Monday, January 12, 2009

Paul's 7 "Authentic" Letters

A Christian by the name of PaulSkeptic is struggling to reconcile the Paul of the Epistles with the Paul of Acts. He leans towards the view that the epistles do not accurately portray Paul, but Acts does. I wrote a comment which would support his view that some of the so-called authentic letters of Paul in fact are not genuine. I reproduce the comment below.

I should note these are arguments I learned from Robert Price on his webcast "The Bible Geek." What a great show.

Hey Paul Skeptic.

A very interesting post. As you may know, you're not far from the position of some skeptics (like myself) with these arguments. Of course skeptics likewise don't think Acts is reliable history. Most though regard at least 7 of Paul's letters as authentic and pointing to more reliable history. I, however, have become convinced that none of the letters were written by Paul. I'll offer below a couple of reasons why.

The first point to note is that many of the supposedly authentic letters from Paul contain this anxiety from Paul making sure he points out that he's writing with his unique writing style to give his letters an authenticating mark (I Cor, Gal, Col, 2 Thess, Philemon). Even if you accept these as genuinely from Paul this tells you already that there must be a cottage industry of Pauline forgeries even at these earliest stages. And we know that spurious documents similarly offer the pretense of concern about spurious texts. Bart Ehrman discussed these during a series of TeachCo lectures, which I've transcribed.

One of the ways of throwing an audience off the scent of ones own deciet was by telling the reader not to read documents that had been forged in the name of the author. You wouldn't expect a forger to say "don't read documents that are being forged." Well in fact this happens somewhat commonly in forged documents. One of the most interesting instances of this is in a Christian book written of the 4th century which is called The Apostolic Constitutions. It's called The Apostolic Constitutions because it's a book which claims to be written by the apostles of Jesus immediately after the resurrection. We know it wasn't written immediately after the resurrection because it reflects knowledge of later Christianity. Clearly this wasn't written by the apostles of Jesus. Yet within this book these "apostles of Jesus" warn their readers not to read books that falsely claim to be written by the aposltes of Jesus. Well, why would they do this? So that you wouldn't suspect that they themselves are forgers.

At a minimum Paul's concern means we must approach any text supposedly written in his name with skepticism, since we know at least that we already have forgeries in circulation.

Ehrman also notes that statements that include "I, blankety blank" are questionable. Like "I, Moses" or "I, Thomas, the Israelite relate to you the choldhood deeds of our Lord." Claiming to be somebody overtly was a common technique by forgers. We see this sprinkled throughout the Pauline epistles.

What about the texts specifically? Let's start with Ephesians. Critical scholars regard this as spurious because what it seems to do is start with previous texts regarded as from Paul and pastes portions of them into this new text and simply links them together with clauses. It produces these odd long sentences in Greek. I think the entire first chapter is only two sentences. The portions that aren't directly copied from another Pauline work are right out of the Septuagant. It makes really good sense as a Pauline pastiche rather than a genuine letter.

Phillipians is regarded by critical scholars as genuine. But note that it reads sort of like a last will and testament. Kind of with the attitude of "What would the great man have said on his death bed." This is a genre that is inherently pseudipigraphical. It is filled with irony as Paul discusses his last moments leading up to his trial, with the reader knowing full well what had happened to him. Oh, to know and understand the sufferings of Christ. And he hasn't reached perfection yet, but he strains on, runs that race for the higher calling. All the while the reader knows that Paul did suffer, and did attain the perfection by dying as a martyr. Paul says he will soon either die or be re-united with the Philippians, and though he'd rather die and be with Christ, he can't help but think he'll be spared so the Philippians can joy in his salvation and he can minister to them (which of course he does continue to minister to them by virtue of these spurious letters written in his name). So pregnant with irony in light of what is known to the reader this just seems to me clearly to be written by someone that just knows too much about exactly what happened to Paul, and he wrote with that in mind.

With Galatians and I Corinthians you have independent factions with rival conceptions of how Paul operates. In Galatians he's an independent maverick that got the gospel from none other than the risen Christ himself. As opposed to I Cor which says that he got the very heart of the gospel directly from the Jerusalem apostles. There are indications that these texts are patchwork quilts. For instance, what of sectarian strife? At the beginning of I Cor Paul knows all of the issues, what's going on who's involved. Later (11:18) he talks about how he hears there are divisions and he's tempted to believe it, as if he knows nothing of it. In one section women can prophesy in public (11), a few chapters later (14) suddenly they can't. Then you have these comments that look like retrospective statements about Paul's ministry as if it's over and done with. Reference to "traditions" as he taught them. That implies that this is somebody else writing long after the fact. Paul as a maverick missionary of a brand new religion is unlikely to refer to his own teachings as "traditions." Then there's the whole "I, Paul, laid the foundation here, Apollos built upon that and others will continue to do so." This again looks like we're looking back on Paul's ministry as if it is a thing of the past that can now be evaluated.

Romans implies knowledge of the destruction of the temple. Chapter 11 talks about how the Jew's table has become a death trap, and that the Jews en masse had rejected Christianity. Can this really be clear to anybody writing no later than 63 under Nero?

Another big problem contained in a couple of texts is stuff like what you see in Galatians 6:11. Did you notice, PaulSkeptic, that this is written on bold? What a strange way of writing. Since you can already see that it is bold, what is the point of describing to you that it is bold? This is a literary device used to pass off a document as if it is from Paul that would not be used by Paul had he actually wrote it. If you have a strange way of writing you don't within the body of a written document discuss the idiosyncratic loops and markings. You just let the exaggerated writing style speak for itself. However, if you are somebody other than Paul and you want to pass a document off as if it is from Paul you have to actually talk about the strange writing style and describe it. This way when a person that is reading what they think is just a copy of what was earlier written by Paul, the message is communicated to them that as originally written this letter contained Paul's unique writing style.

You may ask, how else would Paul communicate this to these people? Remember Paul never tells anyone to copy his letters. He would communicate his writing style by writing with his own hand, and anybody looking at the letter would be able to see it. By describing it in this way the forger exposes this as a literary device, which assumes the whole thing is fake.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The sources you used in your essay are from deutropauline texts. scholars have found that they were not written by paul so I'm not sure why you were making references to them.