Are Timothy and Titus fictitious people?

The script accompanying one of my lectures on Sacred Scripture, specifically the New Testament, said that Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are firstly not actually by Paul himself (but rather by a Pauline school based in Ephesus) and secondly addressed to fictitious people so as to give the epistles credibility.

I’ve not heard that before, given that we have Sts Timothy and Titus… is that an accepted scholarly opinion and compatible with Catholic belief? :confused:

That’s one scholarly opinion. I don’t know that it jives too well with Catholicism seeing as how the Church celebrates the feast of Saints Timothy and Titus on January 26th. We tend not to celebrate feast days for imaginary people. :wink:

I am not fictitious. Thank you.


Just one of the million reasons I have a distaste for a portion of modern scholarship on the Bible.

Timothy and Titus are mentioned throughout the New Testament, not just in the Epistles addressed to them, so they seem to be historical persons. The lecture apparently supports the idea that the author(s) of the Epistles were employing a literary device, writing as though they were St Paul addressing Timothy and Titus.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia article on “Epistles of Timothy and Titus”:

Saints Timothy and Titus were two of the most beloved and trusted disciples of St. Paul, whom they accompanied in many of his journeys. Timothy is mentioned in
•Acts 16:1
•Acts 17:14-15
•Acts 18:5
•Acts 19:22
•Acts 20:4
•Romans 16:21
•1 Corinthians 4:17
•2 Corinthians 1:1, 19
•Philippians 1:1
•Philippians 2:19
•Colossians 1:1
•1 Thessalonians 1:1
•1 Thessalonians 3:2-6
•2 Thessalonians 1:1
•1 Timothy 1:2-18
•1 Timothy 6:20
•2 Timothy 1:2
•Philemon 1:1
•Hebrews 13:23

and Titus in
•2 Corinthians 2:13
•2 Corinthians 7:6-14
•2 Corinthians 8:6-23
•2 Corinthians 12:18
•Galatians 2:1-3
•2 Timothy 4:10
•Titus 1:4

Yep, exactly. Of course they existed, and I forgot about the other mentions. :blush: Yet, our professor in this lecture and another of exegesis say that the Epistles to Timothy and Titus are pseudoepigraphs and weren’t actually read by the two.

I’m not sure how much that argument is going to hold up given that Timothy is mentioned in Acts (several times), 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philippians, and Titus is mentioned in Galatians.

However I don’t think the point was to say that Sts Timothy and Titus never existed in the first place, but that they were used as covers in falsely attributing these letters to Paul.

Most allegations that certain letters in the New Testament are falsely attributed to Paul are based upon stylistic differences between letters. Now on the face of it this doesn’t seem like much of an argument to overturn the universal witness of Christian tradition that 1&2 Timothy and Titus were written by Paul, especially when the early Church was keen on rooting out false letters and gospels.

One could just as easily explain differences in style for these letter as based on their being personal letters to church leaders instead of public letters to young converts. As if a man as well educated as Paul could not have the ability to write in a different style. Another thing to note is we don’t really have that much of a sample size in Paul’s letters to be making comparisons of style and trying to find out true pauline style in them.

If you are interested in defenses of Pauline authorship, the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible - New Testament by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch has short essays on authorship of every letter in the new testament, and you could find very in depth defenses in the (baptist) New Testament textbook The Cradle, The Cross and the Crown by Andreas Kostenberger et al.

A good online source for authorship questions is this site (not that I always agree with him about authorship, but still)

Well, she wasn’t arguing they didn’t exist but rather that they were used to increase the appearance of authenticity or authority of the letter.

I don’t think scholars would call them “false letters”… they’re generally agreed to be Pauline in character but developing Paul’s theology after his death. That’s what this “Pauline college” thing in Ephesus means. Some of the letters included among those are Colossians, Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles. The development of Ecclesiology in Ephesians is used as an argument of later composition.

To be clear, that is actually two separate issues. They could be real people and the epistles could still have been written by a “Pauline school of thought” and addressed to them in name only. That doesn’t make them fictitious anymore than it would make Paul fictitious.

Yes, I agree. Forget the thread’s title, it is misleading. What I mean is: Are the Pastoral Epistles written by Paul, and do they use Titus and Timothy as real addressees or as mere helpers to give them an air of authenticity?

Yes, the theory is not that Timothy and Titus did not exist, but that the letters bearing their names were not sent to them (and were not written by the Apostle Paul). That is a very common belief among biblical scholars, including Catholic scholars. While Catholics are free to disagree, this theory is not incompatible with Catholic faith.

Yes well 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 describes letters falsely attributed to Paul as deception. That is why I would be very slow to accept any arguments by liberal bible scholars as fact without checking out what the conservative bible scholars are saying. The Kostenberger et al. book I referenced is a gold mine of arguments on the subject of New Testament authorship.

I believe it is incompatible with Catholic belief to publicly teach these things because Pope St. Pius X wrote against this idea in 1907, saying:

“The result of this dismembering of the Sacred Books and this partition of them throughout the centuries is naturally that the Scriptures can no longer be attributed to the authors whose names they bear. The Modernists have no hesitation in affirming commonly that these books, and especially the Pentateuch and the first three Gospels, have been gradually formed by additions to a primitive brief narration - by interpolations of theological or allegorical interpretation, by transitions, by joining different passages together. … To [prove this] they call to their assistance that branch of criticism which they call textual, and labour to show that such a fact or such a phrase is not in its right place, and adducing other arguments of the same kind.” (Pascendi Dominici Gregis 34)

It is my understanding that this document requires the religious assent of mind and will, and a resolve not to publicly contradict it even if one thinks it is wrong, because it is an encyclical, and because Vatican II says about such teachings: “the faithful are to accept [them] and adhere to [them] with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra.” (Lumen Gentium 25)

Am I missing something?

the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. In this case, the simplest explanation is that the letters addressed to Timothy and Titus were actually addressed to them.

