In post-modern culture we guard the written word and even the ideas behind the ideas with patents, trademarks, and copyrights. We protect and lay claim to our creation like a dog marks its territory. However, there are some scholars who find it necessary to analyze the verbiage, syntax, and style — to distinguish the “authentic” writing of Paul from those of a scribe or follower. There are scholars who say that only about seven of the thirteen letters attributed to Paul truly had his direct hand upon them. Of those are the Pastoral Epistles — 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus — are truly doubted as to have been written by Paul and significant doubt exits as to the direct authorship from Paul of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians. The main argument for doubt is the variations in style of Greek vocabulary — as Paul mainly wrote in Koine Greek and referenced the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew canon.
For Paul and other writers of his age, it would have been common to dictate to a scribe, and letters were often read aloud in a rhetorical fashion. So, for Paul, this mode of communication would have been common and would have needed no additional grounds of authenticity. Additionally, for a writer to pen a document under the name of another would have required that author to know the originator’s mind, his diction, his purpose. While the authorities of the day would have denounced these types of writings as false, stripped them of any authority, and would have subsequently dismissed them from any school of teaching, common culture would have regarded value in the relationship of the writer to the teacher.
It seems that we take this latter practice and apply it to our scholarship as we study Holy Scripture. While it would seem counter intuitive to place such faith of one’s spiritual life within the text of someone who may or may not have written the very work we lay claim to, yet we most certainly uphold the sentiment behind 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
However, there is a humorous video making the rounds on social media lately. The video is of a dog peeing on an electric fence. Unlike this shocked dog marking its territory, I do not believe Paul would have cared very much that his teachings and catechesis was reworked in later letters. I believe the only questions Paul would have asked would have been, “Do these words encourage your own faith, do they build the faith of the community, and do they hold true to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles?” As our answers would have to be yes, then the question of their authorship would seem to be a moot one.
*references: Donald Hagner, Raymond Brown