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A Deliberation on the differences between the theology of Paul and that of Deutro-Pauline Epistles :With special reference to Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians


A Deliberation on the  differences between the theology of Paul and that of Deutro-Pauline Epistles

Scholarly debate around the authorship of letters that tradition accorded to Pauline authorship has dominated New Testament studies for a considerable time. Such debates span back to the eighteenth century (Johnson 1986:255). Out of the fourteen (14) letters that were believed to have been written by Paul or referred to as Corpus Paulinum, only seven (7) receive scholarly consensus as to being genuinely authored by Paul; with the book of Hebrews suffering the earliest casualty followed by the Pastoral epistles. The other seven (7) are classified as Deutero-Pauline letters or letters constituting secondary Paulinism. The criteria that differentiates the two bodies of literature is twofold, that is, vocabulary and style of writing on one hand, and theology of these letters on the other. This paper will limit itself to the discussion of the theological variations of these two bodies of literature. Further, this discussion will look at the Deutro-Pauline epistles in a narrow sense in that we will limit the discussion to the theology of Colossians, Ephesians and 2 Thessalonians.

Before we delve into the discussion outlined above, this paper would like to start by defining and briefly examining the concept of pseudonymity and pseudepigraphy which gives rise to the so-called Deutero-Pauline epistles. These two terms “denote the practice of ascribing written works to someone other than the author- that is, the works in question are falsely (pseud-) named (onoma, “name” ) or attributed (epigraphos, “superscription”) “ (Evans & Porter 2000:857). Pseudonymity can be traced back to antiquity and evidence abounds of this practice. The practice “goes back to the first century” (Marshall, Travis & Paul 2002:35).

There were various reasons that motivated this practice in antiquity. With regard to Paul, there are two possibilities as to how the so-called Deutero-Pauline letters came into being as espoused by Marshall et al (2002:35-6). Paul could have shared authorship with others or the letters while not directly authored by Paul, were based on “Pauline material” and this material was “adapted” by one or more of Paul’s disciples (possibly after Paul’s death in mid AD60s) or Pauline school (Johnson 1986:255) who wanted to continue his legacy. In both instance, the end result will be lack of congruency in theology and vocabulary style of these letters with the “genuine” Pauline letters. Of course there will be both similarities and differences between the two bodies of literature. Thus viewed from the context of antiquity, the pseudepigraphy entails no deceit at all, hence while the Deutro-Pauline epistles were not written by him, they are still legitimate Christian documents.

Our analysis of the theology of these two bodies of literature entails what Johnson (1986:255-256) calls “consistency in content… usually measured by certain standard categories, including view of the law, eschatology, and Christology”. Thus this paper’s argumentation will be centred on the following issues, that is, Parousia, Ecclesiology, false teachings, Christology and ethics, among other issues. Paul addresses these issues in the “genuine” Pauline letters but the emphasis and development of the arguments seems to vary, hence the attribution of these letters to what is generally referred to as “secondary Paulinism”. We will look at these issues in detail now.

We will resume this analysis with a look at the issue of Parousia. We will use the terms Parousia and eschatology interchangeably in this paper. Martin & Davids (1997:856) define this term as “a quasi-technical term usually used with reference to the future coming of Jesus Christ in glory at the end of the world as the consummation of the saving actions of God and as the culmination of the eschatological process.” Looking at 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians, scholars allege the existence of some variance in the way the subject is handled in these two letters. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul seems to be talking about an “imminent” Parousia. There is so much urgency in his tone as if it will happen in the immediate future. Marshall et al (2002:70) contend that the first letter “includes a greater stress on the nearness of parousia in 1 Thess. (1:10; 4:17…)…”. This is not the same story in the alleged second letter to the same community.

