A conversation between Hermann Detering and one of his critics has been rediscovered and arranged here. It bears the title, added at a later date, “A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems Regarding Paul,” which must be understood as a dispute arising over the authenticity of the letters attributed to the apostle Paul.
In the middle of a discussion between Detering and one of his students regarding the references to the letters of Paul in 1 Clement and the epistles of Ignatius, the critic steps forward and declaims, “I can’t help but think that all of these points have long ago been hashed out by authorities of the past such as Harnack, Lightfoot, and Zahn. I would want to find these authors in English translation and read their arguments as well before coming to a decision on the authenticity of 1 Clement and the seven Ignatians.”
Noticing the earnestness displayed by his critic, Detering responds, “For a long time I was thinking like you. But when I wrote my dissertation I found that the arguments used by Harnack and Zahn defending the authenticity of 1Clem and Ign are rather poor and superficial. So if you read these authors you should also read the original texts of F.C. Baur, Van Manen, A.D. Loman or G.A. van den Bergh van Eysinga etc. to get an impression of the power of their arguments.”
And Detering adds a cautionary statement, “Generally I think that any kind of scholasticism is dangerous. At least it is better to trust our own eyes and our own rationality than the results of our ‘glorious fathers’.”
Concerning the Letters Attributed to Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch
The critic holds out that such an opinion on the epistles of Ignatius and Polycarp, as on 1 Clement, is forced by the dim view of the Pauline epistles, saying, “Those who hold that the letters of Paul are forged generally hold that the letters of Ignatius and Polycarp are also forgeries, written in the mid second century. Again, this opinion was more popular in the early part of the last century, although the letters of Ignatius also had notable defenders (e.g. Lightfoot, Zahn).”
To this, Detering laments the current state of critical inquiry, replying, “There are indeed respectable reasons for the thesis that all these writings are forgeries and it had been respectable scholars who argued against their authenticity. One of them was was F.C. Baur and the ‘Tübinger Schule’. Unfortunately the critical beginnings of NT scholarship in Germany had soon been forgotten. In my opinion the actual reason for that was not that these results had been faulty – but that they didn’t fit with clerical requirements.”
The critic concedes the possibility and asks for a short presentation regarding the arguments against the authenticity of 1 Clement and the letters of Ignatius of Antioch.
Detering obliges, starting out saying, “G.A. van den Bergh van Eysinga has written one of the most comprehensive and still readable researches about the inauthenticity of I Clem. Onderzoek naar de echtheid van Clemens’ eersten brief aan de Corinthiërs, 1908 Leiden. I want to make a German translation sometime. But you can found some arguments in: ‘Der erste Clemensbrief und die Ignatianen’ on my website. Let me give a short outlook of the argumentation against the authenticity of I Clem and Ign. I will cite some passages of my book: Der Gefälschte Paulus (translation by Darrell Doughty).”
Regarding 1 Clement, Detering expounds seven arguments.
First, “Can a document consisting of some 32-35 papyrus pages be accepted without further ado as a writing that was sent from Rome to Corinth with the intention of actual correspondence? …With the passing of one or two months, the situation which the writer presupposes in his writing could be entirely different, and his writing hopelessly out of date.”
Second, “If the party conflict in Corinth and the replacement of the presbyters with younger members of the church was in fact the real incentive for the letter from the church in Rome to the church in Corinth, it is furthermore completely impossible to understand why the writer only comes to speak of this in chapter 44 (!) and in the first two-thirds of the writing exhausts the patience of the Corinthians with discussions of the resurrection, the omniscience and omnipresence of God, and such things, which although edifying, have no importance for the matter at hand.”
Third, “In addition, there is the consideration that the entire controversy addressed by the writer of 1 Clement remains strangely unclear and vague and that the information about it is very contradictory, as even supporters of its authenticity today must concede: He [Clement] emphasizes that the uproar can be traced to a few rash and self-willed persons (1.1; in 47.6 it is only one or two persons), but then accuses the entire congregation (46.9 = your uproar). As motives he identifies jealousy; envy and contentiousness; lack of love, humility and discernment. But he does not identify the actual background of the Corinthian conflict (!), just as little as he identifies the actual motives for the certainly uninvited intervention by Rome in the inner affairs of the Corinthian church (!). Without doubt, these are closely related, but there is nothing else to learn about either.”
Fourth, “If one begins with the presumption that we have to do here with a real letter, all the peculiarities cited here should give one cause for thought! Finally, the conflict as such lacks any inner probability: how can the Corinthian church, founded so long ago, rise up against their presbyters on account of only a few ringleaders? The attempt at mediation that the writer undertakes (from Rome!), in which he one-sidedly condemns the troublemakers in Corinth, as if they acted from base motives, is also entirely unrealistic and shows the fictional character of the whole thing.”
