the authority of paul (or someone)
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.