Tim. 3:16; 6:13-16; 2 Tim. 1:9, 10; 2:8, 11-13; 4:1; Tit. 2:11-14; 3:4-7). Guidance is given for the proper appointment of individuals to responsible oversight and ministry. (New Bible Commentary: Revised, p. 1168)
It is supposed that the situation reflected in the Pastorals would require some time to develop…This suggests an established church and would therefore be much more relevant to a later age than to the time of Paul. (New Testament Introduction, p. 592)
This doesn’t mean that Paul didn’t write them, or that they weren’t written in the 60s. But it is a fact we have to take into account. These three letters are different than anything else Paul wrote. We must remember, however, that Paul was first arrested in Jerusalem, then transferred to Caesarea, then finally to Rome, where he remained under house arrest for two years or more. The events described between Acts 21 and 28 may have lasted up to four years. Though Paul was not isolated, he was not traveling among the churches during these years. He was not out “in the field,” as it were. By the time of a potential release from prison in, say, the year 62, it is possible that much in the churches he visited had changed. In a movement growing so fast that had only been in existence 25-30 years, four years was a long time. Paul may have found circumstances greatly altered in some of the churches he had last visited in the late 50s. The pastorals may well have been written in response to those changes.
However, there are other major differences that are visible in the Pastorals in addition to this emphasis on church structure and administration.
There is noticeably less theological emphasis. In all his other letters, Paul follows a similar pattern—he uses a specific situation (the reason for his writing) as a basis to launch into a theological treatise about some aspect of the nature of Christ and his work. Even in Romans, where there is no conflict or dispute that he feels compelled to address, we see this pattern—the specific is his desire to visit the church inRome, which Paul uses as a springboard into his treatise.
We don’t observe this pattern in the Pastorals. There exist small snippets scattered throughout them, but no lengthy sustained theological exposition. If it were merely a case of one letter that was less theological, we could view it as the single exception to the rule. But that there are three, that they are all associated with a conjectured period in Paul’s life unsubstantiated by other sources…it does strain credibility somewhat to think that Paul’s former method of communication would just suddenly vanish.
The three Pastorals are also distinct stylistically and linguistically. Arguing against Pauline authorship, the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible comments:
The language of the Pastorals is more akin to a literary Koine similar to Luke, Hebrews, and 1 Peter than to Paul’s use of the popular Koine. One notes also that the dramatic vivacity of Pauline argumentation, with its emotional outbursts, its dialogue form of thought, its introduction of real or imaginary opponents and objections, and the use of metaphor and image, is replaced by a certain heaviness and repetitiousness of style. (Vol. 3, p. 670)
The linguistics and vocabulary found in the Pastorals is also distinctive from Paul’s other writings. Extensive studies have been carried out on the words used, which show more similarity to writings of the second century than to Paul’s previous ten letters. While it is possible to take such raw analysis too far and begin missing the forest for the trees, this is nevertheless a factor we must bear in mind.
It has long been observed that there is a notable difference in the vocabulary of the genuine Pauline letters and the Pastorals…
The vocabulary of the Pastorals contains 902 words…more than 1/3 are not found in the ten other Pauline letters. There is an astounding number of hapax legomena (words occurring only once) among them: 175 do not occur in the NT at all; 131 words do occur in the Pastorals and other NT books, but not in the Pauline letters. The words, then, which Paul and the Pastorals share are 542. Of these, only 50 can be characterized as exclusively Pauline, since they do not appear in the other books of the NT…
The striking similarity in vocabulary between the Pastorals and the Apostolic Fathers and Apologists has already been mentioned. Of the total vocabulary of the Pastorals…211 words, while absent from the vocabulary of Paul, are part of the working vocabulary of Christian writers in the second century. Furthermore, the language of the Pastorals is far closer to the popular-philosophical language of the time, as reflected in Epictetus and other Stoic philosophers, than it is to the language of Paul…Phrases not used by Paul become prominent in the Pastorals. The author stresses a rationalized Paulinism, wanting to come to terms with an ongoing world in which the church has to find a place for itself. (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3, p. 670)
While it may seem like splitting hairs, such statistics are intriguing and cannot be dismissed lightly. However, I cannot help wondering whether such “differences” would be observable in any author’s work who addressed many distinct situations over a long period of time. What conclusions, for example, would linguists draw about George MacDonald’s writings (or mine!)? Would certain books appear to have not been written by the same author?
Two brief examples: The phrase, This is a trustworthy saying (1 Tim 1:15—translated in various ways) is used five times in the Pastorals but nowhere else in the New Testament. The word godliness (1 Tim. 2:2), and the related godly, is used ten times in the Pastorals but nowhere else in Paul’s writings.
The fourth and final objection to Pauline authorship, on the basis of a later and more advanced form of the heresies being refuted, we will reserve for discussion in the Introduction to 1 Timothy.
Instructions to a Protégé
the alternate theory—pseudonymous authorship from a later time
In response to all these difficulties, nearly all liberal scholars as well as many conservative students of the Bible, conclude that these three letters were written later, at the end of the first century or the beginning of the second, by a devoted student of Paul who was intimately familiar with his work. As we have noted before, such was a common literary practice of the time and should not imply in our minds any notion of plagiarism, deceit, or underhandedness as it might today. It was a normal and accepted literary technique to attach a highly respected name to a work, while the actual author remained anonymous. Nor should this automatically diminish the authority or veracity of a work. The proposed author of the Pastorals could well have been someone who knew Paul personally, even perhaps traveled with him, and, in a sense, possessed a certain level of authority to speak on his behalf. This is a mere guess…but possible.
One form of the theory suggests that a knowledgeable student of Paul’s work and travels fictionalized places and people and situations (from his other travels and from known locations he had visited) to sprinkle through the three letters to provide an air of reality. A more advanced form of the theory has it that the unknown author of the Pastorals actually came into the possession of a number of “fragments” of genuine but lost or incomplete letters of Paul, which he then wove together with his own material into the final form of the three Pastoral epistles.
Though not necessarily endorsing it himself, Donald Guthrie notes the advantages of this theory:
The “fragment” or “genuine-note” theory claims to have advantages over the fictional approach in that it dispenses with the improbability of a fiction writer composing these historical allusions with so accurate a Pauline stamp upon them. On the other hand it claims the advantage over the traditional view in that it dispenses with the postulation of a second Roman imprisonment and confines the history of Paul to the period covered by the Acts. (New Testament Introduction, p. 591)
Elsewhere, Guthrie adds these thoughts:
The real problem here is the mixture of what is Pauline and what is claimed not to be. Most scholars admit that there are many traits of Pauline theology, but these are often regarded as mere echoes of Pauline phrases culled from his authentic letters. But the main objection is raised against the absence of characteristic Pauline doctrines and the presence of what may be termed a more stereotyped approach to Christian doctrine. (New Testament Introduction, p. 593)
A few selections will give the gist of this alternate theory of authorship.
Scholars have long debated whether these letters were written by the apostle Paul himself, or by a loyal disciple who sought to provide Pauline answers for new times and places. While most scholars today regard them as pseudepigraphical (that is, ascribed to the authority of a major figure, but not actually written by him, a custom well attested both in ancient Jewish literature and in Greco-Roman philosophical and other texts), there is not complete unanimity on the question. The conclusion that these three epistles were not written by Paul is based upon literary, historical, and theological criteria. First and Second Timothy and Titus share a common Greek vocabulary and style which diverges in many ways from the rest of the Pauline epistles. Historically, the Pastoral epistles presume a situation marked by increased institutionalization of the church and by heretical opposition, which perhaps better fits a period well after the death of Paul, at the beginning of the second century CE. And theologically these letters minimize or lack characteristic Pauline themes (such as justification by faith, or the church as the body of Christ) in favor of a new emphasis on adherence to tradition and regulation as signs of the Christian piety they seek to inculcate in their readers. (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV, p. 349 NT)
Most NT scholars today agree that the Pastorals are pseudonymous, that they represent important teachings of a date later than the time of Paul, and that they were written in the name and supposedly the spirit of the great apostle. Who the author was we cannot now know. What we can know of him must be derived from these 3 letters. In them he appears as the champion of a practical and well-defined religion of “works” which are in harmony with true doctrine. He might be characterized as the champion of orthodoxy in contrast to the dynamic religion of the Spirit which was characteristic of Paul. Yet when his orthodoxy is seen against the Gnostic danger which threatened Christianity, we must pay him a tribute for the service he rendered the Christian church.
