Questions on the Pauline Epistles and the Early Church


Our professor (who is deeply in love with the historical-critical method, textual criticism and uses those approaches alone) currently lecturing on an Introduction to the New Testament, has provided material for the next lecture to us, and I find lots of it quite worrying. She has given us the material for the next lecture, which will be about some of the Pauline Epistles. There are some things in those papers she has provided that worry me. Here are a few examples:

The Epistle to the Colossians is said to be “deutero Pauline”, that is, written by people in a school of Pauline thought, but not the Apostle himself. Our professor says the Epistle’s prescript’s identification of the authors as Paul and Timothy is fictitious, because of stylistic differences compared to other acceptedly Pauline Epistles. Furthermore, she says, the idea of a “universal Church” is present in Colossians for the first time, since ekklesia always meant the local Church before that. Consequently, she identifies the location and date of its penning as Ephesus in the 70s or 80s, rather than Rome and the early 60s as traditionally held.

Pastoral Epistles (1+2 Timothy, Titus)
These Epistles are particularly concerned with governance of the Church, particularly the offices of Bishop, Priest and Deacon. That should be obvious. What concerns me, though, is the following. Our professor says that the initially “charismatic structure” of the Church in 1 Corinthians was **“replaced by a system of officials **[Bishops, etc.]”.
She also says that since core Pauline words such as Cross, freedom, Son of God, Body of Christ and the Justice of God are absent, women are “made subject”, the teaching on justification is less prominent and the fading idea of a near Second Coming, Saint Paul being the author is out of the question. Instead, she says, the author had a Hellenistic education and modelled the Epistles on letters to high-ranking officials from rulers (such as Pliny the Younger and Trajan).
She goes even further and says that Timothy and Titus are fictitious addressees to make the message conveyed appear authentic, but the true readership was in Asia Minor. Our professor concludes by dating these Epistles to about AD 100 due to the “change in Church governance”, and that 2 Timothy was something like a “testament-like letter of friendship”.

This is so different from what I am used to, that I had to enquire about it. The thing about “Church governance” is particularly concerning to me, since it really makes it sound like the whole concept of Holy Orders is a sham and invented later.

Can you help me out? :confused:


is this with a Catholic professor at a Catholic university?


Jesuit university and seminary. I am not sure about the professor herself, but — if it’s any indication — she never turns up at Mass. :rolleyes:


she could be non-Catholic or someone with a liberal Protestant type theological bent. Discuss your concern with her and if not satisfied then go higher up.


You might inquire with her as to what she means by those statements.

Personally, I’ve always found the assertion that differing writing styles means different authors to be a little week. I would certainly write a lot differently if I were writing to a group of newer Christians (like in Corinth) as opposed to writing to an individual bishop (like Timothy). But perhaps I am overlooking certain nuances. :shrug:

Still, though, such opinions are not outside the realm of Catholic thought. The structure of the Church did develop over the years (I don’t think there were cardinals and papal conclaves back in the apostolic age ;)), but I’d also be a bit uncomfortable at the implication that there was some immediate, drastic shift by the end of the first century. That’s where you might just want to ask for further explanation.

Either way, even if you don’t agree with her, at least you’ll be learning one perspective that many in the field share. Getting a better understanding of why she holds that perspective will be a valuable learning experience.


That’s true. But then, we don’t have it as dogma that Cardinals and conclave are “instituted by Christ”, which we do in Holy Orders, especially Bishops. If Bishops fall, so does the entire concept of the Church as we know it. That’s why I am concerned about that statement in the lecture. :shrug:


True. I know that opinion is out there in some circles, too.


I would report this professor to the proper university authorities. This professor, if catholic, is is in excommunicato with established Catholic teaching. Most, if not all, Catholic Universities have their professors sign sign forms stating they will not teach anything contrary to established Catholic tradition. It appears that is exactly what this professor is doing.


strict historical criticism is atheistic. See the document from the early 1990’s Pontifical Biblical Commission called Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. This is a dogmatic statement.

