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Pseudepigraphy in Colossians

Discuss about the Pseudepigraphy In James And Colossians.

Pseudepigraphy rose to be among the most controversial debates in theology in the 19th century following the modern critical observation of style and language. Pseudepigraphy refers to the false attribution of the authorship to a certain text. Also referred to as antiquity or pseudonymity, the term is used to emphasize the wrong ascription of authorship of a document. The disagreement over the authorship of some of the New Testament books is just as old as antiquity itself. Since the 19th century, many objections have been on the limelight against the authenticity of both the book of Colossians and James. Currently, about 50 percent of the New Testament scholars term the two letters as pseudonymous. Although the authorship of the two letters cannot be approved or disapproved, this essay sets forth various considerations which could be used to determine which side of authenticity of the two books is more plausible.

Despite the contentions of the certainty that Saint Paul is not the author of Colossians, the controversy over the book’s authorship which started in 1838 after the release of Mayerhoff’s study has not yet ended. Scholars are even more divided on this matter. Regardless of an individual’s position, it is apparent that most of them admit that the matters is beyond resolution. The Epistle written by Paul to the Colossians is the 12th book in the N.T. According to the text itself, the book was authored by the Apostles Paul and Timothy. Modern scholars have progressively questioned the attribution of Paul to the letter. They rather cite that the book must have been written by an earlier follower of Christ. However, other scholars have emerged to defend the authorship of the book with an equal strength. A portion of the modern scholars argue that if Paul is indeed the author of the epistle, he must have possibly utilized a secretary or amanuensis (probably Timothy) to write the letter on his behalf.

For scholars like Baur, the Epistle to the Colossians did not portray the problems that were existent in Paul’s time. This deviation from the contemporary realities during the time prompted Baur to conclude that Paul did not author the book.  Since Baur’s conclusions, scholars have gone ahead to question all kinds of elements in the epistle. Firstly, there is the argument that the language in the book does not match the one in the other letters attributed to Paul. Scholars cite that there are 48 words that appear in Colossians absent in the other Pauline letters. 33 out of the 48 words are absent in the New Testament. Secondly, the epistle is dominated by much usage of the style of liturgical-hymnic which does not appear in any other epistle to a similar extent. Thirdly, the themes in the book of Colossians are related to eschatology, the church, and Christ which are not parallel to the other undisputed works of Paul.

Arguments against Pauline authorship


According to Colossians 1:1, Paul and Timothy authored the book. The verse indicates that Paul and Timothy are the real authors of the letter to the Colossians. Although Timothy is indicated as a co-author, this fact is rarely evidenced in the text. The first person plural pronoun only appears in the epistolary thanksgiving (Col 1:3-12) and thrice. In the fifth time, the pronoun is used to refer generally to all the believers. In the text, the pronoun for the first person singular is used. Paul writes, “This is the good news … of which, I Paul, have become a servant”.  Paul is definitely the principal author of the text.

The scholars who advocate for Paul's authorship of the book defend their position by citing that the letter contains some elements in the works which are considered to have been genuinely authored by Paul. Additionally, the letters are also different from one another in one way or the other. The advocates consider both the similarities and differences as human variables. The dissimilarity in the letters could have been necessitated by an increased theological language, varied writing as well as the use of different amanuensis in the composition.  The scholars defending Paul's authorship of the epistle are cognizant of the differences in style, language, and themes in Colossians but maintain that the variance is not greater than in the undebated Pauline epistles such as Galatians.

The scholars who back up the authorship of Paul feel that the differences are not as big as the disputers purport them to be. In regard to the style used in the text, the scholars who argue for antiquity argue that the epistle employs a great deal of the traditional material. This argument is baseless as it hardly accounts for the non-Pauline style and language. The letters were written in different settings, and hence the style cannot be used as an indication of pseudepigraphy.

The book of James is among the 21 epistles in the New Testament whose authorship is greatly debated upon. Scholars usually differ on the specific person by the name James who wrote the book owing to the fact that there are three people by the name James mentioned in the New Testament. The writer identifies himself as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." The book is addressed to "the twelve tribes scattered abroad” (James 1:1). Traditionally, the epistle of James was attributed to James, the brother of Jesus Christ. The audience was thought to be the Christian Jews who were scattered outside Palestine.

