Are Catholics required to believe that St. Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles


In Chapter 19 of his book Saint Paul the Apostle, Pope Benedict XVI (writing under that title) wrote the following sentences (pp. 110-111 of my edition):

Most exegetes today are of the opinion that these letters would not have been written by Paul himself, but would have come from the “Pauline School,” and that they reflect his legacy for a new generation, perhaps including some words or brief passages written by the Apostle himself. Some parts of the Second Letter to Timothy, for example, appear so authentic that they could only come from the heart and mouth of the Apostle.

Without a doubt, the situation of the Church as it emerges from these letters is very different from that of Paul’s middle years…

I have listened to many academic lectures on Paul’s writings, and all but a very small percentage of Christians espouse the position that St. Paul actually did write the pastorals (including, it appears, Dr. Scott Hahn of Franciscan University of Steubenville and the editors of the Ignatius Study Bible).

At least in its plain language, this scholarly consensus seems to contrast with what’s written in Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation:

“Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully, and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation”

Session IV of the Council of Trent said this:

"If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema.

There seems to be a conflict here. How would you suggest navigating this predicament?


Pope Benedict was writing as a private theologian. This document is not ex cathedra if that is your concern.


Why does it matter? They’re in my Bible, that shows the Church believes them to at least be authoritative.


His writing as a private theologian doesn’t make any difference to the matter. He is a highly-regarded professional theologian whose testimony as to the current state of scholarship is a good one. That he wrote under his papal title is just an indicator that he didn’t feel that it was pastorally inappropriate to describe how most biblical exegetes today think to the general public.

The lack of Magesterial status of the book doesn’t solve the issue. What I’m asking, in essence, is whether the Church requires Catholics to believe that the majority of biblical scholars are wrong in their opinion of the authorship of the Pastorals?

I see ways out of the conundrum.

For example, we could acknowledge the fact that pseudoepigrapha (for example, attributing authorship to Paul) was a common technique for passing on teachings derived from a single teacher. Were we to insist that such methods are inappropriate, we are being anachronistic and imposing modern standards on the ancient authors of scripture. Alternatively, we could say that the truth of scripture is not based on a literal word-for-word reading of the original text, which would also help in resolving discrepancies in other texts of the Bible (for example, in the literally-irreconcilable genealogies of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Luke).

I just have a hard time believing that the Church requires us to ignore the sum of scholarship on the matter.


Session IV of the Council of Trent says the books were sacred and canonical, but I don’t see where it says they were written specifically by St. Paul?


No. He was not.

That was as Pope.

But what was he mentioning there? The opinions of certain scholars.

The question of authorship on the human level can be disputed with this or that letter. As the Pope notes.

The Pope though was not saying there that he agreed with them (in fact he points to certain sections he says could not have come from anywhere else then the heart and Mind of Paul…and in other addresses he simply says “Paul wrote”…)

In any case - be they right from the hand of Paul or from his scribes etc they are Sacred Scriptures.


Doesn’t the language in Dei Verbum and Trent IV imply more specificity?


I don’t think we are required to believe that these ancient books were written by certain authors, per se. We are required to believe that the authors of Sacred Scripture were divinely inspired. As you said before, it was not uncommon for authors to write in another person’s name–or for a scribe to do the actual writing, even if adding something of his own. It was not seen then as being wrong. But we must believe that God inspired the authors of the Scriptures. That does not deny the authenticity of the Scriptures.


No …as one can see from Pope Benedict XVI noting what he noted (remember he knows those documents very well…)


As to how Pope Benedict XVI himself referred to Paul Letter to Timothy - one sees him referring to them being* from the Apostle Paul*:

“Yet as we read the writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles, we discover that the image of the sword refers to his entire mission of evangelization. For example, when he felt death approaching, he wrote to Timothy: “I have fought the good fight” (2 Tim 4:7). This was certainly not the battle of a military commander but that of a herald of the Word of God, faithful to Christ and to his Church, to which he gave himself completely. And that is why the Lord gave him the crown of glory and placed him, together with Peter, as a pillar in the spiritual edifice of the Church.”


“In chains, he wrote, “the word of God is not fettered. Therefore I endure everything for the [God’s] sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which in Christ Jesus goes with eternal glory” (2 Tim 2:9b-10).”


If you look at the text I quoted again, he wrote that it’s likely that there is original material from Paul in 2 Timothy. That doesn’t mean that he believes, or that the majority of scholars, believe that 1 Timothy, Titus, and the vast majority of 2 Timothy is original to Paul.


If you look again at the text you quoted he notes that:“Some parts of the Second Letter to Timothy, for example, appear* so authentic *that they could only come from the heart and mouth of the Apostle.” -

  • such is a scholarly way of noting that even if a good deal of scholars do not think they would have been written by Paul himself, but would have come from the “Pauline School”-- there are texts at least that are very clearly from Paul.

Note too his use of the phrase “for example”.

Your is *not *saying he does not believe Pastoral Letters are from Paul.


A couple more quick examples from Pope Benedict XVI:

One from 1 Timothy the other regarding the Letter to Titus.

“In his Letter to Timothy Paul describes the Church as the “household of God” (1 Tm 3: 15); and this is a truly original definition because it refers to the Church as a community structure in which warm, family-type interpersonal relations are lived. The Apostle helps us to understand ever more deeply the mystery of the Church in her different dimensions as an assembly of God in the world. This is the greatness of the Church and the greatness of our call; we are a temple of God in the world, a place in which God truly dwells, and at the same time we are a community, a family of God who is love. As a family and home of God, we must practise God’s love in the world and thus, with the power that comes from faith, be a place and a sign of his presence. Let us pray the Lord to grant us to be increasingly his Church, his Body, the place where his love is present in this world of ours and in our history.”

