exerpt – The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul

Deconstructing Paul
A Short Introduction to What Follows

Robert M. PriceThe Perils of Pauline Studies

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, it is a strange time for Pauline studies. After seemingly having run out of other ideas to beat to death, the academy has ventured into new territory. One might even say that, on analogy with the intrepid Netherlanders of old, Pauline scholars have created new territory to settle. A visit to the seminary book store or the religion aisle at Barnes & Noble will acquaint the reader with books arguing that Paul was a culture critic of Hellenistic Judaism, that he was a Jew and remained a Jew, that he wrote against U.S. foreign policy, and so on. Indeed, more than ever, he seems like a new Oracle of Delphi whose equivocal utterances may be read as conveying whatever message one most wants to hear. Like the infamous “historical Jesus,” Paul has become a reflection of the scholars studying him.

Part of the reason for this state of affairs is that Jesus has recently been unavailable for these uses. As scholars have become more skeptical about recovering the goods on the historical Jesus (as witness the Jesus Seminar’s claim that only 18 percent of the sayings database was reliable), the less plausible it has seemed to make him the poster boy for green politics, feminism, whatever. Granted, this hasn’t stopped a number of scholars who still write books manufacturing and manicuring Jesus to look like them, since the less evidence there is, the more room is left for speculation; but some have retreated to Paul instead. Perhaps he can be the bulwark theologians once thought they had in Jesus. But great ironies lie this way.

First, the closer scrutiny the Pauline texts receive, the clearer it becomes (and by now it seems mighty clear indeed) that the epistles present us with many of the same challenges the Gospels did. They appear to be filled with the same variety of redactional seams, non-sequiturs, and double-audience rhetorical tricks we find in the Gospels. In short, the historical Jesus problem replicates itself in the case of Paul. The epistles reveal themselves to the discerning reader to have exactly the same sort of limitations as the Gospels do: both are collections of fragments and pericopae contributed and fabricated by authors and communities of very different theological leanings. Both present barriers to the access of the individuals under whose names they appear, not open doors.

Confronting the Protestant Christ

Second, scholars are more reluctant to recognize the data surrounding Paul and their implications. In short, Protestants of whatever vestigial degree have long ago elevated Paul over Jesus as their dogmatic master. Conservative evangelical Edward J. Carnell1 was forthright about this: the epistles interpret or, in other words, trump the Gospels, and Romans and Galatians interpret (or trump) all the other epistles. I find a certain analogy from religious history helpful at this point. In esoteric Ismail’i Islam,2 there is a belief that Allah sends pairs of incarnations of himself. First comes the “proclaimer” who gives as much of the gospel to the masses as they can understand: the milk, not meat. Shortly after him the “foundation” arrives, the master of esoteric meaning of what was preached by the proclaimer, truth that may sound quite strange to the run-of-the-mill believer and may indeed be rejected by them as heresy. But this is the meat. Rudolf Bultmann3 understood the Gospel of John to be cognizant of something like this when it has Jesus predict the advent of the paraclete who will unveil new truths to the disciples, for which they were not yet ready during Jesus’s earthly sojourn. The Beloved Disciple implicitly filled the role of the paraclete, and this is why the Gospel of John differs so much as to content and style from the Synoptics. It embodies the advanced course provided by the paraclete. Some Marcionites believed Paul was the paraclete, seeing in him the definitive interpreter of Jesus Christ’s significance. Marcionites liked to depict Jesus sitting on a central throne with Paul to his right hand and Marcion to his left, and I would say that Protestants believe that too. Jesus gets reduced to “the Christ event,” the naked and mute act of God which means nothing until some prophetic voice (Paul’s) comes along to tell us what it means.

In the wake of the Protestant Reformation, the so-called magisterial reformers made Paul their figurehead and the source of their theology. It is he, not Jesus, who speaks in terms of justification by faith. It is Jesus who threatens to unravel the whole thing by enumerating commandments of the Torah and telling inquirers, “Do this and you will live.” Ahem, enough of that, if you please! On the other hand, it is the Anabaptist Hutterites, Amish, and Mennonites who take their marching orders from Jesus: turn the other cheek, do not swear oaths. Three centuries later, liberal Protestants of the Harnack stripe discarded Paul for Jesus. “Paul” meant Protestant orthodoxy. And it was the ostensible historical Jesus they sought as a substitute for him, a Jesus who could be assumed to have preached a kind of Reform Judaism. This was a relief: no more Nicene Creed, no more worship of Christ, no more theology at all, just individual piety and the social gospel. Liberals wanted the religion of Jesus, the one he himself practiced, and no longer the religion about Jesus. They held Paul responsible for the changeover from one to the other. They dubbed Paul the “second founder of Christianity.”4

Post World War I neo-orthodox theology went back to Reformation-era Paulinism, relieved at the seeming failure of the historical Jesus enterprise. As Albert Schweitzer showed, most of the historical Jesus models proposed by scholars reflected only their own biases. Schweitzer felt keenly Jesus’s moral demands and famously obeyed them by founding a hospital in French Equatorial Africa but did not feel obliged to agree with Jesus theologically. He was able to see Jesus preaching a message of apocalypticism that sounded fanatical to modern ears, his own included, but categorized it as somewhat irrelevant theology. The neo-orthodox seized the distinction and reinterpreted the apocalyptic discourse of Schweitzer’s Jesus in a different key. Jesus had come to bring, not the literal end of the world, but the end of the Jewish dispensation, to be followed by the Christian Church, not by the sky-descending kingdom of God. It was a bit of a shell game, but it provided passage back from Jesus to Paul. Indeed, it was surprising to see theologians willing to admit that Jesus had been wrong about the end of the world. But then, that only meant one could more easily put Jesus on the shelf and have recourse to Paul as one’s chief theological oracle.

One receives the impression that Protestants, however liberal, have retreated from the perimeter wall—Jesus Christ—and taken refuge in the castle keep—namely Paul. The same moves made in the case of Jesus (refitting him as a post-colonialist, a feminist, an Orthodox Jew, and a green activist) have been made in the case of Paul. After this, there is nowhere to run. That is why scholars, so critical about the historical Jesus, have proven reluctant to accept significant higher criticism of the Pauline epistles. Just as an earlier generation of theological moderates surrendered John as unhistorical but retained the Synoptics for their picture of the historical­ Jesus, so Pauline scholars have cut off the Pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) and relegated Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians to deutero-canonical status, products of the “Pauline school.” Having done so, they nevertheless insist on the inviolable Pauline corpus containing the magic number seven: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Ferdinand C. Baur already debunked all but the first four as spurious, but even Bultmann dared not follow Baur that far. Bultmann needed enough of Paul’s writings to build a theology on. Is the will to believe corrupting scientific criticism—again? I think so.

Paul and Sisyphus

I have been privileged to study with some outstanding New Testament scholars, including J. Ramsey Michaels, Andrew T. Lincoln, Gordon D. Fee, David M. Scholer, Donald Juel, Helmut Koester, Howard Clark Kee, Darrell J. Doughty, William Stroker, and Kalyan Dey. Lucky for me, they expressed a wide range of viewpoints, and all were seemingly omniscient. I recall Gordon Fee5 bringing 2 Corinthians to life almost as if he were channeling the writer! I remember how he would hoist himself from one mighty peak of 1 Corinthians to the next, trying to demonstrate what one passage had to do with another, how text B was an answer to the question brought up in text A. There must have been some connection, but what was it? But then I recall several years later listening as Darrell Doughty pointed out that such reasoning was essentially harmonization, the kind of thing critics had long since stopped doing in the case of the Gospels. When we notice that a chapter of the Gospels is jumping from one topic to the next with no real connection except broad topics or catchwords, we learn to read this as a collection of originally separate sayings, stories, and aphorisms and do not insist that a single individual said all these things, much less that he did it in just that order and on that occasion. However, when reading the epistles, we see the same sort of rough edges and we want to make sense of them as moments of a single, spontaneous discourse set to paper. What is stopping us from recognizing, precisely on the basis of such phenomena, that we have been barking up the wrong tree? We have been harmonizing instead of exegeting. Doughty commented that virtually all commentaries on the epistles, including Fee’s erudite tome on 1 Corinthians, are largely exercises in harmonization: What would the text have to mean if it were a unitary discourse? But it isn’t one, and therefore such an approach bids us construct elaborate theological latticeworks, giving every verse a place in the structure that makes a synthetic whole much greater than its parts.

Doughty and I began to look into the neglected work of the Dutch Radical Critics who denied that the historical Paul had written any of the letters ascribed to him. On second thought, for instance, Walter Schmithals’s brilliant book Gnosticism in Corinth explains many puzzles in the first letter to the Corinthians by reference to Gnostic trends that are attested only for the second century. It would make much more sense if he had placed 1 Corinthians in the second century. I began to weigh Willem van Manen’s claim that the epistles made no lasting impact on any of the church communities to which they were ostensibly sent. From this, Van Manen inferred that the letters had not in fact been written or sent within the lifetime of the historical Paul but later. The Pauline letters were the favorites of Gnostics, Encratites, and Marcionites. Tertullian called Paul “the apostle of Marcion and the apostle of the heretics,” and indeed it was Gnostics and Marcionites who wrote the first commentaries on the Pauline epistles and on the Gospel of John. Elaine Pagels’s book The Gnostic Paul6 demonstrated how much sense hitherto strange Pauline texts made when inserted into a Gnostic framework. By contrast, one looks in vain for any real Pauline influence on second-century writers. I began to frame a most unaccustomed question: What if there were no Pauline communities, no Paulinists, until the late first and early second centuries?­ The earliest Pauline Christians we know of were Marcionites and Gnostics. We have always inferred the existence of a Pauline wing of the early church from reading the epistles as products of the mid-first century. But what if their narrator was not the same as their author? What if their narratees were not the same as their actual readers? The Corinthians, for instance, may have been fictive characters like the Pharisees and the disciples whom Jesus addresses in the Gospels. Jesus is really talking over their heads to the reader.7 So is Paul in the epistles, or so I am beginning to think. Just as in the Gospels, Jesus is really dispensing the views of the evangelists and other early Christians, so why not admit that the writers of these epistles were not Paul?

The deeper I have penetrated into the work of the Dutch Radicals and other critics, the more humbled I have become in finding the inevitable; what I thought were new insights I had found were discoveries already elaborated on by the old critics. It was a comfort, a corroboration of sorts, but I couldn’t help feeling a certain sense of futility and frustration. The great Pauline scholar Winsome Munro, who nominated me for the Westar Institute Paul Seminar, told me once after looking at some of the work of Doughty, myself, and a couple of others, that she had begun to wonder whether we were not merely reinventing the wheel. That’s okay. It’s necessary since most people seem to have forgotten the wheel and its use. As I view it, the field of Pauline studies has been largely moribund for many years. It is high time we extricate ourselves from the Sargasso Sea of traditionalism and reclaim what our critical forebears achieved.

The Colossus of Tarsus

Now, as to the plan of the present book, the figure of the Apostle Paul looms, dwarfs everything, and towers over all. It is not easy to take it all in with a single glance. We must approach the subject of our study from various angles. Accordingly, I have tried to cover sections of the great figure in individual studies in these chapters.

