The Disputed/Deutero-Pauline Epistles


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Personal Journal


Part 1

Focus Theme 1

 The Disputed/Deutero-Pauline Epistles:

  • Why they might be pseudepigraphical
  • Why each was written
  • Their occasions
  • Purposes
  • Main themes
  • The problems they address
  • The solutions they offer
  • How they use but also change terms
  • Ideas and themes found in the Undisputed Letters of Paul

Focus Theme 2

 The Pastoral Epistles:

  • Why scholars are practically unanimous that they are pseudepigraphical
  • Why they were written
  • Their occasions
  • Purposes
  • Main themes
  • The problems they address
  • The solutions they offer
  • How they use but also change terms
  • Ideas, themes and practices found in the Undisputed Letters of Paul

Part 2  


For this course, you are required to keep and submit a journal consisting of your reflections on the material you have learned in this course

You will create the journal by submitting a 500-word minimum journal entry for each module consisting of your reflections on the material you have learned in the course up to that point. Each journal entry should demonstrate your ability to interpret and analyze the readings and discussions from the module in order to develop new biblical and theological discoveries and apply your spiritual life and pragmatic insights.

Journals should evidence good writing style, grammar and spelling, and proper citation. Be sure to include the word count on the front page

( use the below Assigned reading materials for writing journal)

Assigned Reading Material

At the conclusion of this module, students will be able to:

  • Identify the “Disputed Letters of Paul/Deutero-Pauline Epistles.”
  • Identify the “Pastoral Epistles.”
  • Explain “pseudepigrapha” in the ancient world, why it existed, techniques used by pseudonymous authors, and ways scholars detect pseudepigraphical writings.
  • Discuss 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians, and the Pastoral Epistles in terms of the reasons why scholars question that Paul wrote them, why they were written, the occasion, purpose, and main themes, their relationship to each other, the problems they address and how they reflect and change the terms, ideas and theology of the Undisputed Pauline epistles.


Has it ever occurred to you that some of the letters that name Paul as their author in the New Testament might not have been written by Paul? In this module we will learn how many scholars think this is the case, why they think this is the case, and how, if this is the case, that it need not jeopardize the “truth” and “reliability” of the Bible.

In the ancient world, not only among Jews and Christians but also among Greco- Romans, there was a longstanding genre of literature in which authors wrote in the name of a former (usually deceased) famous person. This was common in schools or traditions of Greek philosophy, long before Judaism encountered the Hellenistic world and long before Christianity. This genre was called “pseudepigrapha,” which literally means “false writings.” This same term is used to refer to certain Jewish and Christian writings that did not make it into the Bible. However, it also refers to this general genre of literature, and scholars believe that the Bible contains incidences of this genre. “Pseudepigrapha” refers to the writings themselves, and the authors of such writings are called “pseudonymous” (literally meaning “false name”).

Pseudonyms Today

Just as there are today, there were various genuine forgeries for dishonest reasons in the ancient world, however, there was also an accepted type of pseudonymous writing, even taught in schools. Genuine writings in this genre were not considered deceitful, as both authors and readers knew that the authors were not intending to really assert that they were the famous people whose names they used. This situation is analogous to “pseudonyms” in our modern world. For instance, no one thinks that the author of “Dr. Seuss” books is deceiving children by using this name, as everyone knows that he was not named “Seuss” and was not a doctor.

Today, scholars identify writings in the pseudepigraphical genre finding components of the genre in the writings themselves. For instance, today we begin our formal letters with “Dear” and end with “Yours truly.” These are indicators that we are reading a formal letter, and these terms are not meant to be taken literally. Scholars also find evidence in the writings that they were written at a later time, such as anachronisms, as well as differences in writing style, vocabulary, ideas and themes from known writings by the famous person in whose name pseudonymous authors were writing.

The Scholarly Debates Continue

Scholars believe that there are definitely pseudepigraphical writings in the New Testament. Practically all scholars agree that Paul did not write 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus, which all have his name as the “author.” Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians also have Paul’s name on them. A majority of scholars believes that Paul did not write Ephesians, but a few argue that he did. A majority of scholars, but less than with Ephesians, argues that Paul did not write Colossians, while some argue that he did.

