What Would It Be Like for the Pastorals to Be Forgeries?

In my recent video about undesigned coincidences between 1 & 2 Timothy and Acts, Dr. Kipp Davis, a biblical scholar (and someone I like and respect despite our differences), commented. He wrote:

“In this video, @Testify demonstrates that he is just as clever as second-century Christian writers were in crafting their highly convincing forgeries. If you can connect a few of the same dots, Erik, then so could anyone familiar enough with early Christian writings, no?”

Now I get that a blog reply seems like overkill for a single comment. Initially, I was planning to just leave a comment, but then I thought, why not dive deeper into Kipp’s theory and see where it takes us? If you haven’t seen the video yet, be sure to give it a watch to get the full scoop.

Let’s really stop and think about think about Kipp’s scenario for a minute…

Picture this: Some Christian in the second century decides to pen a couple of letters in Paul’s name. Apparently he wanted to address some situations in regarding church polity, unwed widows and such in some place somewhere in the Roman empire, so he fakes a letter, pretending to be Paul writing to his spiritual son Timothy. I mean, he’s talked about in Acts and in other genuine Pauline letters like 1 Corinthians and Philippians, so why not? He makes sense.

So, to pull off this convincing con, he isn’t just going to mention obvious stuff everyone knew about Paul’s conversion, like his persecution of the church (1 Timothy 1:13-15). No, he’s going to really spin some notorious fibs. Despite knowing Timothy’s Greek dad, likely from a close reading of Acts (16:1), he conveniently leaves him out. Instead, in these letters where he seems to push some serious complementarian theology, he insists Timothy’s faith came from his mother’s side, in a highly patriarchal context. He even invents names for Timothy’s mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5). Crafty, right?

Then, reading very closely to a minor mention in Acts (19:22) he discovers that Timothy and Paul both know a guy named Erastus. (2 Tim 4:20) Ah, but of course, our cunning fabricator, after some Sherlock Holmes-style sleuthing through the scattered breadcrumbs of Romans (15:28, 16:23) and 1 Corinthians (16:1-4), deduces that Erastus hails from Corinth. So naturally, he decides to name-drop Corinth and casually mention leaving Erastus there. Or perhaps, in a stroke of sheer coincidence, he tosses in Corinth without a second thought and gets lucky.

Ah, and lo and behold, our devious mastermind, after poring over 1 Corinthians, catches wind of a potential snub towards Timothy from the Corinthian congregation. (16:10-11) Even though Paul conveniently forgets to spell out the details, our faker doesn’t let that minor inconvenience deter him. Oh no, he quickly puts two and two together: “Aha! Timothy must be the junior member of the squad. After all, he’s like a son to Paul.” So naturally, he decides to sprinkle in some casual mentions of youth and warnings about avoiding youthful indiscretions to jazz up his letter and give it that extra dash of authenticity. (1 Tim 4:12, 2 Tim 2:22)

But our sly forger doesn’t stop there. After meticulously dissecting Acts 13-14 and 16, he has a lightbulb moment: “Ah, Timothy must have been in the know about Paul’s trials and tribulations!” So what does he do? He casually name-drops places like Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra because, well, it looks darn impressive, doesn’t it? (2 Tim 3:10-11) Never mind if the recipients of these pastoral letters might have never even heard of Acts, so they might or might not be suitably impressed by these subtle nods. (A growing number of scholars tend to think Acts is just as late as the pastorals, so Kipp has to admit that it’s possible that the recipients of the pastorals never even read Acts.)

But of course, our sly manipulator decides to throw us a curveball. Forget about dropping Demetrius from Acts; he’s too obvious (Acts 19:24, 38). No, no, our faker throws caution to the wind and introduces Alexander the coppersmith instead as some source of major pain (2 Timothy 4:14, 1 Timothy 1:20). Whoever that is. Sure, there’s a fleeting mention of an Alexander in Acts 19:33, but he gets swiftly shut down by the Ephesians once they uncover his Jewish background. Demetrius is the main instigator. But because, you know, why follow the script when you can unleash your creative flair and keep everyone guessing? It’s Alexander, not Demetrius, because our faker clearly has a penchant for playing the long game of deception with just a dash of cunning wit.

I’m guessing Dr. Davis must be assuming that we already know that the pastorals are highly realistic forgeries. But if we already know that, then these apparent undesigned coincidences must be designed. But why think a thing like that?

Why exactly do scholars believe the pastorals are forgeries? Let’s pause for a moment and really think about this…One of their main gripes is that these letters lack Paul’s vocabulary and style, and perhaps even more damning, they seem to contradict his theology and the chronology of his life. (Personally, I think many of those points are vastly overblown, as I spell out in my longer response to Dr. Dan McClellan here.)

So, here’s the kicker: we’re expected to buy into the idea that this ancient con artist was an absolute genius, effortlessly pulling off intricate scams by meticulously studying Acts and Paul’s other letters to sprinkle in these sneaky interlocking details. But when it comes to the author of 1st and 2nd Timothy, suddenly they can’t be bothered to imitate Paul’s writing style, vocabulary, or theology? Seriously?

On one hand, we’re led to believe that this writer is meticulously studying Paul’s letters and Acts, cleverly dropping subtle references left and right that sound believable, to a group of people who may or may not have even read the book of Acts. Yet, on the other hand, they seem utterly unconcerned with sounding enough like Paul or keeping their theological story at least a little more in line with Paul while supposedly correcting him, or worse, he’s sloppily contradicting known chronology about Paul’s life! What kind of clever hoaxer is that?

This doesn’t remotely paint a consistent picture of the author! Surely, Kipp believes that Paul and Timothy were real people, and that Timothy was Paul’s spiritual son. So why not consider the possibility that Paul actually wrote Timothy a couple of letters? We’re not even discussing a miracle here!

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