Fifth, “The tensions and obscurities revealed here are due to the contradiction between the situation presupposed in the writing and the author’s real intention. The real intention of the author, of course, is not the resolution of an actual conflict in a diplomatic way, but something quite different: his writing, that is directed not to one church, and also not to the church in Corinth, but to all the churches in the Catholic universe, is intended not to mediate, but to instruct andhere a typical Catholic tendency of the letter becomes visible to warn against uprisings and disorder in the churches! The writings leads us into a time, most probably the middle of the second century, in which the distinction between priests and laity (40.5: there are much different rules for laity than for ecclesiastical officer-holders) already announces the Roman clericalism. Over against all inclinations to opposition, the authority of the church is enjoined in an impressive example…”
Sixth, “Once one has recognized the writer’s real intention, it will no longer seem strange if there are other peculiarities as well that would look odd in a real letter. Who would expect, for example, in real letter, which moreover is written by the church in Rome to the church in Corinth, to find the exhortation (34.7), Let us therefore come together in the same place with harmony of conscience and earnestly call upon the Lord as from one mouth, that we may share in his great and glorious promises? In view of the geographical distance between Rome and Corinth, one can only wonder how the writer imagined the common visit of a holy place…”
Seventh, “In other places, the author succeeds very well in imagining himself in the role of a letter writer: for example, in the introduction to the letter, where it reads: ‘On account of the sudden and repeated misfortunes and calamities that have befallen us, we have been somewhat delayed in turning to the questions disputed among you, beloved, and especially the abominable and unholy sedition, so inappropriate for the elect of God.’ In these lines, many people have wanted to see a reference to an actual situation of persecution (under Nero or Domitian). As the Dutch theologian Van den Bergh van Eysinga already recognized, however, what we have here is only a conventional apology, which the author of 1 Clement readily employs to give his writing the appearance of an authentic letter. According to the operative Roman law, persecutions did not usually arrive overnight.”
Regarding the epistles of Ignatius, Detering again presents seven arguments.
First, “The situation presupposed in the letters must already raise suspicion. The bishop of Antioch has become a victim of persecution of Christians in his own city, and the punishment is not to be carried here, as would usually be the case, but, accompanied by a small body of Roman soldiers, he has been sent on a journey through half of the Mediterranean world, from Syria to Rome, to be thrown to wild animals in the arena there!”
Second, “Although Ignatius is a prisoner, he nevertheless has the remarkable opportunity during his trip through the city of Smyrna in Asia Minor to make contact with the local bishops of the churches in Ephesus, Magnesia, and Tralles, and to hand over to them a letter to each of their churches. In a similar way, the churches in Philadelphia and Smyrna, as well as Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, receive letters from Troas. Since in spite of his sentence Ignatius is obviously still uncertain whether he will be put to death in Rome, he also writes a letter to the church in Rome, in which, delirious in the face death and craving martyrdom, the bishop entreats them not to prevent his martyrdom by intervening with the authorities. I beseech you, do not be an untimely kindness to me. Let me be food for the beasts, through which I can attain to God! …(IgnRom, 4-5) This has been perceived as the product of a pathological longing for martyrdom. But the matter is likely to be much simpler. In the case of this citation as for the Ignatian writings in their entirety, we have to do not with real letters, but with something entirely composed at a writing table. Their author is not the martyr-bishop Ignatius, but someone later, perhaps a pseudonymous writer around the middle of the second century, who puts himself in the role of the legendary martyr-bishop and was able thereby to give free flight to his fantasy since at that time he hardly needed to fear that the hysterical, overblown death in the arena he conjured up would ever become a reality. The empty and hollow pathos of the declamation, the entire surrealistic scenario that we meet in the Ignatian letters, including the artificial background situation, obviously modeled on the journey of Paul as a prisoner, all this shows that we have to with the product of a typical writing table author.”
Third, “Given the artificiality of the basic situation, a series of remarkable contradictions and improbabilities we observe becomes understandable. Ignatius writes that he has been condemned (IgnEph 12.1f; IgnRom 3.1), but in another passage is nevertheless still uncertain whether (and how) he will die. He is in chains, but nevertheless able to visit the churches of Asia Minor and write letters! …”
Fourth, “Like the writer of 1 Clement, the author of the seven Ignatian letters also drops out of his role as bishop and martyr again and again. In IgnEph 5.3, for example, the seems to have entirely forgotten that he writes as a bishop, and exhorts the church like someone who has never been invested with the office of bishop: Let us then be careful not to oppose the bishop (cf. IgnEph 11.1; 15.2; 17.2; IgnMagn 10.1). It is also strange that Ignatius, who is still uncertain whether he will experience the martyrs death in Rome, can self-consciously anticipate the result of martyrdom and characterize himself as Theophoros (God-bearer) and Christophoros (Bearer of Christ), which according to practice at that time characterized the martyr only after the death. Here also it is evident that the letters stem from a later writer, who already looks back on the martyrdom of the legendary bishop.”
