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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Are Some Books Missing from the New Testament?

Don Stewart :: Is It Possible That Someone Other than the Stated Author Wrote One or More of the Biblical Books? (Pseudonymous Writing)

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Question 11

Is It Possible That Someone Other than the Stated Author Wrote One or More of the Biblical Books? (Pseudonymous Writing)

Were all of the Books in Scripture actually written by those who claimed to have written them? Is it possible that some of the works were actually composed by someone else? It has been claimed that a few of the books that are now part of the Bible were not actually written by the person who claimed to be the actual author. What are we to make of this accusation?

Several observations need to be made. They are as follows:

  1. Pseudonymous Writing Defined: Someone Pretends to Be a Biblical Character and Writes a Book Under Their Name

    There has been the charge that one or more of the books that are in the canon of Scripture were not really authored by the person named, but were rather penned by someone writing under their name. This is not the author using a scribe to write for him. It is rather someone pretending to be someone they are not. This is known as “pseudonymous writing.”

  2. Pseudonymous Writing Was Supposedly a Common Practice

    There have been those who have argued that pseudonymous writing was a common practice in the ancient world. They argue that people expected some writers to use the name of a famous person for their own work. Because this was a common practice, it was not readily detected. For example, there were writings that have claimed to have come from biblical characters such as Moses, Enoch, and Abraham which were not written by these people.

    Whether or not the original recipients of these works believed that these biblical characters were the actual writers, we know that later readers did not accept these as authentic writings coming from those people.

Biblical Books Accused of Being Pseudonymous

The biblical books that are usually cited as possible candidates are the following: Ecclesiastes, Ephesians, First and Second Timothy, Titus, and Second Peter. They are often accused of being pseudonymous.

  • Ecclesiastes

    Ecclesiastes claims to have been written by King Solomon, the son of David. The first verse of the book reads as follows:

    The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. (Ecclesiastes 1:1 KJV)

    However, it has been argued that the actual author was not Solomon, but rather someone writing under his name.

  • Ephesians

    Ephesians claims to be a letter by the Apostle Paul. It opens by saying the following:

    Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 1:1 KJV)

    Yet, it is claimed by some that the actual writer was one of Paul’s disciples, and not Paul himself.

  • The Pastorals Letters (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus)

    The three pastoral letters, First and Second Timothy and Titus, all claim to have been written by Paul. At the beginning of First Timothy it says:

    Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope; Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:1-2 KJV)

    In the second letter to Timothy, we read the following:

    Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (2 Timothy 1:1-2)

    To Titus, the introduction reads as follows:

    Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness. (Titus 1:1 NASB)

    It is often assumed that the pastorals were not written by Paul, but rather by a later author using his name. Many of those who contend that these letters were not actually authored by Paul say that this was a common practice in the ancient world and that the first readers would have understood that Paul was not the genuine author. Therefore, they knew that Paul was not really the writer of these letters.

  • Second Peter

    Second Peter claims to have been written by Peter. The letter begins by stating the following:

    Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:1 NRSV)

    However, it is assumed, by some, that the actual author was not the biblical character Peter, but rather it was written by someone else using his name.

The Problems of Holding with Pseudonymous Writings in Scripture

There are a number of problems with the idea of certain biblical books being written by pseudonymous writers.

They include the following:

  1. We Are Dealing with the Word of God Which Is Truth

    The major problem we find in holding that certain biblical books were pseudonymous is that the author of the work would be lying to his audience. While this may have been practiced to some degree in the ancient world, we are not talking about any ordinary writing. What is under consideration is Holy Scripture—the Word of God to humanity. How can it be claimed that God could endorse a book that gives a false idea as to whom the human author was? It is inconsistent with the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. In what sense can these documents be divinely inspired if the author was not actually the person whom he claims to be?

