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Half of New Testament forged, Bible scholar says
May 13th, 2011
11:47 AM ET

Half of New Testament forged, Bible scholar says

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - A frail man sits in chains inside a dank, cold prison cell. He has escaped death before but now realizes that his execution is drawing near.

“I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come,” the man –the Apostle Paul - says in the Bible's 2 Timothy. “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”

The passage is one of the most dramatic scenes in the New Testament. Paul, the most prolific New Testament author, is saying goodbye from a Roman prison cell before being beheaded. His goodbye veers from loneliness to defiance and, finally, to joy.

There’s one just one problem - Paul didn’t write those words. In fact, virtually half the New Testament was written by impostors taking on the names of apostles like Paul. At least according to Bart D. Ehrman, a renowned biblical scholar, who makes the charges in his new book “Forged.

“There were a lot of people in the ancient world who thought that lying could serve a greater good,” says Ehrman, an expert on ancient biblical manuscripts.In “Forged,” Ehrman claims that:

* At least 11 of the 27 New Testament books are forgeries.

* The New Testament books attributed to Jesus’ disciples could not have been written by them because they were illiterate.

* Many of the New Testament’s forgeries were manufactured by early Christian leaders trying to settle theological feuds.

Were Jesus’ disciples ‘illiterate peasants?'

Ehrman’s book, like many of his previous ones, is already generating backlash. Ben Witherington, a New Testament scholar, has written a lengthy online critique of “Forged.”

Witherington calls Ehrman’s book “Gullible Travels, for it reveals over and over again the willingness of people to believe even outrageous things.”

All of the New Testament books, with the exception of 2 Peter, can be traced back to a very small group of literate Christians, some of whom were eyewitnesses to the lives of Jesus and Paul, Witherington says.

“Forged” also underestimates the considerable role scribes played in transcribing documents during the earliest days of Christianity, Witherington  says.

Even if Paul didn’t write the second book of Timothy, he would have dictated it to a scribe for posterity, he says.

“When you have a trusted colleague or co-worker who knows the mind of Paul, there was no problem in antiquity with that trusted co-worker hearing Paul’s last testimony in prison,” he says. “This is not forgery. This is the last will and testament of someone who is dying.”

Ehrman doesn’t confine his critique to Paul’s letters. He challenges the authenticity of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John. He says that none were written by Jesus' disciplies, citing two reasons.

He says none of the earliest gospels revealed the names of its authors, and that their current names were later added by scribes.

Ehrman also says that two of Jesus’ original disciples, John and Peter, could not have written the books attributed to them in the New Testament because they were illiterate.

“According to Acts 4:13, both Peter and his companion John, also a fisherman, were agrammatoi, a Greek word that literally means ‘unlettered,’ that is, ‘illiterate,’ ’’ he writes.

Will the real Paul stand up?

Ehrman reserves most of his scrutiny for the writings of Paul, which make up the bulk of the New Testament. He says that only about half of the New Testament letters attributed to Paul - 7 of 13 - were actually written by him.

Paul's remaining books are forgeries, Ehrman says. His proof: inconsistencies in the language, choice of words and blatant contradiction in doctrine.

For example, Ehrman says the book of Ephesians doesn’t conform to Paul’s distinctive Greek writing style. He says Paul wrote in short, pointed sentences while Ephesians is full of long Greek sentences (the opening sentence of thanksgiving in Ephesians unfurls a sentence that winds through 12 verses, he says).

“There’s nothing wrong with extremely long sentences in Greek; it just isn’t the way Paul wrote. It’s like Mark Twain and William Faulkner; they both wrote correctly, but you would never mistake the one for the other,” Ehrman writes.

The scholar also points to a famous passage in 1 Corinthians in which Paul is recorded as saying that women should be “silent” in churches and that “if they wish to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home.”

Only three chapters earlier, in the same book, Paul is urging women who pray and prophesy in church to cover their heads with veils, Ehrman says: “If they were allowed to speak in chapter 11, how could they be told not to speak in chapter 14?”

Why people forged

Forgers often did their work because they were trying to settle early church disputes, Ehrman says. The early church was embroiled in conflict - people argued over the treatment of women,  leadership and relations between masters and slaves, he says.