Eventually I dropped out of the Paul Seminar because I didn’t care for the direction it was taking. Instead I joined the Acts Seminar, where I felt more at home. Arthur J. Dewey, Chris Shea, Joseph B. Tyson, Dennis Smith, Richard I. Pervo, Gerd Lüdemann and others all agreed that Acts was pretty much an historical novel, much like the so-called Apocryphal Acts, and that it was written in the second century. There is virtually no historical value to it, but it is rich in edifying propaganda, its author having extensively rewritten sources that seem to include Homer, Virgil, Euripides, Josephus, and the Septuagint, creating a revisionist version of early Christianity in the golden age of its origin. Papering over bitter schisms and disputes known to us from the Pauline letters, Acts is a catholicizing document that wants to reconcile, as Baur thought, two factions: the Jewish-Torah Christians led by Peter and the Law-free gentile and Hellenistic Jewish believers led by Paul. It may be that Acts seeks to reconcile the Catholics who wanted to retain the Old Testament, symbolized by Peter, with the Marcionites who wanted to cut it loose and were symbolized by Paul. In either case, Acts draws extensive and contrived parallels between its two chief heroes, showing that the partisans of one can hardly discount the divine imprimatur on the other. Peter and Paul both raise someone from the dead (Acts 9:36-40; 20:9-12); heal a paralytic (3:1-8; 14:8-10); heal by extraordinary, magical means (5:15; 19:11-12); vanquish a magician (8:18-23; 13:6-11); and miraculously escape prison (12:6-10; 16:25-26). Paul is made over into a clone of Peter, keeping the Torah and circumcising the occasional convert, while Peter is given Paul’s traditional role as the pioneer preacher to the gentiles, arguing that they needn’t be circumcised or keep the Torah.8

In short, we should not look optimistically at Acts as a source for reconstructing the historical Paul. In “The Legend of Paul’s Conversion,” I show the probable literary sources of Luke’s stories of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Either the author of Acts did not know how Paul came to Christianity or thought the facts too mundane, replacing them with something much more exciting.

The second chapter introduces and summarizes the research that led scholars to abandon some or all of the Pauline letters as spurious. This means that the quest for the historical Paul becomes more difficult: neither Acts nor the epistles will be much help to us. On the other hand, the epistles are fascinating and important in their own right. Where did we get them? Who preserved them, collected them, and perhaps edited them? How sure can we be that we have what their original authors wrote? Chapter two deals with these issues.

Scholars are agreed that there was at least a hiatus during most of the second century when the Pauline epistles were ignored or suppressed by the early Catholic Church because of their appeal to heretics or because they were actually heretical in character. I deal with that question a bit in chapter 3 but return to it in greater detail in chapter 4, where I review the Acts and Apocalypses of Paul current in the second century, asking who did and didn’t quote the epistles and why.

Chapter 5 sets aside the letters for a moment to ask after the apostles. What did it mean to be an apostle? Exactly what was at stake when some affirmed that Paul was an apostle and others denied it? Did the historical Paul have disputes over such matters? Was it perhaps a later debate that was unknown in the first century?­ I examine the most important of the apocryphal Acts, the Acts of Paul, Peter, Andrew, and Thomas, together with their mythic or novelistic sources. We will see how originally wide-open and flexible the category of wandering preachers was until it was eventually shrunk down to twelve men who functioned as guarantors for an official Jesus for a single faction of Christians. Such a dispute can never have taken place in the lifetime of the historical Paul.

In chapter 6, I examine an additional strategy employed by the Catholic Church to suppress Paul’s heretical legacy. Not only did they discourage the use of the Pauline writings, they began to squeeze him out of the history of the founding of the churches, crediting his accomplishments to other, safer apostolic names. Walter­ Bauer, in his Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, called attention to the mysterious replacement of Paul by John, son of Zebedee, as the founder of the Ephesian church.9 I examine that theory, comparing legends attached variously to Paul or John in Ephesus. This anti-Pauline turf war wound up prompting a good bit of discussion in the Pauline epistles, whose authors stoutly defended Paul’s historic role against others who retroactively claimed glory for themselves.

The Lion of Pontus

Chapter 7 approaches the identity of the historical Paul from a different angle to propose, with Hermann Detering,10 that Paul was actually the same man remembered as Simon Magus, which may be why both men are said to have been the father of all heresy. There were other historical Pauls, namely the writers of the epistles. Marcion was one of these, having authored at least portions of Galatians and Ephesians and perhaps more. He must have used extant Simonian writings or at least teachings, modifying them in his own more socially conservative direction.

The remaining chapters of The Amazing Colossal Apostle venture analyses of each of the canonical Pauline epistles. I seek to distinguish various earlier and later layers within the texts, corresponding to Simonian, Marcionite, and early Catholic elements, plus interpolations from various sources. Interesting surprises await!

As I have pursued this research over many years, I have reached more and more radical and far-reaching conclusions. I began with fairly mainstream critical assumptions, and as the years passed I learned to appreciate, more and more, what Paul de Man called the dialectic of blindness and insight.11 I realized that there were many big things I could never see until I had seen all of the little ones first. Small keys began to open bigger doors to larger rooms within. I began to have bigger and bigger suspicions, the larger ones made possible by the smaller ones. I have preserved this progression in the following chapters. Early on, I don’t disabuse readers of their assumptions but begin by assuming that the epistles are substantially Pauline until we find reason to believe differently. Once we do, the puzzle pieces start fitting into unsuspected, much broader patterns. At first, my arguments may seem to strain at a gnat, whereas later on I will be swallowing whole camels or squeezing them through the eye of a needle. I will seem more conservative in both assumptions and conclusions in the beginning, partly because I was more conservative when I did my initial research, but equally because I know I must meet you readers where you are if I hope to convince you to come with me to where I end up. Feel free to jump off the train at any point if you are afraid we might crash. Especially when the train runs out of track.

1. Edward John Carnell, The Case for Orthodox Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1959), 57-58.

2. Sami Nasib Makarem, The Doctrine of the Ismailis (Beirut: Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, 1972), chapter 3, “Prophethood and Imamate,” 35-47.

3. Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, trans. George R. Beasley-Murray, et al. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 566-67.

4. William Wrede, Paul, trans. Edward Lummis (London: Philip Green, 1907), 179: “It follows then conclusively from all this that Paul is to be regarded as the second founder of Christianity.”

5. Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament Series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987).

6. Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975).

7. Robert M. Fowler, Let the Reader Understand: Reader-Response Criticism and the Gospel of Mark (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1991).

8. Ferdinand Christian Baur, Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ: His Life and Works, His Epistles and Teachings, trans. Allan Menzies, 2 vols. (1873; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), 1:5-11.

9. Walter Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, eds. Robert Kraft and Gerhard Krodel, trans. Paul J. Achtemeier, et al. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971).

10. Hermann Detering, “The Falsified Paul: Early Christianity in the Twilight,” trans. Darrell J. Doughty, Journal of Higher Criticism 10 (Fall 2003).

11. Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, Theory and History of Literature Series, 2d. ed. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), chap. 7, “The Rhetoric of Blindness: Jacques Derrida’s Reading of Rousseau,” 102-41.

Chapter 3
The Evolution of the Pauline Canon


When considering the letters ascribed to the Apostle Paul, we are accustomed to speaking of justification. When we seek to tunnel beneath the theological ground we stand on, to deconstruct the notion of Pauline theological authority (that is, to take it apart and find out better how it works), we might better speak of reification, that process whereby a thing contrived by human beings like ourselves comes to assume an aura of inviolable sacredness, an autonomous reality, a wholeness greater than the sum of its parts. The Sabbath is reified when we begin to forget that it was made for men and women, not the other way around. The biblical canon is a classic case of reification. Most students and laypersons are both surprised and dismayed to discover that the Bible’s contents are not self-evident, that a choice between accepting or rejecting certain writings was made at all, and this by mere mortals like themselves at a particular time in history. How can the eternal Word of God be subjected to such things?

The canon of holy scripture is like the holy place in the temple at Jerusalem: it is shielded from prying mortal eyes by a veil of sanctity. One is curious to peer inside yet fearful of being disappointed should one dare steal a glimpse like the profane usurper Titus who was startled to find an empty chamber. Or, worse yet, will one find a stammering man behind the curtain at the controls of a hidden booth as in The Wizard of Oz?

If the biblical canon is the holy place, perhaps the Pauline corpus can be likened to the Holy of Holies; for even among those for whom the outer veil has long ago been rent, this inner zone of canonicity retains its numinous inviolability. For Christian scholars, whether apologists or supposed critics, the Pauline epistles are like the metaphysical Presence of traditional ontotheology.1 We are reluctant to have someone come along and play Jacques Derrida’s2 trick of showing us where the seams and junctures are.

Yet the game is afoot already, and profane feet have trodden the sacred courts. For the better part of a century, scholars have crossed swords, or at least pens (which are mightier), over the question of the collected Pauline epistles: who first collected them, when, where, and why? It will be our task to sift through a pile of these speculations, which, as Walter Schmithals3 reminds us, is all such reconstructions can ever be. In the process, we may feel like we are sitting in the poorly-lit attic, exploring the confusing souvenirs of our ancestors as they emerge, one by one, from a neglected old steamer trunk. Let’s get started.

Four approaches

I believe we can distinguish four clear lines of thought in approaching the question before us, and it will be useful to list our theories according to the distance they posit between Paul’s career and his epistolary collection. Admittedly, this taxonomy violates the chronology of the history of scholarship in favor of a different sort of chronology. I believe little will be lost, however, as each major group of theories seems to have evolved autonomously. Though one may have arisen in reaction to another, that is seldom crucial to the logic of each theory. When it is important, it will be easy enough to note the fact. Within each family of theories, I will trace historical development. Furthermore, by arranging the theories in a timeline from minimal to maximal intervals between the apostle and the collection, we may come to see something important about the theories, their tendencies, and motives.

“Pauline Testament” theories

The first type of collection theory to consider may be called the “Pauline Testament” approach. Here there is virtually no interval at all between the apostle and the collection of his writings; as these scholars posit it, Paul himself collected them. The earliest exponent of this theory appears to be R. L. Archer,4 who reasoned that Paul had kept copies of his epistles and that sometime after his death the Christians who inherited them hit upon the scheme of publishing them. They derived this notion from reading Seneca, a great publisher of collected letters. While Seneca frowned upon publication of strictly personal letters, Cicero, as is well known, found value in publishing even personal correspondence. Paul’s posthumous admirers agreed with Cicero, and thus the Pauline writings, both literary epistles and personal letters, were published.

Donald Guthrie thinks Archer did well to look to the contemporary practice of letter collection and publication but remains skeptical whether early Pauline Christians would have been much interested in or influenced by the likes of Cicero and Seneca.5 Against Guthrie’s criticism, one may question whether he is in­fluenced too heavily by Adolf Deissmann’s6 belief, based on 1 Corinthians 1:26, that the early church was a pedestrian, plebeian, and proletarian movement. Abraham Malherbe’s more recent studies7 might persuade us differently, but Guthrie still might have noticed that if “not many” of the Corinthians or Pauline Christians were to be numbered among the educated elite generally, the very wording of the verse in question implies that a few were. We need think only of the householders Stephanas, who “delivered the formal,­ written questions or statements of the community,” and Chloe,­ who “supplied the oral information, hearsay, and gossip” mentioned by Paul.8
As for early Christian interest in the literary luminaries Seneca and Cicero, let us not forget the apocryphal Epistles of Paul and Seneca.­ Someone before Archer certainly envisioned early Christians as interested in Seneca; remember also St. Jerome’s famous dream in which his Christian conscience rebuked his classical inclinations. An angel like the one who appeared to Hermas cast this in Jerome’s teeth: “Thou art not a follower of Christ, but of Cicero!”