Among the three Disputed Pauline Epistles (2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and Ephesians), 2 Thessalonians is the most disputed. That is, a sizeable number of scholars argue that Paul is the author and a sizeable number argue that it is pseudepigraphical. Why is 2 Thessalonians a Disputed Epistle of Paul? First, there are many replications of what is said in 1 Thessalonians in 2 Thessalonians, sometimes word for word. This leads many to believe that a pseudonymous author used 1 Thessalonians as a basis from which to write a pseudepigraphical second epistle to the Thessalonians.

Signs of Questionable Authenticity

2 Thessalonians also contains elements of the pseudepigraphical genre, which include warnings against other false writings in the famous person’s name, and an exaggerated insistence that the famous person, in this case, Paul, is the author. The second to last verse reads: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write.”1   This is curious because, almost immediately upon manual copying, the original signature would no longer be there, but rather the words of the copyist. Also, none of Paul’s authentic letters have such an exaggerated insistence at the end that Paul wrote the letter.

The chief reason that scholars debate that Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians is a major difference in the theology of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The Undisputed Letter of 1 Thessalonians contains Paul’s apocalyptic theological belief that the Second Coming of Jesus (Parousia) is imminent and suddenly and unexpectedly everyone will be taken by surprise.2

2 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians, takes the view that certain key worldwide events must take place before Christ returns.

It claims that the Second Coming will not come soon, but will rather be preceded by specific signs.3

2 Thessalonians thus indicates a “delay” of the Parousia, characteristic of the Church in the later first century after the deaths of the original apostles including Paul. In contrast, in all of his Undisputed Letters Paul teaches that the end is coming very soon, and unexpectedly and suddenly.

century after the deaths of the original apostles including Paul. In contrast, in all of his Undisputed Letters Paul teaches that the end is coming very soon, and unexpectedly and suddenly.4

What was the occasion, or reason for the writing of, 2 Thessalonians? The letter reveals that some of its recipients believed that the end had already come, Jesus had returned, and the “Day of the Lord” had already arrived. This came on the basis of an alleged letter from Paul indicating that the end had already come.5

As a result, some recipients stopped working, because they thought the end had already come and they were living in the new age/aeon. The author of 2 Thessalonians addresses this problem by pointing to how Paul worked at a secular job/trade “night and day” as he established the church in Thessalonica.6  The author also instructs the other members of the congregation to ostracize the people who are not working and not support them financially, based on the principle “if anyone will not work, he will not eat.”7  He further directs these idle persons to start working and earn their own living.8 

Techniques of Pseudonymous Authors

Like 2 Thessalonians, Colossians contains Pauline themes, but aspects of Colossians cause scholars to question whether Paul himself wrote it. First, the writing style is very different of Paul’s Undisputed Letters. The sentences of Colossians are very long and complex, compared to Paul’s writing style. Colossians 1:3 – 8 is one very long sentence. Second, the author uses the pseudepigraphical technique of referencing well-known persons and situations of Paul’s life.9 As with 2 Thessalonians, the author claims to sign the letter personally,10 which was a common technique of pseudonymous authors.

Also, like 2 Thessalonians, Colossians has evidence of a different theology than Paul’s Undisputed Letters. The author of Colossians claims that Christians already “have been raised with Christ,”11 but in several; Undisputed Letters Paul argues against the idea that Christians already enjoy the benefits of and blessings of the exalted, resurrected existence. Paul himself always viewed the resurrection of Christians as something coming in the future, and in a literal, physical sense.12 Colossians asserts that Christians already participate somehow in the resurrection of Christ

Choices of the Christian Movement

Combined with the shift toward a spiritualizing of the resurrection and ascension, which characteristic after Jesus did not immediately return in the early years of Christianity (scholars call this the “Delay of the Parousia”), Colossians contains lengthy ethical instructions for Christians of all walks of life. It thus assumes a more established and larger Christian movement than existed in Paul’s day.

The occasion of Colossians involves combatting beliefs and practices judged to be wrong by the author.

The letter attacks these beliefs and practices without describing them, and assumes the recipients were already familiar with them. Scholars thus use the author’s “refutation” of these false teachings and practices for clues about them. The author refers to “philosophy and empty deceit,”13  responding by saying that Christians already received a “spiritual circumcision” by Christ.14  The author also takes up Paul’s theme that Christians are not in a right spiritual relationship with God because they keep the Law of Moses/Torah, saying that Christ erased the requirements of Jewish Law through his cross. This means that Christians no longer need to follow Jewish rules about what to eat and keeping special feast days.  All of this indicates the opponents taught some form of Torah-keeping Christianity, similar to the Judaizers Paul refuted in Galatians.

