the authority of paul (or someone)

February 14, 2010 at 3:52 pm 14 comments

Don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but I already had written this, and it goes along with a couple of previous posts…

I was not exposed to much if any critical study of the bible at the church I belonged to. Not faulting the church, but I am glad to be learning about it now. It is not that all critical study of the bible is rejected by conservative Christians. But many conclusions of critical biblical study are rejected out of hand. Not much fun if you can’t follow the evidence where it leads.

Authorship of the New Testament letters (epistles) is widely debated by biblical scholars. Many conservative scholars automatically attribute authorship of the letters to whoever they say they were written by. Many less conservative scholars agree in attributing some, but not all, of the New Testament letters to their stated authors. For instance, of the thirteen letters in the New Testament attributed to Paul, there is general consensus among scholars that something like six of them were authentically written by him, while authorship of the other seven is in question.

In that light, consider these verses I posted on recently:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
2 Corinthians 6:14-15 (KJV)

According to the website, Early Christian Writings, scholars question whether the apostle Paul really wrote 2 Corinthians. One of the evidences against Paul writing the letter is that “…there are difficulties that have suggested to several commentators that 2 Corinthians has been compiled from several pieces of correspondence.” 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 is included in a portion of the letter which was likely a later addition. If so, it would initially seem this added section was not written by Paul.

But wait, not so fast! Some conservative scholars accept there may be additions to the original letter, but argue that Paul himself wrote those additions, they were just compiled together from another letter at a later date. That’s a way to accept some findings of higher criticism while maintaining a doctrine of biblical inerrancy. But the web site also quotes a scholar as stating that verses 6:14-7:1 “contain a fragment that has next to no connection to Paul in ideas or wording, although it does have some affinities with the Dead Sea Scrolls.” So attributing the additions to Paul may be a stretch anyway.

If Paul did not write these verses, what bearing does that have on the authority given to them? Does it really matter who did the writing? Most Christians do not go around worrying about who wrote something in the bible before they are willing to learn from its teaching or respect its authority. And someone can of course still find wisdom in the verses regardless of who wrote them. But I wonder how often people sweep issues like these under the carpet in order to protect their faith.

The letter was included in the biblical canon because people thought Paul wrote it. If he didn’t write it, or if there is reason to question its authorship, it is reasonable to question its authority as well. It is important for people to exercise their own judgment and make their own evaluations in life, rather than blindly following what someone wrote in a book. Especially when you don’t know for sure who that someone is. That is actually true whether or not you give authority to the bible; applying any teaching requires a healthy measure of judgement, wisdom, and caution.


Entry filed under: bible, evangelicalism, fundamentalism. Tags: , , , , , , , .

the greatest of these is love the year of living like a new kind of christian

14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Boz  |  February 14, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    I agree with the theme of your post that we should exercise our own independent judgement. This is very important.

    It is very difficult to form an opinion on an issue when the professional opinion is so divided, as it is with the 2cor compilation hypothesis.

  • 2. Sabio Lantz  |  February 14, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    Absolutely right.
    People don’t want to give up their childhood stories of Lincoln, Roosevelt, the Founding Fathers, Mother Teresa and many others who they link to parts of their identity, be it as an American or a Catholic.
    Most Lutherans would be surprised to learn the details of Martin Luther.
    Most people just want a package and don’t want to worry about the details.
    Most people will not read ingredients on food products.
    Funny animals, aren’t we?

  • 3. The Woeful Budgie  |  February 14, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    If Paul did not write these verses, what bearing does that have on the authority given to them? Does it really matter who did the writing?

    Well said, and when I was still a Christian, but beginning to question some of the more fundamentalist doctrines I’d held to, this was one of the things that suddenly puzzled me. I mean, if it’s all supposedly breathed from the mouth of God anyway, what does it matter which of us meatpuppets he used to take dictation?

  • 4. Christian  |  February 14, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Hey, who wrote this post? I can’t believe it is my friend ATTR. I’ve known him for a few years now and he would never have written something like this. I know my friend and trust him so I’m going to believe he didn’t write this. But wait he did write this. He just told me on the phone, and I believe his voice. Wow I never would have thought…
    Did Paul write 2 Corinthians? Go ahead question it. Display the evidence. I want to believe it was Paul so I’ll need a lot of evidence. You want to believe it was someone else so you won’t need so much. I’m not saying to sweep it away. I’m just saying, oh I don’t know what I’m saying. Keep an open mind right? Look at both sides right? Don’t be so fundamental right? Wow how many blogs is that on that list over there to the right? How many of them believe it was Paul?

  • 5. tysdaddy  |  February 14, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    From the Apologetics Study Bible:

    “Because 6:14-7:1 contains a large number of words found nowhere else in the NT and appears to interrupt the line of Paul’s argument, it has been regarded by many and a non-Pauline insertion. Verbal parallels with the Dead Sea Scrolls have led some to argue for its origin in the writings of the Dead Sea sect. But the passage is a powerful call for separation from pagan temple worship and may reasonably be seen as a logical continuation of Paul’s exhortations in 1 Co 8-10. The listing of OT texts, some of which were employed by the Dead Sea Scrolls community at Qumran, only illustrates a dependence on the OT shared by the apostle and the Qumran scribes. The demand that the Corinthians break with pagan practice, far from interrupting Paul’s line of thought on the subject of the new covenant, is actually his pointed appeal to them. This forms a fitting climax to the passage begun at 2:14.”

    And all that must be right if the guys who wrote the Apologetics Study Bible say so . . .


