Many scholars attempt "chronologies" of
the life of Paul, yet Acts of the Apostles is
a naive fantasy and the Pauline letters of themselves provide few
clues in time or place. Bringing
Paul's epistles seamlessly into the story of the church proves
to be an impossible task, for collectively the letters offer
no continuous narrative and no one has any real idea of the sequence
of their composition. Hence the enduring "uncertainty" in
the origin of the letters and their stark
incompatibility with the "authorised" early history of
Pious reflection and wishful thinking assemble
the epistles into the "life" of
the apostle, delicately extracting a few perceived "facts" from
the embarrassing mythology of Acts, as pegs on which
to hang the garments. Yet
the epistles are themselves full of hyperbole, the inane and
the wondrous. Paul, no less than Peter, struts across a stage
that exists only in the dreams of those who would speak in his
name and rule with his authority. Myth is not truth.
A collection of purported "letters" – twenty
one in all – augments the fable of Jesus contained in the
Gospels. The arrangement of the anthology within the New Testament
is not chronological but, for the most part, is by descending order
of length, just like another famous collection of pious pontification, the
surahs of the Koran! Most of the letters are addressed to
churches rather than individuals, a clear indication that they
are not real letters at all. Another clue that
they are in fact theology masquerading as correspondence is the sheer
length of several of them – "Romans", for
example, is longer than many ancient books. All of the epistles
are troubled by inconsistency and anachronism.
Together with the book of Acts, the epistles serve
a crucial purpose: they provide a bridge between
in Palestine set out in the Gospels and the emergent
churches of the late 2nd century. The
letters tie, if not the saviour himself, then a few of the supporting
actors (James, Peter, John, Jude and above all, Paul)
to the churches where the real world "Church Fathers" first
staked their claim to heaven's secrets and their own profane authority.
The very existence of purported "letters" buttress the myth of a unified church. The epistles "proved" their churches legitimate, validated
the priestly claims to "pastoral authority" and endorsed
the episcopal right to rule as servants of Christ.
As with the Gospels, "tradition" rather
than history ascribes authorship to all of the so-called epistles
and places them (with some difficulty) in the historical framework.
Precisely when they were written, by whom they
were written, and where they were written, remains a matter
of endless speculation. Always the orthodox intent is to place
the epistles within the purported lifetime of the apostles, an
infinite loop of pious logic: the apostles date the epistles and
the epistles date the apostles.
As it stands, we have no copy of
a New Testament letter earlier than the 3rd
century, that is, nothing that pre-dates
the fierce sectarian conflicts and acrimonious doctrinal battles
of the 2nd century – a time when "pseudepigraphy" and bogus
apostolic writings were primary weapons in the war of "Christianities".
Bold, Catholic and Fake
Epistles of Peter, James, John,
"Love NOT the
world, neither the things that are in the world. If
any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in
him.' – 1
Several of the New Testament epistles are known as "Catholic" because
is no pretense that they are correspondence to an individual or
even an individual church. They are addressed to the "whole church".
Many authorities regard these seven works as "pseudepigraphical" (in
plain English, fake). Put aside the distorting lens
of Christian faith and it becomes obvious why: they belong in that
period of fractious debate that characterised Christianity of the
2nd not the 1st century.
1 & 2 Peter, Jude
"The two letters
of Peter are damned by their style and by their references
to Paul's collected letters and pagan persecution."
– Robin Lane Fox (The Unauthorized Version, p136)
Just what did Peter,"Prince of the Apostles",
record for posterity? Some welcome insights into the early days
with his Lord? Perhaps an allusion to his faux pas in the Garden
of Gethsemane or a reminiscence of that awesome resurrection appearance?
Not a bit of it. "Peter" writes as a church manager,
anxious to keep the organisation under control.
1 Peter is not so much a letter as a baptismal
sermon, written in a Greek milieu. It claims to originate in "the
church that is at Babylon", understood as a coded reference
to Rome, and apparently is addressed to Jewish Christians ("strangers")
scattered across Rome's Asian provinces. They are a "chosen
facing "manifold temptations". Submission is the watchword.
The brethren are urged to be "as obedient children"(1.14),
babes" (2.2), to "submit to every ordinance of man ...
unto governors ... for the Lord's sake." (2.13,14). Slaves
are urged to be subject to masters "with all fear" (2.18),
wives to be subject to husbands
"chaste and with fear" (3.2), the younger to "submit
to the elder"
(5.5). All this subservience, it seems, is in the sight of God
"of great price." The end of all things is "at hand" (4.7).
none of this can originate with an "unlearned and ignorant" fisherman
called Peter (Acts
4.13). Its excellent Greek, use of the Septuagint for
scriptural references, including a description of
JC's death drawn from Isaiah 53
for an eye-witness! – betrays a different origin.