Christ Among Spiritual Beings

The opponents addressed by Colossians also taught “self-abasement and the worship of angels” on the authority of special visions they had16 and ascetic practices, perhaps to induce mystical religious states.17The author responds by saying that Christ Himself and alone is the full expression of the divine.18 Other invisible beings were created by Jesus and for Jesus, so that Jesus is superior to them.19 Likewise, Christ, not other spiritual beings or mystical practices, are sufficient for all the  spiritual needs of believers.20  Christians have already been raised with Christ to heavenly places.21Christ alone is the way to the fullness of the Divinity.22   Christians are complete in Jesus Christ alone.

The Gnostics

While there is much debate over the exact opponents of Colossians, there is general agreement that the opposed “false teachers” promoted some form of Jewish Mysticism and early Gnosticism. The Greek philosophical idea that individual humans can be reunited with the Godhead through intercourse with spiritual beings or angels developed in the Neo-Platonic philosophy and religion, and informed Jewish and Christian Gnosticism. The Gnostics taught that human souls are sparks of the divine or pieces of God that have been trapped in the evil, physical world. Salvation in this system includes knowledge of this situation and attaining spiritual knowledge, wisdom and understanding. Salvation in Gnosticism also includes a gradual ascent of the soul through contact with spiritual intermediaries or angelic beings, considered emanations from the one true Godhead. Christ in early Christian Gnosticism became one among these many intermediaries. The author clearly states that all wisdom and knowledge needed by Christians in order to make them “complete” comes from Jesus Christ alone.2

The Christ Hymn of Colossians

As with Paul’s Undisputed Epistle to the Philippians, Colossians contains a “Christ Hymn.” In line with the message of Colossians, the hymn in Colossians focuses on Christ as the Creator and full expression of the Godhead in whom “all the fullness of the Father dwells” and who “created all spiritual beings” like angels, etc.24  As with Philippians, some scholars think that the Christ Hymn of Colossians pre-dated the letter and was not composed by the author of Colossians, who just borrowed the hymn for his purposes.

Differences in Ephesians

Most New Testament scholars agree that Ephesians is pseudepigraphical. Like Colossians, Ephesians has a writing style very different from Paul’s. Again, there are extremely long and complicated sentences (even longer and more complicated than Colossians) compared to Paul’s Undisputed Letters. The opening thanksgiving in Ephesians comprises twelve verses but is really one long sentence. Nine out of the 100 sentences in Ephesians are over fifty words in length, for instance, but there are very few (usually one or none) sentences over fifty words in Paul’s authentic/undisputed letters. Likewise, the vocabulary in Ephesians is very different from Paul’s typical vocabulary. Ephesians contains 116 words not found in any of Paul’s Undisputed Letters. Ephesians also follows the same basic outline of Colossians and repeats many its ideas and themes, sometimes practically verbatim. Many argue that a pseudonymous author used Colossians as a template to construct Ephesians

Additional Differences in Ephesians

Ephesians also uses key words and ideas of Paul in ways differently than Paul would have. As does Colossians, Ephesians describes a spiritual sort of resurrection, as if it has already happened, in which believers are already raised with Christ and “seated in the heavenly realms” with him now.25  Again, Paul always viewed the resurrection of believers as something in the future.26  Similarly, in his undisputed letters, Paul always refers to “works of the Law,” which essentially means converting to, and practicing, Judaism. The author of Ephesians, however, refers to “works” as “good deeds” in general,27 which is not what Paul meant by “works of the Law.” “Works” in Ephesians seem to have lost their specifically Jewish content and just refer to good deeds in general. Likewise, Paul himself speaks proudly of his life as a Jew before his call to be an apostle of Christ/Messiah, in that he faithfully observed the Torah fully and was “blameless” in keeping the Law of Moses.28  The author of Ephesians (supposedly Paul), however, includes himself along with the wicked, immoral, lawless, godless pagan Gentiles before his conversion.29  The author of Ephesians uses the word “salvation” in the past tense (“have been saved”)30  but Paul always refers to salvation in the future, “will be saved,” with reference to the future Second Coming of Jesus and final, ultimate salvation.31

