Paul and PseudepigraphyFrom the volume Paul and Pseudepigraphy (PAST 8) (which I briefly summarize and evaluate here), one essay stood out as particularly important for contemporary debates over Pauline style. Many recent studies have emphasized the possible input of co-authors and the possible freedom of amanuenses, but many scholars still ignore these possibilities and argue for pseudonymity based on style. The argument is common with Ephesians/Colossians, as well as the Pastorals, and also 2 Thessalonians.


A. Pitts’s essay in Paul and Pseudepigraphy attempts to add methodological—specifically, socio-linguistic—rigor to studies of Pauline style. Such rigor “makes many statistical studies of authorship in the Pauline corpus look naïve by comparison” (119). Sociolinguists commonly define style in terms of “orientation of language to a specific social context, including especially addressor-addressee relations (121). He combines ideas from Allan Bell, M. A. K. Halliday, and Douglas Biber to create a system for measuring “register shift,” which includes a large complex of factors (see chart on p. 128). His conclusion is that the register shift in Paul’s letters is “broadly consistent with the findings of studies examining style-shift in a single author with significant change in register” (145). Where the pastorals diverge, they do so together (148). He proposes his register-shift model has more explanatory power than the pseudonymity interpretation and should therefore be favored (152).

This essay stands alongside one by Jermo van Nes’s essay, which revisits P. N. Harrison’s Problem of the Pastoral Epistles and the criticisms laid at its methodology, statistics, and assumptions. Harrison’s work has been foundational for scholars to argue for pseudonymity based on style. From van Nes’s point of view (and he makes very good arguments), Harrison’s work is entirely suspect and the great following he still receives is unwarranted.

Interestingly, these two essays are juxtaposed to one arguing for pseudonymity of 2 Thessalonians on the basis of style and vocabulary. 2 Thessalonians is perhaps the worst document to argue for pseudonymity based on style, since it has two co-authors (Timothy and Silvanus) and was likely written by an amanuensis, since Paul signs the letter “with his own hand” (3:17).

If Paul and Pseudepigraphy makes any serious contribution, I think it is with the essys of Pitts and van Nes. These essays show that studies on style are shallow and unsophisticated. When a rigorous socio-linguistic method is applied to studying a Pauline letter, the “register-shift,” as Pitts calls it, is less than in the corpora of other authors that have been studied using similar methods, and the Pastorals shift together. That means that either one pseudepigrapher wrote all three (which is not a common belief), or that Paul wrote them all from a different life and social situation to a different type of audience. The latter hypothesis is what Pitts’ methodology explains, and does so well, using many variables to show how the register-shift occurs.

I would heartily recommend Pitts’ essay, and also van Nes’s, to anyone interested in Pauline style and pseudepigraphy.