Best sentences I’ve read today

From Matthew Brook O’Donnell, $amz(1905048114 Corpus Linguistics and the Greek of the New Testament), p. 388:

It seems unlikely that by simply counting words it is possible to differentiate between authors. While a particular author may have a core or base vocabulary, as well as an affinity for certain words (or combination/collocation of words), there are many factors, for instance, age, further education, social setting, rhetorical purpose and so on, that restrict or expand this core set of lexical items. In spite of this, New Testament attribution studies and many commentaries (sadly, some rather recent ones at that) have placed considerable weight on counting the number of words found in one letter but not found in a group of letters assumed to be authentic. (O’Donnell, 388)

I can’t tell you the times that I’ve read authorship discussions on the Pastorals in commentaries where the argument boils down to "read P.N. Harrison’s Problem of the Pastoral Epistles, he got it right". This pawning the argument off on what is essentially a misdirected attempt at stylometry through hapax-legomena counting. Statistics are not easy to understand, and when someone makes a statistical case that sounds good it is easy to accept, point to, and never think about again. "So-and-so has all sorts of numbers, statistics, math and tables that I don’t fully understand, so it must be right."

I’m not saying that all commentaries, monographs and such that dispute Pauline authorship do this. Some do not, and they are well worth reading because they’re really wrestling with the stylistic issues. But if your reason for discounting Pauline authorship rests solely on comparative proportions of hapax legomena between two different slices of a corpus … well, you’re not standing on firm ground.


  1. Richard Fellows says:


    your post has not engaged with the statistical arguments. You simply attempt to dismiss them with a wave of the hand.

    On this blog you often make interesting observations about the PE that actually support pseudonymity. For example, you commented that 1 Timothy does gives teaching that seems too basic for Paul’s most senior associate, Timothy. We can always explain away such difficulties by piling up assumptions, but aren’t you crushed by the weight of all those assumptions by now? Your explanation in this case was that Paul wanted to give Timothy ammunition to use against opponents. However, 1 Tim treats Timothy like a junior novice so this letter would hardly bolster Timothy’s authority in the church.

    For me the most compelling reasons for pseudonymity are historical. For example, it is not possible that Timothy could have been young when 1 Tim was written. It seems obvious to me that the author of the PE read 1 Cor 16 and used it to construct his "letters":

    1. In 1 Cor 16:8-11 Paul is expecting that he will go from Ephesus to Macedonia after Timothy returns to Ephesus, and Paul mentions that there are many adversaries in Ephesus. 1 Tim 1:3 has Paul going to Macedonia and leaving Timothy in Ephesus to deal with the adversaries. This fits perfectly as an extension of 1 Cor 16. The problem is that 2 Cor 1:1 (and Acts 19:22) shows that this did not happen. Timothy did NOT stay in Ephesus.

    2. 1 Cor 16:10-11 suggests that Timothy was afraid, and at first glance it seems that Timothy was timid. 1 Timothy says that Timothy was timid. The problem is that Hutson has shown that Timothy was NOT timid. Timothy’s fear was rather because he had been sent on a challenging mission to confront the Corinthians (see 1 Cor 4). The author of the PE, having wrongly concluded that Timothy was Timid, probably inferred from this that he was young (timidity was considered a characteristic of youth, I think) and thereby dug himself into a deeper hole.

    3. 1 Cor 16 places Prisca and Aquila in Ephesus, as does 2 Tim 4:19. The problem is that Prisca and Aquila left Ephesus long before 2 Tim could have been written (see Rom 16).

    It is time that the advocates of Pauline authorship addressed these arguments.

  2. Rick says:

    Hi Richard.

    My post wasn’t intended to engage stylistic arguments, and it wasn’t intended to say that there aren’t stylistic arguments either way; my post was about noting O’Donnell’s analysis, which shows that focusing on unique vocabulary as a primary stylistic argument, particularly with an extant corpora as small as the Paulines (and especially the subcorpus of the Pastorals), is problematic.

    You’ll also note my last paragraph, which said that stylistic arguments that aren’t focused on unique vocabulary (hapax legomena and similar low-frequency vocabulary) are well worth exploring and examining.

    On the other items you note, I’ll just stay that I’ve found the authorship studies in some recent commentaries (Towner, Witherington, Johnson, Mounce) stimulating and helpful on a number of levels, though none are perfect — and I don’t know that the perfect authorship study can be written, or the problem perfectly conceived.

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