Today, on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, I thought I’d just quickly jot down some thoughts about Pauline epistles, along with those epistles often called pseudo-pauline. First, this distinction itself deserves to be called into question more often. Usually the division of epistles runs as follows:
The generally undisputed epistles are: 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, Philemon, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, 2 Corinthians, Romans.
The sometimes, often, or always disputed epistles are: Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus.
The reasons why the disputed epistles are disputed is precisely because the theology they reflect is thought by modern scholars to be impossible reflections of early Christianity. First of all, it is argued, the view of the Hierarchy in the Church, along with a theology of Apostolic succession, along with a more tentative view on matters of eschatology, combine to create a mixture of elements which reflect the concerns and reality of a later, second century, Church.
I would argue, as I have in various posts prior to this one, that the very assumptions of modern scholarship need to be reviewed, exposed, and hopefully disregarded in favour of a more realistic picture of earliest Christianity. The suppositions are precisely that earliest Christianity was not ‘Catholic’ in the sense of having a hierarchy of Bishops in company with the Apostles, that the early Christian communities were not in any kind of ecclesiastical unity, that the earliest Christian groups were concerned with an imminent apocalypse, and so forth. Now, I could say a lot about just how ‘Catholic’ St. Paul really is by turning to some of my favorite passages in his epistles which reflect (rather unambiguously) Catholic theology on these, along with other, points. However, instead, I just want to challenge the assumption that if an epistle is ‘too Catholic’ it could not really reflect the early Pauline Church or Theology, since ‘orthodoxy’ is an “anachronistic label“. I maintain that it is, in fact, not at all anachronistic, and that the historical Church was unified precisely by reason, first of all, of it’s Episcopoi in communion with each other. Other evidence, however, militates against the division of Pauline and Pseudo-Pauline epistles.
To take one example, which I can’t help but point out, of clear evidence of Pauline authorship of one of the most ‘Catholic’ of these epistles, let’s take the case of 2 Timothy, where Paul (or some other later author – you decide) says the following:
Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.
~2 Timothy 9-13
Not only is it odd to find Paul speaking about his missionary companions, though perhaps a later author could use this as a rhetorical move to vilify various competing schools of Christian thought I suppose – but then Paul asks specifically for his scrolls (likely copies of Biblical books), parchments (likely letters/epistles, possibly copies of his own letters) and last but not least his CLOAK, which he left at Carpus’ house. I find it incredulous to believe that some later author taking the pseudonym ‘Paul’ to advance a specific theological agenda would, in the doxology, mention such mundane humdrum details. Moreover, it is not typically the case that an author claiming to be somebody other than themselves will employ this kind of method to add credibility to their work – notice how it is not done in any other of these epistles (at least not to this extent) and indeed it isn’t done outside the New Testament (to my knowledge).