From the Editor—Friday Reflections

Fraud Control

The Friday Reflection by James M. Kushiner

November 13th, 2020

By Jean Le Tavernier - Public Domain


he world has long been concerned with the authenticity of both personal and legal documents. A king authenticated a decision by sealing it with his own seal. Charters and contracts were signed by the parties, if they could sign their names, and if not, someone who would attest by his signature that the "mark" was made by the person referred to in the document.

Seals might be counterfeited or signatures forged. But they were required; otherwise the authenticity of a document was unprovable.

Today's Epistle reading from the St. James Daily Devotional Guide ends with Paul's final words to the Thessalonians:

"I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all" (2 Th. 3:17-18).

Or as the Authorized Version puts verse 17:

"The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write." Or we could say, "'The Greeting of Paul—in my own hand."

His writing "Paul" and the salutation in his own hand is "the token" or the "sign of genuineness." It's one word—semeion—a sign that authenticates. The "signs" of Jesus verify his identity.

Paul adds, "So I write," outo grapho, we could say, "This is my handwriting." It almost sounds like autograph, but it's not, although the meanings aren't much different. Most assume an autograph is a personal signature, but it originally could (and still can) mean any manuscript written by the hand of the author.

The original handwritten books of the New Testament are sometimes called the "autographs" and some emphasize that the New Testament is inspired and infallible in its "original autographs." If we found the original autograph Paul sent to the Thessalonians, we'd also see his actual personal autograph. (We'd also see today dozens of books analyzing his handwriting!)

Why did Paul "sign" his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians this way? In his notes to the Devotional Guide, Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon explains that the church at Thessalonica "had received another epistle, claiming to come from Paul himself," which had disturbed them. "Paul was now obliged to write once again, counseling them about these matters" (2 Thess. 2:2).

"To prevent any further danger from someone's composing a fraudulent epistle in his name, Paul began at this point the custom of adding some line or other to the end of his letters in his own distinctive hand, so that there could be no doubt about the authenticity of the letter." For example:

1 Cor. 16:21: "I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand."

Col. 4:18: "I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand...Grace be with you."

Authenticity seems to be in mind in Gal. 6:11 as well: "See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand."

Even in this day of e-commerce, e-signatures, and virtual verification, there is something special about a handwritten note or a person's signature. I have The Epistle of Saint James: A Commentary inscribed by its author: "For James, with very best wishes +Archbishop Dmitri" in his own hand. I value the book even more for that reason.

God writes also: The Ten Commandments. In the Book of Revelation (which we will begin reading tomorrow) Jesus has the angel write to the Church in Philadelphia: "I will write on him [who conquers] the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven, and my own new name."

Here, the writing authenticates belonging to God and his Christ, and our citizenship. I have my grandparents' 1923 British passports: I can see their handwritten signatures, sealed by the Foreign Office, verifying both their identities and citizenship.

There are many references to our being divinely sealed, indicating identity and ownership, such as:

God has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. 2 Cor. 1:22

But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: "The Lord knows those who are his." 2 Tim. 2:19

The world may know neither who's ultimately in charge nor to whom they belong. We do. We're signed, sealed, and waiting to be delivered.

Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,

James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James

—James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.