Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Highly Precarious

Some scholars doubt that Paul wrote the pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) because of perceived differences in style and vocabulary when compared to Paul’s other epistles. For example, they point out that the pastorals don’t use terms like “freedom,” “flesh,” “cross,” or “righteousness of God,” all of which are found in Paul’s other letters. So Paul probably didn’t write the pastorals, they say.

In responding to this contention, Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles make the following spot-on statement:
“Conclusions regarding authorship based on stylistic differences are highly precarious because the sample size is too small for definitive conclusions on the basis of word statistics alone.” (The Lion and the Lamb, p. 270)
That’s so very true. But unfortunately, when it comes time for these authors to explain why everyone knows that Paul didn’t write Hebrews, they start making arguments that sound an awful lot like those “highly precarious” ones they criticize:
“First, the language of the book [of Hebrews] is different from Paul’s in his letters. These differences extend beyond its vocabulary and style also to the book’s imagery and theological motifs, such as the high priesthood of Christ.” (pp. 289–90)
Now, you might point out that the authors are careful to avoid a double standard here; because they note that the differences in Hebrews aren’t just differences in vocabulary and style, but also differences in imagery and theological motifs. Fair enough. But at the same time, that doesn’t strike me as an overly valuable distinction. How else do you discern an author’s distinctive imagery and theological emphases if not by the words he uses?

For example, I mentioned above that the “righteousness of God” is a term that isn’t found in the pastoral epistles. Now in one sense, you could describe the “righteousness of God” as simply a vocabulary phrase. But you could just as easily describe it as an important theological motif – one that features prominently in Romans, and yet doesn’t show up in the pastorals. Does this suggest that the author of Romans is not the author of the pastorals? No. And by the same token, the distinctive theological motifs of Hebrews are not formidable reasons to doubt that Paul wrote it.

So in discussions of authorship, I’m skeptical about the value of distinguishing between “vocabulary” and “theological motif.” Yet even if that were a valuable distinction, why should the logic that was used with respect to distinctive style and vocabulary not also equally apply with respect to distinctive theology? Like they said above, the sample size is too small. But it’s just as small whenever we’re talking about imagery and theological motifs as when we’re talking about vocabulary and style. We’re dealing with a tiny collection of personal letters here. Paul didn’t write a systematic theology, and there’s no reason to think that he exhausted all of his theological knowledge in the 13 letters that bear his name.

No comments: