Donald Guthrie’s Discussions of Pseudepigraphy and the New Testament

This post is a follow-up to my review yesterday of Donald Guthrie’s New Testament Introduction.  I received a complimentary review copy of this book from IVP Academic, just to get that out there.  My post here will be a bit rambling.

I was thinking of updating my review yesterday.  The thing is, if I were to update it, I would have to do so in three separate locations (WordPress, Blogger, and Amazon), and I did not feel up to that.  Moreover, I was thinking of all sorts of qualifications to my update (as it was swimming about in my head), and I did not want to open that can of worms.  My review was not perfect, I reasoned to myself, but it was good enough to leave it as is.

The update that I was thinking of writing concerned Guthrie’s view on pseudepigraphy.  Pseudepigraphy is attributing a written work to a person who did not actually write it.  Many call it forgery.  Guthrie, as I was relaying to you yesterday, was a conservative New Testament scholar, who essentially did not believe that the New Testament contains any psuedepigraphic works.  The works, for Guthrie, were written by the person who bears their names.  While many New Testament scholars would reject the idea that Paul wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and the Pastoral Epistles (I-II Timothy and Titus), Guthrie believes that Paul did write them.  Many scholars would say that the apostle Peter did not write I-II Peter—-definitely not II Peter!—-but Guthrie contends that Peter wrote both of them.

In my review yesterday, I was struggling with the question of whether Guthrie actually had a consistent, iron-clad methodology for identifying a work as pseudepigraphic.  His arguments were not that bad: certainly, liberal scholars would do well to wrestle with them.  It just seemed to me that Guthrie was reaching for whatever he could to support his predetermined conclusions.

My update would have been about this: Guthrie actually does try to compare and contrast the New Testament works that many scholars consider pseudepigraphic but that he believes are genuine, on the one hand, with ancient Jewish and Christian works that most likely are pseudepigraphic.  More than once in his book, he contrasts the New Testament works with the spurious III Corinthians, and sometimes “Paul’s” epistle to the Laodiceans.  Guthrie notes things in the New Testament that, according to him, are not true of many ancient pseudepigraphic works.  This is probably the closest that I saw him come to a consistent methodology.  I have by doubts that it is fool-proof, but it is somewhat methodological.

Here is a taste of some of this.  It is not a comprehensive list, and I may think of updates that I could add later on today or this week, but I most likely will not add them.

A.  According to Guthrie, III Corinthians contains internal indications that it is later in date.  The controversial New Testament works, by contrast, do not.  (Guthrie offers an explanation for passages in these New Testament works that scholars believe indicate a late date, contending that this is not necessarily the case.)

B.  According to Guthrie, Ephesians and Colossians criticize lying.  Guthrie does not believe that they would do so if they were forged works.  III Corinthians and Laodiceans, by contrast, do not condemn lying (though Guthrie notes that one mentions the truth of the Gospel).

C.  A point that Guthrie returns to continually is that Ephesians, Colossians, and the Pastorals have virtually universal support in patristic sources, in the sense that they were believed to have been written by Paul.  III Corinthians and Laodiceans, by contrast, do not pass this external criteria.  Guthrie states in an appendix that patristic sources had a low opinion of pseudepigraphy.

D.  On the one hand, Guthrie states that Ephesians is more similar to Paul’s genuine works (the works the vast majority of scholars accept as genuine) than is III Corinthians.  On the other hand, later in the book, he says that a successful forger would try to sound as much like Paul as he could.

E.  The Pastoral Epistles are three books: I-II Timothy and Titus.  Guthrie wonders why a forger would produce three books/pseudo-epistles rather than just one.  According to Guthrie, this is unparalleled in ancient pseudepigraphy.

F.  Guthrie believes that the apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation.  Unlike many pseudepigraphical works, Guthrie argues, it is attributed to John rather than to some distant figure in the past.  But was not the Apocalypse of Peter attributed to Peter and not some distant figure in the past, yet Guthrie does not deem the Apocalypse of Peter to be authentic?  Guthrie does not think that the two are in the same boat, since they are so different.  Guthrie does not address the significance of the Gospel of Thomas for this sort of discussion.

G.  Guthrie often appeals to a variety of factors to argue that a New Testament writing is genuine.  One can see Paul’s distinct voice, or Paul refers specifically to real people in the community.  Actually, this should not be sneezed at, since even liberal scholars appeal to such criteria in arguing for the authenticity of letters that they believe are genuine (i.e., Galatians, I Corinthians, etc.): it sounds like a real person, authentically addressing problems in a real community.  I was wondering to myself if there are pseudepigraphic works that can sound that realistic.  I decided to check out III Corinthians and the Epistle of the Laodiceans.  My impression is that these epistles are quite different from the epistles attributed to Paul in the New Testament.  They are not as specific about people in the community; they do appear to mention problems, but they are rather generic in doing so.  (On a side note, III Corinthians even presents Paul mentioning the virgin birth.  I know that’s not right!)

Evaluating the merits of Guthrie’s criteria would probably take a lot of work.  Can a pseudepigraphic work condemn lying?  I would not rule it out.  Can a pseudepigraphic work be realistic?  I am sure that I have read primary and secondary sources that are relevant to my questions, but I lack encyclopedic or Google-search recall, at the moment.

I want to add one more item that I found interesting, and it is tangentially related to the discussion above.  While Guthrie accepts the traditional ascriptions of the New Testament Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, he acknowledges that, in the texts of these documents themselves, there is no explicit naming or identification of the author; in form, they are anonymous.  Guthrie contrasts this with pseudepigraphic Christians writings, which actually do refer to the “author” (i.e., Peter) within the text itself.  I found this interesting, in light of the debate between Bart Ehrman and Tim McGrew that I heard on Unbelievable recently.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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