How does authorship affect inspiration?
by David Bowen, PhD
Did Paul write the pastoral epistles, or was it a Pauline School he left behind? Was Matthew written by the apostle or by a community? If the epistles were not written by Paul, and Matthew was not written by the apostle, what difference does it make? How does the fact that the true authors are not the ones we have always thought affect the Bible’s divine inspiration?
Paul wrote the pastoral epistles. Matthew wrote the gospel that bears his name. Rather than my providing the argumentation to establish these claims, I would direct you to a standard evangelical New Testament introduction, such as that of D.A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris. There you will find not only the traditional views of authorship laid out with scholarly rationale but also the contemporary critical views rebutted.
If these books of the New Testament canon were not in fact written by Matthew and Paul it makes a difference to the modern church in at least two ways. The first consequence of denying the traditional authorship has to do with authority.
In the case of Matthew, as Professor Ehrman has pointed out in his latest book, Forged, the problem is not that the author of the canonical-order first gospel lied about authorship. The gospel that we know as Matthew makes no claim as to its author but was published anonymously. The issue, however, is whether it is authoritative for the church. And with this question, we come to the very heart of Professor Ehrman’s book.
The ultimate forgery for the Bible is that Christians have claimed for centuries that it is the Word of God. If there is no God, as Dr. Ehrman has argued in God’s Problem, at least to establish agnosticism, then of course there is no word of God. How one answers the question, “Is there a God?” has huge impact on the authority one attaches to writings that claim to have been inspired by him.
Jesus illustrated this connection between authority and identity in his interaction with the religious leaders of Jerusalem in the last week of his earthly life (Mark 11:27-33). They ask him by what authority he cleanses the temple, and he replies with a question of his own. “John’s baptism–was it from heaven, or from men?” They realize that they cannot answer without revealing their opinion of John’s identity as a prophet…
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