The Secretaries of Peter, Paul and John

Textual critics of the New Testament identify certain books of the New Testament as forgeries. These so-called experts explain that there is internal evidence revealing against the apostolic authorship of New Testament text. They will say that 2 Peter was not written by Peter or that Colossians was not written by Paul.

The reasons critics provide for their conclusions are often these:

  1. “a Jew/fisherman/Galilean could not have written Greek this well”
  2. “the vocab and grammar of an author’s New Testament sample is different from another New Testament sample”
  3. “the use (or disuse) of the Greek Septuagint here and there argues against…”
  4. “the theology of this sample is too [“Christologial” “ecclesiological” or just fill in the blank] and therefore not authentic

Meet the Apostles’ Secretaries

In my book The Catholic Perspective on Paul, I developed a theory that the key to defending apostolic authorship of the New Testament is to appreciate the distinction between “Apostolic Author” and “Apostolic Secretary.”

Each Apostle like Cicero and other ancient writers made use of amanuensis. Amanuensis is a Greek word denoting “a literary secretary.” The amanuensis is a person employed to write on behalf of another or who can sign documents on the author’s authority. So the amanuensis or secretary has licensed authority to write on behalf of the author. The amanuensis or secretary would also prepare several copies of the document – one for the author to keep and then several copies to be sent out. In antiquity there were no hard drives – so an author needed an amanuensis to prepare, ,write, copy, and issue his documents or letters.

In The Catholic Perspective on Paul, we discover that Paul (and the other apostles) explicitly tell their audiences that the are employing an amanuensis or secretary. So we don’t even need to speculate. The Apostles admit it.

This is great! My theory is that it is the presence of these amanuenses that answers the objections of textual critics:

  1. “a Jew/fisherman/Galilean could not have written Greek this well”
  2. “the vocab and grammar of an author’s New Testament sample is different from another New Testament sample”
  3. “the use (or disuse) of the Greek Septuagint here and there argues against…”

If Saint Peter has a professional scribe working for him (he says he does!), then of course a rough Galilean fisherman is going to sound different on paper!

Identifying the Secretaries of the Apostles

As you read the New Testament, you’re going to see that Saint Paul is using several secretaries. He usually tells his audience whether he is writing the epistle himself (Galatians or Colossians) or whether he is employing an amanuensis. For Paul, the difference was usually dependent on whether or not he were in prison.

At Romans 16:22, a secretary named Tertius interposes a greeting in his own name to the Apostle’s readers, “I Tertius, who write the epistle, salute you in the Lord.” Here is a distinction between “author/Paul” and “writer/Tertius.”

We should not think of these secretaries as taking mere dictation. In fact, they were more like co-authors. We can see Tertius saying, “Paul, we should change this section. You know how you explained circumcision in that sermon last week about Abraham. Let’s put that down here, too. It ties in with what you wanted later in the epistle.”

The Secretaries of Paul:

  • Tertius (responsible for Romans)
  • Sosthenes (responsible for 1 Corinthians)
  • Timothy (responsible for 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philemon)
  • Silvanus or Silas (He is listed with Timothy for 1 and 2 Thessalonians)
  • Luke (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews – see notable exceptions 4 below)

Some notable exceptions to Paul’s secretaries:

  1. Paul literally wrote Galatians with his own hand (Gal 6:11). In other epistles he writes a final exhortation or blessing with his own hand: 1 Cor 16:1; Col 4:18; 2 Thess 3:17; Philemon 1:19.
  2. Paul does not denote a secreatary for Ephesians, but he does tell us that “Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make all things known to you; 22 whom I have sent to you for this very purpose, that you may know our affairs, and that he may comfort your hearts.” (Eph 6:21-22) Perhaps Tychicus served as amanuensis or secretary. It’s difficult to conclude this, however.
  3. The Pastoral Epistles of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus do provide the name of an amanuensis. Tradition states that Paul’s eyesight was failing and we must assume that a secretary was being used as this was the custom of Paul previously. Based on 2 Timothy 4:11, “Only Luke is with me,” and the polished nature of the Pastoral Epistles, I strongly believe that Luke served as the co-author and secretary for all three Pastoral Epistles.
  4. Tradition associates Luke as the secretary or amanuensis of Hebrews. Saint Thomas Aquinas defends Luke as the co-author and secretary of the Epistle to the Hebrews. This would clump the final four epistles of Paul’s life (1 Tim, 2 Tim, Titus, and Hebrews) under the quill of Saint Luke. I would argue that this was also the period under which Paul commissioned Luke to compose the Gospel of Saint Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. The AD 60s probably saw Paul relying on Luke for this six-fold corpus of literature: (Luke, Acts, 1 Tim, 2 Tim, Titus, and Hebrews).

The Secretaries of Peter

It is frustrating that scholars read the polished Greek of 1 Peter and then conclude, “This epistle must be pseudonymous because a Galilean fisherman could not write like this.” Of course not. That’s why Peter commissioned a secretary. He explains as much to us at 1 Peter 5:12:

With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.”

What’s interesting about Silas as Peter’s secretary is that he was also involved in the preparation of Saint Paul’s 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy.

Moreover, tradition associates Mark as a companion and secretary of Peter. The Gospel of Saint Mark, according to tradition, is the apostolic memoirs of Peter prepared by Mark (Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 15–16).

So Peter had these two secretaries:

  • Silvanus or Silas (1 Peter)
  • Mark (for preparation of the Gospel of Saint Mark)

Now almost all scholars believe that 2 Peter was not written by Peter at all because it is so different from 1 Peter. Granted, the style is quite different. My guess is that Saint Silas prepared and wrote 1 Peter. But it was Peter himself that wrote 2 Peter. This accounts for its rough style and dependence on Jude.

The Secretary of Saint John

We know from internal evidence and tradition that Saint John the Apostle also used a secretary or scribe to write his works.

Scholars often speak of a “School of John” or a “Johannine School” that wrote the Gospel of John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation.

In John 22:4 we see that there is another voice or pen recording the Gospel of John:

This is the disciple (John) who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.”

We have the beloved disciple John in the third person then a voice in the first person: “we.” So there is someone besides John actually writing these words down…even though I’m completely convinced that it is Saint John who dictated this Gospel.

Tradition tells us that Saint John employed a scribe or secretary named Saint Prochorus who is one of the first deacons recorded in Acts 6:5. Prochorus was a Greek speaking Jew and so his communication would be Greek and perhaps more advanced than that of John.

Prochorus is often depicted writing for Saint John in Eastern iconography as can be seen in the icon below:

St John dictating to Prochorus

St John dictating to Prochorus

My guess is that the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation were penned by Prochorus and John himself wrote 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John.

Conclusion: There were various Apostolic Pens

There were many scribal pens at work under Saint Paul, Saint Peter, and Saint John. The differences in style and vocabulary do not lead us to conclude that the books of the New Testament are pseudonymous forgeries. Rather, the apostolic authors (Paul, Peter, John) are working through secretaries. The stylistic variations that we observe are due to the variations of scribes.

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