While at the recent AAR/SBL meetings, I took in a paper by Wayne Brindle in the Disputed Paulines group. The paper was “Pseudonymity and the Pastoral Epistles: An Evangelical Response to I. Howard Marshall’s ‘Allonymity’ Proposal”.

Michael Bird of the Euangelion blog took in the paper as well, and asked a question at the end. Here’s Mike’s reporting of the encounter:

Wayne Brindle gave an interesting paper that was a response to I. Howard Marshall’s proposal of “Allonymity” in the Pastorals. Much as I favour Pauline authorship (but it is not quite clear cut either!) I think Brindle was unable to show that authority is dependent on authenticity. When I asked about Hebrews (i.e. the Church accepted Hebrews because they thought it was Pauline, despite the fact that it’s clearly not Pauline) he responded by saying that anonymous authorship makes Pauline authorship possible.

I don’t think that Brindle’s point was that authority is dependent on authenticity. My understanding of Brindle’s position was that when a the author of a document (and therefore sender, situation, etc.) is purposefully misrepresented (whatever the intentions of that misrepresentation might be) then the document itself is predicated on a falsehood and should be realised as such. In the epistles we have in the NT, this is much more the case because their interpretation and exegesis is so dependent on the stated setting and circumstances being authentic or at least reliable. Therefore, if the documents are seen as not authored by Paul then there are serious issues that affect one’s reading of the documents.

Hebrews is different than epistles that adhere to more of a letter form because, at least in the editions that have been transmitted down to us today, no author is specified. Early tradition, of course, specified Paul as the author. We don’t cotton to that today that much, with most folks taking the classic line that “only God knows who wrote Hebrews”. Since no author is explicitly claimed within the body of the epistle, falsely claimed authorship is not a problem as regards establishing authenticity of the epistle (though I’d rather call it a homily than an epistle, but that’s an altogether different question). In other words, the very difference between anonymity and pseudonymity means that anonymity doesn’t necessarily lead to the credibility problem that pseudononymity portends.

One of the books I purchased at SBL is Ben Witherington III’s Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume I which deals with the Pastoral Epistles. Witherington (who blogs as well) has a great analysis of the problem of psuedonymity that largely aligns with Brindle’s view, though Witherington’s conclusions are a bit less dogmatic that Brindle’s. I also purchased Towner’s NICNT edition on the Pastorals, and he draws a line similar to Witherington, taking some issue with the allonymity proposal put forth in I. Howard Marshall’s ICC volume.

My bottom line: If we’re using authorship as an indicator of authenticity, then while both Hebrews and the Pastorals have some authorship questions that affect the question of authenticity, they both have different questions due to the statements of authorship each document makes. The recent work of Witherington, Towner and Brindle go a long way to show that pseudonymous documents weren’t necessarily benign as many have stated, and that simply calling pseudonymity by another name (i.e. ‘allonymity’) doesn’t do much to solve the problem.

Update (2006-12-28): Michael Bird provides some clarification in the comments. Here’s the salient bit:

My point would be to say that even if the Pastoral are pseudonymous that they are not necessarily any less ‘canonical’ since they still contain the apostolic message (Ehrman grants as much!). I recognize that there is a difference between Hebrews and the Pastorals concerning the explicit naming of the author, but if the early church got the authorship of certain writings wrong (i.e. wrongly attributed Hebrews to Paul or did perceive a well-intentioned pseudonymity in the Pastorals) the canon is no the worse off for it. All in all, I favour Pauline authorship (esp. of 2 Timothy), but we have to face up to the “but what if” question as to how it impacts canonical authority. What I want to avoid is a kind of retreat from the hard questions of authorship based on an underlying assumption that “I do not think it would have been right for God to give us the Bible this way, i.e. through pseudonymity”. I want to make sure that our theology of biblical inspiration is based on the textual and historical phenomenon of the NT itself, rather than re-writing the textual and historical phenomenon to suit a certain model of inspiration.

I agree. When I heard Michael’s question at the session, my immediate thought was “but allonymity (or pseudonymy) isn’t anonymity, so I don’t follow his point”. I agree that if one espouses Pauline authorship that it’s a bit disingenuous to respond to authorship challenges by saying “But it says Paul wrote it … “. I just think the arguments for allonymity or “well-intentioned psuedonymity” are wanting because actual examples of well-intentioned pseudonymity in the early church were not exactly welcomed. Witherington and Brindle both provide examples of this.

And all of this reminds me of a Fred Danker quote I read at a chapter head in John Lee’s book on New Testament Lexicography: “Change spells pain, but … scholar’s tasks are ‘not for sissies’. ” Those of us (and I am one) who hold to Pauline authorship need to make sure we don’t take the “sissy way” out of the argument. But the same holds true for those on the other end of the authorship spectrum as well.