Well, first of all, you are missing over 100 years of Catholic biblical scholarship. But even what you cite does not definitively establish the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles. Many respected and orthodox Catholic scholars have opined that Timothy and Titus were not written by Paul. Fr. Brown comes most readily to mind, but there are many others. In fact, the introduction to Timothy by both the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican acknowledges that “most” scholars do not believe Paul wrote Timothy. [ Timothy&ch=](“ Timothy&ch=”)

That does not require all Catholics to agree, but surely the bishops and the Vatican are not promoting a belief that is banned by Catholic doctrine?

Yes it is widely accepted that St Paul didn’t write these with his own hand. Doesn’t make a bit of difference though. :wink:

First, when I read this sentence it reminded me of a joke from Office Space: “Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing them, Bob.”

Secondly, seriously, I think the last 100 years of Catholic biblical scholarship have a lot to offer, but I don’t think all of it denies Pauline authorship, and I don’t think any of it had the authority to overturn the Magisterial document Pascendi Domini Gregis. As far as I know, the statements in that document have not been retracted, and therefore it seems to follow that no Catholic author is permitted to openly contradict its teaching. And I think that’s what those do who deny Pauline authorship.

But even what you cite does not definitively establish the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles.

I think the first sentence I quoted rejects the idea that any books of the Bible weren’t authored by “the authors whose names they bear,” because it says that that rejection of traditional authorship is a “result of this dismembering of the Sacred Books” which the document says is incompatible with Catholic theology. Do you see it differently?

Many respected and orthodox Catholic scholars have opined that Timothy and Titus were not written by Paul. Fr. Brown comes most readily to mind, but there are many others. In fact, the introduction to Timothy by both the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican acknowledges that “most” scholars do not believe Paul wrote Timothy. [ Timothy&ch=](“ Timothy&ch=”)

The USCCB introduction also appears to affirm Pauline authorship: “The three letters, First and Second Timothy and Titus, form a distinct group within the Pauline corpus. In the collection of letters by the Apostle to the Gentiles, they differ from the others in form and contents. All three suggest they were written late in Paul’s career.”

Later, they mention that a majority group of scholars don’t accept Pauline authorship, and that, if their views are accepted, “[the letters’] date may be as late as the early second century.” I don’t see this as an endorsement of that position because, by my reading, the USCCB introduction contradicts that view in its first few sentences, and also because it mentions two other groups who accept Pauline authorship, and, before it mentions the late-date theory, it says, “If Paul is considered the more immediate author, the Pastorals are to be dated between the end of his first Roman imprisonment (Acts 28:16) and his execution under Nero (A.D. 63–67).”

That does not require all Catholics to agree, but surely the bishops and the Vatican are not promoting a belief that is banned by Catholic doctrine?

I’ve explained why I don’t think they are promoting that view, I’d love your thoughts about this argument: unless Pascendi Domini Gregis is revoked by the Vatican, it retains its magisterial character, and requires religious assent of the mind and will by Catholics and a resolve not to openly contradict it. It seems to follow that anyone who openly denies that the Books of Scripture were written by “the authors whose names they bear,” contradicts not just the Magisterium in 1907, but the current Magisterium, because Pascendi Domini Gregis is still a Magisterial document. What do you think of that argument?

*–Whether, keeping in mind the tradition of the Church which continues universally and steadily from the earliest times, just as the ancient ecclesiastical records testify in many ways, it should be held with certainty that the so-called pastoral letters, that is, the two to Timothy and another to Titus, notwithstanding the rashness of certain heretics who have eliminated them as being contrary to their dogma from the number of Pauline epistles, without giving any reason, were composed by the Apostle Paul himself, and have always been reckoned among the genuine and canonical?

Reply: In the affirmative.*
Response of the Biblical Commission, June 12, 1913.

Please, let’s abide by the Sacred Tradition (and Scripture) which cannot err as inspired by God. As Francisco de Goya said, sometimes “the sleep of reason produces monsters”.

The introduction to these epistles in the ‘Ignatius Catholic Study Bible - NT’ gives a good overview of this discussion and presents the concerns on both sides. Many scholars don’t believe that Paul wrote about 6 of the epistles that are attributed to him, but most of the time you don’t hear the other argument. These introductions give you both sides.

About 4 1/2 years ago, I attended a seminar workshop on the letters of Paul by Fr. Lawrence Boadt. Fr. Boadt was an Old Testament Scholar who was well versed in the ‘historical-critical study’ of Bible scholarship. The seminar was probably his last (for he passed away latter in the year), but one statement that he made during the 1 1/2 hour seminar stuck in my head. Fr. Boadt related that his biggest regret in today’s modern Bible scholarship of Paul’s epistles is the so many scholars dismiss the authorship of Paul on nearly half of them! He argued that the evidence against Paul’s authorship is not conclusive enough to deny his authorship on many of these letters. So I have always believed that all these letters (except Hebrews) were written by Paul and will believe so until there is evidence to prove otherwise.


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