A more recent theory along similar lines is that of David Trobisch.9 Trobisch, like Archer, deserves praise for exploring the contemporary practices of collecting and publishing letters, having studied many hundreds of epistles and letter collections from several centuries adjacent to the Pauline period on either side (300 BCE to 400 CE). He notes that in many cases the initial collection of an author’s letters was made by the author himself with a view to publishing “selected” rather than “collected” letters. These might have been arranged in chronological order, but as Trobisch observes, when others undertook to publish more correspondence after the author’s death, the additional letters were simply appended to the original set, not placed among them according to the original chronological sequence principle. The new letters would observe the same order among themselves, but they would follow the original corpus as a new block of correspondence. Trobisch calls an author’s own selection of letters the “authorized recension.” Posthumous additional collections might be published as separate volumes or, if thematically related to the authorized recension, they might be appended to the original volume and published together as what Trobisch calls an “expanded edition.” Finally, scribes may try to unearth and publish all known letters together in a single manuscript in what Trobisch calls a “comprehensive edition.” And in all expanded and comprehensive editions, Trobisch says, the added material starts over, recapitulating the sequential order of the originals but not intermingling with the letters of the author’s own collection, leaving the integrity of the original collection intact. It would be comparable to a current-day author merely adding a new preface, an introduction to a new edition, or some appendices to the original text of a reprinted early work, rather than revising and updating it: “What I have written, I have written.”

Trobisch calls attention to the fact that, with very few exceptions, the mass of ancient manuscripts arranges Paul’s letters the same way, in an almost perfect order flowing from the longest to the shortest except that Ephesians is longer than Galatians and yet follows it. The descending length principle starts over once we reach the Pastorals, but no one seems surprised by this since we have reached a new category of, ostensibly, personal letters to individuals. However, what of Ephesians? After considering previous theories, Trobisch suggests it would make the most sense if Ephesians represented the point where a new expanded edition had been added. Of what did this expanded edition consist? Here Trobisch tips his hat to Edgar J. Goodspeed. One expects Trobisch to say, as did Schmithals,10 that Ephesians led off a second, posthumous collection of a few letters, perhaps containing Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. Goodspeed, as we will see below, had suggested that Ephesians had once begun the whole corpus and was written by the Colossian freedman Onesimus for that purpose. Schmithals was­ will­ing to let Goodspeed be right only about the threefold corpus of Ephesians-Colossians-Philemon, but Trobisch is more generous, though less consistent. He explains: “If my analysis is correct, the letter to the Ephesians functioned as an introduction to the expand­­ed edition of the thirteen letters because it is the first letter of the appendix.”11 However, it is difficult to see how Ephesians might serve as an introduction to the whole corpus of thirteen letters if it comes fifth! This, of course, is why Goodspeed posited a lead-off position for Ephesians, even without any manuscript evidence to back him up.

This is not the only problem with Trobisch’s reconstruction. For one thing, while there is no prima facie unreasonableness in the suggestion that the initial four letters (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians) were Paul’s own choice for a letters volume, with Ephesians beginning a posthumous appendix, Trobisch seems merely to have shown that such a scenario, if true, would fit the analogy of a widespread practice of an author publishing his own letters. It seems that this is a viable form-critical argument, but Trobisch leaves it unclear whether the initial letter collections to which expansions were appended were always or usually collections by the author himself. We have in the case of Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s letters something that at first seems to parallel the ancient practice as Trobisch describes it. Shortly following Lovecraft’s death in 1937, two of his correspondents, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, decided to collect and publish their late friend’s letters. Lovecraft wrote innumerable epistles of fantastic length, so Derleth and Wandrei knew they must make a selection. At first they planned on a single volume of Selected Letters, but as the years went by and the sifting process continued, the project expanded to three, then four volumes. Following the deaths of Derleth and Wandrei, James Turner took up the task and compiled a fifth volume. All letters, edited and condensed for publication, were presented in chronological order from Arkham House Publishers.

Many Lovecraft aficionados were not satisfied, however, as their appetites had been merely whetted. So a couple of them, S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, scoured the archives of Brown University and contacted various obscure Lovecraft correspondents, seeking even more letters. Their labors produced several more volumes, A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, to Richard Searight, to Robert Bloch, etc. And chronological order is observed within each such volume of Tosefta.12 Finally, these editors hope one day to compile a definitive Collected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft.

It all sounds very much like Trobisch’s assumptions about Paul—except that Lovecraft was dead when it all began. Do we know that first collections were always put together by the epistolarian himself? Trobisch does not tell us, and yet his reconstruction is considerably weakened if it is not so.

One suspects the underlying motive of the Pauline Testament theories is an apologetical one: it would seem to secure a set of texts with both authenticity and integrity guaranteed. After all, the inference goes, Paul himself wrote and edited them. And here one is reminded of the fundamentalist apologetic for the New Testament canon list as a whole. John Warwick Montgomery and others assert that in John 16:12-14, Jesus authorized in advance the entire New Testament canon just as he put his imprimatur on the whole Old Testament canon in John 10:35. Think of Vincent Taylor’s argument13 that the synoptic tradition must be basically sound since the apostles were still around to oversee the progress of the oral tradition. Are not Archer and especially Trobisch trying to make it seem that Paul collected the Pauline corpus, or at least the Hauptbriefe, to rescue us from text-critical anxieties?

Such a purpose would not seem alien to Trobisch, who explicitly wants to return to a harmonizing reading not only of Paul but of the entire New Testament.14 This would appear to be a move to neo-conservative hermeneutics, a la Brevard Childs. Trobisch surprises us, however, for what he gains in authenticity, he squanders in textual integrity. We are surprised to discover that he takes a leaf from Schmithals’s codex and subdivides the Corinthian correspondence into no less than seven mini-letters. He discerns the seams in between, much as Schmithals does, in vestigial letter openings and closings; he maps out digressive passages, labeling them as Pauline redactional notes. Why Paul would have done this, especially since Trobisch has him leave the basic letter forms of Galatians­ and Romans intact, is a puzzle. “Behold, I show you a mystery,” but not, alas, a solution. Schmithals’s controversial surgery on the epistles is at least supplied with a motive: the redactor needed to conflate his fragmentary sources into the catholicizing seven-fold form. Whether this is judged persuasive is one thing; whether it is better than no reason at all is another.

What is strikingly ironic is that Trobisch offers as his theory’s chief merit that it makes possible a harmonizing reading of the Pauline corpus, or at least the Hauptbriefe, though he seems to want to go farther. Is this purpose served by breaking up the Corinthian letters? Or does he mean that Paul wanted the letters to be re-read as if they formed one or two longer texts? It seems Trobisch does not intend this, but in any case, he has undermined his own goal. To borrow another analogy from Lovecraft, Trobisch’s reconstruction reminds us of the editing of Lovecraft’s serialized story, “Herbert West—Reanimator.” Each of his six installments began with a capsule résumé of the previous one(s). In book form, these capsules seemed redundant. Eventually, when Jeffery Combs prepared an audiotape version, he decided to trim away the summaries reasoning that, once the six episodes were read continuously, the summaries became counterproductive: first intended to reinforce continuity of reading, they now tended to interrupt it. Fair enough, but why would Paul trim away the beginning and end of most of the Corinthian mini-letters? This would make sense only if what Paul pared away was a set of “Now where are we’s” and “More next time’s.” That is not the character of most of the Pauline greetings and closings, however. According to Schmithals and Knox, openings and closings may have been added to make a heap of random fragments into letters to begin with, and it is difficult to understand the procedure proposed by Trobisch.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Trobisch’s version of the Pauline Testament approach is his connection of the two Pauline col­lections, i.e., Paul’s own collection of alms for the Jerusalem saints and the collection of Paul’s epistles. Typically, though, Trobisch casts this potent seed on rocky ground and continues on his way. He notes that 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, and Galatians all mention the alms collection and that the thread of continuity seems to be that Paul agreed to the chore in the first place to conciliate the pillar saints of Jerusalem who had since, like Cephas in Antioch, betrayed their accord. As a result, he feared that the fruits of his harvest on their behalf might be rejected and become a bone of contention rather than an olive branch of peace. One purpose in Paul collecting letters and sending them to Ephesus would be to put his side of the story on file in view of the conflict anticipated in Jerusalem. I view this as a brilliant suggestion, though not compelling. Why wouldn’t Paul sim­ply write it out in a single new letter, using the same kind of plain talk he had used in Galatians? It is significant that, at the close of Trobisch’s book, Paul’s Letter Collection, there is a “fictive cover letter” in which Paul explains his object in compiling the corpus. Trobisch thus admits that some such word of explanation is necessary if his theory is to carry conviction—and yet, Paul did not supply one.

If one found the collection theory persuasive, one need not count it as evidence that Paul himself collected the Hauptbriefe (Romans, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians). Paul’s motive in collecting the money remained an issue between the Pauline communities and Jewish Jesus-sectarians who cast Paul in the role of Simon Magus crassly trying to purchase an apostolate with filthy lucre, as F. C. Baur argued. One can easily imagine (and that is all one may do) Paul’s friends collecting the letters as a defense against Ebionite detractors, much as later Catholics would fabricate the Pastorals to distance Paul from the blasphemies of the Encratites.15

Paper-apostle theories

Our second group of theories calls to mind Rudolf Bultmann’s dictum that Jesus “rose into the kerygma,” the gospel preaching of the early church. These theories, to some of which Guthrie16 applied the rubric “theories of immediate value,” in effect have Paul die and immediately rise in the form of a collection of his writings which replaced the irreplaceable apostle. I dub this the paper-apostle approach, the person who emerges in the writings becoming more important than any biographical realities. The scenario envisioned here is much like that described in Islamic tradition following the death of the Prophet Muhammad when the voice of prophecy fell forever silent. Just the opposite of the Deuteronomic Moses, Muhammad was the definitive seal of the prophets: no “prophet like unto me” would be expected to succeed him. Thus, the Muslim faithful began to cherish and trade remembered surahs of revelation, recording these on whatever materials came to hand: scraps of leather, papyrus leaves, parchments, potsherds, even shoulder blades of sheep. At length the first caliph, Abu-bekr, decreed that the surahs should be collected, and the corpus of the Koran (Qur’an) was the eventual result. Thus the book of the prophet was the only successor to the prophet.

Adolf Harnack17 reasoned that Paul’s letters were treasured by enthusiastic readers who could not wait for further installments. “Did not our hearts burn within us as he opened the scriptures unto us?” Not content to wait for the apostle to post another missive to their own church, Pauline Christians would check through a network of scribes in other locations and copy each other’s epistles till each church had a complete set, much like avid fans of an author today. The keen longing for more of Paul did not arise only after his death. His absence during his life, when working elsewhere far away, already led his fans to make up collections of his letters to serve as substitutes for his presence, like a treasured photograph of an absent lover. Thus, the groundwork for the Pauline canon was already in place when Paul himself passed away. One might say the Pauline corpus was already warming up even as the Pauline corpse was cooling off. Indeed, his death was a mere formality; as Roland Barthes18 and Jacques Derrida19 tell us, the author was dead as soon as he produced his text, which as a “dangerous supplement” took on a prodigal life of its own.

Harnack was persuaded of the immediate impact of the letters by four factors. First, we perceive Paul’s letters as rhetorically and theologically powerful, and Harnack assumes ancient readers must have been just as astute. Yet we should not be too hasty in identifying our tastes with ancient predilections. For instance, someone, somewhere must have thought the Upanishads or the Saddharma Pundarika sounded good even though Max Müller20 didn’t. Mormon missionaries grow teary-eyed about the heart-warming experience of reading the Book of Mormon, but Mark Twain found it “chloroform in print.” Wasn’t Harnack reading the text through a haze of eighteen centuries of Christian piety? One thinks of the scene in Cecil B. DeMille’s King of Kings, when thousands assemble to hear Jesus as if they realize that this is their chance to hear the soon-to-be-famous Sermon on the Mount.