The reference to Rome as "Babylon" is an obvious anachronism (Rome was only so-called after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 yet Peter we are told died at the hands of Nero around 64! 1 Peter is late and fake.
Peter purports to be the last
testament of a man facing a martyr's death (so
why doesn't Peter feature in Paul's "prison letters"?).
Its intent is to warn against "false teachers" and
play down end-time hopes. A real howler is verse 3.16 which
refers to Paul's epistles as "scripture"! It dates, of course,
to a time when the Church was warming to the idea of secular
borrows from the epistle of Jude and Jude itself
– a mere 25 verses – claims to be the work of the "brother
that is the apostle Judas named
in Luke 16.6 and Acts 1.13. And yet the apostle lists of Mark and Matthew name
no such character. Instead, the only brother
of James they know is a John! A Judas is named later
by both evangelists but this time as "the
brother of Jesus"
(Matthew 13,55, Mark 6.3). More fakery.
of James, 1,2 & 3 John
This "letter of James" was not included
in the early canon and it most certainly is not from the pen
of a brother of Jesus. Its mixed bag of themes and inconsistent
vocabulary betray that it has actually been composited from several
earlier sources. Probably the date of composition was the late
2nd century, when Pauline theology was being expropriated by
the church in Rome. One concern expressed in the letter was opposition
to "faith without works", a point made without mentioning
Paul by name. Luther called James "an
epistle of straw" – but then Luther was the apostle
All three "John" epistles are actually anonymous
but "tradition" (and certain affinities with the 4th gospel) assign
a spurious authorship to the famous apostle. But content clearly
indicates the furious doctrinal and factional conflicts best identified
in the 2nd century.
1 John has none of the salutations of a
letter. It warns the "children" (a word used no fewer
to resist the "many antichrists" (2.18) and "false
heinous messages have "the seducers" (2.26)
been spreading that merits the fatherly missive? Such
shockers as "Jesus was not Christ
or Son of God" (2.22, 5.5),
that "we have no sin" (1.8), that God
does not incarnate as flesh (4.3) – all of which sounds terribly "modern" but which were
issues crucial to the disputes between Hellenisers, Judaizers,
Gnostics, Docetists and those who emerged as "orthodox" towards
the end of the 2nd century.
2 and 3
John are perhaps the most
honest of all the epistles. They are brief enough to have actually
been a letter (each would fit on a single leaf of papyrus), are
sent by someone calling himself "the elder" (NOT
John!) and are addressed to a "Gaius" and to an "elect
They betray a certain frantic concern that the recipients remain
true to the "original message" and not be seduced by "deceivers",
who quite obviously are very active. The "false teacher" targeted
2 John has a startling perspective: Jesus
"For many deceivers
are entered into the world, WHO CONFESS NOT THAT JESUS
CHRIST IS COME IN THE FLESH.
This is a deceiver and an antichrist." – 2 John 1.7.
3 John actually names the object of its
wrath, a reprobate called Diotrephes, chief honcho of a church
somewhere and rival to "the elder":
" who loveth to have
the preeminence among them, receiveth us not
prating against us with malicious words ... neither doth he himself
receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth
them out of the church." – 3 John 1.9,10.
Such brotherly love, such Christian fellowship!
Setting aside the seven dubious "Catholic" items,
the fourteen remaining letters are said to be the work of Paul. Surely,
we have something genuine here?
Well, we better make that thirteen.
Nobody with any knowledge at all about the anonymous "Hebrews"
subscribes to the ungrounded "tradition" that
Hebrews is Paul's handiwork.
In fact, even Evangelicals welcome the reassignment of Hebrews to another hand. In their impoverished logic it gives them “another witness” to Jesus!
The Pauline Corpus - a compendium
NOT mentioned in dispatches
Of the thirteen letters that
bear the name of Paul, nine of them are addressed to churches
and four to individuals. Do they ring true?
Curiously, the four Gospels neither mention nor even
hint at a pioneering apostle called Paul. For the gospel writers,
Paul does not exist. Equally curious is that Paul's letters reciprocate
the ignorance of the gospellers by betraying NO knowledge
of apostolic writings. Indeed the evangelist Matthew,
the tax collector so good at teasing prophesies for the coming
of Jesus out of Jewish scripture, is not so much as named in
any Pauline epistle.
The evangelist John, son
of Zebedee and the only other disciple credited with a gospel,
is dismissed by Paul in a single phrase from
his entire corpus:
" James, Cephas, and John, who seemed
to be pillars .. ".
Even then, the occasion was seventeen years after
Paul's miraculous conversion, when the apostle proudly declared
he "learned nothing" from the purported companions of
the godman (Galatians
2.6,9), and that included John, "the one Jesus loved"!
Even the central drama of Jesus is referenced so obliquely and
fleetingly in Paul's letters that one realizes that the author's "risen
Christ" is a different entity entirely from
the Nazarene carpenter of the gospels.