“There was competition among different groups of Christians about what to believe and each of these groups wanted to  have authority to back up their views,” he says. “If you were a nobody, you wouldn’t sign your own name to your treatise. You would sign Peter or John.”

So people claiming to be Peter and John - and all sorts of people who claimed to know Jesus - went into publishing overdrive. Ehrman estimates that there were about 100 forgeries created in the name of Jesus’ inner-circle during the first four centuries of the church.

Witherington concedes that fabrications and forgeries floated around the earliest Christian communities.

But he doesn’t accept the notion that Peter, for example, could not have been literate because he was a fisherman.

“Fisherman had to do business. Guess what? That involves writing, contracts and signed documents,” he said in an interview.

Witherington says people will gravitate toward Ehrman’s work because the media loves sensationalism.

“We live in a Jesus-haunted culture that’s biblically illiterate,” he says. “Almost anything can pass for historical information… A book liked ‘Forged’ can unsettle people who have no third or fourth opinions to draw upon.”

Ehrman, of course, has another point of view.

“Forged” will help people accept something that it took him a long time to accept, says the author, a former fundamentalist who is now an agnostic.

The New Testament wasn’t written by the finger of God, he says - it has human fingerprints all over its pages.

“I’m not saying people should throw it out or it’s not theologically fruitful,” Ehrman says. “I’m saying that by realizing it contains so many forgeries, it shows that it’s a very human book, down to the fact that some authors lied about who they were.”

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Books • Christianity • Culture wars • Faith

soundoff (2,204 Responses)
  1. conah

    I don't know about you wacky protestant heretics, but I very clearly remember learning this in my Catholic education. I thought it was common knowledge that the Gospel of Peter was not written by the disciple Peter, and so on.

    May 16, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      @conah
      It is God's Word and the Spirit of Truth, which is the Holy Spirit of God which are defining who heretics are, and NOT your long – robed catholic friars with their self – usurped authority! Blind leading th blind!

      May 16, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  2. Great Smurf In The Sky

    Bow to the Smurf on the left,
    the Smurf on the right,
    and the smurf in the middle

    Pick Smurfberries and place them at my feet
    or feel the wrath of my Smurfness.

    Smurf ALL...or Smurf none.
    Smurf me not.
    Smurf the other Smurf.

    Heck, just tell Smurfette to get nekkid.

    May 16, 2011 at 7:26 am |
  3. Dontcha think

    Witherington calls Ehrman’s book “Gullible Travels, for it reveals over and over again the willingness of people to believe even outrageous things.”

    Does nobody else find this quote ironic?

    May 16, 2011 at 7:26 am |
  4. john

    ho-hum....so where has this guy been for the past 100 years. Biblical scholars have been arguing this point for at least a couple of generations. What surprises me is that anyone thinks this is worthy of getting upset about. The issue of authorship is one that will never be settled and ultimately doesn't matter. The early church made the decision to place the letters in the canon and thus give them authority to guide and direct the lives of Jesus' followers. Maybe it is time we leave these debates behind and get on with living the Jesus way by loving God, neighbor and caring for God's creation. Quit arguing and get busy.

    May 16, 2011 at 7:19 am |
  5. Agnel

    Every word of the Bible is true, Bible is not just one book but library of 66 books which are written in different timespan. Through this book by using the Name of Jesus Christ followers healed sick, open the eyes of the blind, made the mute speak, and even dead raise with the scientific proof. Search for "miracles in Jesus Name" in youtube and you will find many. Bible is the hope for the hopeless. Bible is the book to the one who seek the real peace. The peace what Jesus given world cannot give. Bible also makes someone unconformable because of this wicked life style. He who want to receive Jesus must reject the world, the world of God says "a man cannot serve God and money together". The people who earn money by using the Gospel theme will surely lose their salvation for eternity. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMNLgJwYnu8

    May 16, 2011 at 7:07 am |
  6. Thomas

    Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheeps clothing. There are just as many "Scholars" who would say otherwise. Money, Power, and Greed. As Christ said, only the Spirit can teach a person, and those who don't have the Holy Ghost don't have the Spirit. This "scholar" is a quack. Let your heart feel the still small voice tell you the truth, not some guy who wants to make a buck. As we near the last days, the devil is hard at work. This is an excellent example of that.