  • 6. Boz  |  February 15, 2010 at 12:09 am

    Christian, we shouldn’t ‘want’ to believe any particular claim, if we value discovering what is true(fact). By clouding our learning with our preferences, we are more suceptible to being mistaken.

    As an example, I would very much prefer to believe that every person on earth will have enough to eat today, but this is not true.

  • 7. Liberum Credo  |  February 15, 2010 at 6:59 am

    And here we see one reason why we cannot base our understanding of right and wrong, good and evil, on a revealed text. Certainly we can learn something from the texts, in the same way that we can learn something from the moral of a Star Trek episode, but we don’t always have to agree with what is being said because we can’t be sure it is always right.

  • 8. Chris  |  February 15, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Your last sentence says it all. I so enjoy reading your blog. Thank you.

  • 9. Christiana  |  February 15, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    Hi Boz,
    Should I not WANT to believe that my husband is going to be faithful to me? When you come to me with so called evidence for his unfaithfulness shall I be completely objective and easily swayed to believe something bad about a man I have known for 15 years and has only ever proven himself faithful to me? No, I WANT to believe that he is faithful to me because I love him therefore I will assume the best of him and it will take A LOT of evidence to prove to me that he is not. I am not going to be naïve about it and deny very solid evidence but I also cannot stay completely objective (and I don’t think anyone can) about it because he’s my husband and my friend, we have a relationship and I want to believe the best about him. The same is true with Christianity for us. You see for us it is about a relationship with Jesus Christ and not about a religion. We believe that Jesus is the son of God and that he died for the sins of the world to reconcile them unto God. We believe that if he would do such a thing for those who rebelled against him and hated him than surely he would find a way to preserve his word so that many would be saved. We believe that if God could create the earth, mankind, the animals, intellect, music, waterfalls, rainbows, atoms, cells, every star in the limitless universe etc. then he could find a way to preserve his word so that his people who He created in His image could know him.
    Are we going to ignore solid evidence to the contrary? Are we just shoving evidence under the rug as some may think. We don’t think so. Are we afraid to look into these things further for fear of losing our faith like others claim. Not at all, but it is going to take a lot because Jesus is our friend and we trust him and his word has only proven itself true to us over and over and over again. Scoff if you will, blame us for turning our brains off but for as many scholars out there that say Paul didn’t write II Corinthians or that Daniel and Leviticus were not written at the dates that they claim there are just as many that say they were. It’s just a matter of who you are going to believe or place your “faith” in.

  • 10. Boz  |  February 16, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    Christiana, your post demonstrates the problem with ‘wanting’ to believe some of the particular religious claims that you have mentioned.

    A truly neutral(blank slate) jury, upon objectively hearing the available evidence, would conclude that almost all religious claims are false. Our wants and prefrences lead us to believe false claims.

    Take for example the date of the book of daniel. The professional opinion of the majority of biblical scholars is that it was written in the second sentury bc, around 165bc. You and I do not have enough subject knowledge to dispute this. I suspect those professionals that disagree have a religious conflict of interest. i.e. they ‘want’ it to be written in the 6th century bc.

  • 11. Liberum Credo  |  February 17, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    @ Christina:

    I am afraid I have to agree with Boz, and not just because I am an atheist. I was a theist for a long time so I can see both sides of the wall so to speak.

    The point you overlooked in your post is that you have years of evidence which leads you to believe your husband is faithful. He has been faithful for 15 years, it would take a lot of evidence to throw that away.

    Boz does not mean that we should never want a thing to be true, i.e. that people have food, world peace, etc., just that we have to be able to set that aside if we are going to be able to determine if a thing is actually true.

    You may want your husband to be faithful, but if you have reason to suspect that he is not you would have to investigate it objectively to find out. Your husband has given you years of evidence to support the idea that he is faithful, so it is rational to believe that he is. God has never given any indication of existing, quite the contrary almost all evidence points to a lack of God, so it is irrational to believe the hype.

    Sorry Boz if I have mistaken your meaning, but your message did not seem to be understood by all as I understood it and I thought I would try to clarify.


  • 12. Christiana  |  February 17, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    Boz – “A truly neutral(blank slate) jury, upon objectively hearing the available evidence, would conclude that almost all religious claims are false. Our wants and preferences lead us to believe false claims.”

    Not true. I have heard many stories of those who were hardened to God and had dramatic conversions. Stories from missionaries who told the gospel of Jesus Christ to people who had never heard of him who accepted it immediately. Did their wants and preferences cause them to want to convert when they had been perfectly happy (or so they thought) the way they had been living their life when it would require such a dramatic change to their lifestyle? Of course I’m sure you will find a way to say yes they did. :)

    Liberum Credo – “God has never given any indication of existing, quite the contrary almost all evidence points to a lack of God, so it is irrational to believe the hype.”

    That’s the interesting thing because we believe that almost all evidence points towards God’s existence. Interesting how we can look at the same evidence and come to completely different conclusions. :)

  • 13. Boz  |  February 18, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    You’ve heard stories of credulous/gullible people?

    Me too.

  • 14. Clergyguy  |  February 26, 2010 at 6:41 am

    It was the arch conservative school I went to that taught me how to critically study the Bible. Because I did, I found I couldn’t stay in the denomination.

    The either/or mentality we bring to the Bible has really messed people up. We treat it like a deity. And if we question it’s authenticity, that puts us in the camp of atheism.

    I’ve been a lifelong student of the Bible. I still love the scriptures though I no longer see them with superstition. They do not have to be perfect to have value.

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