Subscriptions To The Epistles

W. Terry Varner
September 6, 2015

Have you ever given serious thought about the explanatory notes which are found at the end of the New Testament Epistles? They are not found m all published Bibles, but many published Bibles contain what is known as subscriptions at the very end of the Epistles. An example of a subscription is found in the words at the end of Romans: “Written to the Romans from Corinth, and sent by Pheobe servant of the church in Cenchrea.” These words vary from publisher to publisher.

On several occasions I remember being asked about these words. I answered these questions along the line that I will express below. On one occasion a sincere, but unknowledgeable brother, accused me of rejected part of the Bible. Some brethren in the class came to my defense, but they could not explain the subscriptions at the end of the New Testament Epistles. The answer is below.

The exact source of these subscriptions are unknown but are thought to have been added to the manuscripts about the middle of the 5th century (AD 500) by Euthalius, an elder in Sulca, Egypt. This man was “either grossly ignorant, or grossly inattentive” (Horne 2:76). Patrick Fairbairn says “the subscriptions . . . are oftener wrong than right” (Pastoral 30).

Several of the subscriptions are simply and clearly erroneous additions. Consider these:

The subscription to the Epistle to First Corinthians states that it was written from “Philippi,” even though Paul writes that he intends to “tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost” (1 Cor. 16:8).

The subscription to the Epistle to the Galatians is said to have been written from “Rome,” but this cannot be correct. Paul expresses surprise that many of the Galatian Christians had “soon” become unfaithful to the gospel (Gal. 1:6). However, it was at least ten years after the conversions that Paul was in Rome.

The subscription to the Epistles to the Thessalonians states that it was written from “Athens,” however, the Epistles state they were written at Corinth. Silvanus and Timothy joined Paul at Corinth (Acts 18:1, 5). They are mention in 1 Thessalonians 1:1 and 2 Thessalonians 1:1.

The subscription to First Timothy states that it was written from “Laodicea, which is the chiefest city or Phyrgia Pacatiana.” But there is no evidence Paul was ever at Laodicea and in the Epistle, Paul writes of having left Ephesus for Macedonia (1 Tim. 1:3).

The subscription to the Epistle to the Hebrews claims to have been written “from Italy by Timothy.” This contradicts Paul’s own words: “Know you not that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you” (Heb. 13:23, emp. added).

These subscriptions can be traced back to time of Desiderius Erasmus when he printed the Greek text known as the Textus Receptus printed in Basle in 1516. The Textus Receptus is the Greek text behind the King James Version. The textual critic F. H. A. Scrivener says, “appended to St Paul’s Epistles in many manuscripts. . . . In the best copies they are somewhat shorter in form, but in any shape they do not credit to the care or skill of their author, whoever he maybe” (Plain 62).

Since the subscriptions are not part of the inspired Scripture, we can dismiss them as part of the Bible. Many translations of the Bible no longer include them because they are not the inspired text and therefore not part of the Bible. In addition, many are highly unreliable.