In English, from the EWTN tv network website:

I don’t think you need to stress yourself with criticizing your instructor. For your course, you merely need to understand what her points of view are and spit them back to her on a test.

For a non-academic person like myself, it takes years for me to find the correct way to refute some idea or validate an idea I had myself.

Stylistic differences are just that – it’s possible to squeeze as much controversy out of that as possible. This, I suppose, is to make you think more about the writings of the New Testament.

In First Corinthians, there is the well-known admonition that women are supposed to be silent in the assembly (church gathering) but that contradicts an earlier statement that women are supposed to have their heads covered while they are praying or prophesying in the assembly – so which is it? be silent or not be silent?

I think a modern student should be taping university lectures and re-playing them to make sure your notes are accurate, and that you are studying the right thing. I am referring to using a digital voice recorder, that are for sale on the internet. These controversies are endless, and you aren’t going to convert her or persuade her otherwise. You are also not going to resolve the controversy. So, just take notes and be ready for your tests. You have a right to keep an open mind about the subject.

The idea of a “universal church” may be explicit for the first time in Colossians, but it was certainly implied already in I & II Corinthians, else why is Paul preaching all over the place, if not to establish a universal church based on his apostolic credentials? Christ prayed for the unity of his disciples (Last Supper discourse in John, chapter 17, or thereabouts) implying both a unified church and a universal one.


I think you are overstating things a bit here. It’s certainly possible that the professor has some goofy ideas, but it doesn’t sound like anything that couldn’t be explained away in non-heretical terms.


Only bad historical criticism is atheistic. Good historical criticism is not concerned with making claims outside of the matter of the text, and is thus emphatically non-affirmative of any such matter as the existence of God.

I would also point out that the text which you linked states, “the very nature of biblical texts means that interpreting them will require continued use of the <historical-critical method,>”. What it goes on to say is that synchronic analysis (consideration of the text in its historical moment) must be framed within diachronic analysis (consideration of the text as it has been received over time. This is the point at which Catholic exegesis differs from general literary-critical study, since the latter most often views the synchronic as more important than the diachronic.


A lot of it sounds like someone looking very closely at the text; some of it sounds like someone looking so closely that they might be in danger of reading too much into too little. That argument “different style, therefore different author” is one of which I am especially wary, because it is undisprovable but also in conflict with the very clear evidence of dramatic changes in style of other, more recent authors.

That model of the development of the church hierarchy does sound like what I have read elsewhere, though, and it is not something which should worry you. The early Church did develop: as she grew and spread, different offices and different processes became necessary or were found to be more useful than some of the early attempts. The church in Rome went from Greek to Greco-Latin (Greek words in Latin letters, just weird) to Latin; the idea of the celibate priesthood developed over the centuries, and Peter was married (and, according to Clement of Alexandria, had children).

None of this means that “Holy Orders is a sham and invented later”. It merely means that the Church learnt over time, rather than having been handed the Holy Blueprint For How To Run a Multinational, Multilingual, Underground Religious Movement.


Originally Posted by ezeekl
I would report this professor to the proper university authorities. This professor, if catholic, is is in excommunicato with established Catholic teaching. Most, if not all, Catholic Universities have their professors sign sign forms stating they will not teach anything contrary to established Catholic tradition. It appears that is exactly what this professor is doing.

I would not form any judgement personally. But I would let the proper university authorities know what she is teaching. Let them investigate and make the determination. No professor in a Catholic university should be teaching anything that is at variance to the teaching of the Catholic Church. This professor is teaching atheism masqurading as ‘higher criticism’. Get rid of her.


It’s neither here nor there in terms of accuracy, but the above seems like mainstream Catholic biblical scholarship to me. Check out Raymond Brown’s Introduction to the New Testament on these particular books of the Bible for comparison.


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