You (conveniently) forgot another option, Mr Baur

I have a (quasi-)monthly routine that makes sense to very few people.  For the majority of my working hours each month, I focus solely on my thesis research. At the end of this period the paper is submitted and then critiqued by my supervisors. During the interim between submission and critique, I will focus my time on something completely different, although it still requires research and writing. Often this means wrestling with thoughts and ideas that emerged during the thesis writing. Other times it means exploring something I consider to be quite difficult or controversial. Occasionally it means compiling notes and arguments for courses I will hopefully teach once I finish this program. This month has been an odd mixture of all these options. However, today I have been working on course notes for the Thessalonian Correspondence.

‘But wait a minute, Carl: one of the tags in this post is “Pastoral Epistles”; what does that have to do with notes for the Thessalonian Correspondence?’ Honestly: nothing; but researching criticisms against the latter from the always entertaining FC Baur led me to see something interesting about the former.  For those unaware, Baur is one of the leading minds behind New Testament criticism and the history of Christianity, and much of what he put into motion can still be seen at work today in modern criticism. Nearly axiomatic of Baur’s work is his divisions for the Pauline corpus, where he sees four undisputed letters (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians and Galatians), six dubious letters (Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians and Philemon), and three forgeries (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). If you want to see his arguments for these categories, check out volume 1 then volume 2 of his massive work on Paul. The impetus for this post comes from his arguments in 1.245-47.

Baur begins by noting the schematisation of canonical writings as offered by the church historian, Eusebius. (Why Baur didn’t use the one offered by Origen is certainly intriguing, but no matter). Essentially, Baur lifts the two categories of Eusebius–i.e. homologoumena (agreed upon) and antilegomena (not agreed upon, or contradictory to the norm)–and applies them to his divisions of Paul’s letters. For Baur, a chief test for authenticity (i.e. homologoumena) is unquestioned acceptance throughout history. The letters of Paul which pass this test are (conveniently) the ones mentioned in the ‘undisputed’ category above. By-passing the middle category of ‘dubious,’ Baur reveals his basic reasons for rejecting the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus)–all of which hang on one historical point: their exclusion from the Marcionite Canon.*

The Marcionite Canon is one of the first (if not the first) collection of New Testament writings, and this collection is believed to emerge from Marcion of Pontus c. 140 CE. Naturally, seeing that this canon is ostensibly the first collection of biblical writings, and because it contains other Pauline texts; certain questions and solutions must be considered for those writings not appearing in this particular canon. As Baur points out, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are three samples of texts not found in Marcion’s canon,** which prompts the question, ‘Why not?,’ to wit Baur provides three options or, solutions (see 1.247):

  1. the Pastoral Epistles were not written until after Marcion formed his canon, thus he would be justifiably ignorant of them
  2. the Pastoral Epistles were written prior to Marcion’s collection, but he was unaware of their existence, which suggests that they did not circulate as Pauline letters (otherwise, Marcion would know about them)***
  3. the Pastoral Epistles were written prior to Marcion’s collection, and Marcion did know them, but he considered them to be not from the hand of Paul, thus they were excluded from the Pauline corpus

However, there is a fourth option to consider that Baur conveniently overlooks: Marcion excluded the Pastoral Epistles from his canon not simply because he thought them to be from a hand other than Paul’s but because they theologically disagree with his own theological reading of Paul. After all, Marcion not only excluded the whole of the Old Testament for theological reasons but he also had no qualms about removing key passages from the undisputed letters of Paul for the same reason–i.e. they were in opposition to his theology. Moreover, Marcion’s decision to reject the Pastorals on theological grounds was not without precedent; Basilides and Tatian appear to have laid the foundation for this type of rejection. It would therefore seem that Marcion’s critique of Paul’s letters is not necessarily based on whether not Paul wrote them; instead, it appears to be based on theological ideas espoused within letters ostensibly written by Paul.

Baur’s conclusions about the Pastoral in general and their theological relationship to Marcion in particular reveal important clues for why he might have overlooked this fourth option. Baur maintains that the theology of the Pastorals is aimed directly at Marcionite gnosticism (1.249; cf. 2.100). This conclusion also necessarily rules out options 2 and 3, thus leaving option 1 as the only one that is viable. For Baur, based on his argument, the Pastorals have to be composed after Marcion and the establishment of Marcionite gnosticism. Naturally, a theological system needs time to develop and become problematic before a rebuttal to it can be given. Conveniently, this provides a composition period that accords well with Baur’s predetermined view that the Pastorals are not authentic Pauline letters (i.e. they are written later). If, however, Baur considered the possibility of the fourth option then his line of argument would not have been so easily and (quasi-)uncritically given. Moreover, Baur also overlooks the fact that the same early witnesses that attest to the authenticity of the undisputed letters are the same ones (and a few others) who attest to the authenticity of the Pastorals–a test of veracity that Baur stated to be crucial for these sorts of analyses.

* I should say that Baur has other reasons for rejecting the Pastoral Epistles, which can be found in volume 2, pages 98-105. My concern in this post is what he says in volume 1, page 247.
** Admittedly, the Marcionite Canon only contains 10 of the 13 letters attributed to Paul.
*** The troubles with this line of argument should be obvious.


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