Biblical scholars today think that several of Paul the Apostle’s epistles in the New Testament (e.g. Letter to the Hebrews) were probably not written by him. In recent apologetics videos that I have been watching, Muslims term these letters “forgeries.” To a modern reader of the Bible, this definitely poses a problem. Do we consider the books of the New Testament that have been misattributed (and phrases that have been added by later authors, such as 1 John 5:7) forgeries? If not, how are we to reconcile our modern quest for truth with the apparently lax historical standards of some New Testament authors?
In other words, are these books and passages in question truly problematic? Yes and no, I think. They are troublesome from the perspective of our modern requirements for truth and transparency, which train us to frown upon individuals in the past who have attributed works to Paul that were not written by him (and added passages to other books that were not originally there). But there is more to the story. Literary genres in the past were different than they are today. Attributing a work to a known figure may have been a form of humility that ascribed respect to the named person while minimizing the author’s own importance.
But I’d like to propose a greater point. Christians believe that the books of the New Testament were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The same (perhaps even more so) can be said for the compilers of the biblical canon. Did the compilers of the canon know that some of the letters attributed to Paul (and other added passages) were not authentic? I would have to study the history of the Ecumenical Councils to answer that question. (more…)