  2. There Are Personal References in These Writings

    There is also the issue of personal references in the works. In these so-called pseudonymous works, the author not only identifies himself, he also gives personal references. They include the following:

    In First Timothy, we have the writer reminding Timothy of what he had previously told him. It says:

    As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. (1 Timothy 1:4 NKJV)

    In Second Timothy, the author says he is reminded of seeing Timothy’s tears. We read the following:

    I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy. (2 Timothy 1:3-4 NKJV)

    In Titus, the writer who calls himself Paul, reminds Titus that he left him behind in Crete. He wrote:

    To Titus, my loyal child in the faith we share: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. (Titus 1:4-5 NRSV)

    The author of Second Peter claimed to have been with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. He wrote the following:

    And he [Jesus] received honor and glory from God the Father when God’s glorious, majestic voice called down from heaven, “This is my beloved Son; I am fully pleased with him.” We ourselves heard the voice when we were there with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:17-18 NLT)

    If the author was not the one who was named in the work, then the personal references that are contained in it are deceitful and misleading. How can this be consistent with the God of truth who divinely inspired the writing? Would God endorse such lies?

  3. These Letters Warned Against Deception and Deceivers

    There is another fact that needs to be considered. In these later letters that claimed to have come from Paul, First and Second Timothy and Titus, there are warnings to his readers about people who would attempt to deceive them. Paul wrote:

    Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron. (1 Timothy 4:1-2 NKJV)

    In Second Timothy, we read the following:

    But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Timothy 3:13 NKJV)

    Paul wrote the following to Titus:

    For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision. (Titus 1:10 NKJV)

    We find the author also saying that he is not lying in his letter. He stated the following:

    For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:7 NRSV)

    Are we to believe that each of these letters, which warned against deceivers, and claimed to be speaking the truth of God, were not actually written by the person who claimed to be the author—Paul?

    Peter

    Peter himself also warned about false prophets and false teachers:

    But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. (2 Peter 2:1 RSV)

    If Peter did not write this letter, then the author, whoever he might be, would be in the same category as these false teachers and false prophets that he warned against. He would have been a liar!

    The evidence is clear that the early church was very concerned about false teaching. This would make them all the more careful to be certain of the authorship of any work that claimed to have come from a leading New Testament figure. They realized that false teachers were out there, and they wanted to make certain only genuine writings were accepted as authoritative. Paul wrote:

    For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15 NKJV)

    Since the Lord only designated a select few to authoritatively teach His truth, the question of the authorship of any document would be of the utmost importance.

  4. Pseudonymous Writing Was Not That Common

    It has also been alleged that pseudonymous writing was common in the ancient world. However, the evidence is not that compelling that pseudonymous writing was done on a regular basis. Even if it was common, it certainly does not mean that any of the biblical books were written pseudonymously. There has to be solid proof for claiming the person whose name is on the letter did not actually write it.

  5. Some of the New Testament Books Are Anonymous

    There is something else. A number of the New Testament books do not contain the name of the author in the body of the text. This would include the four gospels, the Book of Acts, Hebrews, and First, Second, and Third John. If it was so necessary for a work to have the name of a biblical character to be accepted, then why do we find these anonymous works?

    Evidently, it was not that necessary for the writer to identify himself in the body of the text for it to be accepted. If this be the case, then why would someone feel the need to use the name of a biblical character to have his writing accepted as authentic?

  6. There Was Care Taken by the Church to Assure Authenticity of the Writings

    It seems that there were pseudonymous letters circulating that claimed to have been written by the Apostle Paul. Paul warned the church at Thessalonica about them. He said:

    Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 NKJV)

    We also find that care was taken to assure the writings that had Paul’s name on them were authentic. When Paul wrote the following to the Thessalonians, he said that his actual signature was on the letter:

    This greeting is in my own handwriting; all genuine letters of mine bear the same signature—Paul. (2 Thessalonians 3:17 REB)

    Evidently, Paul’s signature was so distinct that it was easily recognizable and difficult to forge. Why all the concern to demonstrate the work was authentic? Obviously, Paul did not think that it was acceptable for someone to write a letter using his name. Therefore, while Paul was aware of the practice of writing a pseudonymous letter, he certainly rejected the idea.

