2. BASIC PROBLEMS WITH THIS ARGUMENT:
Carson and Moo show some of the basic flaws with this statistical analysis:
The arguments sound impressive, but they are not as convincing as they seem to be at first sight. Those who put them forward do not always notice, for example, that most of the words shared by the Pastorals and the second-century writers are also found in other writings prior to A.D. 50.
It cannot be argued that Paul would not have known them, nor can it be argued that Paul’s total vocabulary is the number of words in the ten letters (2,177 words). It is not necessary to argue that Paul produced hundreds of new words in his old age, for if he could use 2,177 words, there is no reason for supposing that he could not use another 306 words, most of which are known to have been current in his day. That some of the words are used with different meanings signifies no more than that the contexts are different. Paul also uses words with different meanings in different contexts in the ten letters. It is misleading simply to say that the Pastorals have 306 words that do not occur in the ten Paulines. On Harrison’s own figures, of the 306 there are 127 that occur in 1 Timothy alone, 81 in 2 Timothy alone, and 45 in Titus alone. This means that the vast majority are found in only one of the Pastorals and that the three differ from one another as much as (or more than) they differ from Paul. Are we to say that there were three pseudonymous writers? The statistics constitute no impressive argument for a single author. Or to put the argument in a different way, if the figures show that the three Pastorals were written by one author, they also show that that author may well have been Paul. (Kindle Locations 14243-14264).
They go on to delve further into the problems with the argument based on these statistics, but I will not reproduce the whole of it here. But the central problem can be summed up with a question: Are we really to believe that the other ten letters contain the whole range of vocabulary and expression for one of the most educated, literate, verbal and well-travelled persons of the First Century? The answer is obviously: No. Paul’s excellent education, wide exposure to literature, and constant speaking and interacting with people from numerous different cultures would have left him with an immense vocabulary. This objection alone is enough to put this argument to rest. But there are several other very serious problems with this argument.
3. OTHER SERIOUS PROBLEMS WITH THIS ARGUMENT:
In this section, I want to look at 7 major factors that would have affected vocabulary and language use in the pastoral letters. Any one of these could easily account for differences between the pastorals and the rest of the Pauline corpus; but when all are considered, there should be no surprise at all that we do indeed find differences.
A. THE USE OF AN AMANUENSIS:
Paul’s use of an amanuensis (or secretary) in the writing of his letters would definitely have had an impact on the language and style used.
Dr. Tim McGrew illustrates the point with this anecdote from his own life:
“A decade or so ago, my wife had to have minor surgery on one of her hands, and for several months I became her typist. She would dictate; I would type. Invariably she would start a sentence and I would suggest ways to complete it. When she gave, verbally, two complete clauses, I would decide whether to separate them out into two distinct sentences or to separate them with a semicolon. Sometimes I would suggest a different wording from the one she had said. Sometimes, anticipating her line of thought, I would already be typing ahead and then she would phrase something slightly differently from what I had already typed — and I would just leave what I had done as ‘close enough’ to what she had said. After that experience, I am completely unimpressed by ‘computer analyses’ of differences in style.” (From an online discussion).
The following references clearly indicate that Paul did make use of an amanuensis:
*Rom. 16:22: “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.”
*1 Cor. 16:21: “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.”
*Gal. 6:11: “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!”
*Col. 4:18: ” I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.”
*2 Th. 3:17: “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.”
These verses leave us with a very clear sense that Paul’s usual practice (and probably his exclusive practice) was to use an amanuensis to write down the body of the letter and then to write the greeting at the end of the letter himself.
B. SUBJECT MATTER:
Way back in seminary, I did my own computer analysis comparing a disputed passage with a passage that everyone agrees was written by Paul. It was quite easy to show that an undisputed passage in 1 Corinthians had as many hapax legomena (words used only once by Paul) as the disputed passage in 2 Cor. 6, which some liberal scholars charge is an interpolation. My observation at the time was that subject matter can make a great deal of difference in the language used.
C. LITERARY GENRE:
Literary forms in the ancient world (and now) come with certain expectations of structure, type of vocabulary used and range of expression. I actually did a paper on the authorship of 2 Timothy back in seminary. My central thesis back then was that language differences were related to the purpose and subject matter. The pastorals are intended primarily for the purpose of mentoring versus addressing specific needs of local churches. My New Testament professor at the time (though a liberal who was mentored by a student of Bultmann) noted that this was a sound approach (much to my surprise) and mentioned parallels in the Greco-Roman literature.
Carson and Moo note: “If we extend discussion of style to matters of literary genre, there is a little more to be said. Johnson and others have argued that 1 Timothy and Titus fit comfortably into the genre of the mandate letter, and 2 Timothy into the genre of the testament. Both fit Paul’s situation admirably and were common enough to have been known by him, but they would have been somewhat alien to someone writing his name several decades later. Thus, careful reflection on the literary genre supports apostolic authorship.” (Kindle Locations 14314-14317).
Furthermore, the critics are comparing ten letters that were meant to be circulated for public reading with three personal letters that are written to men whom Paul affectionately refers to in these letters as “my son” or “my true son in the faith” or “my dear son” (1 Timothy 1:2, 18; 2 Timothy 1:2; 2:1; Titus 1:4)–men whom Paul often mentions with great affection in other letters and who had been serving at Paul’s side for at least a decade.
D. THE IMPACT OF REGIONAL/ETHNIC DIFFERENCES IN LANGUAGE USAGE:
If you have ever moved to or stayed in another region or culture for an extended period of time you will notice that there are many differences in the use of language. This would almost certainly be even more true in the First Century. (Modern national and international media causes there to be a greater evenness in language use.). Now consider that Paul is constantly on the move over the entire length of the massive Roman empire spanning radically different cultures. They all use Greek, but one can easily imagine that there were some interesting differences in language use from region to region.
To give a modern day example: Imagine an American traveling to England and spending a year there, perhaps attending a college there. Afterwards he travels back to the U.S. and resumes his previous life and continues his friendships in the U.K via email. It would be quite natural for this American to fill his emails with British phrases he learned while living in the U.K. But he would not likely use those same distinctively British phrases when sending an email to his American friends. There would undoubtedly be both similarities between those emails and significant differences.
It should also be noted that while the average person will find himself being unintentionally influenced by these regional differences, Paul’s explicit statement of his mode of operation should convince us that he would intentionally speak the language of the people he was addressing (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23).
Furthermore, all of Paul’s general letters are written to Gentiles; but Timothy was raised by a Jewish mother and grandmother (though his father was Greek; cf. Acts 16:1). So in terms of native language use, Timothy probably had much in common with Paul (being a Jew who was heavily influenced by the world of Greco-Roman culture) and Paul probably spoke to him more in the dialect he was used to speaking with his own family.
Brad Cooper is a pastor and apologist with more than 30 years of experience teaching the Bible and apologetics. His passion is to see God’s people grow stronger as their faith is firmly grounded and they grow deeper in their understanding of God’s Word. His teaching focuses on the New Testament, the cumulative case for Christian faith, and various apologetics issues related to the New Testament–including the integrity of the New Testament canon.
Brad is available to speak at events in northern Indiana and southern Michigan.
He earned a B.A. in Bible and Pastoral Ministry from Taylor University, Fort Wayne and an M.Div. from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He is a moderator for the Christian Apologetics Alliance Facebook group and blogs at “To Be Sure.” He has pastored several churches over the years but is currently taking a break from pastoral ministry. Brad, his wife Jodi, and his daughters Samantha and Becca are currently attending the Ligonier Church of Christ.