"Then, as regards the figure of Titus, whose name is of Latin origin, we know that he was Greek by birth, that is, a pagan (cf. Gal 2: 3). Paul took Titus with him to Jerusalem for the so-called Apostolic Council, where the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles that freed them from the constraints of Mosaic Law was solemnly accepted.

In the Letter addressed to Titus, the Apostle praised him and described him as his “true child in a common faith” (Ti 1: 4). After Timothy’s departure from Corinth, Paul sent Titus there with the task of bringing that unmanageable

edict-xvi/en/audiences/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20061213.htmlcommunity to obedience."


This will be of interest too:


By not losing any sleep over it.

As a Catholic I accept the Church’s teaching that these letters are inspired by God. They are Holy Scripture.

I am not afraid of the truth. If St. Paul was the actual author, co-author - was the school of thought that Paul taught, or what ever history will uncover - it may be fascinating information but changes nothing of the message given to us by God.

The miracle is: They exist and they are our heritage.

Pope Benedict didn’t lose his faith in the Church or in the value of these documents. Why should we?


Again, I’m not citing Benedict XVI for his particular position on authorship or for his authority as a teacher, but for his relating to his readers the state of scholarship on the matter. Another Catholic source, Felix Just, S.J., PhD describes the state of scholarship (at this link), saying that 80% of scholars believe that Paul did not write the Pastorals, but rather one of his followers after his death. They also say that for Ephesians.

Importantly, having an author other than Paul doesn’t undermine their place in the canon. As Fr. Just says, “Distinguishing the letters based on actual authorship, however, allows scholars to see more clearly the development of early Christian theology and practice.

That’s how the late Fr. Raymond Brown described these works in his talk, “The Churches Paul Left Behind,” which is available through Welcome Recordings.

If we can agree that Catholics are not required to believe that Paul himself wrote the Pastorals, but that that doesn’t affect their canonical status, I think we have resolved the major issues. Agreed?


Not a fan of Fr. Raymond Brown - but that is a different topic.

The question of authorship of this or that writing does not effect their nature as inspired Scripture …does not effect their canonical status as you note.

There are various opinions as to authorship on various writings. And there can be criticism of such opinions…(as there can be of some of the excessive use of the HCM that many of them might rely excessively on).

The fact that many writers think he did not write them…does not mean that in fact he did not write them. It means that they think that. Others disagree with them.

For me I simply speak similar to how Pope Benedict XVI did in various places (see above etc) - Paul’s letter …Paul wrote …etc.




Of some interest to this discussion:

I: In view of the tradition of the Church universally and firmly maintained from the beginning, as is witnessed in many ways by ancient ecclesiastical records, should it be held as certain that the Pastoral Epistles, the two, namely, to Timothy and another to Titus, notwithstanding the effrontery of certain heretics, who without giving any reason expunged them from the number of Pauline Epistles as being opposed to their tenets, were written by the Apostle Paul himself and were always listed among the genuine and canonical Epistles?

Answer: In the affirmative.

II: Can the so-called fragmentary hypothesis introduced and propounded in different ways by certain recent critics, who without any plausible reason and even at variance among themselves, maintain that the Pastoral Epistles were put together by unknown authors at a later date out of fragments of the Epistles or out of lost Pauline Epistles with notable additions, cause even any slight weakening of the clear and unshaken testimony of tradition?

Answer: In the negative.

III: Do the difficulties commonly alleged on many grounds, either on account of the style and language of the author, or of the errors, especially of the Gnostics, described as already then current, or of the presupposition that the ecclesiastical hierarchy was in an already developed state, and other similar arguments to the contrary, in any way weaken the opinion that holds the genuineness of the Pastoral Epistles to be established and certain?

Answer: In the negative.

IV: As the opinion that the Apostle Paul was twice imprisoned at Rome should be considered certain on account no less of historical reasons than of ecclesiastical tradition in harmony with the testimonies of the holy Fathers both in East and West, and also on account of the evidence readily available both in the abrupt conclusion of the Acts and in the Pauline Epistles written at Rome and especially in the second to Timothy; can it be safely stated that the Pastoral Epistles were written in the interval between the liberation of the Apostle from the first imprisonment and his death?

Answer: In the affirmative.

This is a decision handed down by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1913, and bears magisterial authroity (the PBC no longer does, but did at this time). Granted, these decisions are not infallible, and can, with weighty reasons, not easily or rashly admitted, be held to be in the wrong.

Benedicat Deus,


A E Burn & H L Goudge in their portion of the Gore-Goudge-Guillaume Commentary pubd by SPCK in 1928 say the differences are to be put down to a combination of:

  • the personal tone of the subject matter

  • the churches being in existence a few years longer, necessitating a different emphasis to their problems and strong areas

  • above all, that Paul’s having been in Rome means he has picked up the Roman variety of Greek (Greek not having been Paul’s very first mother tongue), reinforced by his frequently having St Luke - who mixed with Romans a lot - for company

They say that Shakespeare offers another example of a person so preoccupied with what he meant to say that he devoted relatively little attention to how he said it - in other words to projecting a “style”.

I noticed strongly in my Mark Twain reading years that from one book to another Twain adopts a whole fresh set of words and grammar. I’ve also noticed the same in Dickens. Perhaps their relative plainness is what helps the sayings of these giants (like for that matter another of my favourites, Bd J H Newman) resonate all down the years.

Going back to Burn & Goudge, apparently the first generation of Fathers, who had known the Apostles, regarded the three letters as Paul’s.

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