1 Timothy 5:18, Pauline Authorship, and the Gospels

1 Timothy 5:18, Pauline Authorship, and the Gospels January 25, 2014

In 1 Timothy 5:18 it says:

For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and,“The laborer deserves his wages.”

One text quoted is from the Jewish Scriptures. The other is a saying attributed to Jesus in the Gospels.

And so the author of this text, not only do one or more written Gospels exist, but they are being viewed as Scripture.

There could perhaps be other explanations of what we find here – that a saying of Jesus was misremembered as being from the Hebrew Bible. But if it is deemed more likely that the author intends to refer to Gospels as part of the Scriptures, then given the absence of reference to written Gospels in the authentic letters of Paul, positing that Paul actually wrote 1 Timothy seems particularly difficult.

There are certainly ways of avoiding this conclusion, but it isn’t clear to me that any of them seem to provide a more probable reading of the evidence than what I’ve outline above.

What do others think?


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  • Just Sayin’

    Who do you posit as writing I Tim. (and II Tim.)?

    • No idea.

    • Campenhausen thought it was Polycarp. It seems the right sort of time and milieu, even if it wasn’t him himself.

      • Just Sayin’

        Thanks. I know nothing about this topic and thought there might be various ideas floating around scholarly circles. [I can’t remember what Bart Erhman says about it and that’s almost all I’ve read, apart from Metzger’s NT introduction years ago.]

  • Jon Weatherly

    David Wenham argues for many more references to the gospel tradition in the Pauline letters than is often noted. If even some of the allusions he identifies are rightly identified, then there’s more of the gospel tradition in Paul’s letters than is often allowed. In that respect, I’d modify the notion that Paul’s lack of references to Jesus tradition is a given. Still, this text is one of many issues that makes it harder to attributed the Pastorals to Paul.

  • goodacre

    Or, horror of horrors, the Pastor may be quoting from Q 10.7 and regarding Q as scripture!

    • Just Sayin’

      “The Pastor” — that’s something to hold on to, even if we don’t know who it is!

  • Andrew Dowling

    It’s likely probable, but IMO there are much stronger arguments that 1 Timothy was not written by Paul than that quote.

  • Parableman

    At best, this doesn’t show that it’s not Paul, just that it’s written later than the other Pauline letters. Why couldn’t that time pass and then the growing consensus of gospel teachings as scripture be something Paul could have held too? And there’s no reason to think the gospels must have been all written after Paul’s death, since there’s tradition supporting the possibility that people he knew well were involved in writing them.

    But I don’t think it even requires a time gap. Why couldn’t Paul think something that he only mentions in one or two letters? This isn’t a very strong argument. Stephen King writes novels now and then that are very different from his other works. Scholars write books about topics that aren’t their standard schtick. We have to assume everything someone writes is like everything else they write for these sorts of arguments to have any force, and that assumption is just not true.

    • It is not impossible that the Gospels were written prior to Paul’s death, but that doesn’t make it probable. You would need to make a case for what that is them more likely scenario. That new texts were produced and immediately or quickly regarded as Scripture is precisely the sort of unprecedented event that one would expect to be mentioned, is it not?

      The issue is not that authors always write in the same way, but that something that is surprisingly different, in a letter that is full of things that are surprisingly different, in a context in which forgery was common, has to be treated with the same appropriate level of suspicion that historians will apply to any other similar cases.

      • EarBucket

        I don’t think Paul wrote 1 Timothy (maybe 2 Timothy, though) but it could maybe be argued that he’s quoting Q here as opposed to one of the canonical gospels.

  • Would you take it as a general principle that if, in a certain body of writing, there is just one reference to some other body of writing, that is evidence that the passage containing the reference is not authentic? That would seem to be an extremely dubious criterion. Yet isn’t it the one you are using here?

    • I don’t think that is the criterion I am using – I certainly hope it isn’t! One may only mention a text one knows on a single occasion, or often, or never. But given that Paul refers to Scripture regularly, and to Jesus regularly, I believe it is reasonable to infer that, if Paul knew of a collection of information about Jesus that he viewed as Scripture, we would expect to encounter that more frequently.