According to Acts, the evangelist Mark (aka John
Mark) did feature in the adventures of Paul: he
deserted the apostle's first mission at Perga and became the
cause of an acrimonious falling out between
Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15.38,39). Yet Paul makes no
reference to this altercation in his own
letters and his three passing references to Mark are inconsequential
and dubious. Mark's references to Paul are non-existent. Even
the dubious Epistle of Barnabas, supposedly the work
of Paul's first companion, never mentions Paul.
Not even the book of Acts – written, we are
told, by Luke, Paul's long-time travelling
companion and with him even in the condemned cell (2 Timothy 4.11) – makes any
reference to, or even hints at the existence of the Pauline
epistles, the seminal work that defines Christian theology
and makes up one third of the entire New Testament! The
silence is startling from the supposed "biographer" of
the foremost apostle.
"Inauthentic" – a polite word for fraudulent
Actually, for quite some time, biblical scholars
of all stripes have divided even the Pauline epistles into the "authentic" and
the "inauthentic", the litmus test being
the "unique and powerful voice" said to speak through
the genuine article. Perhaps as few as four, or as many as seven,
of the whole collection are deemed "authentic".
Pastorals" – not quite the
"The two epistles of Timothy
are set suspiciously apart by style and are damned by their
content and setting (the single bishop; Timothy's lack of knowledge
and his awkward whereabouts).
– Robin Lane Fox (The Unauthorized Version, p136)
The most dubious of the Pauline letters are the so-called "pastorals" – 1 and 2
Timothy and Titus.
The biggest problem
is that 2 Timothy purports to be written from a prison cell shortly
before the apostle's martyrdom yet Paul says "Trophimus
have I left at Miletum sick" (2 Timothy 4.20). Paul's
last recorded presence in Miletum (Miletus,
near Ephesus) was on the return leg of his 3rd journey (Acts
20.15), not on his voyage to Rome, and Trophimus was NOT left
behind. In fact, in Jerusalem Trophimus plays a crucial if passive
role in the eventual fate of the apostle.
"Men of Israel, help: This is the man,
that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the
law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the
temple, and hath polluted this holy place. For they had seen
before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian,
whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple." – Acts
Apart from the chronological
slip one may well ask, Why
did the great healer not heal his own playmate?
Titus presents its own problems.
Within the opening address we learn that Paul has been to Crete yet
the "classic" Pauline itinerary says nothing about a
mission to the island:
"To Titus, mine own son after
the common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour. For this cause left
I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order
the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city,
as I had appointed thee." – Titus 1.4,5.
Titus also anticipates a get together of
the saints on the Adriatic coast of Greece – so Paul is obviously
not in a Roman jail.
"When I shall send Artemas unto thee,
or Tychicus, be diligent to come unto me to Nicopolis:
for I have determined there to winter. Bring Zenas
the lawyer and Apollos on their journey diligently, that nothing
be wanting unto them." – Titus 3.12,13.
The pious mind, being what it is, papers over the
rather serious cracks with quite a bizarre claim: that Paul served
not one but two prison terms in Rome, with a
year's vacation in between, probably spent in Spain and/or Crete!
Such a wildly inventive story becomes necessary to keep the so-called "Pastoral" epistles "authentic".
Even without the "two term" jail record,
Paul had a curious imprisonment in Rome. Apparently, he spent two
years in his own hired house, summoning the Jewish elders (Acts
28.17, 20), receiving all who came to him, and preaching without
hindrance from "morning till night" (Acts 28.23). Sounds
more like a sabbatical year than a term in prison.
OK - so excluding the dodgy "pastorals", do we have
ten genuine letters?
The so-called "prison" or "captivity" letters – Philippians,
Philemon, Colossians and Ephesians – far
from establishing the veracity of Pauline authorship, expose such
authorship as bogus.
They are discussed in detail here.
Suffice it to say that the prison letters do nothing
to establish the notion that Paul was either in Rome or in prison.
They are, as they say, "inauthentic".
What, then, of the half-dozen "core" Pauline letters? Surely they at least are "authentic"?
Well actually ...
Hermann Detering, The Falsified
Paul, Early Christianity in the Twilight (Journal of Higher Criticism,
A. N. Wilson, Paul, The Mind of the Apostle (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1997)
John Ziesler, Pauline Christianity (Oxford, 1990)
Edward Stourton, In the Footsteps of Saint Paul (Hodder & Stoughton,
J. Murphy-O'Connor, Paul, A Critical Life (Clarendon, 1996)
J. Murphy-O'Connor, Paul, His Story (Oxford, 2005)
Daniel T. Unterbrink, Judas the Galilean (iUniverse, 2004)
Daniel T. Unterbrink, New Testament Lies (iUniverse, 2006)
Jay Raskin, The Evolution of Christs and Christianities (Xlibris, 2006)
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Copyright © 2006
by Kenneth Humphreys.
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