Both letters to the Thessalonians begin by naming three co-senders – Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy (1:1) – and both are written almost entirely in the first person plural (“we”) form of address. Over 96% of the first person terms in 1 Thessalonians are plural, with 92% in 2 Thessalonians, the majority of which are contrasted with “you” (the readers). First person singulars are only occasionally interjected (1 Thess. 2:18; 3:5; 5:27; 2 Thess. 2:5; 3:17), twice with Paul’s name emphatically appended, showing that he was the leading correspondent.
Since Paul draws attention to the fact that he is writing the postscript with his own hand (2 Thess. 3:17), the implication is that someone other than the apostle did the actual writing of the preceding material. Like Paul, both Silvanus and Timothy were inspired men (Acts 15:32; 2 Tim. 1:6) and acknowledged writers (Acts 15:22-23; 1 Pet. 5:12; 2 Cor. 1:1, 13). Similar features are also found in 2 Corinthians (particularly chaps. 1–9) and Colossians.
The Plural Authorship of Hebrews:
Since Hebrews displays a literary affinity with Luke-Acts, 1 Peter, and the writings of Paul (see Part 1), it is possible that it is the product of compositional collaboration (as 1-2 Thessalonians appear to be), perhaps involving the cooperative efforts of Luke, Silvanus, Paul, and/or others. Such a possibility renders many of the objections to any one of these potential writers practically insubstantial.
When scripture quotations are eliminated,1 Hebrews consists of only eight first person singulars (“I” references) in four verses. The first of these does not occur until nearly eleven chapters have been written (11:32), and the rest are confined to the final chapter (13:19, 22, 23). This is quite uncharacteristic of a single-authored document and supports the hypothesis that Hebrews may have been co-authored, albeit with the infrequent interjection by the dominant member.2
Hebrews contains 107 plurals in the first person (“we” references), ninety-eight of which are inclusive of the general audience. The remaining nine appear to be references to persons not included among the recipients.
o The writer(s) make reference in 2:5 to the coming world, “concerning which we are speaking.”3 This appears to be an allusion to either multiple authors or a lone author and his immediate companions. Since Hebrews is written like a homily or a series of sermons, multiple “speakers” are implied in this passage.
o In 5:11 the statement is made: “Concerning him we have much … to say.” Here a clear distinction is seen between “we” and the reading audience (vv. 11b-12).
o “We” in contrast to “you” is also evident at 6:9 and 11: “but we have been convinced concerning you, beloved … though we are speaking in this manner …. but we desire each one of you …”
o The request is made in 13:18, “Pray for us,” followed by three more “we” references and contrasted with “you” in vv. 18b-19.
A Reasonable Proposal:
While the documentary evidence (see Part 1 ) seems to point to different individuals (e.g. Paul, Luke, Silvanus), rather than using it to advocate one and discount another, would it be so unreasonable to conclude that they all may have had a hand in the composition? Paul, Luke, and Silvanus were each associated with Timothy (13:23) and had connections with Rome (13:24). Collectively they also had ties with Jerusalem, were familiar with the rituals of Judaism, were steeped in the LXX, and shared an amicable history of ministerial camaraderie and literary collaboration. And all of these men were inspired writers of the NT, including Silvanus (cf. Acts 15:22-23, 32; 1 Thess. 1:1-2; 2 Thess. 1:1-3; 3:17; 1 Pet. 5:12).
If external evidence supports Pauline authorship and internal evidence raises doubts, it does not have to be an “either-or” situation when the variable of joint-authorship is allowed a hearing. A modern-day demonstration of this proposal is inadvertently provided by D. A. Carson, D. J. Moo, and L. Morris’s collective work, An Introduction to the NT. This co-authored textbook is not neatly divided into designated sections ascribed to the respective writers. Rather, as the authors themselves explain: “Each of us has written about a third of this volume and offered written critiques of the work of the other two. One of us has tried to reduce stylistic and other differences to a minimum. In two or three instances, references in the text betray the individual author. Elsewhere, readers are warmly invited to identify the redactor and the individual sources” (10).
An apparent weakness of the joint-authorship hypothesis is the statement in Heb. 13:22, “through a few [words] I have written to you.” However, this is similar to the endings in Paul’s letters where he seems to have taken the pen from the amanuensis and written the postscript in his own hand (e.g. Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:18; 2 Thess. 3:17; Philm. 19). Accordingly, Heb. 13:22 would apply merely to the postscript and not to the entire document.
Perhaps Paul was responsible for the “I” statements (as in 1-2 Thessalonians), which resulted in the entire document being ascribed to him in subsequent generations. Interestingly, every letter attributed to Paul in the NT concludes with a charis (“grace”) benediction.4 This unique feature is also found in Heb. 13:25 but not in any other NT epistle.
The original recipients knew the author(s), and the document was quoted, recognized as divinely inspired and authoritative, very early (cf. Clement of Rome, ca. 95-96). Its canonical status is not in question, neither is its value diminished, by ongoing debates about authorship. Nevertheless, this brief study grounds the epistle in the history of the early church and demonstrates that it not only teaches the fundamental importance of unity and cooperation among God’s people (3:13-14; 10:23-25; 12:12-14; 13:1) but appears to be the result of it.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 In Hebrews 74 of the 82 first person singulars are found in scripture quotations.
2 T. Weis comments: “If one is not predisposed to thinking Hebrews is the work of one person, it is very possible to take the plurals in question as representing co-authorship. Viewing the plurals in this way explains the presence of the singulars; the leader of the letter writing team takes the liberty of making personal comments. This is certainly evident in Paul’s work and also in the papyri. Considering that this epistle is a magnum apologetic of Jesus Christ, it is conceivable that more than one person wrote it” (“Literary Plural” 94). See also D. B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics 396-97.
3 Scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
4 Rom. 16:20; 1 Cor. 16:23; 2 Cor. 13:14; Gal. 6:18; Eph. 6:24; Phil. 4:23; Col. 4:18; 1 Thess. 5:28; 2 Thess. 3:18; 1 Tim. 6:21; 2 Tim. 4:22; Tit. 3:15; Philm. 25.
Related Posts: Hebrews Authorship Part 2, Letters to the Thessalonians, Anti-Conservative Presuppositions (Part 4), Introducing the Book of Hebrews