  7. Christians Did Not Accept Pseudonymous Letters

    There is more. The evidence shows that the church did not accept letters that were forgeries. We have historical examples of how the church dealt with pseudonymous letters. For example, there was one early work called “the Acts of Paul.” Among other things, this work contained a “third” letter to the Corinthians that supposedly came from the apostle Paul. When it was recognized that Paul did not write the letter, it was rejected.

    The presbyter who actually wrote this letter was removed from his office. Such was the response of Christians to forged letters. It was of no concern what motivation was behind the writing, or how orthodox it was in its doctrine.

    The same holds true for another ancient work, “the letter to the Laodiceans.” The Apostle Paul mentioned a letter to the Laodiceans in his letter to the Colossians. He said:

    After this letter has been read to your people, be sure to have it read in the church at Laodicea. And you should read the letter that I have sent to them. (Colossians 4:16 CEV)

    This work titled “the Letter to the Laodiceans,” patched together a number of passages and phrases from Paul’s genuine works. While the letter was orthodox in its teaching, it was rejected by the believers because it did not come from the hand of Paul. These types of false letters could not be accepted by God’s people—no matter what the motive that was behind the writing.

    When the church discussed the subject of the books that belonged in the New Testament canon, the issue of authorship was crucial. If the church did not believe the alleged author wrote the book attributed to him, then the work was rejected.

    For example, Second Peter was accepted into the New Testament canon of Scripture because it was concluded that Peter was the actual author. If believers suspected someone else wrote the work attributed to Peter, then its canonical status would have been rejected. We find no examples in the writings of the early Christians where they argued a book should be included in the New Testament canon of Scripture even though it was not composed by the author whose name is on the work.

  8. There Is No Need to Assume the Claim to Authorship Is False

    Finally, there is no need to resort to calling any biblical work pseudonymous. A good case can be made for the authorship of the person who claims to have written the document. Therefore, one does not have to appeal to the work as being pseudonymous.

    For example, there are excellent arguments for Paul writing the letters to Timothy and Titus, as well as the letter to the Ephesians. The authorship of Second Peter by the Apostle Peter can also be defended. The same holds true for Solomon writing the Book of Ecclesiastes.

    Given the feeling of the church toward pseudonymous letters, it is all the more certain that the actual authors wrote these letters for the Christians to have accepted them.

    Thus, when all the evidence is in, a strong case can be made for the traditional view of the authorship of all of the books of Scripture. We do not have to resort to saying that certain works were pseudonymous. Consequently, the idea that some of the biblical books were written pseudonymously should be rejected.

Summary - Question 11
Is It Possible That Someone Other than the Stated Author Wrote One or More of the Biblical Books? (Pseudonymous Writing)

Certain books of Scripture have been attributed to pseudonymous writings—the author is not the one whose name is stated in the text. Ecclesiastes, Ephesians, First and Second Timothy, Titus, and Second Peter have all been accused of being pseudonymous.

The idea of certain biblical writings being written by someone other than the named author has many problems. First, it is hard to reconcile the writer lying about his identity in a work that claims to be divinely inspired of God. Would God endorse such a practice?

In addition, the lie would be compounded with personal references. Add to this, the practice of pseudonymous writing may not have been that common in the ancient world.

From the writings of the apostle Paul, we find that care was taken to assure the readers of the authenticity of the letter. It was not acceptable for someone to falsely use the name of a prominent New Testament character.

We also find that when the church discovered that a work was pseudonymous, it was immediately rejected. It did not matter the reason it was written, or how orthodox or correct it was in its teaching. They did not accept this practice. Finally, there is no need to assume that the stated author did not write the books. A good case can be made that the author whose name is contained in the letter was actually the person who composed it.

What Is Canon Criticism? ← Prior Section
The Old Testament Apocrypha Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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