It is possible that the Pastorals, though pseudonymous, contain genuine Pauline fragments, as a number of scholars believe. One of these has isolated 5—(a) Tit. 3:12-15; (b) II 4:13-15, 20-21a; (c) II 4:16-18a; (d) II 4:9-12, 22b; (e) II 1:16-18; 3:10-11; 4:1-2a, 5b; 4:6-8; 4:18b-19; 21b-22a—and integrated them into an intelligible relationship with Paul’s career. Perhaps the reconstruction is too detailed, esp. the last list. But the possibility of the inclusion of some genuine fragments, esp. in II 4:9-18, remains strong. (The Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible, p. 883)
When we consider the Pastorals as one unit, the situation described in them seems to presuppose a release from a prior Roman imprisonment. After Paul’s deliverance “from the lion’s mouth” (II Tim. 4:17), he was able to continue the proclamation of his message to the Gentiles for several years and in many lands. He traveled in Asia Minor, and from there to Macedonia (1 Tim. 1:3); he visited Crete and Epirus, passing a winter in Nicopolis. And prior to his final arrest he was again in Greece (II Tim. 4:20) and in Asia Minor in Miletus and Troas (vss. 13-20). He may even have traveled to Spain , the “limits of the West,” as I Clement indicates (cf. Rom. 15:24; I Clem. 5:7). Yet the evidence of two imprisonments is not so clear as we might wish: II Tim 4:16 does not necessarily mean a release from a first imprisonment, but may refer to a first sitting of a trial at the first imprisonment.
If we do not take the Pastorals as one unit, the personal references may involve separate episodes in the life of Paul and can be more easily accommodated within the framework of the Apostle’s career as we can reconstruct it from the other letters and from Acts; but, even so, no consistent picture emerges from the study of the data in any one of the three letters, and it seems likely that the author has created certain settings derived from Acts or legendary material which would give his letters a more secure Pauline basis. The suggestion that the Pastor has included certain authentic Pauline personalia in his account has been defended and cannot be ruled out. (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3, p. 671)
Interestingly, as young converts early in Paul’s ministry, it is not inconceivable that both Titus and Timothy could have still been living in the closing years of the first century when, if they were not written in the 60s, some think these letters were written.
It may be reading too much into it, but as a writer myself, the details interest me enormously. What Guthrie calls “the touching request” in 2 Timothy 4:13 for some books, parchments, and a cloak Paul had left behind at Troas has a strong stamp and ring of reality, as do the other personal comments, greetings, and instructions. A cloak left behind just isn’t the kind of thing someone would be likely to make up! The endings to Titus and 2 Timothy in particular seem very authentic.
A.M. Stibbs, one of the contributing editors of The New Bible Commentary, aware of all these difficulties, yet holds to the tradition of Pauline authorship:
Many scholars do not regard these Epistles as authentic Pauline letters, and the reasons for this must be briefly mentioned…Each of these Epistles makes the claim to have been written by the Apostle Paul, but those who dispute his authorship regard this as merely a literary device. As the following indications will show, there are strong reasons for regarding the claims to apostolic authorship to be authentic.
The historical situation…has led some to treat the personal allusions either as non-authentic, because they will not fit into the Acts story, or else as fragments of genuine Pauline letters which have been incorporated into pseudonymous epistles. As pointed out already, there is strong possibility that Paul was released from the Roman imprisonment of Acts 28, and if so the difficulty disappears. Any theory which postulates that genuine fragments were incorporated into fictitious epistles raises more problems than it solves.
The ecclesiastical situation reflected in these Epistles is said by some to reveal a time too late for the Apostle Paul. But the organization is certainly less developed than that in the time of the earliest apostolic Fathers and points to a definitely more primitive period. At the same time more interest is shown in ecclesiastical organization than in the other Pauline Epistles. An objection on this ground would carry some weight if it could be shown that Paul was the kind of man who would not have concerned himself with the qualities of the men to be appointed; yet this cannot be shown. Since, on the first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders, they could not have been unmindful of the need for care in choosing those who were to lead God’s people.
Another factor which has been claimed as non-Pauline is the heresy alluded to in these Epistles, because of its supposed connection with 2nd century Gnosticism. But two considerations make this objection most inconclusive. The references in these Epistles are too general and too undeveloped in form to be connected immediately with the period of developed Gnosticism in the 2nd century. The second factor is the increasing recognition that Gnosticism had earlier forms which had their rise in the 1st century. There is nothing intrinsically impossible in supposing that the Pastorals’ heresy existed in the time of Paul…
In the matter of doctrine another difficulty has been found in the fact that most of the major themes of the Pauline Epistles are lacking from the Pastorals. Moreover, there is a tendency in these Epistles for doctrine to be formalized into “the truth” of “the faith” or “the deposit”, which contrasts with the creative thinking of the apostle Paul. But allowance must be made for the time when these Epistles were written (i.e., at the end conclusion of Paul’s work) and for the difference in the recipients (i.e., his trusted associates as compared with church groups who would need more detailed teaching.)…
More have been influenced to reject Pauline authorship by linguistic considerations than by any of the other arguments. It has been noted that many of the words in these Epistles are not used in Paul’s other Epistles, and a large proportion of them not even elsewhere in the NT. Moreover, the style is said to be non-Pauline. Various statistical methods have been used to demonstrate the differences of style between the Pastorals and the other Epistles. But such methods require bigger samples than those available within the group of Pauline Epistles. The problem of language cannot be passed over, but two possibilities exist and both support belief in Pauline authorship. Either Paul had a greater range of vocabulary and variety of style than many scholars allow; or else he made use of an amanuensis [a secretary, or one who copies from dictation—MP] in the writing of these letters, to whom he granted some liberty of expression.
No doubt there will continue to be much dispute about the authorship of these Epistles, but their authenticity has the greatest probability and is supported by strong external evidence. (New Bible Commentary: Revised, p. 1167)
Donald Guthrie, whom I have quoted frequently in these studies, is a man whose balance, scholarship, thoroughness, and objectivity I trust probably more than any other New Testament scholar. In addition to being one of the general editors of The New Bible Commentary: Revised, his own New Testament Introduction offers what I consider definitively “objective” studies for all the books of the New Testament. The fact that he remains unconvinced by objections to Pauline authorship, reasoning along similar lines to Stibbs above, though going into far more detail, remains for me a strong counterbalancing factor in favor of the traditional view. I do confess, however, if there were indeed two imprisonments, to being extremely puzzled by Luke’s silence about it.
It has been pointed out that the ‘fiction’ and ‘fragment’ theories of these Epistles have arisen because of difficulties many scholars find in accepting the second Roman imprisonment hypothesis. The main ground of this objection is the absence of any allusion to such renewed Pauline activity in the Acts of the Apostles. In other words it is an argument from silence and it implies that only what is included in the Acts record can be considered authentic. But there are many details in Paul’s life which the Acts does not record….But can it be maintained that the second imprisonment hypothesis is a legend which owes its origin only to the necessity of finding an historical situation for the Pastoral Epistles when they were once accepted into the Canon?…there is certainly no evidence to show that Paul did not do any further missionary work, and this must leave the possibility that he did. (New Testament Introduction, pp. 596-97)
And concerning the ecclesiastical argument that the church of the Pastorals is too administratively advanced to have been written in the 60s, Guthrie ends his lengthy analysis with this simple conclusion:
There can be only one conclusion to this examination of the ecclesiastical evidence. It does not take us beyond the time of Paul. (New Testament Introduction, p. 602)
As a final intriguing suggestion to set our minds spinning off in new directions, we will leave this discussion with a possibility some scholars have advanced—that the secretary or amanuensis to whom Paul entrusted the writing of these letters was Luke. This would certainly explain the elevated style of Greek Koine, perhaps the varied word usage, and the author’s knowledge of Paul’s movements, even, if written later, the possession of certain fragments of Paul’s writings not found elsewhere. This theory is especially appealing in light of 2 Timothy 4:11.
However it leaves us still puzzling over the ending of Acts.
Among all my reference books, opinion varies widely on the order in which the three Pastorals were written, including every possible permutation. After analyzing all the same evidence, scholars have arrived at every different conclusion that is possible. So much for analysis and scholarship! Donald Guthrie gives his opinion as the likely order of writing as Titus, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, which is therefore the order we will follow as well.
Along with Timothy and Mark, Titus was one of Paul’s longest lifetime co-workers. He and Timothy were both protégés of Paul (Mark could hardly be termed such) and were part of his work all the way through Paul’s ministry.
Of the two, Titus was the first to join the team, accompanying Paul to the famous Jerusalem Conference (Galatians 2:3) as a “test case” of an uncircumcised Gentile convert. He was also involved with Paul at Corinth, serving as administrator for the collection being taken for Jerusalem and later as a sort of envoy helping toward a reconciliation between Paul and the church which had had doubts of his legitimacy as an apostle.
It is one of the curiosities of Acts, considering his pivotal role in Paul’s affairs, that Titus is never spoken of. As noted in the context of Luke, this has led to speculation (on the basis of 2 Cor 8:18 and 12:18) that Luke and Titus were brothers, but that Luke did not want to intrude into his account by mentioning himself or members of his family.
Paul’s charge to Titus on Crete, where there was a large Jewish population, has three main elements:
To remind Titus of the qualifications of church leaders;
To exhort the believers toward sound teaching (maintaining patriarchal church order and submission, sound doctrine, purity, and sensibility, and avoiding unnecessary debate), and;
To refute the unsound teaching of their opponents (Judaizing Christians especially, along with rebels and dividers).
This latter is carried out negatively, by criticism, invective, and ridicule rather than theological debate, or by attempting to set forth a positive “case” against the false teaching. One wonders why, if Paul was its author, he did not follow the pattern of Galatians, with attack followed by the building of a case against the presumed falsehood. Yet it must be admitted that the harshness of the various rebukes in Titus do—sadly—sound very much like Paul.
Personally, I like the Pastorals very much for their succinct practicality. They remind me of James. I think they have been of inestimable value to Christians through the years. But there are those who see in them hints of the formularization and institutionalization of belief that will increasingly infect the church in coming years. I tend to observe the problem of “formula” as far more damaging when applied to Paul’s other letters. Yet this is a perspective that is often voiced concerning the Pastorals, as in:
When we compare the Pastorals with the genuine [or other] Pauline letters, we see that…the vitality and originality of Pauline religion has been replaced by a conservative religious emphasis…The subjective element of faith…has undergone a shift to a more propositional, institutionalized emphasis. Faith approximates an acceptance of creedal formulation, the content of Christian belief…Justification by faith is, indeed, expressed in Tit. 3:4-5, but within the context of the Pastorals it has become a traditional phrase without living content. (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3, P. 674)
Recalling the objection to Pauline authorship on the basis of its lack of theological profundity, The New Oxford Annotated Bible makes this interesting comment on Titus:
Though short, this epistle is theologically packed, requiring readers to pause and reconstruct the underlying gospel narrative and theological concepts, which the author often invokes by terse shorthand. Passages such as 1.1-3; 2.11-14; 3.4-7 allow for instructive comparison with other tight Pauline formulations (such as Gal. 4.1-11; Rom. 3.21-26; 2 Tim. 1.9-10), so the theology constructed here can be appreciated both for its distinctiveness and for its continuity with earlier traditions. (NT p. 362)
Paul’s First Letter to Timothy
by Paul, from Macedonia, possibly Philippi,
or by an unknown later writer in Paul’s name
Instructions to a Spiritual Son
If one takes the view that the Pastoral epistles were written later than the end of Paul’s life, toward the end of the first century, one of the first things necessary to being able to read them with understanding is to recognize the greatly changed historical context of the times.
Whether one takes a Pauline or non-Pauline view of authorship, however, the need is the same. Even if the Pastorals were written in the 60s, they are assuredly the last of Paul’s letters, and clearly speak to a changing environment in the church, and foreshadow many adaptations to its rapid growth and a fluid cultural context that will continue over the next several centuries.
The Pastorals have the imprint of second-generation Christianity, in which the spiritual urgency of the apostolic era has made way for efforts of stabilization. A growing institutionalism within and a gradual adjustment to the world outside are signs that the church faces a future in society and must come to terms with that society. A strategy is developing. Unity in obedience to orthodox norms and to church officers who guard over these norms is a defense against opposition without and division within… (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3 ?, P. 674)
historical context of the church of the pastorals
The church of the Pastorals is not the same provincial church of Jerusalem and Antioch of 49-50 struggling with circumcision. Christianity has become a worldwide movement like nothing ever seen.
There have been conquering peoples and powers and nations—from Egypt and Babylon to Greece and Rome.
There have been conquering rulers—from the Pharaohs to Nebuchadrezzar to Alexander to Julius Caesar.
There have been world changing inventions—from fire to the wheel to language to writing.
But there has never been a faith that has taken over the world by the simple power of humility and love…a faith whose Leader gave his life rather than sought to conquer his enemies by force.
There have been many Alexanders and Caesars, and the world will produce many more. There has only been one Jesus Christ.
The Christian movement is unique in all the history of the world…before or since.
Changes, therefore, are coming rapidly to the Church whose people gradually ceased to be known as “the Way” and rather as “Christ-ians”—literally, followers of Christ. We see the evidence of many of those changes here, especially
the transition toward structure and organization. This formalization will in the next two centuries take place in three primary areas: administratively, doctrinally, and canonistically.
The church will organize itself by a rigid and defined hierarchy of leadership.
The church will define with increasing rigidity what comprises orthodoxy vs. what is heresy.
The church will establish a new canon of Holy Scripture of equal weight with the Jewish Scriptures.
Any evaluation of the Pastoral letters must attempt to place them in their historical setting…
The apostolic period has passed. And with it the eschatological drive of that period, which saw the world passing away to make place for the glorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ and the establishment of God’s visible kingly rule…The eschatological hope had been the main drive in the apostolic church. This hope had been stimulated by prophetic-charismatic utterances which strengthened the early churches in their consciousness of being the eschatological communities living in the end-time. The hope had been accompanied by a certain indifference to the world and its culture, since the final judgment over the world was thought to be forthcoming in the immediate future. In the postapostolic church the theme of hope had to be modified. The delay of Christ’s glorious parousia made the church aware of the need to reformulate its attitude toward the world, and of coming to terms with its own existence as having to endure within the world. The hope is modified—not abandoned. The theme becomes that of pilgrimage: What does it mean to be in the world—to continue to live in it, but not to be of it?…Existence within the world involves certain forms of stabilization and organization. The church searches for its self-identity amid the forces of the world. And this search for self-identity is made more urgent by two movements which threaten to dissolve the church.
One of these threats arises within the church and the other from without the church…The reaction opened the way for the three canons of the early Catholic church: (a) the formation of a creed; (b) the formation of a canon, and (c) the formation of an ordained clergy…
Furthermore, the categories of orthodoxy and heresy were in the process of being formulated…
At the same time the church becomes increasingly aware of its relation to society and the state…
In conclusion then, there are several themes in the Pastorals. They come from the church’s search for self-identity. The threat from within the church is heresy, and it is met by a search for reliable criteria—i.e., by a trend toward orthodoxy. This trend occurs in the areas of worship, creedal norms, and the ministry. The threats from without the church are met by the effort to Christianize the best secular virtues in the interest of better public relations. But although the church is willing to go a long way toward finding rapport with the world, it knows that it may have to suffer for its convictions. The faithfulness to the confession is the boundary line…
The Pastorals may be characterized as a manual for the clergy. Their purpose is to strengthen the church in its beleaguered position, and to give it guidance in its search for self-identity. Heretics must be shunned or excommunicated. The clergy must be selected carefully, its authority recognized, and its guidance in forms of worship followed…
Ultimately the church arrived at a threefold apostolic criterion: an apostolic ministry, an apostolic creed, and an apostolic canon. They were to safeguard the church against arbitrary perversions.