Harnack took 2 Corinthians 10:10 (“His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, his speech of no account”) as denoting that even Paul’s opponents had to admit his letters were powerful. However, isn’t the point rather that Paul merely talks a good fight and can’t back it up? As Paul himself says elsewhere: “The kingdom of God is not talk, but power” (1 Cor. 4:20). First Corinthians 7:17 (“And so I ordain in all the churches”) meant to Harnack that what Paul had written here, he had written in epistles to all his churches, implying a large volume of letters. Not only is this an arbitrary reading of the verse, which might simply refer to oral instructions in person, but it had not occurred to Harnack that such a verse was likely a post-Pauline catholicizing gloss, added to facilitate the use of 1 Corinthians as an encyclical. “What I say to you, I say to all.”

Finally, Harnack inferred from 2 Thessalonians 2:2 and 3:17 that in Paul’s day, his letters were already numerous and authoritative enough to have called forth cheap imitations. In both his third and fourth arguments, however, Harnack gets himself into trouble. He seemed to realize that if Paul had written as many letters as his arguments implied, we must be missing most of them. Therefore, Harnack reasoned that a selection was made and that our Pauline corpus represents the cream of the crop. However, doesn’t this notion undercut Harnack’s whole reconstruction? For the true fan, there is no such thing as an embarrassment of riches. Rather, one seeks to preserve every scrap, just as P. N. Harrison pictured a redactor of Pauline fragments in 2 Timothy doing.21
As F. C. Baur pointed out long ago, as he felled another tree in a forest empty of anyone listening, the references to pseudepigraphy in 2 Thessalonians, like the request to have 1 Thessalonians read in church (1 Thess. 5:27), is a case of my four fingers pointing back at me when I point one at you. First and Second Thessalonians presuppose an earlier paper-apostle. As is well known, Harnack was a foe of Baur and Tübingen, and his apologetical tendency is no more difficult to spot here than in his early dating of Acts.

Donald Guthrie also wanted to close the gap between Paul and his letters to ensure the authenticity and integrity of the corpus. It is no surprise to see him favoring the Vincent Taylor/F. F. Bruce theory of oral transmission to shorten a dark and frightening tunnel period. Guthrie imagines that just after Paul’s death, one of his associates—probably Timothy—saw to the collection of his master’s literary remains.22 After all, Timothy would have been present to hear Galatians read in his home church of Lystra. And years later he himself had brought Paul his suitcase full of parchments and scrolls, which might well have been a file of copies of his own epistles a la Archer. It is clear that for Guthrie, the Timothy character continues to play the guarantor role assigned him by the Pastoral author (2 Tim. 2:2). Guthrie’s theory requires Acts to be historically accurate and the Pastorals to be genuinely Paul’s.

We find ourselves in familiar territory with C.F.D. Moule’s version of the paper apostle. For Moule, it was Luke, serving as Paul’s amanuensis with a very long leash, who both wrote the Pastorals and collected the genuine Paulines after penning Luke and Acts.23 A few subsequent scholars have also affirmed common authorship for Luke-Acts and the Pastorals, such as Stephen G. Wilson24 and Jerome D. Quinn,25 but unlike them, Moule pictured the author as being Luke the beloved physician and companion of Paul.

After developing suggestions from Hans Conzelmann26 and Eduard Lohse,27 Hans-Martin Schenke28 allowed the pendulum to settle down in the middle of the paper-apostle options. Eschewing both Harnack’s faceless “creative Volk community” approach, and Moule’s and Guthrie’s nomination of a single Pauline disciple, Schenke ascribed both the collection of the corpus and the writing of some deutero-Pauline epistles to a Pauline School, disciples of Paul who, like the anonymous sons of the prophets who passed on the traditions of Elijah, Elisha, and Isaiah, took on both the task of continuing Paul’s work and the mantle of his authority as they made his voice sound forth again to meet new challenges and answer new questions. Harry Gamble29 approves this notion since it avoids “the dubious idea of one particular collector.” Yet we may ask, what is so dubious about the notion of a single collector? Perhaps Gamble, who shows himself elsewhere to be shy of all but the most cautious speculation, is willing, in his Textual History of the Letter to the Romans, to take but a carefully circumscribed Sabbath day’s journey from the data and disdain the “scandal of particularity” involved in picking a single name like Luke, Timothy, or Onesimus. More likely, he finds theologically distasteful the lurking idea of a Marcion-like “second founder of Paulinism” (see below).

The image of Paul resurrected in his letters is especially apt for Schenke’s30 theory: “They were concerned with the living Paul, his work and word in the present, with the memory of him and his continuing work among them, with the work and teaching of the itinerant, fully-authorized representatives of Paul, with the work of those in the church who could serve as the extended arm of Paul, and with everything that was related concerning Paul.” And though Schenke himself does not invoke the analogy of the schools of the Old Testament prophets, I believe the comparison is a helpful one. It invites us to understand the Pauline corpus, as Marcion did, as the private canon, the sectarian scripture, of a particular Christian body, the Pauline School in this case. This is much like the composite book of Isaiah, which contains not only the oracles of the original Isaiah of Jerusalem but also the deutero- and trito-Isaianic supplements of his latter-day heirs. As in the case of the Isaiah canon where (a la Paul D. Hanson31) we find intra-canonical collisions (cf. Ernst Käsemann32), so we find Pauline versus deutero-Pauline clashes here and there.

The living Paul who continues, as it were, to write through the pens of the Pauline School, is obviously the twin of the risen Christ to whose self-appointed prophets Bultmann33 (and many others on down to M. Eugene Boring)34 had ascribed many of the inauthentic sayings of Jesus. However, at least Schenke’s “risen Paul” who thus lives on in Geschichte had lived a previous life in Histoire. (“If once we knew [Paul] after the flesh we know him so no longer.”)35 Next, however, we come to a much older theory of a Pauline School which surely fulfills the name “paper apostle” to the letter. Willem Christiaan van Manen was the greatest of the Dutch Radical Critics who sought to carry to their logical conclusion (some would say their reductio ad absurdum, but not me) the critical insights of Baur and the Tübingen School. Van Manen, Allard Pierson, Samuel Naber, Abraham Loman, and their predecessor Bruno Bauer denied the authenticity of every single Pauline letter despite the attempts of F. C. Baur to swat them away, much as Luther had dismissed the Radical Reformer Caspar von Schwenkfeld.36 Van Manen saw no reason to doubt the existence of Paul as an early Christian preacher, whose genuine itinerary he thought had been preserved in Acts, but he judged the so-called Pauline epistles to have as little direct connection to this early apostle as the so-called Johannine and ­Petrine writings have with their historically obscure namesakes. The epistles, Van Manen argued, display a universalizing and philosophizing tenor unthinkable for the apocalyptic sect pictured in Acts or the Gospels. Their greatest affinity was with Syrian Gnosticism. Nor did they represent the thinking of one theologian (the “Paulus Episcopus” of Pierson and Naber). Rather, in the Pauline epistles, we overhear intra-scholastic debates between different wings of Paulinism. Has God finally cast off the Jewish people or not? Does grace imply libertinism, as some hold? Do some preach circumcision in Paul’s name? Can women prophesy or not?

Van Manen locates the home of Paulinism at Antioch or perhaps Asia Minor beginning at the end of the first century or the start of the second and thriving by 150 CE.37 Fragments from this Gnostic Pauline circle were later compiled into the familiar epistles, each and all of which are in their present form redactional compositions, finally receiving a catholicizing overlay. “We do not know by whom the collection was made, nor yet what influence his work had upon the traditional text. Perhaps we may suppose that it led to some changes. Probably the collection was not wholly the work of one person, but arose gradually through additions.”38 Van Manen’s theory belongs with the others we have lumped together under the paper-apostle approach in that it tends to minimize the interval between the writing of the letters and their collection. In this case, both the writing and the collecting are seen as occurring early in the second century.

“Snowball theories”

We find much less diversity among the theories Guthrie groups under the heading “theories of partial collections.” I, however, prefer Moule’s nomenclature of

the slow, anonymous process of accretion, the snowball theory. We have to suppose … that the intercourse between one Pauline ­centre and another gradually led to the exchange of copies of letters, until, at any given centre, there came to be not only the l­etter or letters originally sent to it, but also copies of certain others ­collected from other Pauline churches. Thus in each centre there would come to be little nests of letters, and gradually these would move into wider circulation and would be augmented, until the full number, as we know it, was reached. Then all that remained to be done was the making of a careful “edition” of the whole corpus.39

Kirsopp Lake40 had said the same in 1911: “Small and partial collections came into existence in various centers, before the Corpus in its completed form fully replaced them.” Similarly Günther Zuntz41 suggests that “smaller collections may have been made in and around Ephesus.”

P. N. Harrison42 thought the Corinthian correspondence was something of a collection of fragments, to which was then added Romans and later a Macedonian collection of Philippians and Thessalonians. Together these formed a European corpus, while an Asia Minor collection of Galatians, Colossians, the Letter for Phoebe (Romans 16), and Philemon developed. Once the latter had been added to the European corpus, some Asian Christian penned Ephesians on the basis of all the others.

Lucetta Mowry43 saw it the same way: “We can distinguish three such regions each with its own body of material, the Asian hinterland, with Galatians, Colossians and Philemon; Macedonia, with 1 Thessalonians and Philippians; and Achaia with I Corinthians and Romans.” I will return later to Walter Schmithals,44 but I should probably include him here since he understands Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon to have constituted a separate Asian collection, joined subsequently with a seven-letter collection (1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, l and 2 Thessalonians, Romans).
What is the difference between a paper-apostle theory like Harnack’s and the snowball theory? It is simply a question of time intervals. Snowball theories cannot credit so early a collection as Harnack posits nor such a later one, ex nihilo, as does Goodspeed (see below). The collection came to fruition late, says the snowball theory, but we can supply the missing link by positing partial collections, like small multicellular creatures joining to form a more complex jellyfish. Yet, come to think of it, how did we get the multicellular creatures? How did they evolve from unicellular beasties? A development of the snowball theory supplies an answer.

Mowry, Nils Dahl and others have gathered evidence that various Pauline epistles must have circulated between the time of their initial appearance and that of the formation of local collections of encyclicals and hitherto uncirculated local letters. There are copies of Romans with no addressee and manuscripts lacking the last two chapters. Lightfoot, Dahl reports,45 had already sought to account for this textual data by suggesting that Paul had sent out earlier copies, omitting personal and local concerns, to some of his churches. Lake put the shoe on the other foot and proposed that Paul had added the specifics to an earlier encyclical letter, making it into our Romans.

The famous catholicizing gloss of 1 Corinthians 1:2b (“together with all who in every place invoke the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord as well as ours”) was seen by Schmithals, following Johannes Weiss, as evidence that 1 Corinthians once led off the Pauline corpus. However, Dahl reasoned that it might be more naturally understood (along with other glosses like 7:17; 11:16; 14:33) as the tool that made 1 Corinthians itself an encyclical letter. I would go further in the same direction pursued by those who view the letter as a set of fragments and compare 1 Corinthians and its “now concerning” transitions with the Didache, where such phrases are clearly mechanical introductions like Mark’s redactional “immediately”s to begin discussion of new topics in a generic church manual, which I consider 1 Corinthians to be.