    May 16, 2011 at 7:06 am |
  7. JohnFahlsing

    Thank you so much for adding to the conspiracies that continue to find ways to let humans be humans. If not the word of God, then inspired by the will of God. Over and done. Does the bible speak anything other than Gods Mercy, Jesus' sacrifice and the Holy Spirits' Power?

    May 16, 2011 at 6:59 am |
  8. matt

    If you want to know the truth go to youtube and watch William Lane Craig vs. Bart Ehrman.

    May 16, 2011 at 6:57 am |
  9. lgmartin26

    It does"t matter about your opinions of who wrote or didn't write the bible. You believe the words by faith. For without faith it is impossible to please God anyway. For those that do not have faith, you just need to ask God for it. But it's Your choice.

    May 16, 2011 at 6:35 am |
  10. doc77

    Oh, the author is an agnostic...? Oh, Ok.

    "But the Word of our Lord will stand forever". Only believe folks. That's what Jesus – who is the 'star' of the NT – says...only belive.

    May 16, 2011 at 6:32 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Read the article... Read the bio of the author... He didn't start out as an agnostic... earlier he was just as brainwashed as you...

      May 16, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  11. Suzie Que

    The God I know...you know...the one who created EVERYTHING out of NOTHING...well, if He had something He wanted written down by a person who had never learned the alphabet...I bet He could do something about that.

    May 16, 2011 at 6:30 am |
  12. johnny

    And we think that only Islam has problems ?

    May 16, 2011 at 6:20 am |
    • doc77

      Christianity does not have problems, only unbelievers.

      May 16, 2011 at 6:33 am |
  13. Bill

    So God is a "he"? Sounds like something written by a man.

    May 16, 2011 at 6:19 am |
  14. BellaTerra66

    The Greeks believed in The Oracle for 2000 years. "True Believer Christianity" has just about run its course too.

    May 16, 2011 at 6:13 am |
  15. Skytag is a pu$sy

    Athiest are just dumb enough to defend muslims (people that hate want to kill them) just because they think they are aggravating Christians LOL!

    May 16, 2011 at 6:13 am |
  16. Art

    Mr. Ehrman has found himself in a conundrum: if the books are in fact forgeries then the evidence he uses to state his case (e.g. that Peter and John were illiterate) are based on the very same forgeries.

    May 16, 2011 at 6:02 am |
  17. TJeff1776

    What – yet another scrutiny ?? The Bible has undergone thousands of those via renoun astound types in search of fame.....and $$$$$$. I suppose us laymen are suppose to bow at the feet of, and sigh, at another brilliant researcher. BUT
    these exact same discussions transpired within the committee appointed by King James in his version. Ehrman will certainly NOT be last, but joins a VERY long line in seeking historical fame. Of course, money helps sweeten the pot. The desire for thirty pieces of silver lives on........methinks the New Testiment has stood the test of time...but aside a new Dead
    Sea Scroll find, NOTHING new here. I suppose next up will be a finding that Jesus is without standing simply because there were no schools availble to a lowly Carpenter's son and therefore God of the planet Earth was w/o source or ANY means of intellectual growth........and His witnesses with Him. Does one suppose "Come follow me" to be idle talk ??

    May 16, 2011 at 5:59 am |
  18. bodexl

    So for a book to be written by God, He has to write it with his own fingers? This guy is very funny. Of course human beings wrote the Bible. It didn't drop from heaven in a pillar of light. That's not how God works. He INSPIRED men to put down His words. It will be mixed with their own viewpoints but it will take someone with the same Spirit (and an open heart) that inspired the scriptures to understand the spirit of the texts. The Bible itself says "the letter kills but the spirit gives life." If the Bible were truly a forgery, don't you think the people who put it together would be smart enough to smoothen out all the 'inconsistencies' and make everything completely even?

    May 16, 2011 at 5:48 am |
    • Allison

      um, read the article

      May 16, 2011 at 6:23 am |
  19. Apstol Wal

    This is stupidity 101. I know since I was a kid that the gospel and a large part of the New Testament was not written by authors themselves...., but by writers they will hire to help exactly with that....the writing...!
    No much difference from how today things works. Lost of articles and even BOOKS...! Are not written by the authors, but by other unknown, buy very good writes who shares the profit...!

