First Century Letter writing and the New Testament

Surprisingly the way letters were compiled in the first century was not much different than the way we compile them now. The author of a letter would use a sheet of papyrus that was around 9 1/2” x 11”, and it could hold anywhere from 150 to 250 words.[1]During the first century literacy was sparse and the cost of materials was rather pricey, so people would hire professional scribes called amanuensis.[2]The words pseudonymity and psudephigraphy have the same root “pseudo” meaning false[3]so one was a false identity of the author. Lea says, “Pseudonymous authorship occurs whenever a writer deliberately uses a name other than his own on a literary document.”[4]In the case of pseudepigraphy according to Carson and Moo, “A literary forgery is a work written or modified with the intent to deceive. All literary forgeries are pseudepigraphical, but not all pseudepigrapha are literary forgeries….”[5]
            There were several reasons and author would write pseudonymously: malice, financial motivation, gain credence for a false position, gain credence for a ground the author knew to be true, or hiding their true identity out of modesty.[6]There are no New Testament works that are pseudonymous, there are some that are anonymous because the authors chose not to identify themselves instead of being deliberately deceitful about whom they are.[7]Like Lea says, “It is difficult to accept existence of a church that urged its members to practice truth and at the same time condoned the obvious deceit involved in pseudonymous writings.”[8]


[1] Thomas D. Lea, and David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2003)335.
[2]Ibid., 334-35.
[3] Andreas J.Kostenberger, and L. Scott Kellum and Charles L. Quarles. The Craddle, The Cross, and the Crown. (Nashville: B&H Publishing , 2009)82.
[4]Lea, New Testament, 338.
[5] D.A Carson, and and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament 2nd edition.(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992)338.
[6]Ibid., 338-39.
[7]Lea., New Testament, 344.
[8]Ibid., 345.
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