The grand epilogue to Romans (16:25-27) also makes better­ sense as a way of refitting Romans for a wider audience. Schmithals,46 like Weiss, thinks Romans was adapted to close the sevenfold corpus. Mowry notes that since Galatians is addressed to “the churches of Galatia,” then even if original it was more than a local possession. She sees 2 Thessalonians as a later pseudonymous encyclical aimed at dampening the premature apocalyptic fervor ignited by 1Thessalonians. In fact, the fabrication of 2 Thessalonians would be symptomatic of the whole situation as Mowry sees it: as the living voice of charismatic prophecy fell more and more silent, the written word was needed to fill the gap. Ephesians, also without an addressee in the earliest manuscripts, is obviously another ideal candidate for an encyclical, a universalizing redaction of Colossians.

Walter Bauer47 had long ago contended that the only Pauline epistle we have definite allusions to among the Apostolic Fathers is 1 Corinthians: “Whenever we come from the marshy ground of ‘reminiscences’ and ‘allusions’ to firmer territory, again and again we confront I Corinthians.” Why? Because, as 1 Clement makes plain, the epistle was useful to combat heretics and schismatics, foes of emerging Roman orthodoxy. The encyclical use of 1 Corinthians for which Dahl and Mowry argue fits Walter Bauer’s thesis perfectly.

Whence 2 Corinthians, then? Mowry48 sees it as a second collection of scraps intended to supplement its predecessor, explaining that “II Corinthians owes its composite character to the desire to produce something analogous in scope to I Corinthians. If any weight attaches to this suggestion, the inference would seem to be that I Corinthians, at least, had already circulated locally before the collector began his work.” Mowry insinuates that the fragments used to compile 2 Corinthians came from the archives of the Corinthian church. It need not be so, however. Second Corinthians might simply denote a sequel to 1 Corinthians, just as 2 Thessalonians, on her theory, is a pseudonymous sequel.

Depending on what sort of Gnosticism, proto-Gnosticism, or gnosticizing Paulinism one sniffs out in 1 Corinthians (and I, for one, think Schmithals’s case is a pretty good one), one might even want to reconsider one of Simone Petrement’s fascinating guesses49 that there is some connection between “Corinthians” and “Cerinthians.” She thinks Cerinthus was like Ebion, an unhistorical eponymous founder, posited by heresiologists, in this case, of a gnosis originally associated with the Corinthians. I would turn it around, rehabilitate Cerinthus and ask if the antiheretical Corinthian epistles punningly refer to Cerinthian Jewish Gnostics. Knowing that the historical Paul lived before Cerinthus, he could not be made to address him directly, but some readers would take the hint, just as they did with the winking reference to Marcion’s Antitheses and heretical gnosis in 1 Timothy 6:20.

We can also use Mowry’s thinking on 1 and 2 Corinthians to shed light on the origin of the apocryphal Third Corinthians. The writer of the Acts of Paul obligingly constructed a fictive Sitz-im-Leben for the letter when he included it in his narrative, but in its previous, independent circulation, how had it justified its name? What was its connection with Corinth? Most likely none, but it was an attempt at a third antiheretical treatise and thus “Corinthian.” In fact, as the Acts of Paul is singularly bereft of definite allusions to any canonical Pauline epistles at all (even the Iconium Beatitudes are an independent reflection of the paraenetic material shared with 1 Corinthians, as I attempt to show in Chapter Four), I suspect that Third Corinthians was the only Pauline letter available to the author of the Acts of Paul. This was no accident. Third Corinthians, which reads much like the short apocryphal Laodiceans, is a cento of phrases filched from canonical Pauline texts. My guess is that Third Corinthians was a local attempt to supplant and replace the Pauline collection which had become, as Walter Bauer and Goodspeed suggest, guilty by association with the heretics who so loved it.

Second-coming theories

Edgar J. Goodspeed and Walter Bauer (together with Hans von Campenhausen50 and others) have maintained that there is a reason for the crushing silence throughout the second century regarding the Pauline epistles. For instance, Justin Martyr never mentions Paul in his voluminous writings. When he is mentioned by other writers, Paul has nothing distinctive to say: he is a pale shadow and obedient lackey of the Twelve, as in Acts. When Ignatius, Polycarp, and 1 Clement (all too blithely taken for genuine as early second-century writings) make reference to Pauline letters, as Bauer noted, they sound like ill-prepared students faking their way through a discussion of a book they neglected to read. First Clement (47:1) appears to have thought there was but a single Pauline letter to Corinth. Ignatius, in his letter to the Ephesians (12:2), somehow imagined that Paul had eulogized the Ephesians in every one of his epistles. Polycarp thought there were several letters to the church at Philippi (Philippians 3:2) and that all Paul’s letters mentioned the Philippian congregation (11:3). The special pleading of Andreas Lindemann,51 attempting to reinterpret these peculiar references, as well as to supply some citations of Paul for these writings, only serves to underline the embarrassment of his position.

Goodspeed saw a period of neglect of Pauline literature but placed it between Paul’s death and the collection of his letters about 90 CE. Bauer saw the church in the role of Peter, denying his Lord when the latter’s popularity waned or, perhaps better, like the haughty scribes who shunned Jesus because they didn’t like the riffraff he associated with. Goodspeed, on the other hand, might have likened the church, who neglected Paul, to that “wicked lazy servant” who buried a valuable talent in the ground. Bauer would not disagree with this. Implicit in his theory, as John Knox puts it, was that Paul had never had the centrality in his own lifetime that the publication of his letters gave him posthumously. In any case, that influence was a long time coming, according to Bauer, Goodspeed, Knox, and C. Leslie Mitton. Then, through the first collector of the Pauline epistles, says Albert E. Barnett, a disciple of Goodspeed, “Paul becomes a literary influence.” We may call this the “second coming” approach.

The essentials of Goodspeed’s widely discussed theory are easily stated. Taking up an idea put forth earlier by Johannes Weiss,52 that Ephesians was written by the first editor of the Pauline collection, Goodspeed argued that Paul’s influence had sputtered out until publication of Luke’s Acts, which reawakened interest in the great apostle. This would have happened about 90 CE. Someone in the Ephesian church (Goodspeed nominated Onesimus, the runaway slave mentioned in Philemon) read Acts and thrilled to the gospel exploits of the man to whom he owed so much. If the reader were indeed Onesimus, as John Knox53 would subsequently argue with some ingenuity, he had Paul to thank both for his freedom and his Christian faith. In any case, Goodspeed pictured a man who cherished his church’s copies of Colossians and Philemon. Reading Acts set him to wondering whether there might be more such epistolary gems in the various churches, so he set out to retrace Paul’s steps and his hunch bore out.

Goodspeed imagines that the church clerks at Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, Rome, and Thessalonika did manage to retrieve copies of letters that had languished beneath old church ledgers, membership rolls, and Sunday School lessons. They blew the dust off and handed them over. Like the new owner of the treasure hidden in the field, Onesimus (or whoever) went on his way rejoicing. Back in his study, as he thought over the matter, he was both determined to share his discovery with the wider Christian world and uncertain as to the best way to do it. At length he hit upon the idea of publishing a collection and writing a kind of digest of Pauline sentiments, a new Colossians, beefed up with gems from the Septuagint and Paul’s other letters, to serve as an introduction to the whole. This new epistle bore no title. However, because it was published in Ephesus and began circulating outward from there, people eventually took it for a genuine epistle and simply assumed it had been mailed by Paul to the city whence it had subsequently emerged. Thus it came to be known as the Epistle to the Ephesians.

Goodspeed had essentially cast Onesimus in Goodspeed’s own role of reviving and noising abroad the neglected work of a noble predecessor, which in Goodspeed’s case was Johannes Weiss’s theory about Ephesians. What evidence led them to draw their conclusions? Goodspeed noticed that Christian writings dating before circa 90 CE betrayed no evidence of familiarity with Paul’s letters or influence by him. Here Goodspeed thought mainly of the Synoptic Gospels. After 90 CE, however, Paul’s shadow is long and falls across the whole literary landscape. His ideas echo in the pages of Hebrews, 1 Clement, 1 Peter, and the Gospel of John. The sudden flood of epistles, and particularly of the sevenfold epistle collections (Revelation 1-3; Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth), all attest to  the great impact of Paul’s letters organized as if written to seven churches, with the Corinthian letters being conflated or at least counted together, likewise the Thessalonians, and even Philemon riding the coattails of Colossians. What happened in or around 90 CE that could account for such an overnight change? Only one thing, according to Goodspeed, and that was the publication of the Acts of the Apostles. It was the catalyst for the publication of the Pauline corpus.

Those are the main lines of Goodspeed’s argument. Several problems become evident at once, however, and critics were not slow in pointing them out. For one thing, the degree of Pauline influence on a document is largely in the eye of the beholder. Ralph P. Martin makes Mark, not unreasonably, a Paulinist Gospel.54 Why is there talk in Luke of “justifying” oneself and of being “justified”? Is not Paul in view in Matthew 5:17-19? On the other hand, is John’s Gospel so very Pauline?

The same problem arises with respect to Goodspeed’s dates. Guthrie thinks Goodspeed dated everything too late, but I would have the opposite objection. Why not place the Gospels in the early to mid-second century? As for Acts itself, even Goodspeed’s own disciple, Knox, places it just before 150 CE. Though otherwise he follows Goodspeed as loyally as Onesimus followed Paul, Knox does not think Onesimus would have needed to read Acts to be moved to collect the epistles

Regarding the sevenfold collections, one has to cheat, as Schmithals points out,55 to squeeze Philemon together with Colossians. Did the idea of seven letters from Paul have to come from John of Patmos? The Apocalypse is crawling with sevens, as Guthrie noted against Goodspeed, and not even Goodspeed dared claim John got all of them from Paul.

Mowry thinks Goodspeed made Onesimus into a first-century Tischendorf,56 traveling to exotic locales, hot on the trail of rare manuscript finds. Apparently Tyrrell’s quip about the nineteenth-century questers for the historical Jesus applied no less to questers for the origins of the Pauline collection: they looked down a deep well and saw only their own faces reflected. No doubt, F. F. Bruce57 is correct when he dismisses the whole thing as “a romantic embellishment.” Specifically, it is cut from the same bolt as the patristic fictions of Mark the evangelist being Peter’s major domo or Luke playing Bones to Paul’s Kirk (“Damn it, Paul, I’m a doctor, not an ecclesiastical historian!”).

Goodspeed, Knox, and Mitton are happy to point to Walter Bauer’s thesis to strengthen their own about a period of Pauline neglect, but Bauer58 had a rather different candidate in mind for the herald of Paul’s second coming: Marcion of Pontus, the second founder of Pauline Christianity. Says Bauer: “I would regard him as the first systematic collector of the Pauline heritage.” This opinion, like Goodspeed’s, was hardly unprecedented. F. C. Burkitt59 had haz­arded the same educated guess.

When … we consider Marcion’s special interest in S[aint] Paul, he being, according to Marcion, the only one who understood the doctrine that Jesus came to deliver to mankind; and when, further, we remember that Marcion was perhaps more of a traveler than any other Christian in the second century, and therefore had opportunities for collection above most of his contemporaries; when we consider these things, we may be permitted to wonder whether Marcion may not have been the first to make a regular collection of the Pauline Epistles.

Incidentally, both Bauer and Burkitt thought that at least 1 Corinthians must have circulated widely before Marcion’s collection.

John Knox, an advocate of Goodspeed’s Onesimus as the first collector, seems to realize he should follow Bauer’s lead instead. After all, in Knox’s Marcion and the New Testament (1942), he demonstrates the soundness of the view—defended by Baur, Ritschl, Volkmar, and Hilgenfeld—that Marcion’s Gospel was not an abridgment of canonical Luke but rather a more modest abridgment of a shorter Ur-Lukas, which was also subsequently used by the writer/redactor of canonical Luke-Acts in the second century.60 Lukan themes and favorite vocabulary are thickly concentrated in special Lukan material not shared with Marcion’s text (patristic writings list what was “missing” from Marcion’s versions), but are largely absent from material present in both Marcion and canonical Luke. Sometimes mundane non-Lukan synonyms appear where canonical Luke has favorite Lukan words, and none of these has any conceivable theological-polemical relevance; that is, Marcion would not have switched them, whereas they are just the sort of stylistic changes Luke regularly makes in his copying from Mark.

