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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. NWACHUKWU

    JESUS = GOD PERIOD AND THE BIBLE IS REAL , I MET JESUS AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT , HE WAS THE DOOR IN A FRAME AND LIGTH OF VARIOUS COLKORS CAME FROM HIS CHEST , AND HE FINALLY TURNED INTO A BUBBLE OF RED LIGTH KIND OF AND THEN DISAPPEARED . FOUND OUT IN THE BOOK OF JOHN HE SAID I AM THE DOOR AND ALSO I AM THE LIGTH , DID NOT KNOW PRIOR TO SEEING HIM JOHN ,7,8,9,10 .
    WILL GO ON OPRAH SOON WITH THIS MESSAGE THAT IT IS TRUE

    May 18, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  2. tim

    To the Atheists; Did you know that light can not be seen, and being an atheist you should not even exeist, because as a monad
    (single simple cell) at the bottom of the ocean in the mud, you have no eyes and no need for them and your law of T.D Prevents you
    from doing anything else,so you should still be a monad. An Eye is a very complexity organism. and the universe is made up of fire and water, so you an atheists are in a drop of water falling from some where to some where. ( Know God)

    May 17, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      Ah, Tim, they won't hear the word you say, but they'll do the only thing they know to do is parroting " prove it " squawk, " prove it"....That's all they can do!

      May 17, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Sally

      um......what?

      May 24, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  3. Tisktask

    Totally irrelevant drivel! All of the Bible is nonsense. There are no gods, and there probably was not even a real Jesus.

    http://ravingatheists.com/forum/showthread.php?t=16087

    May 17, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  4. Uthor

    Of course it's forged, although that's not exactly the right word for it. Let's just say it was in the interest of those who wanted power. God doesn't need to speak to men or women–or through men ro women. God doesn't need anything from any of us. He or she sort of holds the upper hand, if you think about it for even a little while. What god is so petty that he or she would go to such lengths to patronize humans, to beg for their worship? That makes a god seem awful weak, doesn't it?

    What's amazing is how effective these lies have become.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  5. queenofromania

    “We live in a Jesus-haunted culture that’s biblically illiterate,” reminds me of William Cobbett's quote,"You are frightened of ghosts and apparitions, whilst your house is the haunt of robbers." I think those who label themselves as god-fearing Christians need to reexamine the basis of their faith before the boogymen, aka Wall Street bankers, TV ministers and other charlatans, get them.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  6. Mario

    what a crock of crap...is this... satan will always spring up with theories on how to debunk the Bible 's truths and validity. The Bible is the only authority of and from God. in the end...the Father will say to them "depart from me you evil doers".

    May 17, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • Molly

      So we should have slaves and stone women?

      May 17, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
  7. kai

    all you guys arguing make me laugh! Jesus was just trying to get you to do what your mommie and kindergarten teachers were trying to do: BE NICE! As to who is right and who is wrong, when you die, you will find out! 🙂

    May 17, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  8. lastrebelstanding

    Intriguing. Whether correct or not it doesn't effect my faith. I'm not a fundamentalist.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  9. Rabbi

    Delightful back-‘n-forth! However, it seems to wander considerable off-point. The “Literal& Infallible Word of God” as some believe the Bible to be, has some serious credibility problems. For example, how do you square the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew (1:1-16) with that in Luke (3:23-38)? They only match at Joseph – who true believers don’t actually believe was father of Jesus. So, since these two treatments of Jesus’ ancestry aren’t the same, then the logical conclusion is one or both are wrong. And since THAT IS THE CASE, then the Bible – especially the NT – is seriously flawed, likely to have been written to sell Pauline Salvation theology & only valuable to those who – for their own private reasons – choose to believe it. And that’s cool. Why disabuse children of Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, the Great Pumpkin or any other silly belief.. as long as they don’t decide as the Jihadist have – to kill those who aren’t as gullible as they?