In the Pastorals we see the beginnings of this process. (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3 ? pp. 671-2, 674)
One of the first things we notice as we begin reading this second of the Pastoral epistles is the similarity between Titus and 1 Timothy. The purpose of the letters seems almost identical: Supervision of church affairs, appointment of leaders, and refutation of false teaching. It is noted, however, that the apparent heresy of Gnosticism is more pronounced where Timothy is in Ephesus than in Crete.
Again we are reminded of Paul’s strong refutation of Gnostic idea in Colossians. Because of his magnificent exposition (contained in more complete form in the combined unity of Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians) of the nature of Christ and his work in the world and in his Church, it is easier to see the potential heresy Paul felt compelled to speak against. It is more difficult to assess the exact nature of what is at work here in the Pastorals. Paul’s repeated emphasis on “sound doctrine” does not in and of itself imply Gnosticism. Paul has always been a doctrinalist. Throughout his career he has used the most stinging language against anyone who teaches a different doctrine than his.
Though not, as we have seen, endorsing this view, Donald Guthrie frames it concisely:
The heresies reflected in the Pastorals…are claimed to belong to a time when the Gnostic heresy which reached its climax in the second century was much more developed than it was in the time of Paul…As compared with the Colossian heresy it is said to be more organized and a distinction is drawn between Paul’s method of dealing with it and the method adopted in the Pastorals. (New Testament Introduction, p. 592)
However, we cannot read too much into the fact that he rails against lovers of money, the proud, the arrogant, and those who are disobedient to their parents. These are universal human problems that the church in every age has to confront and are certainly not limited to those of Gnostic beliefs.
The identification of heresy in the post-Pauline period is an exceedingly complex matter. This is primarily due to the fact that no heretical literature from this period has survived…Moreover, the canonical literature of our period is of such a nature that we cannot draw a clear profile from the antiheretical sections. The church was just beginning to formulate an antiheretical front, and in doing so, it was not interested in a description of heretics or in a debate with them. The heretics are denounced in the most general terms, and all the vices of contemporary society are ascribed to them. Abuse seems to replace debate…the church…adopted the mores of the time and encountered heretics in much the same way as the popular philosophical schools denounced one another. This was often in terms of traditional ethical lists. Notice, e.g., the barrage of vices attributed to the heretics in II Tim. 3:2-5: “Men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it.” This general indictment of the opposition should not be used as a means of identifying it. (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol 3 ?, p. 672)
Yet when the full scope of Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus are viewed as a whole, in light of what is known about the Gnosticism that was developing in the latter decades of the first century and became a very serious threat to the entire Christian movement in the second, a picture emerges of the general trends that Paul (or, depending on one’s point of view of authorship, a later author writing in his name) may have been attempting to combat.
the nature of the heresy refuted in the pastorals
In that light, I find the following, though perhaps a little lengthy, very helpful in coming to understand the pervading atmosphere of Hellenism (Greek philosophy) that was infiltrating and influencing the churches around the Mediterranean at this time.
Two dangers must be avoided. The first one is that of dividing the heretical opposition into several groups or insisting on their Jewish Christian character. The essentially Hellenistic character of the Pastorals and the lack of evidence that the opponents are insisting on circumcision or the OT food laws shows that the fight between Judaism and Christianity is over. Notwithstanding a Jewish element in the opposition…we shall see that the nature of the heresy has nothing in common with legalistic Judaism. The second danger is the identification of the opposition with a well-known Gnostic movement of the second century. The extent to which the opposition has formulated a system cannot be ascertained, but it seems a doubtful undertaking to identify the heresies of the Pastorals with any of the [later] elaborate Gnosis systems…
One should…determine, if possible, what stage of the early Christian church the Pastorals illuminate for us. Gnosticism is not a late offshoot of the Christian gospel. In fact, a Gnostic climate surrounds the NT from its beginning; already Paul had to struggle with Gnostic tendencies in some of his churches…
The Pastorals give some clear indications of the growth and character of the Gnostic heresy which the author opposes:
a) Asceticism. Asceticism manifests itself in the Gnostics’ prohibition of marriage…and their abstinence from certain foods…These ascetic features arise from their conviction that creation and procreation are essentially harmful to salvation and that salvation consists in avoiding contact with an evil and corrupt world.
b) Spiritualism. In contrast to their negative view of matter, the Gnostics exalt the soul. They believe it to be a consequence of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God that their own lives in Christ have already been essentially transported to a heavenly existence. In this sense Timothy must “avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge”…Part of this pseudo knowledge is the teaching of the heretics that “the resurrection is past already” (II Tim. 2:18).
c) “Myths and endless genealogies”…This may refer to Gnostic interpretation of OT texts, especially speculation on the genealogies of the Pentateuch with reference to Gnostic aeons and…the Gnostic world of the heavens. Yet in the abusive language of the Pastorals, myths may refer, not so much to specific Gnostic myths, as generally to “foolish stories.”
It is interesting to note here that genealogy is one of those vocabulary words not found elsewhere in the whole New Testament. It is only used twice, with similar language—once to Titus and once to Timothy.
d) Jewish elements…The heresy is related to a Gnosticizing Judaism, elements of which we meet already in Colossians…The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit Gnosticizing features…and it is probably that the …heretics of rabbinical literature should be thought of as Jewish Gnostics…
e) Libertinism. It is difficult to assert positive marks of libertinism in the Pastorals, since many references to it may simply have been part and parcel of the author’s antipolemical arsenal. Yet 1 Tim. 1:8, II Tim. 3:6 may refer to antinomian [the belief that the moral law is not binding on Christians—MP] practices.
f) Emancipation of women. The appeal of Gnostic teaching to women is evident from II Tim. 3:6-7: “Among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” This seems quite in line with Irenaeus’ testimony to the influence of Gnostics among women…In this light the Pastor stresses the household duties of women and gives strict rules about the order of widows and commands them to be silent in the church…
The strength of the heretics is considerable. They are not outsiders but flourish in the midst of the church and seem to have considerable success. “Their talk will eat its way like gangrene.” (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3 ?, pp. 672-3)
but is the heresy really so well developed?
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing is that Paul does not spend as much time on the heresy as the above commentator! His strongest advice to both Timothy and Titus is to avoid the “unprofitable” chatter and “stupid” controversies, and simply to preach the sound doctrine of the gospel.
In this light, Guthrie notes the danger of reading too much into Paul’s warnings.
It can hardly be maintained that these data point to a ‘coherent and powerful heresy’. If anything the allusions suggest just the reverse. Wrangling and chatter are not the usual marks of coherence, nor are idle speculations. The fact that only one matter of doctrinal importance is mentioned, and even that only by way of illustrating godless chatter, does not lead us to suppose that the apostle took these teachers very seriously. His main concern was that Timothy and Titus should not waste time over them. This explains why he does not consider it worth while to answer their contentions as he did the false teaching being propagated at Colossae. Another reason why Paul here denounces instead of refutes is that he is writing to those who were well enough versed in Christian doctrine to do the refuting themselves where necessary. In Colossians Paul is confronting the members of the church who may well have been perplexed over the specious arguments of the false teacher or teachers and who had no-one capable of giving the Christian answer. It is fallacious to compare Paul’s references to the heresy in Colossians with those in the Pastorals and then to deny the latter to Paul because he does not treat them in the same way.
