A FURTHER reply to the Rev. A. Q. Morton's
findings on the Pauline Epistles after a computer analysis comes front Fr.
Eugene H. Maly. a leading Anzerican Scripture scholar and editor of "The Bible Today".
A RECENT article reported an "-Aattempt to prove or disprove, by the use of a computer St. Paul's authorship of the epistles traditionally assigned to him.
It was a mechanical adaptation of a method used for many years by scholars to determine authorship. It is based, briefly. on the assumption that a writer's style and vocabulary are uniquely his. By a careful analysis. therefore, of the compositions involved it is possible to arrive at probable conclusions as to their authorship.
We arc concerned here with two conclusions arrived at the first by the one who applied the method, the second by the author of the article.
The first conclusion stated that only five of the so-called Pauline letters were actually written by the Apostle. The others are anonymous or pseudonymous letters composed by someone now unknown. (There are several examples of pseudonymous writings in the Bible).
The strength of the conclusion rests on the validity of the method used. Have all the circumstances been taken into account: the occasion and nature of the letter, the recipients, the relationship between the writer and the recipients? All of these have some influence on one's vocabulary and style.
Even when all of these have been considered, no scholar would base an absolute conclusion on this method alone. In other words, while the reported findings are not to be ignored, the Pauline authorship of the other epistle will on the scholarly level. continue to be fruitfully discussed.
The second conclusion was that the non-Pauline origin of the other epistles poses a serious challenge to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. This conclusion, whoever may have drawn it and on whatever basis, is simply not true.
If based on the assumption that the Church has infallibly defined Paul's authorship of the epistles, that assumption is false. The Church has never attempted to determine. as a matter of faith, the human author of any book of the Bible.
It is true that in defining the canon or list. of inspired books she has introduced the names of the authors traditionally associated with those books (it is still the practice in most printed bibles today).
But this is solely for the purpose of identification. It is similar to
the practice of the classical scholar who refers to Homer's Iliad. fully aware that the authorship is seriously discussed.
An even wilder assumption is involved in the statement that the findings "will pose a challenge to the Roman Catholic and Anglican view of St. Paul as the creator of the only true Church founded by Jesus".
It is difficult to know just what the statement means, If it means that the Church considers Paul the 'creator of the Church the statement is absurd.
If it means that the Church considers Paul the creator of a theology of the Church, one who expounded most clearly the nature and destiny of the Church founded by Jesus Christ. there is some truth contained in it.
But. while Paul's contribution to this theology would be diminshed by the findings (granting their validity) he would still rank high among the inspired New Testament writers who helped to develop a theology of the Church.
It will probably come as a surprise to the writer of the article that some Catholic scholars have long questioned Paul's authorship of several of the epistles. Almost all are agreed that he did not write the Letter to the Hebrews for example.
But whatever the ultimate decisions of the scholars might be in this regard, it is certain that no truth of the Church will be affected by the findings. Rather, the Church can only rejoice at such findings because they give her a better insight into the development of revelation in the New Testament period.