Monday, May 07, 2012

On the possibility that Pseudonymous and Pseudipigraphical works made it into the New Testament Canon

D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, in their “Introduction to the New Testament” (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan ©2005), discuss issues of pseudonymity and pseudipigraphy (“the practice of ascribing written works to someone other than the author”), as these issues have been brought up in connection with the canon of the New Testament. They say, “although ‘pseudonymity’ and ‘pseudepigraphy’ are today used almost synonymously, only the latter term has been traced back to antiquity…. By what criteria do scholars decide that a document makes false claims regarding its authorship?—its  bearing on New Testament interpretation arises from the fact that a majority of contemporary scholars hold that some of the New Testament books are pseudonymous. The list of ostensibly pseudonymous books varies considerably, but a broad consensus would label Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles (attributed to Paul) pseudepigraphical, as well as 2 Peter (attributed to Peter). Some would add other books: Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Peter (337).

Here are a couple of working definitions:

Pseudonymity: Works that are falsely named.

Pseudipigraphy: Works that are falsely attributed.

Literary Forgeries: Works written or modified with the intent to deceive.

Anonymity: No formal claim is made to authorship (e.g., Matthew, John, and Hebrews are all anonymous).

Even though some New Testament writings are said to be pseudepigraphical (and that case is not proven), it is clear that many scholars consider all of the potentially pseudepigraphical works in the NT to be authentic. On a case-by-case basis, there is very good attestation for each of the individual books. For example:

The Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus): While these are held by some to have been written pseudonymously, according to Thomas Schreiner, recent commentators who have defended their authenticity include J.N.D. Kelly, Joachim Jeremias, Donald Guthrie, Gordon Fee, George Knight III, Philip Towner, L.T. Johnson, and William Mounce.

Ephesians: Harold Hoehner traces sources historically and, as Carson and Moo say, “his detailed work demonstrates that [Raymond] Brown’s assertion that 70-80% of scholars have adopted the view that this letter was not written by Paul is impressively mistaken.”

2 Peter: According to Scrheiner, “if one were inclined to doubt the authenticity of any letter in the New Testament, it would be 2 Peter. … Indeed, Petrine authorship is still the most credible position,” and he begins with 16 pages of analysis to say why this letter is authentic (“1, 2 Peter, Jude”, The New American Commentary, Vol 37, Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers ©2003, pgs 260-276).

Schreiner goes further: “I am persuaded that evidence is lacking that any canonical document is actually pseudonymous” (pg 273). He cites R.L. Donelson, “Pseudepigraphy and Ethical Argument in the Pastoral Epistles,” saying “there is no evidence that pseudonymous documents were ever accepted as authoritative.”

* * *

Some of what I’m about to cite from Carson and Moo has a direct relation to the process of canonization, that is, determining whether or not a writing was to be included in the Canon of the New Testament.

“About the middle of the second century AD, pseudonymous Christian works began to multiply, often associated with a great Christian leader. We are not here concerned with works that purport to tell us about esteemed Christian figures without making claims as to authorship, but only with those that are clearly pseudepigraphical. Some of these are apocalypses (e.g., the Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Paul); some are gospels (e.g., Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Thomas, which is really no gospel at all, but mostly a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus). Several are letters claiming to be written by Paul: 3 Corinthians, Epistle to the Alexandrians, Epistle to the Laodicians. The latter was almost certainly written to provide the document mentioned in Colossians 4:16. It is a brief and rough compilation of Pauline phrases and passages (primarily from Philippians). The largest collection of pseudonymous epistles from the early period of the church’s history is the set of fourteen letters of correspondence between the apostle Paul and Seneca. They are referred to by both Jerome (De vir. ill. 12) and Augustine (Epist. 153). The Muratorian Canon (c. AD 170-200) refers to the Epistle to the Alexandrians and the Epistle to the Laodiceansas “both forged in Paul’s name (Mur. Can. 64-65) and thus will not allow them to be included (“Introduction to the New Testament,” 341).

Regarding the process of determining the Canon, the case may be pressed further. According to Schreiner:

Paul specifically criticized false writings in his name in 2 Thess 2:2 and ensured the authenticity of the letter in 2 Thess 3:17 . The author of Acts of Paul and Thecla was defrocked as bishop even though he wrote out of love for Paul (Tertullian, De Bapt. 17). In addition, Gospel of Peter was rejected in A.D. 180 in Antioch because the author claimed to be Peter and was not. Serapion the bishop said, “For our part, brethren, we both receive Peter and the other apostles as Christ, but the writings which falsely bear their names we reject, as men of experience, knowing that such were not handed down to us” (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 6.12 .1-6 ). Evidence that early Christians accepted pseudepigraphic documents as authoritative Scripture is completely lacking. Some argue that Acts of Paul and Thecla and Gospel of Peter were only rejected for deviant teaching, not for pseudepigraphy. But both of the texts [cited] say otherwise, specifically indicting the writers for falsely ascribing the writings to another. Bauckham sees a parallel in Hebrews where the theology dreives from Paul but a disciple wrote it. The parallel is not apt, bof no author is named in Hebrews. The Muratorian Canon rejected Letter to the Laodicians and Letter to the Alexandrians because they were suspected to be forgeries. Origen says that he rejects Doctrine of Peter since it was “not included among the books of the Church and … not a writing of Peter nor of any one else inspired by the Spirit of God. (Schreiner, 270-271).

Most recently, Michael Kruger wrote:

Typical arguments [for pseudonymity in NT books] from literary style, vocabulary, and the like tend to be inconclusive, subjective, and, in the end, unpersuasive. It seems that there are many factors that could explain such stylistic differences other than a pseudonymous author, such as the author writing at a different time in his life, under different circumstances, and with different goals and different audiences, even drawing on earlier preformed traditions. All of these factors woud imply different vocabulary, varied themes, and a distinctive authorial tone. Moreover, there is always the possibility that authors used an amanuensis at some points and not others—which could be an additional explanation of stylistic differences. (Michael J. Kruger, “Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books”, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books © 2012).

Carson and Moo say, “all sides agree ... that pseudepigraphy was common in the ancient world.” They also cite Donelson, saying “‘No one ever seems to have accepted a document as religiously and philosophically prescriptive which was known to be forged. I do not know a single example.’ This is virulently the case in early Christian circles” (342).

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