Few scholars would now maintain with any certainty that the writer of the Pastorals is combating developed Gnosticism…It would not be too much to say that the alignment of the Pastorals with second-century Gnosticism might never have occurred had it not been for the need to postulate satisfactory motives for the author when the Pauline origin had once been denied. (New Testament Introduction, pp. 603-04)
I find this a positively brilliant and extremely significant argument. We could apply Guthrie’s logic to a large percentage of the many “revisionist” theories we have encountered all the way through—that, having discarded a traditional theory of authorship or dating and replaced it with a revisionist one, the revisionists then read into the scriptural texts whatever interpretations are necessary to support their new theory. It is particularly easy to see here, as Guthrie points out—reading into what are almost insignificant references to Timothy and Titus an entire philosophical system of thought.
other inconsistencies with the revisionist view
Guthrie employs similar logic in his discussion of the vocabulary and linguistic difficulties of the Pastorals, as well as what are perceived as doctrinal inconsistencies—showing that the “evidence” cited that seems to point toward non-Pauline authorship is not always what it appears to be, and that, like most evidence, can be used to draw a variety of conclusions. It is another case where, if one begins with the conclusion one wants to arrive at, it is not so difficult to find scriptural validation for that conclusion. In the particular case of so-called second century vocabulary, Guthrie simply notes that many of the terms cited as being in use in the second century were well enough known by the middle of the first century as well.
For some it may seem as if in these discussions of the Pastoral Epistles I have relied more heavily on the thoughts of others than for some of the other books. The reason is simply that the arguments about authorship and doctrine and church development raised by these letters are so technical that it seems appropriate to avail ourselves of the research that has already been done rather than my trying to replough the same ground myself. The complexity of the issues raised by the Pastorals is indicated in that the chapter devoted to them in Guthrie’s New Testament Introduction is one of the lengthiest chapters of his book.
Whether Paul wrote the two Timothy letters or not, I reiterate what I said earlier, that I find in them a wealth of succinct practical Christianity reminiscent of James. Perhaps the lack of theological depth troubles some scholars, but in my opinion the wonderful practicality of these letters gives them a far greater stature. If I was marooned on the proverbial desert island and had my choice between Romans and Galatians or James and the Pastorals to be my only New Testament companions, notwithstanding that there would be few elders, heretics, or widows present, I would choose James and the Pastorals any day.
The First Letter of Peter
a.d. 63 – 65
by Simon Peter of Capernaum in Galilee, from Rome,
or by an unknown later writer in Peter’s name
The Rock Speaks Forth—
The Stones That Will Build the Church
When one thinks of the scriptural passages dealing with the “church” and various aspects of church life, it is usually to the writings of Paul that one’s mind first turns—1 Corinthians 12 and 14, Romans 12, 1 Thessalonians 5, and of course the Pastoral epistles we have been considering most recently. In these passages and a few others Paul speaks about various of the functions and the organization of the church. And in Ephesians 2, he presents his glorious image of the Church as a holy temple being fashioned as a spiritual dwelling for God.
Building upon this image, I would make a case that an even higher and more magnificent definition of what the Church actually is—the true Church, not the organizational structure that goes by the name “church”—is found in 1 Peter.
How fitting it is that it should be Peter, the Lord’s closest earthly friend, who, after all these years and all Paul’s writings that have circulated through the church…after the dispute at Antioch when he was slammed by Paul…after he had scarcely been heard from again…that it would be Peter who would step forward, truly as the leader of the Christian movement, the Apostle of all the apostles, to concisely articulate and illuminate what God’s people, his Church, are to be and become.
Cast your mind back to that incredible exchange in Matthew 16.
“But you…who do you say that I am?” Jesus had just asked.
“You are the Christ,” answered Simon Peter, “the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
That had been more than thirty years before. Peter was a young man. He and the other disciples still had but a shadowy idea who Jesus was. Only a few minutes after this confession, Jesus had to rebuke Peter in the strongest language—“Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me, for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
When Jesus said, You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, Peter had no idea what he meant.
Now he does. His life, like Paul’s, is nearly at an end. Peter at last understands what the Church is, and what the body of Christ is meant to become.
issues concerning 1 peter
Though our attempt has been to follow the Bible’s writings in the order in which they were written, with the exception of the four gospels, as it has worked out without attempting to do so we have also been gradually progressing through the New Testament in approximately the order in which the books appear in our Bibles. Furthermore, also unintentionally, we have also been moving from those books where authorship is least disputed toward those where it is most disputed, as well as from those books which were the first to be recognized as canonical to those which were most questioned and were the last to be officially recognized as part of the New Testament.
This progressivity probably has the simplest of all explanations: As books of disputed authorship (perhaps written later than claimed by the ascription of authorship) and questioned canonicity were gradually added to the New Testament, they were added at the end of the list of the more authoritative books already in circulation.
We have seen with the Pastoral epistles that they are the most disputed of Paul’s letters, were the last to be written, and were slower than the other Pauline epistles to be accepted into the canon. Nearly all the rest of the books we will consider (including, to a limited extent, the Gospel of John) were written later than those we have already read, will involve major questions of authorship, and were, as a result, among the last books to be accepted for authoritative inclusion in the New Testament.
As if some of our discussions have not stirred controversy enough, our examinations of the final books of the New Testament will no doubt rouse even more among those who are uncomfortable with alternative authorship possibilities than the names traditionally associated with them.
Many editions of the Bible follow exactly along traditional lines. One of the modern editions of the NIV before me, in its Introductions to each book, gives as positively authoritative the traditional dates and authorship of every book without so much as mentioning the biblical research and historical records (in some cases dating all the way back to the second century) that allow for legitimate alternate viewpoints. Questions arising out of a thorough study of the Pastorals, for instance, are not mentioned. Another edition of the NIV (the NIV Study Bible) while endorsing the traditional view (and in so doing going so far as to include a map of Paul’s “fourth missionary journey” based on the Pastorals so detailed as to even show the specific towns in Spain he visited—a tremendously unsubstantiated leap of pure guesswork!) at least demonstrates the scholarly integrity to mention the fact that there are questions. In its Introduction to 1 Timothy, the NIV Study Bible comments:
Some objections have been raised in recent years on the basis of alleged uncharacteristic vocabulary and style…but evidence is still convincingly supportive of Paul’s authorship. (p. 1833)
We will find the divides between such points of view widening as we go. From here on to the end of Revelation, there will be questions about all the writings we will consider.
Most objective biblical scholars, however, (including conservative and evangelical scholars) recognize the legitimacy of these questions, and do not equate an honest evaluation with a lessening commitment to divine inspiration or the inerrancy of the message and content.
And thus we come to the letters of Peter, which, taken together, are among the most regularly questioned of all New Testament documents. In its Introduction to First Peter, the New Oxford Annotated Bible summarizes the general view of many liberal scholars:
The First Letter of Peter presents itself as a pastoral letter written by the Apostle Peter from “Babylon,” where he is accompanied by Silvanus (= Silas) and Mark….Some scholars continue to understand this as a literal description, with Silvanus often regarded as the actual writer at Peter’s behest. The situation indirectly described by the letter, however, points to a time after Peter’s death. The language, style, content, and thought world seem inappropriate to Peter the Galilean fisherman and missionary to the Jews…The excellent and sophisticated Greek, the lack of references to the life and teaching of the earthly Jesus, the christological emphasis on the cosmic Christ, and the address to Gentile Christians who had previously lived a sinful, idolatrous life…point to a disciple of Peter writing in the name of the revered apostle. Thus most critical scholars interpret the document as a letter from the last decade of the first century CE, written in Peter’s name in order to claim that its teaching represented the apostolic faith. The letter itself indicates that it was written by a presbyter (elder; 5.1) of the Roman church—the “Babylon” of 5:.13 was a common cryptogram for Rome at the end of the first century….The references to Silvanus and Mark, both known companions of Paul…are part of the fictive literary picture that combines elements of Pauline tradition with the figure of Peter, as is the Pauline form itself adopted by 1 Peter. The letter thus represents the combination of Pauline and Petrine traditions in the church of Rome at the end of the first century, set forth in Peter’s name as a pastoral letter to churches struggling in a difficult social situation…
The letter addresses a critical situation in the lives of the addressees, who once participated in the social and cultural life of their communities, but since their conversion to Christ have become marginalized and abused. The society to which they once belonged now considers them an unwelcome, even dangerous sectarian movement…The positive attitude toward the state…indicates there is as yet no overt government persecution except for perhaps occasional arbitrary acts by subordinate officials..
