Dating the Pastorals: A Presuppositional Problem

In an earlier post I went through an argument for dating the gospels early by using the argumentation that appears in most textbooks on the New Testament. Next to the gospels, the short pastoral epistles, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, are one of the targets for undermining the authority of the New Testament, often by positing that certain terms are for a later, second century period of time.(1)

However, is there an argument that the pastorals are, in fact, very early? This post seems to think so.

The argument, drawn from a lecture by Ben Witherington (linked in the original post), homes in on a key phrase found in 2 Timothy 4:1, “only Luke is with me”. This is a very strange, and rather deliberate throw away line for a 2nd century forger to insert. Then there’s scholars like Bart Ehrman, who just make seemingly dishonest statements.

Below is a screenshot from his book Forged where Ehrman makes claims about the opening passages of 1 & 2 Timothy,

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 5.50.43 PM

You can see where he makes claims about the opening lines of both letters. Now, below, is another screenshot of the opening lines of the books, with the in-line Greek text,

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 5.56.47 PM

One can see that, while there are certain similarities, there are certain differences that should be noted. That means that building an argument based on any similarities strays dangerously into correlation fallacy territory. There are, of course, other avenues of attack that Ehrman points out: unique vocabulary in the pastorals compared to the other “accepted” Pauline texts; unique usage of the word “faith” (from a pointer to a descriptor); as well as certain concerns about the law.(2) But these differences can be explained by simply recognizing the differences between the pastoral epistles (their personal nature) and the “accepted” epistles (general audiences, specific problems).

That’s why the argument presented in the article is so worth considering, because it is essentially dependent upon thoughts that I set out in in my post on dating the gospels.

Also, see this debate between James R. White and Bart Ehrman on the latter’s book, Misquoting Jesus.


  1. Edwin R. Freed. The New Testament: A Critical Introduction, 3rd Edition. Wadsworth/Thomson Learning. Belmont, CA. 2001. pp 412-3
  2. Bart D. Ehrman. Forged:Writing in the Name of God  Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not  Who We Think They Are. Harper-Collins Publishers. 2011. pp 121-5.


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