Monday, July 3, 2017

Did Paul write Colossians and Ephesians?

Thirteen of the NT epistles claim Pauline authorship. Seven of these (Romans; 1 & 2 Corinthians; Galatians; Philippians; 1 Thessalonians; Philemon) are recognized as authentic by the vast majority of scholars. Scholars are sharply divided, however, on the authorship of Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians. The majority of scholars reject Pauline authorship for the pastorals (1 & 2 Timothy; Titus).

[Note that just because a letter was not written by Paul does not mean that it is necessarily a forgery. The letter might, for example, have been written by one of Paul's scribes or associates and reviewed by Paul himself. For a great summary of this issue, see Ben Witherington's post here.]

The arguments against Pauline authorship are based on purported differences in style and theology. Since I am currently doing research in Colossians and Ephesians, I wanted to determine how significant these purported differences actually are. 

One of the easiest and most objective ways to compare these letters is by examining their vocabulary. Using BibleWorks, I generated the following two charts. In the first, I compare the vocabulary of Colossians and Ephesians to the vocabulary of Galatians. In the second, I compare the vocabulary of Colossians and Ephesians to the vocabulary of Philippians. I also include in my analysis three epistles that are certainly not written by Paul (1 Peter, James, 1 Clement) and one pastoral (1 Timothy). 

These charts demonstrate that the difference in vocabulary between Colossians/Ephesians and the seven undisputed Paulines is negligible.   

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