Just as all Christians are instructed to respect the government authorities…so the most vulnerable Christians, slaves of unbelieving masters and wives of unbelieving husbands, are instructed to fit uncomplainingly into the given structures of society as a testimony to the faith…Such behavior may convert the oppressor…but if not it is still following the example set by Christ and will be vindicated at the last judgment that is soon to come. (pp. NT 394-95)
And the NIV Study Bible likewise presents the view of most conservatives:
From the beginning, 1 Peter was recognized as authoritative and as the work of the apostle Peter…1 Clement (A.D. 95) seems to indicate acquaintance with 1 Peter. Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John, makes use of 1 Peter…The author of the Gospel of Truth (140-150) was acquainted with 1 Peter…
The letter was explicitly ascribed to Peter by that group of church fathers whose testimonies appear in the attestation of so many of the genuine NT writings, namely, Irenaeus (A.D. 140-203), Tertullian (150-222), Clement of Alexandria (155-215) and Origen (185-253). It is thus clear that Peter’s authorship of the book has early and strong support.
Nevertheless some claim that the idiomatic Greek of this letter is beyond Peter’s competence. But in his time Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek were used in Palestine…That he was not a professionally trained scribe…does not mean that he was unacquainted with Greek…Even if he had not known it in the earliest days of the church, he may have acquired it as an important aid to his apostolic ministry in the decades that intervened between then and the writing of 1 Peter.
It is true, however, that the Greek of 1 Peter is good literary Greek, and even though Peter could no doubt speak Greek, as so many in the Mediterranean world could, it is unlikely that he would write such polished Greek. But it is at this point that Peter’s remark in 5:12 concerning Silas may be significant. Here the apostle claims that he wrote “with the help of” (more lit. “through” or “by means of”) Silas. This phrase cannot refer merely to Silas as a letter carrier. Thus Silas was the intermediate agent in writing. Some have claimed that Silas’s qualifications for recording Peter’s letter in literary Greek are found in Ac 15:22-29. It is known that a secretary in those days often composed documents in good Greek for those who did not have the language facility to do so. Thus in 1 Peter Silas’s Greek may be seen, while in 2 Peter it may be Peter’s rough Greek that appears.
Some also maintain that the book reflects a situation that did not exist until after Peter’s death, suggesting that the persecution referred to…is descriptive of Domitian’s reign (A.D. 81-96). However, the situation that was developing in Nero’s time (54-68) is just as adequately described by those verses. The book can be satisfactorily dated in the early 60s…Furthermore, it cannot be dated later than 67-68, since Peter was martyred during Nero’s reign. (p. 1886)
a variety of viewpoints
I have frequently quoted from different sources to illustrate how varying are the points of view about nearly every point of scriptural interpretation. The author of the article on First Peter in the Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible makes exactly the same point:
Ten years ago 2 equally distinguished scholars published commentaries almost simultaneously. One dates the letter no earlier than 112 with author unknown; whereas the other regards it as basically Petrine, written from Rome no later than 64. The case against Pet. as the author has not been established. (p. 924)
Though all commentators are aware of the arguments for and against Petrine authorship, even most liberal scholars are reluctant to go further than to leave the matter as an open question. The notably liberal Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible states:
It appears that by 200 this letter was accepted as the work of the apostle Peter by the churches in various countries…we may conclude that 1 Peter has good credentials. (Vol. 3, p. 761)
Though he himself holds to the traditional view of Peter as the author in the mid-60s, William Barclay devotes considerable space in his commentary to the objections. He begins:
Until a comparatively short time ago few would have raised any doubts about the genuineness and authenticity of First Peter. Renan, who was by no means a conservative critic, wrote of it: “The First Epistle is one of the writings of the New Testament which are most anciently and most unanimously cited as genuine.” But in recent times the Petrine authorship of the letter has been very widely questioned…(p. 164)
In his book on The Canon of the New Testament, Westcott had already noted that, although no one in the early church questions the right of First Peter to be part of the New Testament, yet surprisingly few of the early fathers quote it, and, still more surprising, very few of the early fathers in the west and in Rome quote it…If Peter wrote this letter , and, if he wrote it in Rome, we would expect it to be very well known, and very largely used, in the Church of the west.
The earliest known official list of New Testament books is known as the Muratorian Canon, so called after Cardinal Muratori who discovered it. It is the official list of New Testament books as accepted in the Church of Rome about the year A.D. 170. It is an extraordinary fact that First Peter does not appear in that list at all. (Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 180)
Emphasizing his fondness for First Peter, Barclay adds:
Of all these General Epistles it is probably true to say that First Peter is the best known and loved, and the most read. No one has ever been in any doubt about its attractiveness and its charm. Moffatt writes of it: “The beautiful spirit of the pastoral shines through any translation of the Greek text…” It is written out of the love of a pastor’s heart… “The key-note,” says Moffatt, “is steady encouragement to endurance in conduct and innocence in character.” It has been said that the distinctive characteristic of First Peter is warmth…To this day First Peter is one of the easiest letters in the New Testament to read, for it has never lost its winsome appeal to the human heart. (William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 164)
And always objectively trustworthy Donald Guthrie agrees with what seems the majority opinion:
Our conclusion must be that this Epistle not only exerted a wide influence on early Christian writings, but that it also possessed for them apostolic authority. This makes clear that the primitive Church, as far back as any evidence exists, regarded it as a genuine Epistle of Peter…The very great weight of patristic evidence in favour of Petrine authorship and the absence of any dissentient voice raises so strong a presupposition in favour of the correctness of the claims of the Epistle to be Peter’s own work that it is surprising that this has been questioned. (New Testament Introduction, p. 773)
It is interesting, however, to note the similarities between First Peter and some of Paul’s writings, and consider what might lay behind them.
Opponents of Petrine authorship place much emphasis on the affinities in thought between this Epistle and the Pauline letters. It is maintained that the author has borrowed from some of these, particularly Romans and Ephesians…
A corollary to the alleged borrowing from Paul’s Epistles is the supposed want of any originality in this Epistle. In other words it is considered that there is nothing characteristically unPauline in it. (New Testament Introduction, pp. 776-77)
Those who care to follow this line of inquiry might compare:
1 Peter 1:3 with Ephesians 1:3
1 Peter 1:13 with Ephesians 6:14
1 Peter 1:20 with Ephesians 1:4
1 Peter 3:22 with Ephesians 1:20-21
1 Peter 2:18 with Ephesians 6:5
1 Peter 3:1 with Ephesians 5:22
1 Peter 3:7 with Ephesians 5:25
1 Peter 2:5 with Ephesians 2:22
Skeptics take the view that these similarities mean that the author used Paul’s writings, and that therefore the author could not be Peter since the letter had to have been written much later when the letters of Paul had been collected and were in circulation.
But as other commentators point out, in this case and others where clear overlap appears between biblical books, in the borrowing of ideas it is not always an easy matter to determine which came first. Nor is there reason not to think certain themes and ideas in common circulation.
I still like to envision Peter and Paul working together in Rome, to which their common mention of Mark being with them at almost the same time attests. Recalling that Ephesians is among Paul’s “prison letters” of the early 60s, and that 1 Peter is dated not long after, is it conceivable that Peter and Paul discussed some of these things, accounting for the similarities?
About the potential borrowing argument, William Barclay comments:
The argument is that First Peter is quoting Ephesians. Now, although Ephesians must have been written somewhere about A.D. 64, the letters of Paul were not collected and edited until about A.D. 90; and if Peter was also writing in A.D. 64, how did he know Ephesians?…
All the similarities quoted are similarities which can well be explained from the fact that there were certain phrases and certain lines of thought which were universal in the early Church. For instance, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” was part of the universal devotional language of the early Church, which both Peter and Paul would know, and delight in, and use without any borrowing from each other…Even if there is mutual borrowing, it is by no means certain that First Peter borrows from Ephesians; the borrowing might well be the other way round, and indeed probably is the other way round, for First Peter is much simpler than Ephesians…Lastly, even if First Peter borrows from Ephesians, if Peter and Paul were in Rome at the same time, it is perfectly possible that Peter should have seen a copy of Ephesians, before it was sent to Asia Minor, and he might well have discussed its ideas with Paul.
