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MORE THAN A PROPHET ... by Graeme Bradford

Chapter Four

Literary Assistance for Inspired Writers

Many Bible writers had help in putting their literary works together. For example, the book of Romans plainly says, "I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord" (Romans 16:22). Yet the letter begins with a greeting from Paul. Who then is Tertius? Obviously he is Paul's scribe or secretary. At the end of the letter Paul sends greetings to his friends in Rome. Tertius adds his greetings as well.

Leon Morris, when commenting on Paul's literary style, makes the following observations: "This complex background complicates our study of Paul's writings. So does the apostle's literary style. He rushes on, often leaving out words he expected his readers to supply (and which they hope they are supplying correctly!). He is an original thinker, sometimes struggling with language to say things that no one had said before."28

Morris accepts the Pauline authorship of the pastoral epistles even though other scholars argue against it on the basis of the differences in style and expression coming from within the epistles. Morris says the same scholars would accept that Paul could have written some parts because there is evidence for similar style within the epistles to the writing of Paul. In his footnote he gives his reason for accepting the full Pauline authorship for the epistles while explaining the apparent difference in style within the letters.

"Donald J. Selby thinks that as time went on Paul probably 'tended to allow his amanuenses [secretaries or literary assistants], who were also his fellow workers and traveling companions, more and more freedom in composing the letters.' Their involvement in the work and their increasing familiarity with what Paul taught 'would make such sharing in the composition of the letters not only feasible but inevitable.' . . . E. Earle Ellis points to the importance of the work of amanuenses and also of the inclusion of 'pre-formed pieces—hymns, biblical 


expositions and other literary forms that are self contained and that differ from the language, style and theological expression elsewhere in the same and in other letters' he thinks that 'any conclusions about the authorship of the letters on the basis of their language, style and theological idiom are questionable at best.'"29

These scholars, who are held in high repute, suggest that the differences of style within the epistles could well mean that Paul's literary assistants were responsible for some of the content. No doubt they were under Paul's supervision.

Some scholars see a difference in style between 1st and 2nd Peter,30 the gospel of John and Revelation31 as evidence of the apostles working with literary assistance.

Probably we will never know the full extent literary helpers played in putting together the books of the Bible. We do however, get some glimpses by passing comments such as found in the writings of Jeremiah.

1:1-4 reads like a publisher's introduction.

36:4-6 tells us he dictated his message from God to Baruch who wrote the words on a scroll. Baruch also represented Jeremiah at the temple when he read the words to the people.

43:3 Baruch is accused of having undue influence over Jeremiah.

51:64 seems to state that this now is the end of what Jeremiah had written. This being the case readers may well ponder the source of chapter 52. A careful reading of chapter 52 will show that the chapter has been taken out of 2 Kings 24:18 to 25:30 to show the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecies after his death. Perhaps it was put in by those we may well entitle "The Jeremiah Estate."

The Hebrew prophets used poetry of thought rather than words rhyming. Some of it, (the psalms, for instance) was put to music so that the people could retain it better. It would be incredible to imagine the prophets speaking in such polished poetry, and that they did not get some literary help in doing this. It is also highly unlikely that Job and his friends could speak and argue with such literary skill without some editing help. The full extent of literary editing given to Old Testament writings will never be fully known. However, the few glimpses we can see give us a strong indication that literary help did, at times, take place.


28 Leon Morris, New Testament Theology, (Academia Books, Zondervan, 1990), p. 21. [back]

29 Ibid., fn. William Barclay also adds further thoughts with the following: "Paul's secretary or secretaries were apparently allowed considerable freedom in their work. The pastoral epistles, e.g., use a vocabulary which is quite different from Paul's other letters. There are 902 different words used in the three pastoral epistles. Of these 306 do not occur in any other Pauline letter. There are 112 different particles or enclitics (untranslatable words) in the other Pauline letters, but not even one in the pastorals." William Barclay, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 11. [back]

30 Michael Green, The Second Epistle General of Peter and the General Epistle of Jude, p. 16. "The Greek of 1 Peter is polished, cultured, dignified; it is among the best in the New Testament. The Greek of 2 Peter is grandiose; it is rather like baroque art." [back]

31 "The vocabulary and literary style of the Revelation are strikingly different from those of the Gospel According to John. The former exhibits an unusual degree of liberty with the ordinary standards of Greek diction and syntax, whereas the language of the Gospel conforms to good Greek usage." SDA Bible Dictionary, p. 938 "It is not difficult to account for the linguistic and literary differences that exist between the Revelation, written probably when John was alone on Patmos, and the Gospel, written with the help of one or more fellow believers at Ephesus." 7SDABC, p. 720. [back]

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