In my previous post I tried to show that the disciples of Jesus were almost certainly not literate.  Yet we have books allegedly written by them.  Is it possible that people like Peter, John, James, and Jude used a secretary to write their books for them?  So that the apostles in the ultimate sense were the “author” but someone else composed the writing for them?

To answer the question with something other than common sense (that is, common guessing), we need to know about secretarial practices in antiquity.  As it turns out, we do know some things, as I’ll explain in this post and the next.

Again, this is taken, in slightly edited form, from my book Forgery and Counterforgery, which goes into a great bit of detail about what we know about writing practices in the ancient world.


The notion that early Christian authors used secretaries …. is so widespread as to be virtually ubiquitous. There is no need here to cite references; one need only consult the commentaries, not only on the Pauline corpus but on 1 and 2 Peter as well. At the same time, almost no one who invokes the secretary hypothesis sees any reason to adduce any evidence for it. Instead, it is simply widely assumed that since authors used secretaries – as Paul, at least, certainly did (Rom. 16:22; Cor. 16:21; Gal. 6:11) — these otherwise unknown persons contributed not only to correct or improve the style of a writing of a document but also to provide contents (that is, to compose the work). There is a good reason that commentators who propose the hypothesis so rarely cite any evidence to support it. The ancient evidence is very thin, to the point of being non-existent.

The fullest study is by E. Randolph Richards, who is to be commended for combing all the literary sources and papyri remains in order to uncover everything that can reasonably be said about secretaries and their functions in the Roman world during our period. (The Secretary in the Letters of Paul WUNT 2.42 [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1991]).  He explores every reference and allusion in the key authors: Cicero, Pliny, Plutarch, Suetonius, and so on; he plows through all the relevant material remains from Oxyrhynchus and elsewhere.  It is a full and useful study, valuable for its earnest attempt to provide the fullest accounting of evidence possible.  Somewhat less commendable are the conclusions that Richards draws, at times independently of this evidence.

Richards maintains that

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