Fifth, “The historical existence of a bishop in Antioch named Ignatius need not necessarily be doubted. As the theologian D. Völter showed, there existed a tradition according to which Ignatius was martyred in winter 115-116 in Antioch by order of the Caesar Trajan. Presumably, this tradition was known to the author of the letters. He enlarged on this in his own way by adding the journey to Rome, and then used it as background for his literary production, in which he let the last weeks and days of the heroic, death-disdaining martyr come alive once again.
Sixth, “That the seven Ignatian letters are not authentic letters is shown by the fact that in general they are stylistically very carefully constructed, which one would hardly expect for letters having originated under the arduous conditions of an imprisonment journey. In addition to this, in the only letter addressed not to a church, but to a person, bishop Polycarp, the absence of any personal relationship with the addressee is particularly remarkable… It must be clear to every reader that in the letter to Polycarp we have to do not with an actual correspondence, but with literature, an artificial letter. Whoever regards the letter to Polycarp as inauthentic … cannot maintain the authenticity of the rest of the Ignatian letters.”
Seventh, “Finally, it should be noted that the number seven is also remarkable for an assembled collection of letters. In view of the importance that the number seven had in antiquity (as the symbol of fulfillment), it seems to have symbolic significance. If one assumes that we have to do here with authentic letters, it must be asked how and by whom their collection was brought about. The real situation is much more simple: the letters were conceived as a collection from the very beginning, as parts of a whole, in which one letter presupposes the other. Thus, in IgnEph 20.1, for example, Ignatius declares that plans to write a second small book (Significantly, the writer does not speak of a letter), in which he will discuss the plan of salvation with reference to the new man Jesus Christ, his faith, his love, his suffering and resurrection. This second book is then the letter to the Magnesians. That the letter to the Magnesians presupposes the letter to the Ephesians is shown by IgnMagn 1.2, where the desire is expressed that the churches might experience a three-fold unity, a union of the flesh with the spirit of Jesus Christ… a union of faith and love… a union of Jesus with the Father; for what we have here is a recapitulation of the most important ideas from the letter to the Ephesians!”
At this point, Detering adds an exhortation, saying, “In view of the almost total absence of a substantial debate about reservations regarding the authenticity or the seven Ignatian letters and 1 Clement that have been put forward in the past, it can hardly be maintained that the self-assuredly expressed judgment by modern research that we have to do here with authentic letters inspires much confidence. In my opinion, it is time for present-day theologians to free themselves from the spell of Harnack and other authorities of the past in order to submit the letters to a renewed critical examination, even with the risk that the two old lighthouses, which illuminated New Testament criticism for many years, so as to shelter a large part of New Testament literature in the safe harbor of the first century, will turn out to be will-o-the-wisps.”
Concerning the External Evidence for the Pauline Epistles in the New Testament
At this point, his critic becomes overwhelmed but certainly not, at this point, convinced. He replies, “But we also might take note of the implicit references: in 1 Peter, in James, in Revelation, and in II Thessalonians.” And thus the critic presents each of these arguments in turn.
The critic states that, “1 Peter is used, according to Eusebius, by Papias. Papias is dated by some recent scholars as early as 100-110 CE (e.g., Bartlet, Schoedel, Kortner). But 1 Peter is widely recognized to be written on the pattern and in the terminology of a Pauline letter, though attributed to Peter.” And he quotes his teacher, Kümmel, who says (Introduction, p. 243):
“I Pet presupposes the Pauline theology. This is true not only in the general sense that the Jewish-Christian readers, the ‘people of God’ (2:10), are no longer concerned about the problem of the fulfillment of the Law, but also in the special sense that, as in Paul, the death of Jesus has atoned for the sins of Christians and has accomplished justification (1:18 f; 2:24). Christians are to suffer with Christ (4:13; 5:1), obedience to the civil authorities is demanded (2:14 f), and the Pauline formula en cristw is encountered (3:16; 5:10, 14). The frequently advanced proposal that I Pet is literarily dependent on Rom (and Eph) is improbable because the linguistic contacts can be explained on the basis of a common catechetical tradition. But there can be no doubt that the author of I Pet stands in the line of succession of Pauline theology…”
And, thus finishing the quote, the critic concludes, “If this is the case, then Pauline theology must have been in existence before Papias and before 1 Peter and thus before Marcion. This mitigates against the idea that Pauline theology was an invention of 2nd century Marcionites.”
