What Do We Mean by (Non-)Pauline Authorship, Part 1

I’ve been pondering for a while the varieties of authorial models in play in discussions of the Pauline letters. This hits the ground in a very practical sense when one wants to use stylistic criteria in discussions of authenticity.

Judging a work to be pseudonymous involves denying the facticity of its authorial claim or self-presentation. This process therefore clearly involves a sense of the original of which the forgery is an imitation, the genuine by which the non-genuine can be measured and discerned lacking. Before one can speak meaningfully of ‘pseudo-Pauline authorship’, then, one must be able to specify what Pauline authorship itself entails. While this may seem to be an obvious or trivial observation, in practice what precisely passes for Pauline authorship has often lacked systematic clarity.

I’d like to use a series of posts to sketch a spectrum of approaches to Pauline authorship of the epistles in the corpus Paulinum (including Hebrews). One might conceive of this as a variety of approaches ranging from strict orthonymity to strict pseudonymity, though each of those terms has been understood in varying ways. In the first instance, I seek simply to describe the possible understandings of Pauline authorship in the critical discourse of New Testament studies before posing the question of where one might draw the line (and whether its position is important) between Pauline and non-Pauline authorship. While there is naturally already some understanding of the complexities of Pauline authorship in current discussion, the present contribution is meant to provide a bit more analytical precision to the question.

At the risk of transposing the discussion of authorship into a faux-scientific key by employing algebraic symbolism,  I’ll hazard a shorthand for identifying models of Pauline authorship at play in contemporary Pauline studies. Using the following abbreviations, one can discern (at least) a dozen models of Pauline authorship.


IA: implied author

HA: historical author

W: writer

E: editor

D: disciple

A: anonymous

AA: attributed author

Here are the models I’d like to discuss in brief form, though I’ll hope to devote a post to each over the next few months in order to flesh this out a bit.  And we’ll see if thinking through this helps my own clarity at all.

1. IA = HA: Paul writes his own letters, using his own material entirely (1a) or incorporating some pre-formed (e.g., hymnic) material (1b).

2. IA = HA via W: Paul dictates his own letters to an amanuensis.

3. IA = HA + W: Paul offers general direction to an amanuensis, who then composes the letter.

4. IA = HA2: Paul and co-author(s) contribute to the letter (as in 1-3).

5. IA = HA + E (±W): Paul writes or dictates (as in 1-3), while a secondary editor rearranges (5a) or interpolates with non-Pauline material (5b) the original.

6. IA = E + ~HA (±W): An editor expands upon a genuine letter (6a) or fragments of letters (6b) to create a new composition, with the balance of compositional weight now in the editor’s favor.

7. IA = D as W for HA: Paul commissions a disciple to write in his name, though with considerably more freedom than in #3.

8. IA = D actualizing HA: A historical disciple writes after the death of Paul as a means of updating Paul’s message to a new situation.

9. IA ≠ HA ≠ D: An unknown writer with no historical connection to Paul writes in Paul’s name, with some access to (genuine and/or non-genuine) Pauline letters.

10. A long and complex process involving multiple stages in 1-9 (e.g., 6+9).

11. ~IA ≠ HA: An unknown author implicitly suggests that he or she is writing as Paul.

12. A –> AA: An originally anonymous composition later ascribed an authorial claim, whether correct (12a) or incorrect (12b).

Soon I’ll start my slow march through these 12 ways of looking at a Pauline author. Stay tuned.

  1. What Do We Mean by (Non-)Pauline Authorship, Part 2 | David Lincicum

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