The argument that First Peter must be late because it quotes from Ephesians seems to us very uncertain and very insecure and very precarious, and possibly quite mistaken. (The Letters of James and Peter, pp. 182-83)
Guthrie goes on, meeting some of these objections and discussing the “theology” of First Peter:
There has been such widespread assumption that Peter’s Epistle is but an echo of Paulinism that it is refreshing to find an increasing tendency to mark the individual contribution of Peter in the field of New Testament theology…Peter’s teaching cannot be systematized into a theological school of thought, but there is enough distinctiveness about it to differentiate it from Paul’s approach. The most notable contribution is the doctrine of Christ’s descent into Hades, which in its focus upon the resurrection of Christ stands in direct relationship to Peter’s emphasis on the resurrection in the early Acts speeches. As an eyewitness of the risen Christ Peter would never forget the profound impression which that stupendous event made upon his mind, and the doctrine of the descent, however obscure it is to modern minds, would surely be more natural as a part of primitive reflection upon the significance of the resurrection than as a later development…
At the same time, no serious student of Paul and Peter would deny that there is much common ground between them. (New Testament Introduction, p. 785)
First Peter often dated before the worst of the Nero persecution because of 1 Peter 2:13, is dated by most scholars who maintain its authorship by Peter in 63-64. William Barclay, however, also holding to Petrine authorship, dates it just after the great fire of Rome in 64 and the subsequent bloodbath at Nero’s hands.
Tradition dates Peter’s death in 64, crucified at his request upside down, considering himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way as was his Lord.
A Transformed Fisherman
I have used fairly strong words in these studies against unfounded bias that colors the perspectives of various biblical commentators, as well as hidden bias that masquerades for objectivity by refusing to show its true colors. Bias itself I do not find so intolerable. We all have biases; they are unavoidable. It is the pretense of objectivity that makes bias so objectionable. In the quotes from the two Bibles above, the NIV Study Bible at least makes a limited presentation of both sides of the argument, recognizing some of the difficulties (the “good Greek” problem). The Oxford Annotated, on the other hand, makes no pretense at objectivity, and is completely dismissive of alternate viewpoints with one of its favorite phrases of liberal self-righteousness, “most critical scholars.”
So it is time for me to put my money where my mouth is and admit my own bias.
I am a great admirer of Peter. You have probably sensed that before now. In the Peter-Paul dispute at Antioch, though I do not necessarily condone his actions (not knowing the facts, I can draw no conclusion on the merits of who ate with whom and why), I tend to be sympathetic with Peter’s plight, suddenly finding himself excoriated by one who was at the time still only an assistant to Barnabas in the work at Antioch. I also tend to be pretty hard on Paul for his actions at Antioch because I think he badly misstepped and seriously overreacted.
Such are my leanings…my biases if one wants to call them that.
I like Peter! I think the Lord’s choice for his leading disciple was absolutely inspired, brilliant, a stroke of genius. As it obviously would be! He was the Son of God!
Peter is one of the chief reasons for the “success” of the Christian enterprise against such overwhelming odds. (In addition to such obvious facts as the resurrection, and the divinely ordained nature of Jesus’ life and teaching.) Though we do not know nearly so much about his life or activity, I believe that Peter’s influence in the early church was equal to, if not greater than, Paul’s.
Placing it in such terms, however, misses the point. God chose both these men to advance his eternal purpose in the Apostolic era. I happen to believe that Peter was the more significant of the two, not because of his theology or his writings, but because of his character. Paul put his theological stamp on the first century church, yet may at the same time have initiated some destructive trends by the example of his divisiveness. Peter, on the other hand, showed the early church, in my opinion, something of far greater and more eternal value—he demonstrated the imperative of unity and the character of Christ.
So when I read this first New Testament letter with Peter’s name attached as author, I admittedly come to it with a pro-Peter perspective. There are valid questions associated with Peter’s authorship of both the letters that bear his name. It is almost impossible to read the two Peter letters and not sense what seems the tone of a later period than Peter’s lifetime. They remind me of the final added portion of Mark’s gospel where, again, a later date seems clear. I fully recognize the plausibility of some of the alternate ideas set forth by many scholars.
That said, however…I want to believe 1 Peter written by Peter himself. Maybe it doesn’t “feel” like the Peter I know and love. Perhaps it doesn’t sound like it is written by a humble Galilean fisherman. Actually…it sounds too much like Paul to be Peter!
But…I want to believe these are Peter’s words anyway.
I have one bit of internal evidence that speaks volumes and may outweigh all the critical analysis that scholars employ. When I gaze back over my life, and look at some of the things I said and did and thought and wrote thirty years ago, I cringe with embarrassment…sometimes with shame. How could I have been so unaware, so immature, so clueless, so insensitive, so self-motivated! When I read some of what I have written in more recent years, the words have truly been written by a different man. Observing how dramatically and thoroughly a man can develop and grow and change in thirty years (me!), suddenly the different tone and style of 1 Peter becomes less an obstacle, and more a cause for quiet gratitude to God for what the years have made of this humble and faithful disciple. If Acts 4:13 says that Peter and John were uneducated and untrained, so am I. There are no letters after my name, yet here I am, forty years after the Lord seized my heart, writing about the New Testament. Am I “qualified” by virtue of theological training received forty years ago, or by the standard of multiple advanced degrees, to do so? Perhaps not.
But God doesn’t usually depend on the world’s scholars and theologians to transmit his truth. Jesus didn’t go in search of men with letters behind their names (though perhaps Paul had them, I don’t know). He went in search of fishermen. Then he raised them up and trained and educated them himself for his work. The training Peter received was from the Lord himself! To equate the unsophisticated “Galilean fisherman” with the Peter of Rome in the 60s facing martyrdom under Nero is to ignore the power of what the Holy Spirit can do in a man or a woman’s life.
Judy and I have had the enormous privilege to meet a number of extraordinary people here in Scotland. A different cultural milieu exists here in our village that sometimes makes you stop and shake your head with wonder. I spent an hour a couple days ago with one of the elderly men of Cullen, a former fisherman, who is one of the town’s premier historians and, though almost eighty and “legally” blind is busy making DVDs of various country walks in the area and chronicling the town’s history. I met this extraordinary man by chance in a shop earlier this summer, introduced by a mutual friend, the owner of the shop. Judy later met him, also by chance, in other circumstances, and now a wonderful friendship has developed. He has spent his whole life here and, in spite of the handicap of severely failing eyesight, goes out walking along the sea and bluffs every day. As he and I chatted he lamented the changes that have taken place, and told me that when he was young, everybody knew everybody. It is a common phrase that is sometimes overused. But as he said those very words, his eyes were so aglow, his hands and arms gesturing with such passion, he could think of no other way to describe the intimacy of village life than with the well-worn words, “Everybody knew…”
Then he paused briefly, before the last word burst out with such force that he could hardly contain himself.
Yet to us, coming to Cullen now, even with the encroachment of modernity everywhere you look, it seems to us that “everybody still knows everybody.” It is absolutely remarkable to be part of a small village community literally teeming with life and people and a sense of such intimate belonging. We cannot walk out our door without greeting sometimes half a dozen friends within five minutes. We have never seen anything like it! And we are relative strangers.
I embarked on this digression to tell you about one incredible man with whose family we have become intimately connected in the neighboring village.
Two summers ago, while she walked along the former railway line between Cullen and Portknockie, a man came slowly along from Portknockie, then paused as they met and handed Judy a tract. They began to talk, he invited her home for tea, Judy met his wife and daughter, and before the day was out had been shown a shelf full of George MacDonald and Michael Phillips books. Where the astonishment was greater it would be hard to say, for Judy to see my books, or for this Scots family to find themselves entertaining in their home the wife (in their words!) of one of their favorite authors.
That is the kind of thing that happens here—strangers invite you for tea, and lifetime friendships result! We have now been to their house many times, Judy takes walks with Catherine and Brenda, we have met in-laws and grandchildren. As a matter of fact, I am going for a visit tomorrow prior to flying back to the States where I will rejoin Judy who returned two weeks ago.