Detering replies to his critic, as follows, “You can’t rely on Papias as witness. Papias’ reference can turn out as suicidal for your argumentation. Note the remarkable fact that Papias nowhere mentions the Pauline Epistles! Doesn’t this mitigate your argumentation?”
But, the critic responds, “We have but a few fragments of Papias. It is not known whether Papias mentions or alludes to the Pauline epistles.”
And Detering replies again, “Fact is that Papias doesn’t mention Paul or his letters. Scholars have given several explanations to this. A. Lindemann (Paulus im ältesten Christentum, 1979, 290 ff) explains the missing of any Paul references like you. W. Bauer (Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei 217) thinks that Papias didn’t mention Paul and his letters because of the Marcionite Heresy. If Papias had been the only one who didn’t know Paul and his letters in this time – no problem! But there are too many others: Justin, Past Hermae, Barn, Didache, Min. Felix, Aristides…”
The critic here objects to this use of Justin Martyr, saying, “Justin is silent on Paul in his extant writings. But Justin did know about Marcion, and Justin is reputed to have written a polemic against Marcion, now lost. Since Justin knew of Marcion, it is reasonable that Justin had known of Marcion’s Apostolikon and thus knew about Paul. Justin may not have wished to touch the Paulines in his apologetics because they were thought to be the province of heretics. Later writers such as Irenaeus and Tertullian would domesticate the Paulines by using them against the heretics.”
To this, Detering himself responds, “I cannot imagine that a clergyman like Justin ca. 150 didn’t dare to mention the name of the glorious apostle because of the Marcionites and other Gnostics. Justin could have used single passages of CP – against them! (as Tertullian Anti Marcionem did) There is only one plausible explanation: Justin knows that these letters are marcionitic literature (that ‘solus Paulus’ was the patron of Marcionites and Gnostics) and Justin still wasn’t aware of any catholic redaction in his time, which makes reception possible.”
And here Detering explains further, saying, “The crucial point in our discussion seems to me the priority of the marcionite version of CP, which can be philologically proved. If other scholars are able to give better explanations for this than the ‘radicals’ – I will gladly turn back from my ‘errors’. But this seems to me more and more improbable.”
Adding to the point that Justin Martyr doesn’t use the letters of Paul, Detering points out, related to this, “Luke doesn’t only ignore the Pauline letters; he also paints a portrait of the apostle which is totally different from the Paul of the letters. This can’t be without purpose.”
But his critic asks Detering to return to the topic of 1 Peter and James as a witness to the Paulines, by arguing further regarding James, “James, although it may be pseudonymous, may be kept within the bounds of the first century for the reason that it expects an imminent parousia (5:8-9). Kümmel again writes (p. 412): ‘The debate in 2:14 ff with a misunderstood secondary stage of Pauline theology not only presupposes a considerable chronological distance from Paul – whereas James died in the year 62 – but also betrays complete ignorance of the polemical intent of Pauline theology, which lapse can scarcely be attributed to James, who as late as 55/56 met with Paul in Jerusalem (Acts 21:18 ff).’ So James, normally dated in the last third of the first century, also presupposes the existence of Pauline theology beforehand.”
And so Detering does, saying, “Although I have furthermore some doubts about the origin of James and 1 Peter in the first ce. I don’t contradict the possibilty of the existence of ‘Pauline’ ideas earlier than Marcion. But instead of ‘Pauline’ ideas I would certainly prefer to speak of ‘Premarcionite’.”
Explaining this concept, Detering states, “I myself do not think that Marcion himself has fabricated the whole Corpus of Pauline Literature (maybe Gal, but not the complete Pauline Canon). There are a lot of letters which seem to depend on each other (you have mentioned 1 and 2 Th, I would add Kol and Eph, Rom and Gal) – and this shows that they can hardly have one author. So I would rather like to say (like the Dutch philologist SA Naber) that all Pauline letters ‘ortas esse in Cerdonis vel Marcionitarum scholis’, that means: they had been written in Marcionite/Kerdo’s school and firstly collected by ‘schoolmaster’ Marcion. There against I see no clue for the existence of a Pauline school: What should have happened to Paul’s disciples, who are mentioned in the Pauline letters in the 2. ce? Justin, Tertullian etc do not know anything about their fate and their successors. But they know about Marcion, Apelles etc. and their disciples.”