    May 17, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  10. forgiven

    I'm assuming the author of this article also believes the world will end on May 21 too right?

    May 17, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  11. Bible Reader

    Has anyone here even tried to read the bible OT or NT, cover to cover? It's barely even comprehensible by today's standards. Drivel. Forged drivel. One would hope that after 2000 years of editing the Bible would be a joy to read, not a text that needs Cliff notes or a preacher, priest or scholar to interpret (how they see fit for their audience).

    May 17, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • James

      Before you can truly understand any writer you first have to understand something of both the original author and his original audience. It's called context. Even when translated it is going to be somewhat difficult for anyone to comprehend any book without some knowledge of its original context. Don't blame the Bible for not being on your level. If you truly want to understand it maybe there a little studying in your future.

      May 18, 2011 at 1:33 am |
  12. Jim

    People often forget that the object of Christian faith is Jesus Christ. Jesus asked his disciples to declare who he was, and to declare it to the world. They saw Jesus' life, heard his teaching, and witnessed his miracles. They as well witnessed the resurrected Jesus. This is what drove them to invest their lives for him, and ultimately die for him and the message of Jesus' testimony. So, Jesus was completely crazy and so were they – or, he was the greatest con man who ever lived and millions of people have been conned – or, Jesus was truly God and changed the lives of every person who has chosen to believe and follow him.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  13. Truth

    the bible is the word of Gos so far as it is translated correctly.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  14. Father Vivian O'Blivion

    How can anyone be sure of anything in the Bible? Don't forget that it was written a couple centuries back.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • Optimus

      Umm...Yeah. More that a couple of centries old. Try almost 2,000 years.

      The book sounds trite and lame. When will non Christians accept the fact that Christians know vastly more about the Bible than they do? Do they expect, in the thousands of years the bible has been around, that the question of true authorship hasn't been tossed around a bit? That this concept is some sort of...welll...revelation?

      I'd note that there are many, many anchioent texts that are not included in the bible because of dubious origin, including the book of Adam and Eve, the book of the secrets of Enoch, etc. Most biblical scholars estimate that vastly more early Christian writing was left out of the bible than put in it. So from the start...the bible cosnsit sof material already largely vetted by the early Church fathers, people who were much closer in both time and space than we are.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  15. Mark

    The bible has two separate creation stories that are mutually exclusive. There, I haven't even finished the first book of the bible and I can already tell it was written by people instead of something divine.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  16. samben

    the only lying going on is being done by the self-proclaimed Bible scholar that wrote this rubbish!

    May 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  17. Josh

    Now I do believe in Jesus as God I do question about what we have been told in the Bible and how man has added things into the message But I do know this several times in my life I have prayed to jesus for particular needs and you know the prayers were answered precisley. So I dont need anymore proof than that .

    May 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Evan

      Your statement is about as concrete as a Call of Duty game. A new one will be made and sold every year, disrupting the base of the original that you started out with. Have fun praying to your imaginary friends! And also ignore this non-sequitur!

      May 17, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Sally

      And other true believers have made very specific prayers that have gone completely unanswered and tragedy and sorrow and suffering struck them. WHY? Their prayers were less valid than your own? It was "god's will" that their innocent child suffer a horrible painful death from cancer?

      It's called law of averages.

      May 24, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  18. Shelama

    Concerning the authenticity of the history and authorship of the Bible, virtually everybody has precisely same body of evidence (except for that ghost guy). Why is it that ONLY those who already have a strong psycho-emotional investment in Christianity claim that the evidence supports that authenticity? When has any competent, informed, literate adult ever converted from unbelief because of the results of honest, critical study of the Bible? Why is a strong, personal, pre-existing faith in the historicity and authenticity required before someone concludes that that common body of evidence supports it?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Apu

      > When has any competent, informed, literate adult ever converted from unbelief because of the results of honest, critical study of the Bible?

      C.S.Lewis is one of many:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._S._Lewis

      May 17, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • really?

