Which of the “Pauline” epistles did Paul write himself?


In Hengel’s book Between Jesus and Paul, published in 1983, he lists just seven epistles as “the authentic letters of the apostle”:

1 & 2 Cor.
1 Thess.

If Hengel is correct, that means that the other seven are inauthentic:

2 Thess.
1 & 2 Tim.

It is generally accepted that Hebrews cannot possibly be the work of Paul, though the anonymous author is closely identified with Paul’s teaching. But what about the other six? Are there reputable NT scholars who disagree with Hengel and accept some of the six, at least, as “authentically” written by Paul? If so, which ones?



Here’s a article re: Ephesians.



Thank you for that link, PianistClare. The unnamed author of the text posted on the USCCB website reaches this conclusion about the authorship of Ephesians:

The letter may then be the work of a secretary writing at the apostle’s direction or of a later disciple who sought to develop Paul’s ideas for a new situation around A.D. 80–100.

One down, five to go. I see I need to do more of my own googling! I wasn’t aware that the USCCB had this kind of information available in its website. I’ll go through the epistles one by one.



When I was getting my Theology degree, we were taught that much of his writing was attributed to students and protégées.
Good luck! Post up what you find! I’ll read it. LOL



I’m happy to report that, with your help, the job is now almost complete! The USCCB introductions concede that there are serious doubts as to the authorship of five out of the six books on my list. Ephesians was dealt with in my earlier post.


[T]he same problem exists as with Ephesians and Philippians (see the Introductions to these letters). … Still others regard the letter as the work of some pupil or follower of Paul, writing in his name. In any case, the contents are often closely paralleled by thoughts in Ephesians.

The three Pastoral epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus)

… 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); if they are regarded as only more remotely Pauline, their date may be as late as the early second century.*

That leaves just 2 Thessalonians. Possibly as the result of an administrative oversight, this book has been left without an introduction on the USCCB website. I’ll hunt around to see what I can find elsewhere.

Thanks again for your help.

Kind regards,


Here’s an article from Benedict:




In that commentary, Benedict quotes explicitly from seven epistles, in order: 1 Corinthians, 1 Thess., 2 Thess., Philippians, Ephesians, Romans, and 2 Corinthians. Five of the seven are on Hengel’s “authentic” list. But in quoting a verse from Ephesians Benedict chose not to get sidetracked into the question of authenticity, so it occurs to me that perhaps the same thing might perhaps be true also in the case of 2 Thessalonians. What do you think? It looks to me as though he is quoting from the epistles *as a preacher, * in this instance, rather than analyzing them as an NT scholar. Does that make sense to you?




The introduction to the Pauline epistles in the Jerusalem Bible notes that some commentators have expressed the view that the anonymous author of 2 Thess. was deliberately imitating the language that Paul used in the undoubtedly authentic 1 Thess., but the JB editors reject this view, coming down on the side of authenticity.

So, unless anything else turns up, the answer to my original question seems to be this:

7 epistles certainly written by Paul: Martin Hengel’s list
1 epistle almost certainly written by Paul: 2 Thessalonians
5 epistles of doubtful authorship: Ephesians, Colossians, and the three Pastorals
1 epistle definitely not written by Paul: Hebrews.

I’m Inclined to leave it at that, at least for the time being.

Thanks again for your help and encouragement!



Makes sense. I’ll have to check some of the book sin my office fro more info when I return from vacation.
And thank you so much fro spelling my name correctly.
you have no idea…



A very thorough scholarly discussion of the origin of each epistle is included in the Sacra Pagina commentaries.


Expensive to buy - I have one for Hebrews because it fascinates me so much - but you may run across a set in a library somewhere.

Florida State University apparently has a set. guides.lib.fsu.edu/content.php?pid=135583&sid=1284994. I assume many other universities might have a set as well, or maybe the Catholic Center at a local university.



You may also find something at the Sacra Pagina website, which is completely unrelated to the Sacra Pagina commentaries. It is basically a bunch of lecture notes for biblical studies at university level.


I have been surfing this website on and off for some time. It has some fascinating information including some overviews of various parts of the Bible which include sections such as “content and authorship”.



Yes, there are. Luke Timothy Johnson is one, and Ben Witherington is another. In fact, in the linked article Witherington challenges the claim that the overwhelming majority of scholars reject Pauline authorship. He says that it’s a slight and dwindling majority for the Pastorals, and not a majority at all for Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians (at least, that more than half of all NT scholars think that at least one of those books may have been by Paul). I think I also read in one of his books that (by his reckoning) most scholars who actually look at a specific book in detail think it’s Pauline, while generalists are more likely to say it isn’t. But I may remember him wrongly, and of course he has a bias, like everyone, and may be exaggerating a bit.