Returning to the train of thought the critic interrupted, Detering continues, “And please pay attention to this: Justin didn’t even know Paul! This seems to be really a fact that must be explained (as well as the circumstance that Luke seems to know nothing about the ‘writing Paul’). I do not know any ‘mainstream scholar’, who has given a plausible answer to this.”
But the critic persists in finding external arguments to the authenticity of the Pauline epistles, and he quotes another teacher, Norman Perrin, who sees in the second epistle to the Thessalonians a pseudepigraphical expansion on the first, where the apocalypse is expected imminently. The critic explains, “It makes sense that I Thessalonians is authentic because of the presupposition that the Lord would come, perhaps, before anyone had even died at all! The epistle of II Thessalonians makes sense as a late first century modification of the earlier eschatological exuberance. This offers a modicum of evidence for regarding I Thessalonians as an authentic letter.”
Detering hardly considers it to merit very much discussion, saying, “Concerning the so-called ‘Naherwartung’ [let the reader understand: the imminent apocalypse]. This gives no clue for the dating of scriptures, since you can find such ideas as well in the 2. ce (4 Esra – Hermas – Montanus etc).”
But all of the arguments are not exhausted, and the critic continues, saying, “Revelation is traditionally dated c. 90-95 CE, and I see no reason to date it otherwise.” Quoting again his teacher Perrin, the critic argues that addressing letters to 7 churches in Revelation shows that the author of Revelation expected the audience to be familiar with another collection of 7 letters, those attributed to Paul.
To this, Detering says, “Indeed not. The problem seems to be in my eyes the deep rift between the Pauline Letters and Revelation, which is hardly to explain. How can Paul speak about Judaism as a finished matter (Rom 10:4), while Revelation shortly after seem to be fully integrated into it?”
Detering also turns the argument on its head, saying, “But provided that I agree with you: Can you exclude the possibilty that the parallel patterns between Revelation and Paul, which you have mentioned, did not depend on Revelation?”
Detering then asks where the evidence is for the disciples and companions mentioned in the Pauline epistles, to which the critic replies, “Just off the top of my head, what about the tradition that Valentinus was a disciple of Theudas, a disciple of Paul? What about the tradition that Clement of Rome was an acquaintance of Paul?”
Detering replies, “I know this passage well (Clemens Strom. 17/18: Paul as ‘gnorismos’ acquaintance of Theodas=Theudas). As you see it is a noteworthy line which leads from Paul to the (other) heretics!!! But there still remains the question: where are Sosthenes, Silvas, Timotheus and their followers of the apostle in 2. CE literature (as historical persons not as legends)? Most persons in Pauline Letters seem to have a fictive or allegoric (Apollos 1 Co 1:12 = Apelles?) character.”
Concerning Two Arguments for Authenticity from the Internal Evidence
Seeing the futility of this whole line of attack, the critic turns himself to the lines of internal evidence regarding the authorship of the Pauline epistles, saying, “There are two argumenta interna that I think also are best understood under authenticity. First, Paul had clearly taught that Jesus would be coming within the lifetimes of those alive at the time. This teaching led to concerns in the Thessalonian church over the fate of those who had died before the coming of the Lord. Would they share in the joy of the parousia? Paul writes to assure the Thessalonians that those who had fallen asleep in Christ would also profit from the coming of the Lord. Paul instructs them that the dead would come to life first and that they would join the living with the Lord when he comes. This whole controversy sounds like one that would arise in the 50s, not the second century.”
Detering sees in this just a repetition of the argument already made, and he says, “The material for such ideas you can find e.g. in IV Esra, ca. 100.” Previously Detering had further adduced Hermas and Montanus in this regard. The critic later added from his own study the Epistula Apostolorum, where the apocalypse is expected in the mid-2nd century (120 years after the time of Christ).
The critic tries to launch one more argument, saying, “Second, several letters can be dissected into parts: notably Philippians and 2 Corinthians. But it doesn’t make sense for a fictive letter writer to be constructing an elaborate series of parts that reveal an unfolding controversy between the author and the church and which were pulled together by a later editor. It does make sense, however, that Paul himself originally wrote the parts.”
And Detering once again brings the argument back into the orbit of his own system regarding Paul, saying, “This point (literary tensions between the different passages in the Pauline Letters) had always been one of the crucial arguments against their authenticity (see: Pierson’s and Naber’s Verisimila, 1886). If you write a letter you use no scissors.”
At the conclusion of this discourse, the critic inquires, “By the way, is your book available in English translation? Will it be?”
And Detering says, “The English version of my book will be published in any case, but I do not know when, I hope it be this year or next. Dear Peter Kirby, thanks for the stimulating exchange of ideas!”