KEDS tutor Jermo van Nes, who is currently completing his PhD at the Evangelische Theologische Faculteit, Leuven (Belgium), recently presented a paper at the European Association of Biblical Studies, which received the best student paper prize. 

In the award-winning paper “Hapax Legomena in Disputed Pauline Letters: A Reassessment” Jermo focuses on the number of hapax legomena (defined as words used exclusively in a text) in the so-called disputed Pauline letters – Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, and Titus. For many scholars, the large number of hapaxes in these letters as compared to the so-called undisputed letters of Paul serve as evidence that they were written by someone other than the apostle.

By using simple linear regression analysis (a statistical method widely used in the sciences but not yet in New Testament studies), however, it is concluded that only 1 and 2 Timothy use significantly more hapaxes. If proper noun hapaxes as well as hapaxes used in explicit quotations and in virtue and vice lists are not taken into consideration, it even appears that none of the disputed Pauline letters use significantly more hapaxes. As such, it is questionable whether scholars should continue to use the number of hapaxes in these letters as an argument against their Pauline authorship.

Instead, the question of authorship should better be debated in terms of the letters’ history and theology.