Ben Witherington has been blogging about Bart Ehrman’s recent book Forged. While Ehrman’s book is by no means above criticism, Witherington’s suggestion that that Ehrman misrepresents the scholarly consensus about the Pastoral Epistles seems to me to be off target. But this is perhaps an excellent opportunity to ask that perennial question: How does one gauge the scholarly consensus on a particular matter?
I found myself pondering this issue as I read Foster’s book on the The Gospel of Peter. Foster actually suggests at one point (pp.37-38) that the consensus of scholars might be something different than the viewpoint that is expressed most frequently in publications on the subject. I suspect that in the case of works like the Gospel of Peter, there may be far more people who teach about it and have thought about it than published about it. Perhaps the same can be said about the Pastoral Epistles, and if so, then Foster’s point may have more to be said for it than initially appears.What do others think? How does one gauge the scholarly consensus on a particular subject? My own inclination, when it comes to a matter such as the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, would be to look at (1) textbooks, (2) introductions to the New Testament, (3) the treatment of authorship in commentaries, and finally (4) scholarly monographs specifically on this subject.
My sense is that the consensus on the Pastoral Epistles is that they are not authentically Pauline. And I suspect that deep down, Witherington knows this. If someone were to write a scholarly book or present a conference paper, and assumed the Pastoral Epistles are not Pauline, they would not even need to mention the point explicitly. If they wanted to claim that they are authentically Pauline, they would have to argue the case strenuously.
Perhaps that more than anything else gives a clear sense of what the scholarly consensus is on a topic – what you can genuinely take for granted without discussion or dispute when writing a book, article, or conference paper?