To make a long story short, Knox argues persuasively along many lines that Luke-Acts was a second-century Catholic response to Marcion’s Sputnik, the Apostolicon. Canonical Luke was a catholicizing expansion of the same Ur-Lukas Marcion had slightly abbreviated, while Acts was a sanitized substitute for Marcion’s Pauline corpus. Thus it presents a Paul who, though glorified, is co-opted, made the merest narcissistic reflection of the Twelve—and who writes no epistles but only delivers an epistle from the Jerusalem apostles! Knox sees the restoration of the Pauline letters—domesticated by the “dangerous supplement” of the Pastorals—and the addition of three other Gospels and several non-Pauline epistles, in short the whole formation of the New Testament canon, as a response to the challenge of Marcion and the Marcionite Church.

In light of all this, why does not Knox abandon Goodspeed, as Andrew and his friends did John the Baptist, and attach himself to Bauer instead? There are four reasons. First, he believes the Catholic Pauline collection reflects a different text than Marcion’s, so it must be based on another version of the corpus already available before Marcion. On the one hand, Knox himself admits we cannot know for sure how Marcion’s text read since we read it through the thick lenses of the Catholic apologists. They, in turn, may have read an already evolved post-Marcion text from the Marcionite Church or the splinter-sect of Apelles. On the other hand, why not assume that Marcion’s opponents simply reacted to Marcion’s collection by making their own collection of Pauline letters from different sources? As we have already seen, it is likely enough that, if one looked hard enough, one could find one’s own texts of 1 Corinthians, Romans, and perhaps any of the others. Even Bauer does not ask us to believe that no one had access to the Pauline epistles before Marcion, as if Marcion had discovered them in a cave at Qumran. If the Catholic Pauline corpus was a counter-collection (not just the same collection of texts, but an attempt to restore Marcion’s “omissions”), then the question of a variant textual tradition need not worry us too much. Knox imagines Bauer’s theory to require, so to speak, a Catholic edition of the Revised Standard Version when it could just as easily have entailed a fresh Catholic corpus like the Jerusalem Bible.

Knox’s second reason for rejecting Marcion as the first collector is that he believes, contra Bauer, that the Apostolic Fathers do show familiarity with various Pauline letters. The only way to settle this is to compare each supposed allusion with the corresponding Pauline text and to ask whether we are dealing only with a similar turn of phrase or a piece of common ecclesiastical jargon. Admittedly, we do still find Polycarp to be filled with Paulinisms, but in this case the allusions suggest too much. The epistle of Polycarp, To the Philippians, reveals itself upon close inspection to be little more than a clumsy and pointless pastiche composed of Pauline and Pastoral formulas. Anyone might have written it, and one would certainly have expected the great Polycarp to have had a bit more of his own to say. It is only acquiescence to tradition that causes “critical” scholars, weary with debates over Pauline authenticity, to accept Polycarp’s To the Philippians, at face value. (And think of 1 Clement, as anonymous as Hebrews!) Knox, then, ought to have thought twice before banishing Bauer by invoking Polycarp. On the other hand, it may be that Polycarp was the author of the epistle To the Philippians and also of the Pastoral Epistles, which is why Pastoral material is “reflected” in his epistle.

Knox cannot imagine the collection taking form as late as Marcion’s time, since Ephesians already presupposes the other nine letters. However, R. Joseph Hoffmann argues cogently that “Laodiceans” was not merely Marcion’s name for our familiar Ephesians, it was an earlier Marcionite version. Just as canonical Luke is a catholicized, anti-Marcionite version of Ur-Lukas, so, according to Hoffmann61 (a latter-day admirer of Knox’s book on Marcion), canonical Ephesians is a catholicized reworking of an original Marcionite Laodiceans. This Laodiceans was the work of Marcion himself. As with Knox’s argument on these texts (Luke, Marcion’s Gospel, and the Ur-Lukas), one must engage Hoffmann’s extensive exegesis before reaching a judgment. It is impossible to present it adequately here.
Van Manen62 had made almost exactly the same diagnosis of Galatians, in which we read of an encounter between Paul and the Jerusalem pillars, strikingly reminiscent of Marcion’s clash with the Roman Church hierarchy: it was at first a Marcionite text, later catholicized by his opponents, who then covered their tracks by accusing Marcion of abbreviating it.

The identification of Marcion as possibly the first collector is now generally considered to be dead in the water, though, ironically, for almost the opposite reason to one of Knox’s arguments. Knox felt the difference between Marcion’s text and that of the Catholic edition of Paul implied Marcion had chosen one of perhaps several editions of the corpus already available. However, Nils Dahl, John J. Clabeaux,63 and other scholars think they have found evidence of a widespread textual tradition to which Marcion’s text appears to have belonged. In other words, now it is Marcion’s textual similarity to other texts of Paul that eliminates him as the first collector. How have things turned about? It is no longer solely a question of textual relatedness or difference. We have already suggested that the availability of several copies of various individual Pauline letters would have allowed different collections of the same documents to reflect different streams of textual transmission. By far, most of Clabeaux’s valuable study reinforces this conclusion; not surprisingly, other editions of Paul had drawn on some of the same textual streams that Marcion’s did.

The new factor is the possibility that Marcion’s collection was an edited version of a collection already arranged in the same distinctive order, one that had always been considered Marcion’s innovation: Galatians first (no surprise if Marcion himself wrote it!), then 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Romans, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thes­salonians, Laodiceans/Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. This order, or something like it, is attested in two other places: in the so-called Marcionite Prologues and in the Old Syriac canon, as attested in Ephraim and in a canon list from the late third century. If these instances could be shown not to derive from Marcion’s Apostolicon, we would see them instead as evidence of a more widely current edition of the corpus with this arrangement. Dahl, building upon the argument of Hermann Josef Frede,64 tries to disassociate both sources from Marcion. His argument centers on the theological slant of the Prologues.

Dahl’s two major arguments are first, that the false apostles everywhere denounced in the prologues as Paul’s opponents need not be the Judaizing Twelve of Marcionite polemic; second, that Paul is not pictured as the sole authentic apostle in the prologues. I think he is wrong, at least wholly unpersuasive, on both counts. First, the pseudo-apostles of Corinth are said to represent “the sect of the Jewish Law.” This by itself could mean many things, but the Prologue to Romans speaks of the unwary being lured by the false apostles “into the Law and the Prophets” as opposed to “the true Evangelical faith.” Dahl’s attempt65 to evade the force of the “Law and Prophets vs. Gospel” opposition is special pleading. If the author of the prologue was not a Marcionite, he had a funny way of showing it.

Dahl also thinks that the Corinthian Prologue depicts Paul fighting on two different fronts against two different groups of false apostles, one specializing in “Jewish Law,” to be sure, while the other dealt in “the wordy eloquence of philosophy.” This reflects the contents of the Corinthian letters themselves, to borrow Dahl’s own observation on the Galatian Prologue, and in no way means the prologist did not view the Corinthian opponents of Paul as the Jerusalem pillars. After all, F. C. Baur thought the same thing.

And as for the possibility that the Prologue to Corinthians speaks favorably of other apostles besides Paul, there is some textual confusion here. Where Dahl reads that the Corinthians “heard the word of truth from the apostles,” plural, ab apostalis, he is making a text-critical choice. A number of manuscripts do have this reading, but others have it the way Knox reads it, with the singular ab apostolo, “from the apostle.” In view of the fact that the singular (ab revocat apostolus) occurs also at the conclusion of the Corinthian prologue, the most likely option is surely that the plural reading preferred by Dahl is an orthodox, catholicizing “correction.” Dahl’s66 own motive in attempting to read the prologues as endorsing Cephas and Apollos alongside Paul is obviously the same.

If the prologues remain tilting to the Marcionite side, their order must be assumed to derive from the Apostolicon of Marcion. What about the Old Syriac? Of this, Dahl says,67 “the arrangement of the letters in the Old Syriac version seems to be due to an amalgamation of an order like that of Marcion and the Prologues for the first four letters and an order more like that of our Greek manuscripts for the others. Textual affinities are not so striking that they suggest Marcionite influence upon the Old Syriac version of Paul.” In other words, the textual evidence is inconclusive. In that case, why simply assume it was “an order like that of Marcion” and not Marcion’s own?

Mowry68 accepts most of Goodspeed’s reconstruction, except that she fills in the emptiness of the tunnel period, as we have seen, with the circulation of individual epistles. As for Marcion, Mowry hypothesizes that he obtained a copy of Goodspeed’s/Onesimus’s ten-letter (or seven-church) corpus but, having learned of earlier versions of individual letters, he obtained them and undertook his own critical edition on that basis. This would explain Marcion’s use of the short ending of Romans, the encyclical version. If there is good reason to accept Marcion as the first collector, however, why not simply turn Mowry’s reconstruction on its head and suggest, as we have above, that it was the Catholic opposition who scrambled to assemble their own counter-collection from different textual sources? The one seems as likely as the other. Obviously, all such speculations remain educated guesses, unverifiable at present, as Burkitt admitted, but why is the identification of Marcion as the first collector so unthinkable even to someone like Knox, who comes so close to that conclusion? Again, we may only speculate that Guthrie69 speaks for many: “It is highly improbable that a heretic should have been the first to appreciate the value of the Pauline­ corpus.” The hands are the hands of historical criticism, but the voice is that of Eusebian apologetics.

The archetype debate

Having reviewed several distinct theories of how the Pauline corpus first came to be, we must now give some attention to the disputed question whether all of our texts of the Pauline epistles descend and diverge from a particular, definitive edition of the Pauline corpus. This is not to ask whether there had ever been different Pauline collections or different ancient editions. Almost everyone agrees that there would have been, but did one of these supersede all the others to form the basis of all our extant manuscripts? Or do our manuscripts still reflect (because they descend from) several, albeit quite similar, Pauline corpus editions? Let us survey a handful of proposals regarding a definitive archetype.

Günther Zuntz decided that the best way to account for a Pauline textual tradition that differs so much in minor respects but hardly at all in major ones was to posit the compilation of a definitive variorum edition about a half-century after the original writings. In the meantime there would have been extensive copying of various individual letters, giving rise to the variants catalogued in the archetype. The only tradition of ancient scholarship capable of producing such a critical text was the Alexandrian school, and there seemed to Zuntz no particular reason to prevent our locating the operation in Alexandria itself. Zuntz believed he could identify several glosses introduced into the text by Alexandrian scholars. Later scribes who made copies on the basis of the resultant master text would not be so careful (pedantic?) as to bother noting variant readings but, like some modern Bible translators, would simply choose one of the alternatives in each case and go on. Thus the definitive edition provided a precedent for its own undoing. In broad outline, Bruce accepts Zuntz’s reconstruction. As we will see, others think quite differently.

