Since the advent of critical scholarship, the authorship of all the biblical texts have come into question. After the dust settled, it is commonly accepted that, of the thirteen letters attributed to Paul in the new testament, only seven were certainly written by him: 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, Romans, and 1 Thessalonians.

The three 'pastoral' letters are almost universally rejected as pseudo-Pauline (a wholly unrelated author pretending to be Paul many decades later), while Colossians and Ephesians seem to be generally accepted as deutero-Pauline (written with an authentically Pauline core, or written by a student of Paul's).

The outlier is 2 Thessalonians. Those who accept Pauline authorship say it fits his writing style and theology. Those who reject it say its eschatology differs too much, and even the author's insistence that he isn't a pseudonymous author is actually evidence he is. I don't see a majority position on this question.

What is the evidence regarding the authorship of 2 Thessalonians? Does it weigh in favor of pseudonymity?

(I expect strong answers to delve into issues such as early attestation of the letter, whether the Greek matches Paul's normative style and vocabulary in his seven 'authentic' letters, whether the theology and eschatology match Paul's, etc.)

  • 1
    [comments removed] Please use comments to request clarification, leave constructive criticism for improving the post, or add relevant but minor information. This is not a discussion forum wherein we rant about tangential topics or complain about the presuppositions underlying the OP's academic field of interest. – Susan Apr 10 at 6:59
  • @Susan: I couldn't disagree with you more. Don – rhetorician Apr 10 at 12:39

The first verse of 2 Thessalonians is "Paul, and Sylvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ."

The letter clearly claims to be a joint work of these three men. Perhaps any stylistic differences in the epistle may be accounted for by attributing certain parts to Paul, others to Sylvanus, and others to Timothy.

Now, one might object to my conjecture in light of the below verse:

"The salutation of Paul with my own hand; which is the sign in every epistle. So I write." (2 Thessalonians 3:17)

The verse may appear at first to be claiming that Paul was the sole author of the epistle. But notice that the verse does not explicitly state this. It states that this salutation was written by Paul himself; it does not state that the entire epistle was written by Paul.


Now, you asked about eschatological differences between 1 and 2 Thessalonians. In 1 Thessalonians Chapter 5, Paul (or perhaps Sylvanus or Timothy) refers to the Second Coming of Christ, alluding to how it will be sudden and unexpected, and extorts his audience:

"Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do; but let us watch, and be sober." (1 Thessalonians 5:6)

In 2 Thessalonians Chapter 2, however, the writer implies that the Second Coming cannot happen right away:

"That you be not easily moved from your sense, nor be terrified, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by epistle, as sent from us, as if the day of the Lord were at hand." (2 Thessalonians 2:2)

Can the apparent contradiction be reconciled? I claim that it can. 1 Thessalonians does not state that the Second Coming can happen right away, although one might be given that impression. Perhaps Paul was exhorting them, however, to be ready for the Second Coming as if it were going to happen soon; being ready for the Second Coming is akin to being ready for death, and it is extremely important to be ready for death since the state of one's soul at that moment will determine his or her fate for all eternity.

Of course, perhaps the people at Thessalonica misinterpreted this to mean that the "day of the Lord were at hand." Thus, it is fitting that Paul (and Sylvanus and Timothy) would correct their misunderstanding in the second epistle.

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