As already hinted above, 2 Thessalonians, the sense of urgency regarding the Parousia is not evident, if not entirely absent (cf 2 Thess. 2v3). Paul gives an eschatological programme or timetable which seems to make Parousia (there details of things that must happen first before Parousia obtains). According to the writer, three things must happen before the Parousia: the appearance of the rebel (2 Thess 2v3ff); apostasy or lawlessness where people are free to do whatever they want (2 Thess 2v7ff), among other things. From these readings, it seems quite evident that the idea of imminence and that of surprise seem to be gone. Such variance seems to undermine the traditional view of common authorship of these two letters because of these huge differences in theological emphasis.

In the other Deutero-Pauline letters, Paul does not continue the issue of imminence as well. He writes about a realised eschatology and it “destroys the tension between the “already” and “not yet” typical of Paul” (for example Johnson 1986:358). His argument seems to suggest that the Christians at Colossae and others world-over, have already experienced what will happen in the future (Col 1v13). Christians believed in deliverance from the bondage of sin in the future but the writer of Colossians argued that Christ had already delivered us from sin. Further, the Christian has also experienced resurrection already. They do not have to wait for it in the future. They have experienced their Parousia in the here and now through baptism (Col 2v12, Eph 2v6). This is attested to by M. Bouttier as quoted by Martin and Davids (1986:229) that “… salvation, which in Paul has an eschatological character, appears as already achieved in Ephesians”. Thus Parousia is no longer futuristic but seems realised already.  Therefore baptism has found new meaning in that it is interpreted to represent future resurrection. Carson, Moo & Morris (1992:355) however, feel this can be explained away in view of the “gnostic infrastructure” of the time.

The second key theological element of variation between ‘genuine’ Pauline letters and the Deutero-Pauline letters is their treatment of the subject of ecclesiology. In the former, the church is viewed as a local assembly. The Deutro-Pauline letters, Colossians and Ephesians in particular, present an advanced (in terms of its development) doctrine of ecclesiology which betrays a post Pauline period. One way of illustrating this is to look at the headship of Christ. In genuine Pauline letters Christ is the head of man (1 Cor 11v3) and this argument is used in discussing the relationship between men and women in relation to authority. In Deutero-Pauline letters, the argument gains significant advancement: Christ is no longer the head of men but he is now the head of the body and more significantly, that of the church (cf Col 1v18, Eph 1v22-23; Col 2v17, 19 and Eph 4v15).

Furthermore, the foundation of the church is another significant theological discussion contained in the synoptic epistles of Colossians and Ephesians. The teaching that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ as the cornerstone of the church (cf Eph 2v20ff) seems to be post Pauline in nature: it seems to provide a shift from 1 Cor 3v11 (Johnson 1986:371), where Christ is the foundation. This form of ecclesiology is deemed to belong outside the teaching and ministry time of Paul. It represents developed ecclesiology that did not presumably exist during Paul’s time.

Further, Pauline epistles treat the church as a local assembly (cf 1 Thess 1v1, Gal 1v2b) while the Deutro-Pauline letters view the church not a local assembly but as a universal entity (Carson et al 1992:307) These thoughts are echoed by Marshall et al (2002:159) when he notes (in particular reference to Colossians) that, “whereas in earlier letters the church is likened to a body, here the imagery is developed by reference to Christ as the head (1:18).” Further, the way the church is described suits not a Pauline period but is “typical of early Catholicism, the post-apostolic type of theology: the church was regarded as an institution dispensing salvation…” (:169).

While Paul addresses false teachings in what are called ‘genuine’ Pauline letters, the nature of the false teaching he addresses in the Deutero-Pauline letters seems to be different and to belong to a different era outside that of Paul. It seems the Deutro-Pauline letters are wrestling with the problem of Gnosticism and its various formations. It seems like libertinism and Docetism were the main expressions of Gnosticism addressed by these Deutro-Pauline letters. Libertinism expressed itself in the refusal to work among the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 3v10-13). This teaching taught people not to be worried by earthily things and hence they became careless in their livelihoods and lived disorderly lives as is witnessed here.