David, the head of the family who passes out tracts on the viaduct, is a retired fisherman, as are many of the men we meet here. Their home is full of pictures of fishing boats and fishing memorabilia. David loves the fishing life almost as much as he loves the Lord.
Fishing is a hard life. We listened as another friend told us of being out in violently stormy seas as night fell. The men on his boat were fishing in tandem with a second vessel. Darkness closed in and the seas raged and the wind blew. When dawn finally came, our friend and his crewmates came back up on deck and looked about in the dawn. But…the other boat was gone.
All their friends and fellow workers were lost.
Such stories like that make biblical accounts suddenly very real.
Everyone here has stories like that to tell too—stories of loss. Our Cullen friends and acquaintances have lived the same kind of life as did many of Jesus’ disciples. It was a hard life. Whenever we visit our friends’ in Portknockie, David has something to relate prompted from his fishing life of days gone by.
But David Mair is no longer a strapping thirty year old. He is a quiet, reserved man reaching the end of his life. He doesn’t say a great deal. One senses that his focus is drawing ever more inward.
Judy walked over to Portknockie for a visit earlier this summer. David was out in their garden alone, on his knees at a flower bed, his back turned. Judy walked out of the house to greet him. Hearing her voice, David turned and stood. His eyes were aglow and his face full of expression. Judy had the immediate sense that she had interrupted him in the middle of a conversation. For a moment he seemed not to recognize her
Then came the five words she will never forget:
“Do you…know my Lord?”
A chill swept through Judy’s whole frame as she realized what conversation she had just interrupted.
There on his knees in his garden, David had been talking to Jesus. When he rose and saw someone else standing there, it was the most natural response in the world, the gentlemanly thing to do, to make sure the two people with him knew one another.
Jesus was just as visibly there beside him as Judy!
The incident, after Judy related it to me, will always remind me of Peter.
Do we have a difficult time placing together in our minds a strapping young man-of-the-world fisherman who sailed the North Sea and the North Atlantic in quest of fish…and the quiet, humble man whose days in this world are now mingling with an ever growing sense of focus on the world to come, a man who is conscious with a reality we can scarcely comprehend that his Master truly is beside him every moment?
It is not hard if you know Portknockie fisherman David Mair…a man I like to think of as having been transformed in a similar way as was that hearty, robust, energetic fisherman of old—Simon Peter of Capernaum who drew fish from the Sea of Galilee, but who, later in life, like our friend David, went fishing for what would bring more eternal rewards.
God is capable of changing and transforming men. Including fishermen.
Therefore, I choose to believe Peter the author of 1 Peter. My basis for this belief is probably the first half of the second chapter, which represents to my mind one of the most towering and significant passages in the New Testament and a wonderful companion description (to Paul’s in Ephesians) of what God intends to accomplish, and is accomplishing, in his Church. It is a beautiful portrait of the true Church, in contrast to the doctrinal and administrative bureaucratic structure that is beginning to form on the basis of Paul’s writings—which I refer to as the lower-case “church.”
I want to believe that it is Peter, the man upon whom the Lord said he would build his Church, who understood its true nature, and who thus gave us this brief but glorious passage to describe it.
Those are my cards on the table. That is my bias, and you can make of it what you will. When it comes to matters pertaining to Peter, I am not entirely neutral. I believe in Peter, and in what the Lord anointed him to be and do in the first century. I believe that he carried out that commission humbly and faithfully. I believe that part of that commission was the writing of this letter prior to his martyrdom in Rome.
[Take another look for book to see if perhaps the case against Peter’s authorship is overstated. After doing 2 Peter with all its doubts, it seems that there isn’t really a huge widespread doubt about 1 Peter after all.]
Paul’s Second Letter Timothy
a.d. 66 – 67
by Paul, facing martyrdom, from Rome,
or by an unknown later writer in Paul’s name
I Have Fought the Good Fight and Finished the Race
This last, presumably, of Paul’s letters, whatever may be the objections, has so many stamps of authenticity that it is impossible for me to think otherwise than that most, if not all of it came either at Paul’s dictation or from his own hand. The intimacy of his reflections (reminiscent of 2 Corinthians, though now gentler and more poignant as he anticipates his impending death), the cloak and parchments, all the personal notes—the desertion of Demas, asking Timothy to bring Mark and come before winter, concern for a co-worker left sick in Miletus, the other greetings…these all speak volumes and remind us of the Paul we know.
And the significant and telling statement: Only Luke is with me.
If this, Paul’s final communication, is authentic, it is difficult to imagine 1 Timothy and Titus, in such a similar style, not being authentic as well. This, however, is ground we have covered before, and we are left to draw our own conclusions. By way of summary I will just give Donald Guthrie’s concluding remarks.
In spite of the acknowledged differences between the Pastorals and Paul’s other Epistles, the traditional view that they are authentic writings of the apostle cannot be said to be impossible, and since there are greater problems attached to the alternative theories it is most reasonable to suppose that the early Church was right in accepting them as such.
Two other suggestions, which do not attribute authorship to Paul in the sense that the finished products as they have been preserved are not his work, are worthy of mention. One is that Timothy and Titus themselves edited Pauline material after his death and produced the Epistles in their present form…But it is difficult to believe that either Timothy or Titus would have framed the material in the form of letters addressed to themselves unless the material had already existed in this form. There would seem to be no motive for their doing so. It might perhaps be contended that the peculiarities are attributable to an amanuensis and in this case Timothy and Titus might be considered as good a guess as any. Another suggestion with perhaps greater probability is that Luke was the author since many similarities exist between the language of Luke and the linguistic peculiarities of the Pastorals. There is enough evidence…that Paul was in the habit of employing an amanuensis…While these editing theories may eliminate some of the lesser objections to Pauline authorship, they do not remove objections based on late dating…
If Pauline authorship be accepted the purpose of the three Epistles is self-evident…in 2 Timothy…Paul is now in prison and would appear to be facing the close of his life. He looks back on his accomplished task and looks ahead to his anticipated crown. The Epistle is little concerned with ecclesiastical arrangements but concentrates on Timothy and the task which is being committed to him. The apostle is in a reminiscent mood, and for this reason his concluding Epistle is the most revealing of the three Pastorals. He seems rather uncertain that he will ever see Timothy again although he has summoned him to come as quickly as possible…
1 Timothy and Titus belong to a period not long before Paul’s death and…2 Timothy was written when the end was imminent. (New Testament Introduction, pp. 620-23)
a personal closing charge to a beloved spiritual son
More than a pastoral instruction manual for church teaching and administration, 2 Timothy is a very personal charge to a protégé in Christ. As all the biblical writings are imbued with more meaning and power than for the specific people and situations for which they were written, Paul’s final charge to Timothy becomes a wonderful and timeless exhortation to serious and dedicated Christians of all times. It is not doctrinal—it is a charge to stand strong, to resist the values of the world, to pursue righteousness, and to live a life worthy of Jesus Christ. In one sense 2 Timothy contradicts many of the very points made about the Pastoral epistles as a group. There is very little here for one who wants to be a Christian on the basis of creed, doctrine, or church structure.
This is a charge to live a life that may cost you your life!
It is about to cost Paul his. And it is to such a life that Paul challenges Timothy, and all we who follow, to have the courage to live.
Paul’s deep love for Timothy is understandable. Timothy was one of his early converts as a young man from Lystra. His mother was a Jewish Christian, his father a Greek, and he had been taught the Jewish Scriptures from childhood. As he grew and matured, Paul came to call him “my true son in the faith.” The level of trust and involvement in Paul’s work through the years is seen in that he was with Paul through major portions of his travels, and shared Paul’s greetings at the beginning of six of Paul’s letters—From Paul and Timothy…
No one else stood so continuously so close to Paul through so many years. As Mark was to Peter, Timothy was to Paul. He was truly Paul’s right hand man and spiritual son.
It is no wonder, then, that Paul’s heart is full in addressing the final correspondence of his life to this man he loved so deeply, exhorting him to carry on the work. I cannot but believe he wrote it with tears in his eyes.