Thank you, Tim, for both your posts. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting the two Sacra Pagina commentaries by Luke Timothy Johnson, on Luke and Acts, but that might be biting off more than I can chew. Not to mention the outlay. Maybe if they turn up secondhand on Abe Books … But I’ll certainly follow up on your suggestion about the website.



Thank you, Edwin. I’ve printed out the Witherington chapter to read at leisure. It’s obviously very meaty.
I’ll get back to you later, after I’ve had time to digest it all.



Just to give some sort of background:

The seven letters listed - 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1-2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon, Romans - are the ones most or all scholars accept (or not dispute, at least) was written by St. Paul himself. Earlier scholars (ones from the 18th-19th century) in fact accepted fewer letters, but as time went, more scholars began to reconsider a few other letters and accepted their authenticity.

Scholars are evenly divided between Colossians and 2 Thessalonians: some don’t think they wer really written by Paul, others argue that they were. Much of the debate, for Colossians at least, really rests on the vocabulary: the language (word usages, turns of phrase) doesn’t seem to match Paul’s language in the other, undisputed letters. (But this in itself is a disputable argument.) 2 Thessalonians has a slightly stronger claim for it, but then again some argue that certain parts of the letter (2:13-16 or 5:1-11, for example) were not really by Paul but later interpolations.

A majority reject 1-2 Timothy, Titus, and Ephesians as authentic.

For Ephesians, the argument is really that it’s too vague: it really reads like a generic circular letter (there are no references to people in Ephesus, or any events Paul may have experienced there), and it seems that the words “in Ephesus” is a later interpolation. (Marcion in the 2nd century even thought that the letter is actually the now-lost letter to the Laodiceans.) And again, there’s also the issue of language: it is argued that it doesn’t really sound ‘Pauline’ - more so than Colossians. (It does however show more similarity to later Christian literature.) That, plus the fact that Ephesians shows a huge similarity (in language terms) to Colossians, while at the same time, showing differences from Colossians (the theology is more developed in Ephesians, for one).

As for the Pastorals (1-2 Timothy, Titus), again, the issue is language: the author sounds more like a quiet, meditative Hellenistic philosophical author than Paul in his other letters: vivid, lively, occasionally meandering in dramatic arguments and emotional outbursts against his opponents. Plus, the rather developed church organization envisaged in the letters sound suspicious to these scholars: they think that the system only really became developed and standardized after the time of Paul and the apostles.

Hebrews meanwhile obviously isn’t really considered a Pauline letter - even in antiquity Christians were divided about it. It’s the one letter where the difference in style is very obvious, whereas the others are honestly disputable.

That’s pretty much how their argument goes.


I like the way that Witherington writes with great assurance that he is right and that everybody who disagrees with him, in particular “the Germans,” has grasped the wrong end of the stick. His view of the authorship of the three pastoral letters is very striking, particularly in view of his status as a Luke-Acts expert:

I have argued that Luke, who in 2 Timothy is said to alone be with Paul at the end, is responsible for the writing out of these letters from things Paul has said to him. When Paul had a long-time trusted colleague, he might well do what many writers did, not feeling the necessity of dictating word for word, but having the trusted colleague or co-worker do the composition. And in the case of 2 Timothy, there was good reason for this—Paul was likely in the Mamartine prison and quite unable to do dictation or composition. Luke, then, in his own words, preserved the last will and testimony of Paul for his closest long time co-workers and church leaders encouraging them to carry on. The hands that composed these documents are Luke’s but the voice is the voice of Paul.

Thank you for that link, Edwin. BTW, I’m currently trying to get hold of one of Witherington’s books—though he’s the editor, not the sole author—entitled *History, Literature, and Society in the Book of Acts. *Are you familiar with it? Would you recommend it?



Thank you, Patrick. In the light of your helpful summary here, I think I’m going to have to revise my list of the “doubtful” letters in my post #8. I now see that lumping all five together like that is an oversimplification.

In my reply to Contarini (#16, the post immediately above this one) I pasted a short observation by Witherington about the possible Lucan authorship — in the role of amanuensisis or redactor — of the three pastoral letters. Does this sound convincing to you? The idea is new to me but as far as I can tell, which isn’t very far, I’d say it seems to make sense.



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