Colossians and Ephesians seem to tackle Docetism in its full throttle. According to Martin & Davis (1997:306), “‘Docetic’ derives from the Greek verb dokein (‘seem, appear’)”. This teaching is a denial of the humanity of Christ and therefore the incarnation process. It suggests Jesus was not human but he appeared to be. He was “devoid of flesh-and-blood reality” (:306). Martin (1978:215) asserts concerning the Gnostics of Colossae that they “…they did not only demote Jesus Christ from his pinnacle as God’s image and Son; they seem to have doubted the reality of his humanity also”.  These two epistles categorically assert not only the humanity of Christ but his divinity also (Col 2v9, 2v15). Such theological problems do not seem to exist during Paul’s time and hence they are not addressed in the ‘genuine’ Pauline epistles.

Further, ethics is a further theological subject of contestation in these letters. This paper will look at how ethics are presented in both the ‘genuine’ Pauline letters and the Deutero-Pauline ones.  In Deutro-Pauline we find normative ethics as compared to dynamical ethics in ‘genuine’ Pauline letters. There is a huge difference between the two. Normative ethics have to do with laid down norms like laws which govern masters and servants, husbands and wives, children and parents (Eph 4v17-5v20; Col 3v18-4v15 and Eph 5v21-6v2). On the other hand, the theological / dynamic ethics are not laid down rules. They are spiritually-oriented; they follow as a natural consequence of one’s belonging to Christ. Proponents of this view argue, as noted by Johnson (1986:258), that the ethics in the Deutro-Pauline epistles is “stereotypical” in nature and marks the “routinization of charisma” as reflect in the “table of household ethics” as opposed to traditionally “eschatological” nature of genuine Pauline ethics.  Thus this wide chasm on ethics is theologically irreconcilable hence the argument against common authorship.

Finally, one would like to highlight the Christology of the Deutro-Pauline letters in comparison with the ‘genuine’ Pauline letters. Marshall et al (2002:159) notes that “the type of Christology in 1:15-20 is new” and unique to Colossians and nowhere coherent with any of Paul’s genuine letters. Further, it is evident when one looks especially at Colossians and Ephesians that “certain acts which are attributed to God in other epistles are attributed to Christ in this… Ephesians 2:16… Colossians 1:20, 2:13-14; and secondly Ephesians 4:11… as compared with 1 Corinthians 12:28” (Guthrie, 1990:507).  Related to that is the constant formula used in these epistles: “in Christ” (:507). This type of Christology is a clear departure from Paul’s theology in his other letters.

This paper has tried to highlight some theological differences between ‘genuine’ Pauline letters and the Deutero-Pauline letters. While the paper articulated the differences in terms of theology between the undoubted and doubted letters, it does acknowledge the arguments of scholars who argue for uniform or common authorship who see these theological variations and other issues like writing style and vocabulary as issues that can be easily be reconciled. This is the position taken by Johnson (1986:256) that “the complexity of the composition process within the undoubted letters” is yet to be satisfactorily addressed. Further, this paper would like to emphasise in conclusion (as noted earlier) that pseudepigraphy was not meant to deceive the hearers: “… there was no intention to of deceiving his readers. The author (s) is faithfully representing the apostle and adapting his teaching to the present situation in so self-conscious a way that he can claim Paul’s name…” (Martin 1978:230).



Reference List
Carson D A, Moo D J & Morris L 1992. An Introduction to the New Testament. Leicester: Apollos.
Evans C A & Porter S E (eds) 2000. Dictionary of New Testament Background. Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Guthrie, D 1990. New Testament Introduction. Revised Edition. Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Johnson, L T 1986. The Writings of the New Testament. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Martin R P & Davids P H (eds) 1997. Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments. Illinois: InterVarsity Press.
Marshall, I W; Travis, S & Paul, I 2002. Exploring the New Testament- A Guide to the Letters and Revelation. Volume 2. Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Martin, R P 1978. New Testament Foundations- A Guide for Christian Students: Volume 2. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
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