Sunday, February 07, 2010

Jimmy Dunn on Paul's "Note" from Prison

I'm still (yes, still) reading Jimmy Dunn's Beginning from Jerusalem, and I was intrigued by his reference to an authentic note of Paul embedded in 2 Tim 4.9-18. Overall, Dunn regards the Pastoral Epistles (PE) as pseudonymous: "The Pastoral Epistles are most probably to be read as letters written in the spirit of Paul some twenty or thirty years later."

No sooner does Jimmy say this than he adds:

"But even so, they may incorporate earlier material from Paul or well-grounded traditions about Paul. In reference to Paul himself and his fate, the most interesting is 2 Timothy, particularly 2 Tim 4.9-18. The letter speaks of Paul's 'first defence', which he had had to face alone, and of his 'rescue from the lion's mouth' (4.16-17). This could suggest that there had been a first trial, which Paul had survived, though now he was facing a second, which could and probably would end in his death ... It may even be that we should see in 4.9-18 a note from Paul which he was able to have smuggled out of his final, more severe imprisonment".

Dunn then adds a footnote: "This suggestion first occurred to me when I read the note, of similar character, which William Tyndale managed to have smuggled out of his imprisonment; the note was framed and hung on the wall of Tyndale House, Cambridge".

Interesting theory. A number of scholars have proposed that 2 Timothy alone is authentic among the PE (J. Murphy-O'Connor) or that the PE more generally contain authentic Pauline fragments (P.N. Harrison). The question is whether the biographical remarks like those found in 2 Tim. 4.9-18 are authentic, or whether they were inserted to add a measure of realism (see discussion in T.L. Wilder, Pseudonymity, The New Testament, and Deception, pp. 222-27 at Google Books). In my mind, 4.9-18 really does sound like Paul, although I have to wonder why and who would incorporate an authentic letter into a Pseudepigraphical work (though they might not necessarily have had the word "Pseudepigraphal" in mind!). The somewhat non-Pauline nature of the language and the portrayal of Paul as a hero in the PE requires explanation, and I really do hope to one day explore the possibility of a Lucan connection to the PE as one possible solution.

See Stan Porter's response to Robert Wall on the issue of the authorship of the PE in a BBR article. A very good piece to read to get a heads-up on the debate.


theswain said...

Good idea on the possible Lucan or other disciple connection. If the letter were composed for Paul by an immediate disciple, and incorporates "Tell Timothy...." sort of stuff, that would be sufficient explanation of the Paul as hero presentation, the differences from Paul in language etc. Such a model might affect dating as well since one of the reasons that support a later dating is the presentation of Paul as hero. Interesting hypothesis, looking forward to your exploration of it.

Unknown said...


Do you share doubts about Pauline authorship of the Pastorals as well?

- Mike

Michael F. Bird said...

Pauline authorship is tricky. If everything were so easy as by Paul's own hand (Philemon) or with a scribe (Romans). But he had co-authors who I suspect had a big hand in some of his letters(Colossians) and maybe even wrote some letters on his behalf (Ephesians). The PE are funny because parts of them look solidly Pauline, in realism and style, but other parts do look a bit like they are a generation after Paul. I don't go for the fragmentary hypothesis of Harrison because I can't see why anyone would interpolate authentic fragments into what was, by perception if not intent, a forgery even if a well intended one. There is something else going on in the PE. S.G. Wilson argued for Lucan authorship of the PE and others have tilted their hat to the same theory. The biggest reservation I have is that I asked I. Howard Marshall about it. He's written commentaries on PE, Luke, and Acts, and he thinks the Greek is too different to be able to attribute Luke-Acts and PE to the same author. So, maybe, back to square one!

Unknown said...

Interesting. A little off topic, but who do you think penned Hebrews? I'm an undergraduate theology major in southern California and my professor and I were discussing this the other day. He was telling me that he believes it was a series of sermons that were collected and distributed to the church. What are your thoughts?

Btw, I love your blog. Keep it up!

Richard Fellows said...

There are good reasons to believe that 2 Tim 4:9-18 is just as unreliable as the rest of the Pastoral Epistles. I have just blogged on this here

Peter M. Head said...

Seems like somebody must have smuggled it off the wall and out of Tyndale House, since I can't find it on any of our walls.

Peter M. Head said...

I asked the librarian and she had never heard of it.

Patrick Egan said...


It seems to me that if someone had an oral or written tradition from Paul to hand and was interested in capturing the teaching of Paul in a letter, then there would be no problem with this person including a piece of authentica. I have in mind RJB's idea about 2 Peter being written shortly after Peter's death and thus containing authentic Petrine material in a piece that is trying to capture the teaching and voice of Peter. The same could be said for someone trying to write in the style of Paul.

Unknown said...

I have scratched my head over this passage one or two times. And I want to know (1) can we just drop vv. 19-22 off with integrity?; and (2) where exactly is Timothy?!

His travel itinerary back to Rome just seems a bit odd. He can get Mark, who seems associated with Antioch elsewhere in the NT (although that's tenuous here of course). More importantly, he's going to travel via Troas, but he's not apparently going to Ephesus, and hence across the Aegean and via Corinth. Presumably then he's going up to Macedonia and the Ignatian Way. But does that mean he's in Bithynia? Or central Galatia? (Would he know that Crescens was there then?) Why is he in Bithynia?

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