Authorship balance

The first time  I ever seriously considered authorship issues was in my Prison Epistles class. We were learning about Ephesians, and though the letter begins “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ” and reiterates “I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus” many scholars argue that Paul did NOT in fact write it. Their arguments were all weak as far as I could tell: language differences and repeating other things he has taught elsewhere were foremost. The whole argument struck me very much as a way for people to put forth their “new idea” and be very “smart.” It still often strikes me this way…

On the other hand, I know that the issue should not just be ignored. Many times we can learn a lot about the book and its meaning by knowing about the author. For instance, Zephaniah was of a royal lineage and related to king Josiah. It is likely that he influenced many of the reforms that Josiah made. That is pretty interesting information that I never would have known just by reading the book he wrote. Or even returning to my beginning example, how much more do we learn about the New Testament by learning about Paul and where he was when he wrote his books? The author is obviously a major part of his writings. It only makes sense that we could learn a lot from learning about the author.

It seems to me that there is a balance to be struck with considering Biblical authorship. We cannot ignore it altogether and willingly choose ignorance. That would not be good scholarship at all! And we cannot obsess over moot points and treat the text like no more than a puzzle to be answered and put together in new ways. That does not give the honor to God, but to ourselves. The goal of scholarship should be truth, not novelty. Sometimes truths are simple and old, things we have known for ages. But the truth must be sought, it does not come to us on its own by us ignoring it. And so we study in an effort to learn more of what God has for us in His word. That was the point all along.

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4 Responses

  1. I agree, we need to go there but we need to know how to go there with a balanced approach. I think we often spend a lot of time on an issue before we realize it is a moot point. My concern is how long was it a stumbling block and how many tripped over it before we realized it was a moot point.

  2. Amen on your point that the goal scholarship is seeking truth. Let us not forget that key point as we invest a week devoted to scholarship. Let us also not forget the role of the Holy Spirit as the authenticating sign of Scripture as pointed out by the authors of our text. Closely aligned with this the authentic sign of the Holy Spirit in our lives as followers of Christ. I am confident that this simple truth will greatly empower our week of study.

  3. Amanda,
    I agree with you in letters like Ephesians and Colossians where Paul signed them. What about biblical books where there is no stated authorship–only a tradition of authorship? Is the tradition inspired or authoritative?

  4. Eh, in the case of tradition, I would tend to accept it until presented with proof to the contrary.
    The simple fact of not having a name does not mean that it is not written by the person claimed. But sufficient proof would persuade me…

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