The Occasion of Ephesians

The occasion of Ephesians is notoriously difficult to determine, since the book covers different and disparate themes. The first part deals with the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the Church (Chapters 1 through 3), the second part deals with unity in the Church (Chapter 4), and, like Colossians, the end contains lengthy, detailed, ethical instruction (parenesis) for Christians of all walks of life, presupposing a larger and more established Christian Church than in Paul’s day (Chapters 5 and 6). Again, these directives reflect a time when Christianity was more widespread, settled institutionally, and a much larger movement than during Paul’s own time. Ephesians also speaks of the time of the apostles in the past tense,32  thus betraying that the author is second or third generation Christian in the Pauline tradition, who was historically removed from the time of the apostles, including Paul.

Differences in the “Pastoral Epistles”

The “Pastoral Epistles” are 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus. They are called the “Pastoral” Epistles because they deal primarily with Church order and life in a situation in which the Church is now institutionalized, from the perspective of “Paul” as a seasoned pastor. They also combat new and different “heretical” forms of Christianity that emerged in the late first and early second centuries. These anachronisms, in addition to other things, lead practically all scholars to conclude that these are much later pseudepigraphical letters in the Pauline tradition. Scholars refer to the pseudonymous author of the Pastoral Epistles as the “Pastor.”

As with Colossians and Ephesians, the writing style and vocabulary of the Pastoral Epistles are very different from Paul’s Undisputed Letters. In fact, they are even more different. In fact, many words in the Pastorals do not appear in Christian writings until the beginning of the second century. The Pastorals also use key terms and ideas differently than the same words and ideas in Paul’s letters. For instance, “faith” now frequently means “religion” as in the “Christian faith” (= “Christian religion”) or the “Christian teaching/doctrine comprising the Christian religion,” and not just the personal belief in, trust in, and obedience to God on the individual level that Paul designated by the word “faith.”33  Likewise, Paul originally used the word “righteous” to specify who the “people of God” were in a right relationship with God, in contrast to the rest of world, but the Pastor uses “righteous” to refer to “being a moral individual.”34

Additional Differences in the “Pastoral Epistles”

The Pastorals, particularly 1 Timothy, also quote other NT writings that must have been in circulation and considered authoritative by the time 1 Timothy was written. 1 Timothy 5:18, “For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’,” quotes both an authentic/undisputed letter of Paul35 and the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.36 1 Corinthians was written in the AD 50s, but the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written in the AD 80s and AD 90s, long after Paul had died (mid AD 60s).

A chief anachronism in the Pastorals is the concern with Church hierarchy and institutional details, which were lacking in the age of the first apostles and Paul. The first apocalyptic Christians who expected Christ to return very soon, like Paul, had little concern to establish an institution and hierarchy in the Church, because they thought Jesus would return very soon. There was also very little concern to change the evils and ills in the present age, because God would soon break into history and set everything right

The “Delay of the Parousia”

As the decades passed and Jesus did not immediately return—what scholars call the “Delay of the Parousia,” the Church had to change, and many of these changes are seen in the later writings of the New Testament, like the Pastorals. These included the Church settling down “for the long haul.” This involved establishing an institution and hierarchy, with offices like “elder/presbyter,” “deacon,” and “bishop/overseer.” Scholars refer to this institutionalizing of the Church at the end of the first century and the beginning of the second century as “early Catholicism.” The Delay of the Parousia also entailed a greater concern with social ethics and relieving the suffering of people in this world, which was seen to flow from Christian ethics in light of the belief that Jesus would not return for a long time. Thus there is a focus on material well-being and money in the Pastorals, particularly in 1 Timothy. 1 Timothy deals with the issue of supporting family members, especially widows, the problems of loving money, and the discrepancies between the rich and the poor.

Negative Implications of the Church

A possible negative implication of the institutionalization of the Church and Early Catholicism was a switch to an all-male leadership, patriarchal tendencies, and even misogyny. In sharp contrast to Paul himself, the Pastor forbids women to teach or even speak in Church, and attributes sin in the world to Eve, not Adam.38 The Pastor also seems to have a negative view of women, calling younger widows gossips and busybodies, and saying that they are prone to lust

For this module, you are required to read the following:

  • The Apostle Paul, 129-162
  • The New Testament: 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians,
    1 and 2 Timothy, Titus
  • “The Deutero-Pauline Letters”


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