Walter Schmithals,70 notorious for his division of most of the Paul­ine epistles into hypothetical earlier fragmentary letters, adopted­ the older theory of Johannes Weiss that the earliest collection of Paul’s letters must have begun with 1 Corinthians, with the catholicizing gloss in 1:2 introducing the whole corpus to a wider­ readership. He thought it must have ended with Romans, the grand doxology of 16:25-27 ringing down the curtain on a broader ecumenical stage. Schmithals pictured an original seven-letter collection excluding Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and the later Pastorals; these may have been, a la Trobisch, two independent three-­letter collections later appended to the original. The number seven was important to the compiler/collector, just as it was to John of Patmos, to Ignatius, and to Eusebius (collector of letters of Dionysius of Corinth) because it “expressed original and perfect unity.”71 The corpus was meant to stand for the truth of Catholic orthodoxy against Gnostic heresy.

It was this symbolic constraint, felt by various other letter collectors as well, that provides the motive for the compiler stitching together the various Pauline fragments as he did. He could not leave any of the precious text on the cutting room floor so, by hook or by crook, he got it all in. This scenario would also account for the anti-Gnostic polemic Schmithals finds in every letter. It is not so much that Schmithals thinks Paul was a first-century Joe McCarthy looking for a Gnostic under every bush. Rather, it was the concern of the redactor to include some of Paul’s anti-Gnostic polemic in each of the seven letters.

Schmithals feels that Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon do not show signs of the distinctive hand of the redactor and therefore cannot have belonged to the original collection. He knows that Goodspeed and Knox, who also invoke the analogy of other early seven-letter collections, try to squeeze in these three by combining the pairs of Corinthian and Thessalonian letters, but Schmithals says that to go on and make Philemon and Colossians count as one letter is to force a square peg into a round hole. Schmithals points out that the key thing is not letters to seven churches (neither the Ignatian nor the Dionysian collection fits that pattern—some letters being to individuals, others to more than one congregation), but rather seven letters to churches. Thus, Schmithals anticipated the criticism of Gamble that it had to be seven letters to seven churches for the symbolism to make any sense.72 Perhaps so, but don’t tell Schmithals; tell it to the compilers of the letters of Dionysius and Ignatius. As to place and time, Schmithals approves Harnack’s suggestion that the letters were compiled at Corinth, and he thinks it happened already by 80 CE. The first collector was also the redactor, and he bequeathed us our archetype.

Winsome Munro argued with great ingenuity and attention both to general criteria and to specific detail that all our copies of Paul’s epistles descend from a particular archetype, which she, unlike Zuntz and Schmithals, did not identify with the original collection. She demonstrated the existence of a comprehensive and systematic set of textual interpolations across the whole Pauline corpus as well as in 1 Peter, long recognized as something of a Paulinist adjunct anyway. These interpolations stand out because of their great affinity with the socio-political stance and pious quietism of the Pastorals and for their clash with the many elements of apocalyptic egalitarianism and sectarian radicalism in the other Pauline letters. Munro reviews a raft of previous critical treatments of these jarring “subjection texts” and notes that not infrequently scholars would peg this or that individual text (e.g., Rom. 13:1-7; Eph. 5:21-33; 1 Cor. 11:1-16; 14:34-38) as a possible interpolation. Munro draws all these suggestions together, isolates criteria for identifying what she calls a “Pastoral stratum,” and uncovers several more passages of the same type. This stratum “does not come from the original collector and redactor of a Pauline letter corpus, but from different circles at a more advanced stage of Christian history. The later stratum, together with the Pastoral epistles, will therefore be characterized as ‘Pastoral’ or trito-Pauline … its milieu is the Roman hellenism of the first half of the second century, when the Christian movement was prey to sporadic persecution, but was nevertheless hopeful that it might gain recognition and tolerance from the Roman authorities under the Antonine emperors.”73

However, the Pastoral redactor couldn’t have been either the first collector or one who reissued the corpus in a new edition after a period of neglect. In either of these cases, Munro felt sure, the Pastoral reviser would have been much freer to excise remaining elements of Pauline radicalism distasteful to him. “The inescapable conclusion is that the ten-letter collection was in circulation at the time of the Pastoral revision. That means it must have been taken over from an opposition group and revised in order to counteract its influence.”74 Dennis R. MacDonald made much the same case, though in brief outline, in The Legend and the Apostle.75 He too saw the hand of the Pastor in the editing of what became our textual archetype, though in my opinion MacDonald’s profile of the opponents is more convincing than Munro’s. He makes them a motley collection of Encratite Christian radicals, whereas Munro has spoken more narrowly of Jewish-Christian ascetics.

Let us remind ourselves briefly of Trobisch, whose theory certainly entails an archetype corpus, since his method depends significantly on the study of the order of the Pauline letters in extant manuscripts. He notes that various canon lists have atypical orders but that virtually no extant manuscripts do. He ascribes the order, at least of Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians, to Paul. Trobisch concludes that Paul himself edited this collection and provided the archetype. He leaves unanswered (even unasked) whether there were other collections made after Paul’s death by people who were ignorant of the sheaf of copies he had sent to Ephesus. If so, they must have utilized copies of the unedited versions of Paul’s letters. Then which edition would have been considered more authoritative?

If Bruce, MacDonald, Munro, Schmithals, Trobisch, and Zuntz believe a single archetype edition lies behind all extant manuscripts, their agreement is impressive but by no means unanimous. Significant voices taking the opposite view include Kurt Aland and Harry Gamble. Aland pronounces thusly on the matter

The opinion that a uniform “ur-Corpus” of seven Pauline Epistles had been collected by the close of the first century, from which all later witnesses have descended, is nothing but a “phantasy of wishful thinking” … By about AD 90 several “Ur-Corpora” of Pauline Epistles began to be made available at various places, and … these collections, of differing extent, could have included some or all of the following: 1 and 2 Corinthians, Hebrews, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians. Eventually other traditional Pauline Epistles were added to the several collections and a more or less stabilized collection finally emerged.76

In several publications, Gamble voices essentially the same sen­timents. Yet one should not imagine that Aland and Gamble envision a radically diverse textual tradition. Just the opposite. In general, they believe the stream of textual transmission flowed pure and without deviation. It was like the disciple of Rabbi Johannon ben Zakkai, a plastered cistern that lost not a drop. No archetypal ur-corpus was needed to ensure faithful transmission of the text, and none is needed to account theoretically for textual near-­unanimity. Gamble says:

If, then, the Pauline textual tradition goes back to multiple sources, it remains a matter of note in relation to redactional hypotheses [like Schmithals’s] that the forms of the Pauline letters remain fundamentally the same in all known witnesses. Except in the case of Romans [with its longer and shorter endings], the tradition preserves no textual evidence that any of the letters ever had basically different forms than the forms in which we know them. The case of Romans offers the exception that proves the rule: when textual revisions have taken place they have left their marks in the evidence.77

In other words, there is just enough textual variation to show that there was not a uniform and universal archetype, in which case all texts would agree completely, but there is by no means enough textual variation to indicate the existence of significantly different text forms. Earlier, shorter (non-interpolated) versions of Pauline letters might have existed without managing to leave any traces in the manuscript tradition. In fact, Aland and Gamble ignore the fact that when scribes compared longer and shorter versions of the same epistle, they naturally would have harmonized the two by choosing the longer reading. Mowry understood this: “The new collection came into immediate demand, and soon supplanted every other edition still in circulation. But copies of letters, in the form they had had when circulating individually and locally, survived here and there and left their mark either directly or indirectly in [the] manuscript tradition … Their textual additions survived; their omissions tended to disappear.”78

Similarly Knox:

Once a book came to be officially adopted in a particular form, older forms which lacked any such ecclesiastical approval tended to disappear. Manuscripts would gradually, and fairly rapidly, be conformed to the “correct” text. The process would never have become complete, and thus we have the various local texts, which emerge clearly enough in the early third century. These, however, differ relatively little from one another; and that is true not because the autographs were so faithfully followed in the late first and early second centuries but rather, on the contrary, because official editions and publications so completely drove the autographs (if there were any surviving) and their descendants from the field.79

William O. Walker, Jr., is not surprised that there should be no surviving manuscript evidence for literary interpolations: “Indeed, if a collector-editor’s real goal was to include all available Pauline writings, as seems at least plausible, the tendency almost inevitably would have been to err on the side of inclusion, not of exclusion. In addition, deliberate or inadvertent interpolations may well have been introduced prior to the final editing of the letters. Also to be noted in this context, of course, is the well-documented practice of copying glosses into the texts of later manuscripts.”80 As John C. O’Neill anticipates:

[The answer to] the objection … that we might well expect more [consequential] texts than Marcion and D [without glosses] … is that scribes would on the whole prefer to transcribe the long­est text, being unwilling to lose anything precious. Every addition would tend to be recorded, even if the addition depended for its sense on an omission that the scribe was unwilling to adopt. That means that Vaticanus in fact bears traces of the whole history of the text. That history cannot, however, be read from Vaticanus, without evidence from other manuscripts which have gone a different way.81
The other consideration neglected by Aland and Gamble is the possibility of official ecclesiastical suppression of earlier or otherwise deviant text forms. Winsome Munro thinks of it in terms of more or less voluntary conformity within the orthodox plausibility structure: “Though episcopacy was probably not yet firmly established in the Aegean region [at the time of the Pastoral revision], it would have been possible to maintain a standard text within orthodox circles. Acceptance of this ecclesiastical authority would have involved adherence to the scriptures and revisions of scripture it authorized, and rejection or deviation therefore would have spelt expulsion.”82

Think of the revulsion with which fundamentalists greeted the debut of the Revised Standard Version. Certainly none would be caught dead with anything but King James in church. Likewise sectarian heretics would not be eager to share their cherished scripture versions with their religious opponents, so neither side probably had much to fear in the way of textual infection. And when these sects expired, their scriptures were buried with them: witness, for example, the dearth of Bogomil or Catharist scriptures. Walker envisions a slightly later situation in which internalized authority might prove insufficient:

We only know that the surviving text of the Pauline letters is the text promoted by the historical winners in the theological and ecclesiastical struggles of the second and third centuries. Marcion’s text disappeared—another example, no doubt, of the well-documented practice of suppressing and even destroying what some Christians regarded as deficient, defective, deviant, or dangerous texts. In short, it appears likely that the emerging Catholic leadership in the Churches “standardized” the text of the Pauline corpus in the light of “orthodox” views and practices, suppressing and even destroying all deviant texts and manuscripts. Thus it is that we have no manuscripts dating from earlier than the third century; thus it is that all of the extant manuscripts are remarkably similar in most of their significant features.83

One cannot help but wonder if text-critical theories like those of Aland, Gordon D. Fee, Gamble, Harnack, and Bruce M. Metzger are simply contemporary attempts to safeguard the officially sanitized textual tradition in the interests of the same ecclesiastical establishment that produced the text they so jealously guard.


In composing a survey like this one, it is scarcely possible to avoid reaching some tentative conclusions of one’s own. I will take the liberty of sharing them here. Most of them will by now come as no surprise. I can see some early use of Romans and 1 Corinthians, followed later by the sequel 2 Corinthians, all as encyclicals, as well as the local exchange and circulation of other letters. The question of authorship would have little bearing here one way or the other. No doubt, interpolations were made and gradually permeated the text of each letter until final canonization of the Pastoral edition and concurrent burning of its rivals.

The best candidate, if we want a name for the first collector of the Pauline epistles, remains Marcion. No one else we know of would be a good candidate, certainly not the essentially fictive Luke, Onesimus, or Timothy. Marcion, as Burkitt and Bauer show, fills the bill perfectly. Of the epistles themselves, he is probably the original author of Laodiceans, the Vorlage of Ephesians, and perhaps of at least part of Galatians, too. Like Muhammad in the Koran, he would have read his own struggles back into the careers of his biblical predecessors. Nonetheless, as our investigations proceed, we may find it more plausible to ascribe the formation of the Pauline corpus to a Marcionite successor than to Marcion himself.