      There are examples of competent, informed, literate adults converting to Christianity (like C.S. Lewis, for example). But that doesn't prove or disprove Christianity, or the authenticity of the New Testament.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Rich

      Read up on this guy

      John Clayton – http://www.doesgodexist.org/

      May 17, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Matt

      Two people that come to mind off the top of my head are Lee Strobel and Hugh Ross. Both atheists who examined the evidence trying to disprove Christianity but came to the oppositte conclusion.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  19. THOR

    I AM THOR

    May 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • ODIN

      THOR, I AM YOUR FATHER. I AM ODIN. WHO ARE YOU TO POST SUCH BLATANT AND BOASTFUL THINGS ON AN ARTICLE OF THIS NATURE?
      I SHALL SENT YOU TO YCHULSVETKOLVOSTANTUL WHERE YOU WILL REMAIN FOR ONE THOUSAND YEARS UNTIL YOU LEARN TO BEHAVE YOURSELF ON CNN ARTICLES.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • larry c. lyons

      to which the Valkyrie replied., with a bit of a lisp

      You're thor. After last night I'm so thor I can hardly pith.

      May 18, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • tChron

      You ain't Thor. You're the class clown and guess what? You ain't funny.

      May 18, 2011 at 12:51 am |
  20. BB_Jones

    New Testament is made up primarily of "letters" written by men who were fishermen, carpenters and a tax collector, in what has been termed ancient Greek and or Aramaic. These men were not stupid as they were in business. Tax collectors were required to record information "accurately" for Caesar. No exceptions. They were not "books" per se but were testaments of witnesses (letters) who observed the happenings of the day. There was no newspaper,TV, or radio, there were only people who communicated with speech and the few who could write down what they saw. In any case, it all comes down to, "Who do you say I am Peter?" "John" and you the viewer after 2000 years of doubt.

    Matthew, the Publican, was a son of Alpheus, of Jewish birth, a tax collector by trade, who seemed to have been wealthy, was called from the seat of custom. Hardly what I would call illiterate! Paul was known as Saul and the one who hunted Christians for a living before his encounter with the resurrected Jesus.

    What say you?

    May 17, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • Robert M

      I'd say you added nothing to the dialogue. What does the fact that Paul was originally named Saul have to do with anything? And in the retort, it was already mentioned that they might be literate because they were in business.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Mark

      I don't think the intent of this article is to say certain people did or didn't exist or that they did or didn't write books in the bible. The point is they wrote SOME of the books, but other third parties submitted their own stories and put someone else's name on it. It has nothing to do with the original person being literate or not.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Orion46nc

      Why is it that we spend more time trying to discredit the works of God, than it is to just simply read on it and believe? We should just try and preach the gospel truth instead of wasting our time, our whole entire life for that matter, to do researches as to why God does not exist, or forgeries...As it said in the Bible, anyone that takes away from the book, or adds to the book, God will not receive Him in His kingdom....It's just the devil's work, and he is happy right now cos the weak in faith will walk away from the truth and be lost....That is the devil's plan....

      May 18, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • BR

      @Orion46nc – Where do I begin?

      There is no well demonstrated reason to believe in any god so simply asserting that something is the ‘work of god’ is meaningless. You’d might as well claim that bigfoot dung cures cancer.

      To ‘simply read on it and believe’ is to stop thinking. Purposefully turning off ones mental faculties is purposefully choosing ignorance and leads to stagnant and bigoted mindsets.

      Your claimed ‘god’ supposedly created us flawed and then punishes us for the inevitable pitfalls of those flaws. Your claimed ‘god’ is a heinous and hateful character whose devotion is beneath you and the proof is in the bible to which you cling. If you’ve really read it and paid attention that is self evident but because of indoctrination you are blind to the atrocities in its pages…most of which are actually committed by him or specifically directed by him. If you’re a good person it’s in spite of the bible.

      May 18, 2011 at 11:34 am |
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