    May 16, 2011 at 5:47 am |
  20. Duke13

    I believe Mr. Ehrman is just try to get publicity to sell his book. Can you spell profit.

    There have been arguments for years regarding if John (the author of Revelation) was the same John who wrote other books in the Bible since the style of writing was somewhat different.

    I recently uncovered some papers (notes) in a Bible I had written in the 1970's and the style and legibility of my writings are much different than the way I write today. Also, several months ago I looked at my signature from my teenage years and compared it to my signature of today. If someone looked at the difference in the signatures, they would swear that they were not by the same person. If you are an older person and have papers you have written in the past, look at how your style of writing may have changed over the years.

    Also, remember that the New Testament was translated from the original Greek. Until Mr. Ehrman has better proof than his opinion, I will personally continue to accept the books of the Bible as written.

    May 16, 2011 at 4:51 am |
    • Rob

      @Duke13
      "I believe Mr. Ehrman is just try to get publicity to sell his book. Can you spell profit."

      No I'm illiterate. 🙂

      May 16, 2011 at 5:51 am |
    • DrJStrangepork

      What is more outrageous? That the books of the Bible are not authentic, or that the Bible itself only contains certain gospels. You have to face certain facts regarding the book. 1. It didn't fall out of the sky, people wrote it. 2. Anything that people create/do is subject to their perspective.
      You can't apply the "gold" standard to it as it can't be verified to be "gold". There are good things in it that shouldn't be thrown away, but arguing to not believe one guy because his claims are outrageous is silly, when the claims of the book are outrageous and you have no proof either one is right.

      May 16, 2011 at 6:22 am |
    • Bob

      Totally agree that this is for fame and profit! WAY too much historical, archeological, and scientific evidence to the contrary. Have to laugh at the gullibility of people that buy into this stuff.

      May 16, 2011 at 6:37 am |
    • muslim (means submitter to GOD)

      The Bible is a collection of writings by many different authors. In the Bible you have many men writing about God and you have in some places the word of God speaking to men and still in other places you have some men simply writing about history. The Bible consists of 66 small books. About 18 of them begin by saying: This is the revelation God gave to so and so… The rest make no claim as to their origin. do you know that the world "Bible" is not in the Bible? the word "Trinity" is not in the Bible.

      Do you know that the word Bible in mentioned in the Quran and more than once? that two chapters in the Quran are about Jesus's family. that the only women mentioned by name in the Quran in "Mary" the mother of Jesus (Peace be upon her)
      Qruan 2:2
      In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
      2. This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah.
      3. Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them;
      4. And who believe in the Revelation sent to thee, and sent before thy time, and (in their hearts) have the assurance of the Hereafter.
      5. They are on (true) guidance, from their Lord, and it is these who will prosper.

      The Holy Quran 2:62]
      Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.

      Sabians: are a 5000 yr old tribe in Iraq who are believe in the one GOD.

      The Qur'an is a dictation.The speaker in the Qur'an – in the first person without any doubt in it. I urge to pick a copy of the Quran and read it. It will clarify things, and support the true message of prophets (Adam, Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus, Lut, Joseph (Peace be upon them) and all of the other GOD has sent us to give us the simple message of "worship the one unseen, true creator, the Lord of the universe". The same GOD of all humans since creation. And Just to clarify, the word Allah means GOD. All of the Christians and Jews in Middle East uses the word "Allah" for GOD. so Allah is not a different GOD.

      Peace be on you..

      May 16, 2011 at 6:46 am |
    • MIkeH

      Yep, shame on Mr. Ehrman for his blatant publicity stunt...and people for their gullibility, anyone recall The DaVince Code? I still have people raise it as a point of arguement against the bible – sigh. People will believe or not, guys like Erhman do not help or hinder, they simply get richer.

      May 16, 2011 at 6:58 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Yes... all people who go into academia go into it for the money... they spend half their lives in libraries just so they can get richer, and they spend the other half of their lives putting ideas into context so that they may have the opportunity to get something published.

      Have any of you people claiming this is all about money tried to get anything published? Good luck... unless it's some trash aimed at the lowest common denomination, you'll make more money working at McDonald's...

      May 16, 2011 at 9:29 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.