Defending Pauline authorship

Robert Foster argues that there is very little consensus on the structure, dating, genre and the authorship of the book of James. Ideally, there is no Gentile controversy mentioned in the epistle. Thus, there is much likelihood that the book was written before the schism in the Jewish church. The author refers to the church meetings as synagogues (James 2:2). From the light shed by these factors, it is highly probable that the epistle was written earlier before 49 A.D. As earlier mentioned, there are three individuals by the name James in the New Testament who could have authored the book in question. Firstly, there is a brother of John named James who was martyred during the 43 A.D according to Acts 12. The belief that James the brother of John is the author of the book is based on the supposition that since John wrote some letters, he probably wrote the book before is killing. Based on this assumption the audience could have been the Jews who were scattered during the 35 A.D (Acts 8:1). However, if Peter’s brother had authored this book, we would have expected him to refer to himself as Jesus Christ’s apostle.

In the New Testament, there is another apostle of Jesus Christ named James, the son of Alphaeus. The son of Alphaeus is not much explored in the Bible, and thus many could argue that he could hardly have authored the letter. However, this assumption lacks evidence. We cannot simply argue against his authorship just because we know nothing much about him. Those who believe that he in fact authored the book support their claim by citing that Jude wrote a book despite the fact there is nothing much written about him in the bible. This ground lacks much evidence as we would again expect this James to identify himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ.

The Early church attributed the epistle to James, the brother of Jesus. He was much prominent in the Bible unlike the other two men by the name James discussed above.  Having grown up with Jesus, he became a convert after Christ had resurrected and thereafter started relating with the apostles. He, later on, turned out to be the sovereign elder in the church of Jerusalem. His presiding position in the church makes it highly possible that he could take time to write a letter to the brethren. Scholars have carried about a comparison between the text in the epistle and the one in Acts 15:13-29 and have realized many similarities of language, style, and phrasing. Just as in the other cases, if this James had written this letter, he would have identified himself as the brother of Jesus. However, some scholars claim that the Greek used in the epistle is too complicated to have been written by a Galilean peasant.

Pseudepigraphy in James

 Realistically, there is no single ground that is more certain and could be settled for. Many scholars agree that Christ's brother is the most probable author of the epistle of James. The probability that the son of Zebedee could have written the book is disqualified by many critics citing that he was killed about 44 A.D which was much early for him to have been a writer. The unpopularity of the son of Alphaeus in the scriptural record is often used to deny that he could have written the book.  There is pretty much evidence that James, the brother of Jesus should be honored as the author of the book. Christ himself evidently made an appearance to him after the resurrection.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the fact that the New Testament letters have the worst identity credentials is undeniable. Scholars have offered much evidence contesting for pseudepigraphy which is yet to be approved. In the case of Colossians, the epistle is very much related to Ephesians whose authorship is also constantly questioned. The two have many similarities although they are said to have been written in different settings. Generally, all the epistles of Paul have some incidents of similarity and difference. Thus scholars should avoid capitalizing so much on the differences as there are similarities which are equally pronounced. The authorship of the book of James is perhaps the most unpredictable. There is hardly evidence enough to attribute it to one of the men by the name James in the New Testament. In these circumstances, critics would rather attribute it to anonymous and put the debate to a stop. Preferably, scholars should rather practice restraint in this field as further research leads to greater contestations.

Batten, Alicia J. 2011. "The Jesus Tradition and the Letter of James." Review & Expositor 108 (3): 381-390.

Brosend, William. 2010. Who Wrote the Letter of James? December 11. Accessed May 30, 2018. https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/people/related-articles/who-wrote-the-letter-of-james.

Gupta, Nijay. 2012. On Colossians – the problem of authorship. January 28. Accessed May 30, 2018. https://cruxsolablog.com/2012/01/28/on-colossians-the-problem-of-authorship/.

Gupta, Nijay. 2013. Smyth & Helwys Commentary: Colossians. Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc.

Just, Felix. 2012. The Letters to the Colossians & to the Ephesians. February 17. Accessed May 30, 2018. https://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Paul-Colossians-Ephesians.htm.

Malick, David. 2014. An Introduction To The Book Of James. June 3. Accessed May 5, 2018. https://bible.org/article/introduction-book-james.

Marshall, John W. 2016. Pseudepigraphy, Early Christian. August 30. Accessed May 29, 2018. https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195393361/obo-9780195393361-0219.xml.

Newsome, Matthew. 2016. Who Was James, the Brother of Jesus? January 28. Accessed May 30, 2018. https://testeverythingblog.com/who-was-james-the-brother-of-jesus-103d00828bce.

Pascuzzi, Maria A. 2013. "Reconsidering the Authorship of Colossians." Bulletin for Biblical Research 23 (2): 223-246.

Reed, Annette Yoshiko. 2010. "The Modern Invention of ‘Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.'" The Journal of Theological Studies 60 (2): 403–436.

Rosengarten, Richard A., and James T Robinson. 2018. "Pseudepigraphy in the Epistle of James." The Journal of Religion 98 (2): 191-211.

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