Marcion, or Marcionites, adapted the now-lost Ur-Lukas and combined it with the ten-letter Pauline corpus to form the Apostolicon. As Knox perceived clearly, our canonical Luke tried to supplant the Marcionite Gospel, augmenting the pre-Marcionite Ur-Lukas with new, catholicizing, and anti-Marcionite material of various sorts. Canonical Luke succeeded in this effort (again, the longer displaces the shorter). And according to Knox, the Acts of the Apostles, which has Paul as a clone of Peter—someone who does not even write letters—replaced the dangerous corpus of “the apostle of the heretics.” Like Jacob, however, it only managed to usurp priority over Esau, not to destroy him, even today subtly governing the way historical critics read the Pauline epistles. The Pauline corpus survived alongside it.

One modification I would make in Knox’s reconstruction is to factor in Jerome D. Quinn’s proposal that the author of Luke-Acts was the author of the Pastoral Epistles and that he intended a tripartite work on the pattern of contemporary collections of documents about or by a famous figure, concluding with a letter or collection of letters by the great man. Luke-Acts-Pastorals would then be a tripartite tractate to counter Marcion’s scripture, the Pastor­als intended to supplant the earlier letters. I suspect the redacted Ephesians and Third Corinthians were originally similar Pauline diatessarons aiming but failing to replace Marcion’s Pauline corpus. I should note that Knox did, of course, regard the Pastoral Epistles as post-Marcion and anti-Marcion; he just didn’t group them with Luke-Acts.

Since the corpus could not be eliminated, Plan B was to reissue them in a sanitized edition, domesticated by means of the Pastoral stratum. From there on in, it became easier to destroy rival versions of the Pauline letters. The Gospels of Mark and Matthew were added and so was John once it had undergone ecclesiastical redaction (Bultmann), just like Laodiceans and Ur-Lukas. How interesting that, just as Acts has Paul chained to a Roman guard on either side, so are the most heretical of New Testament writings escorted by watchful Catholic sentinels on both sides: John is bracketed between Luke and Acts, Paul’s letters between Acts and the Pastorals. They shouldn’t offer any trouble.

Eventually, the nondescript Catholic or General Epistles were spuriously ascribed to the pillar apostles so as to dilute Paul’s voice yet further. There was even an attempt to fabricate an innocuous, one-page replacement for the Marcionite Laodiceans. It didn’t catch on, but it managed to fool Harnack.


1. The term was coined by Immanuel Kant. It “was the type of transcendental theology characteristic of Anselm of Canterbury’s ontological argument, which believes it can know the existence of an Urwesen [original being] through mere concepts, without the help of any experience whatsoever” (Iain Thomson, Heidegger on Ontotheology: Technology and the Politics of Education [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005], 7).

2. French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) was one of the most influential Deconstructionists of the twentieth century.

3. Walter Schmithals, Paul and the Gnostics, trans. John E. Steely (New York: Abingdon Press, 1972), 270.

4. R. L. Archer, “The Epistolary Form in the New Testament,” Expository Times 63 (1951-52), 296ff.

5. Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1970), 657.

6. Adolf Deissmann, Paul: A Study in Social and Religious History, 2nd ed., trans. William E. Wilson (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1957), 5-6.

7. Abraham J. Malherbe, Paul and the Popular Philosophers (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989).

8. Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, “Rhetorical Situation and Historical Reconstruction in 1 Corinthians,” in eds. Edward Adams and David G. Horrell, Christianity at Corinth: The Quest for the Pauline Church (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 153-54.

9. David Trobisch, Paul’s Letter Collection: Tracing the Origins (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993).

10. Schmithals, Paul and the Gnostics, 266.

11. Trobisch, Paul’s Letter Collection, 101.

12. The actual Tosefta was a subsequent collection of materials left out of the Mishna by its scribal compilers.

13. Vincent Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition (London: Macmillan, 1957), 41: “If the Form-Critics are right, the disciples must have been translated to heaven immediately after the Resurrection.”

14. Trobisch, Paul’s Letter Collection, 97-98.

15. Dennis Ronald MacDonald, The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983). The Encratites were ascetics who, like the Shakers, rejected all sexuality as the price of salvation.

16. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 646.

17. Adolf Harnack, Die Briefsammlung des Apostels Paulus (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1926).

18. Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Barthes, Image–Music–Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Noonday Press, 1988), 142-48.

19. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), 145, 154, 157.

20. Max Müller, “Preface to The Sacred Books of the East,” in The Upan­isads, Part I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879), ix-xxxix. He writes, for example, of “the wild confusion of sublime truth with vulgar stupidity that meets us in the pages of the Veda, the Avesta, and the Tripitaka” (xv-xvi).

21. Percy Neale Harrison, The Problem of the Pastoral Epistles (London: Oxford University Press, 1921), 87-137.

22. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 655-57.

23. Charles Francis Digby Moule, The Birth of the New Testament (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 204; Moule, “The Problem of the Pastoral Epistles: A Reappraisal,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 47 (1965): 430-52.

24. Stephen G. Wilson, Luke and the Pastoral Epistles (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1979).

25. Jerome D. Quinn, “The Last Volume of Luke: The Relation of Luke-Acts to the Pastoral Epistles,” in Charles H. Talbert, ed., Perspectives on Luke-Acts (Danville, VA: Association of Baptist Professors of Religion, 1978), 62-75.

26. Hans Conzelmann, “Paulus und die Weisheit,” New Testament Studies 12 (1965): 321-44.

27. Eduard Lohse, Die Briefe an die Kolosser und an Philemon (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1964), 14.

28. Hans-Martin Schenke, “Das Weiterwirken des Paulus und die Pflege seines Erbs durch die Paulusschule,” New Testament Studies 21, issue 4 (1975).

29. Harry Gamble, The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 39.

30. Schenke, “Weiterwirken des Paulus,” 511.

31. Paul D. Hanson, The Dawn of Apocalyptic: The Historical and Sociological Roots of Jewish Apocalyptic Eschatology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 32-208.

32. Ernst Käsemann, “The Canon of the New Testament and the Unity of the Church,” in Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes, trans. W. J. Montague (London: SCM Press, 1964), 95-107.

33. Rudolf Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, trans. John Marsh, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 127.

34. M. Eugene Boring, Sayings of the Risen Jesus: Christian Prophecy in the Synoptic Tradition. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 46 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982).

35. It is unfortunate that in English we have two separate words for story and history, whereas in German and French, the same word, though different in the two languages, covers both concepts.

36. Hermann Detering, Paulusbriefe ohne Paulus? Die Paulusbriefe in der holländischen radikalkritik Kontexte (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1992).

37. Willem Christiaan van Manen, “Paul,” in T. K. Cheyne and J. Sutherland Black, eds., Encyclopaedia Biblica (New York: Macmillan, 1914).

38. Willem Christiaan van Manen, “Old-Christian Literature,” Encyclopaedia Biblica.

39. Moule, Birth of the New Testament, 203.

40. Kirsopp Lake, The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul (London: Rivingtons, 1911), cited in Leslie C. Mitton, The Formation of the Pauline Corpus of Letters (London: Epworth Press, 1955), 16: “Small and partial collections came into existence in various centers, before the Corpus in its completed form fully replaced them.”

41. Günther Zuntz, The Text of the Epistles: A Disquisition upon the Corpus Paulinum (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953), 279.

42. Percy Neale Harrison, Polycarp’s Two Epistles to the Philippians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936), 239-40.

43. Lucetta Mowry, “The Early Circulation of Paul’s Letters,” Journal of Biblical Literature 63 (June 1944), 73-86.

44. Schmithals, Paul and the Gnostics, 239-74.

45. Nils Dahl, “The Particularity of the Pauline Epistles as a Problem for the Ancient Church,” in Neotestamentica et Patristica: Eine Freundesgabe Herrn Professor Dr. Oscar Cullmann zu seinem 60 Geburtstag überreicht (Leiden: Brill, 1962), 269.

46. Schmithals, Paul and the Gnostics, 259.

47. Walter Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, eds. Robert Kraft and Gerhard Krodel, trans. by a team from the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), 219.

48. Mowry, “Early Circulation of Paul’s Letters,” 81.

49. Simone Petremont, A Separate God: The Christian Origins of Gnosticism, trans. Carol Harrison (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990), 223.

50. Hans von Campenhausen, The Formation of the Christian Bible, trans. J. A. Baker (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972), 144-45.

51. Andreas Lindemann, “Paul in the Writings of the Apostolic Fathers,” in William S. Babcock, ed., Paul and the Legacies of Paul (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1990), 25-43. I shall deal with most of these supposed Pauline references in Chapter Four.

52. Johannes Weiss, Der erste Korintherbrief (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1910); Weiss, Earliest Christianity: A History of the Period AD 30-150, 2 vols., trans. and ed. Frederick C. Grant (New York: Harper & Row, 1959), 2:684.

53. John Knox, Philemon among the Letters of Paul: A New View of Its Place and Importance (New York: Abingdon Press, 1935; rev. ed. 1959).

54. Ralph P. Martin, Mark: Evangelist and Theologian (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1972), 161-62.

55. Schmithals, Paul and the Gnostics, 264.

56. The German scholar Lobegott Friedrich Konstantin von Tischendorf spent the mid-nineteenth century in the Middle East hunting for the oldest extant Bible manuscripts. In Palestine he discovered the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, which he presented to his benefactor, Tsar Alexander II of Russia.

57. Frederick F. Bruce, qtd. in Arthur G. Patzia, “Canon,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, eds. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993), 88.

58. Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy, 221.

59. Francis C. Burkitt, The Gospel History and Its Transmission (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1906, rpt. 1925), 318-19.

60. John Knox, Marcion and the New Testament: An Essay in the Early History of the Canon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942), 77-113.

61. R. Joseph Hoffmann, Marcion: On the Restitution of Christianity: An Essay on the Development of Radical Paulinist Theology in the Second Century. AAR Academy Series 46 (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1984), 274-80.

62. Van Manen, “Paul.”

63. John J. Clabeaux, A Lost Edition of the Letters of Paul: A Reassessment of the Text of the Pauline Corpus Attested by Marcion. Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series No. 21 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1989).

64. Frede, Altlateinische Paulus-Handschriften (Freiburg im Breisgau: Verlag Herder, 1964).

65. Nils Dahl, “The Origin of the Earliest Prologues to the Pauline Letters,” Semeia 12 (1978): 260.

66. Ibid., 259.

67. Ibid., 254.

68. Mowry, “Early Circulation of Paul’s Letters,” 80.

69. Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 644.

70. Schmithals, Paul and the Gnostics, 259.

71. Ibid., 261.

72. Harry Y. Gamble, “The Redaction of the Pauline Letters and the Formation of the Pauline Corpus,” Journal of Biblical Literature 94 (Sept. 1975).

73. Winsome Munro, Authority in Paul and Peter: The Identification of a Pastoral Stratum in the Pauline Corpus and I Peter. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 45 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 2.

74. Ibid., 141-42.

75. MacDonald, Legend and the Apostle, 85-89.

76. Aland, qtd. in Patzia, “Canon,” 89.

77. Gamble, “Redaction of the Pauline Letters,” 418.

78. Mowry, “Early Circulation of Paul’s Letters,” 86.

79. Knox, Marcion, 131.

80. William O. Walker, Jr., “The Burden of Proof in Identifying Interpolations in the Pauline Letters,” New Testament Studies 33 (Oct. 1987), 612.

81. John C. O’Neill, The Recovery of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. (London: SPCK, 1972), 36.

82. Munro, Authority in Paul and Peter, 143.

83. Walker, “Burden of Proof,” 614.