Authorship of the Pastoral Epistles


There are four primary arguments critics make against the authenticity of the Pastoral Epistles as Pauline. The Pastoral Epistles having been cited by early church fathers such as Clement, Polycarp, Irenaeus, and others A. T. Robertson says, “The external evidence for the Pauline authorship is strong and conclusive.”[1] Nevertheless, the higher critics attack the genuineness of the Pastoral Epistles in linguistics, chronology, complexity, and doctrinally. The researcher will address these issues.

The Issue of Linguistics

The most complex problem to investigate is the linguistic problem. While it is complicated to research, it is the most simple to solve. Guthrie summarizes the fourfold linguistic problem as; 1. The “large number of unique words in the Pastorals”; 2. There is a “large number of words common to the Pastoral[s]…unknown in the other ten Pauline letters”; 3. “Characteristic Pauline words…missing from the Pastorals”; 4. “Grammatical and stylistic differences.”[2]

The best answer for 1 and 2 is that the content of the Pastorals is different from that of Paul’s other ten epistles. A. H. Sayce, an Old Testament scholar but familiar with the higher critical method, says that “A new vocabulary, with new modes of expression,” [3] would be a natural result from an aging Paul when the church was still in its infancy. Many scholars believe that Luke was Paul’s amanuensis, which could also account for differences in word usage, grammar, and style.

The Issue of Chronology

The chronology problem deals with when Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles. Kent says this argument extends from the fact that “It is impossible to fit the writing of the epistles to Timothy and Titus in the chronological framework provided by the book of Acts.”[4] The book of Acts ends abruptly, stating that Paul “stayed two full years” (Acts 28:30) in Rome awaiting trial. Also, Paul had spent two years in prison before even appealing to Caesar (Acts 24:27). The problem arises that if Paul was in prison, how could he have been to some of the places mentioned in the book of Acts, where Paul can move about somewhat freely, and yet in 2 Timothy, there is an air of imminent death?

Kent argues that Paul was “released in A.D. 62, he visited in the East and West, probably including Spain.”[5] Paul was arrested a second time, and “Nero had placed the blame for the burning of Rome upon the Christians, Christianity was now an illegal religion.”[6] While Kent admits that his proposition is not the only solution to the chronology problem, the fact that there is one shows the plausibility that either he is correct or there is another plausible solution. Paul was imprisoned a second time not recorded in Acts, where tradition says Paul was executed.

The Issue of Complexity

The complexity issue focuses on two obstacles. According to the critics, the first is that the church could not have been as organized as Paul directed in the first century. Therefore, The Pastoral Epistles had to have been written at a later date. Applying a later date than what is commonly accepted by proponents of the Bible is a standard practice of the higher critic. Thus, higher critics date the Pastoral Epistles in the second century claiming that the church could not have a complex, organized leadership hierarchy into elders/bishops and deacons. Constable points out that “the Ephesian church already had elders long before Paul wrote”[7] the Pastoral Epistles (Acts 20:17).

The root problem of the complexity issue is the confusion of the office of elder and bishop as distinct from one another, which is a third-century development. In the New Testament, the words for elder and bishop are used interchangeably. Church leaders in the third century made a distinction between the two, giving the bishop’s office power over elders, which is not found in the New Testament. The “overseer” and the “deacon” are more likely borrowed from the Jewish synagogue of first-century Judaism because the members were Jewish in the first 20 or years of church history. The second complexity issue deals with the church’s care for widows.[8]

The Issue of Doctrine

The primary doctrinal issue pointed out by critics is that the Pastoral Epistles speak against the Gnostic heresy. Thus, Paul could not be the author of the Pastoral Epistles since Gnosticism was not fully developed until the second century. Gnosticism operates under the guise of secret knowledge that only those of a particular group have. While Paul was not refuting the fully developed Gnosticism of the second century, he recognized a developing heretical trend that became the Gnostic heresy.

Paul warned Timothy and Titus to watch out for church members who had perverted the pure gospel and promoted an ascetic ethics system. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:18 that the false teachers say “that the resurrection has already taken place.” The false teachers spiritualized the resurrection and taught that believers had already received their glorified state.


With all of the evidence considered, the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles is a non-issue. There is no evidence that anyone other than the apostle Paul wrote them. While there may be difficulties in solving the issues that critical scholars have brought forth, one cannot assume that because there is criticism that the Pastoral lacks authenticity. A true critical thinker will investigate both sides and make a decision based on the facts. Knowing how the negative higher critic approaches the text with the desire to give a later date than what has been commonly accepted historically by the church is beneficial as well.


Constable, Thomas. 2017. Thomas Constable’s Notes on the Bible. Vol. 10. 12 vols. Tyndale Seminary Press.

Guthrie, Donald. 2009. The Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, v. 14. Nottingham, England : Downers Grove, Ill: Inter-Varsity Press ; Intervarsity Press.

Kent, Homer Austin. 2001. The Pastoral Epistles: Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Winona Lake: BMH Books.

Robertson, A. T. 1931. Word Pictures In The New Testament. Vol. 4. 6 vols. Broadman Press.

Sayce, A. H. 1922. “Were The Pastoral Epistles Written By S. Paul?” Bibliotheca Sacra 79, no. 316.

  1. A. T Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, vol. 4, 6 vols. (Broadman Press, 1931). page 555
  2. Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament commentaries v. 14 (Nottingham, England : Downers Grove, Ill: Inter-Varsity Press ; Intervarsity Press, 2009). page 61
  3. A. H. Sayce, “Were The Pastoral Epistles Written By S. Paul?,” Bibliotheca Sacra 79, no. 316 (1922). page 488
  4. Homer Austin Kent, The Pastoral Epistles: Studies in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 2001). page 40
  5. Ibid page 48
  6. Ibid page 49
  7. Thomas Constable, Thomas Constable’s Notes on the Bible, vol. 10, 12 vols. (Tyndale Seminary Press, 2017). page 262
  8. While there is more to this issue, the comment is made only to acknowledge the issue existed.

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