Ask Alice about Catholicism
Didn't Saint Paul write all the letters attributed to him?

For everybody who didn't get the memo: Biblical authorship is tricky. It can't compare to contemporary authorship, defined against forgery and plagiarism—and in favor of copyrights and royalties. Scripture writers didn't claim rights over their work. They didn't seek fame or a livelihood for their efforts. Ancient writers sought to establish the mantle of authority, rather than authorship, for what they set down. So they often wrote under the auspices of existing schools of thought. To the ancients that was not skullduggery; that was how it was done. The contemporary filmmaker who pays "homage" to earlier directors that contributed to his or her vision is invoking a similar liberty.

In the Old Testament, scholars presume four schools of writers contributed to the five books of the Bible commonly known as the "Law of Moses." The authority of Moses is invoked, but even the rabbis don't hold that Moses penned Genesis through Deuteronomy. In the same way, three generations are believed to have contributed to the Book of Isaiah—one being the 8th-century B.C. prophet himself, whose scroll was extended by later students and admirers. Many Hebrew texts were added to or edited by later compilers in this way. But it's in the New Testament that authorship gets really interesting.

Saint Paul was the first contributor to what would be known one day as the New Testament. He wrote a generation before there were gospels, so his early witness to Christian beliefs and practices is quite valuable. Most Catholic and many Protestant scholars hold at least seven of the 14 letters attributed to Paul to be authentically his: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Romans, and Philemon. If you read them in that order, you get the style, personality, theology, and viewpoint of a single unique letter-writer.

Three other letters are routinely classified as Deutero-Pauline. This means they reflect Paul's ideas but also reveal another hand, perhaps a student of his. The Deutero-Pauline letters are: 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, and Ephesians. Three more letters are hotly debated but widely regarded as non-Pauline. These are the so-called Pastoral Letters: Titus and 1 and 2 Timothy. A 14th letter once credited to Paul, Hebrews, is now universally regarded as by another author.

Truth is truth, no matter who says it. Because the authorship of Paul's letters was debated even by the church fathers, who nonetheless put them in the Bible, we might honor their assessment that the words are God-inspired, even if their author sometimes remains a mystery.

The Pauline letters are best read chronologically: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Romans, Philemon, 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians, Titus, and 1 and 2 Timothy. Read the Acts of the Apostles for background.

Online resource
A historical introduction to the Pauline Epistles

How to Read the Bible
by Richard Holloway (W.W. Norton & Company, 2007)
Paul the Letter-Writer by Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, O.P. (Liturgical Press, 1995)

Ask Alice a question.
Alice L. Camille
Alice Camille is a gem among contemporary writers on scripture and Catholic teaching. She has received numerous awards for her books, columns, and exegetical reflections. She received her Master of Divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, where she also served as adjunct faculty in ministry formation, preaching and proclamation. Alice is an author, religious educator, and parish retreat leader. Learn more at

Before sending Alice a question, please check below to see if she has already responded to it. Also, please send only questions of general interest. Not all questions can be used. Thank you!
Got a question for Alice?

   Ask her now!

More questions...and responses

Where did Lent come from?

What’s so important about the Council of Trent?

What are the “Precepts of the Church”?

Do Catholics take the biblical creation story literally?

Why can’t a woman be ordained?

Why does the liturgy change?

Is Purgatory still “on the books”?

Why is it important to participate regularly in the Mass?

Why pray the rosary?

Why can people go to Mass on Saturday evening instead of Sunday?

Did King David compose the psalms?

Who were Jesus' “brothers and sisters”?

Is there really a Catholic Index of Forbidden Books?

What are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy?

Is a long or short discernment process better for someone interested in becoming a priest, nun, or brother?

What’s the difference between celibacy and chastity?

Is it “Catholic” to be vegetarian? Do Catholics care about animal suffering?

What does the Bible say about Judgment Day?

Why do Christians believe Jesus is God incarnate?

What’s that picture of Jesus with rays flowing from him?

What is the Triduum?

Who chose the "Seven Deadly Sins"?

"What should I believe about hell?"

Is the Mass a “holy sacrifice” or a “celebration”—or both?

Pulpit, lectern, ambo: What’s the difference?

What was the Reformation?

What is “discernment of spirits”?

Is environmentalism “Catholic” or a political football?

Why do Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception?

Why are there parishes?

Do Catholics believe in ghosts?

Who was Saint Augustine?

What is "sanctuary"?

What is the Liturgy of the Hours?

How does God “answer” prayers?

What does “salvation history” mean?

Why do Catholics believe in the Assumption of Mary?

Why do priests wear vestments?

Do miracles still happen?

What do deacons do?

How is the Mass “prayer”?

What is Catholic decision-making?

Who wrote the gospels?

What is “original sin”?

How does the Catholic Church view other religions?

The "Five C's" of Confession

What's the difference between chapels, churches, cathedrals, and basilicas?

Where do the Stations of the Cross come from?

What's the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament?

When and where is it appropriate to bow inside Catholic churches?

Can I come back to the church?

Why does the priest talk after the readings at Mass?

What's the difference between catechesis and evangelization?

Are we supposed to believe in angels and demons in the 21st century?

Who are the saints and why do we pray to them?

Why pray for the dead?

Who are the "Doctors of the Church"?

How were the books of the Bible chosen?

What's the difference between saying "set" prayers and prayers in my own words?

What do Catholics have to believe?

Who were the prophets? Does God still call people to prophecy?

What is the lectionary?

Why do Catholics bless themselves, genuflect, and so on?

Did Jesus establish a church? How did we get from following “the Way” of Jesus to this big institution?

What do we mean by the church’s “magisterium”?

Is there salvation outside the Catholic Church?

What do people in religious life do for fun?

Why is celibacy important to religious life?

Vocation: For all of life, or only "religious life"?

What is contemplation?

Is my vocation from God or just my imagination?

What does the Bible say about discipleship?

How do I know whether be an order priest or a diocesan priest?

What do Catholics believe about scripture and tradition?

"Sin" is such a negative word. Can't we just talk about “failure”?

Should I read the Bible?

How can I be happy?

How can I live a holy life?