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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. kamusician

    Check Out The Urantia Book and find some Peace
    No it's not a cult as so many narrow minded folks instantly assume...
    http://urantiabook.org
    Open your minds people-if you can!
    Have some peace in your life and heart and give this insanity an overdue rest.

    May 19, 2011 at 12:48 am |
  2. wp

    Bart Ehrman has been soundly refuted more times than you can count. Nothing new from him.

    May 18, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  3. RealityChecker

    Bart D. Ehrman contradicts his own books with each new one. First, he peddled books claiming that only portions of sentences in the Bible were wrong. Now he has expanded it to claim that HALF of the Bible is wrong. With the next book (designed for his target audience... gullible dopes that will not notice the fact that his latest book contradicts each one previously peddled to them), he will then be claiming that it has grown to ALL of the Bible is wrong. PT Barnum had Ehrman and his gullible fans in mind. Suckers, one and all.

    May 18, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  4. Katrina

    What a load of utter crap.

    May 18, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  5. RT

    Almost anything can pass for historical information…

    Like the bible to many christians

    May 18, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  6. GravityWorks

    "The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills."
    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814

    May 18, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  7. Chris

    "Forgery" is the wrong word. It was common in those days that the scribe assigned authorship to the person who's ideas were written not to the person who actually wrote it down. Our modern notion of authorship came after there was wider literacy. It should not be a shock that all thhose books did not come about until there were many christian readers and this was a generation or so the events being writen about. The Story was oral until there was a demand for writting

    May 18, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  8. Sassan

    All of religion is nonsense; does it really make a difference if it was forged or not?

    May 18, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Martha

      That is YOUR opinion. It is not mine!

      May 19, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  9. Dan England

    The man says he was a former fundamentalist and now agnostic. What was revealed in his life is that he was always an agnostic. When God saves a person He goes about the business of revealing what He has deposited in that persons life. The Holy Spirit causes believers to be born again, new creatures in Christ. Bart D. Ehrman was himself revealed to be a forgery.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  10. JB

    I believe it is possible that major chunks of the bible, old and new testaments alike, were not written by who we currently think they were. I don't think Moses wrote anything. I suspect that leaders at the time credited Moses because the words would carry more weight. I have often wondered how someone could remember word for word what Jesus said during the sermon on the mount. Some things that Paul says seems to contradict one another from letter to letter. Paul says at one point that nothing is unlawful for him and at other place lists a long list of sins. Paul seems unsure whether a new testament believer is free from sin (the law).

    May 18, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  11. Antonio G Guajardo Jr

    Interesting debate

    May 18, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  12. deathwombat

    "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."

    A lot of illiterate people "wrote" books in ancient times. They dictated to scribes or "professional rememberers". Many ancient works, including the Quran, were distributed verbally for decades before they were recorded on paper. You don't have to be an expert to know that.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  13. Ravi Pasupuleti

    Wow ! By proving half is forged he nailed the other half as authentic. Why does he not trust this 'other' half ? I suppose that would be sufficient to prove his original hypothesis wrong. He is free to share his mind and so is any in a free world. Nobody needs to get ugly or shove something down somebody's throat. That only exposes rottenness, well, at least for some.

    He is not proving with any evidences. He is proposing a theory. He does not have an 'illiterate' Matthew with him, nor photographs of Osama, excuse me that of X forging as Paul. Maybe they will come out someday. One has the freedom to share his 'good' or his 'bad'. The eyes enabled to see Bible as true are happy to move with that.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Sally

      Your line of thinking is flawed. If he has proven half as forged that does not render the other half "absolutely true", just written by who it is purported to be written by. In fact, if ANY portion of the bible is untrue it calls into question the authenticity of all of it. The other half being "not forged" does not render its content true.

      May 24, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  14. No god

    I don’t want to know there is a god.

    It’s easier to convince myself to believe there is no god, and this article helps me. I find it more convenient to believe there is no god.

    A lunatic Mathematician friend of mine insists there is a god. He insists he found god through Mathematics, through the language of science, as a logical conclusion to some nonsense he found. He became a jesusnut. He goes around blabbering about finite minds lacking the capacity to grasp infinite concepts without exposure to his so called bible knowledge. Give me a break!

    Whatever. I am not a Mathematician, but I don’t agree with his nonsense about set theory or infinite sets, or having no beginning or no end. This so called Mathematics is utter nonsense.

    I’d rather try to convince myself to believe there is no god. It’s just easier, not so complicated.

    If there is no god, then my life and my actions are inconsequential. Our so called western way of life is nothing more than a bunch of ideas from the bible used as so called laws, and I don’t want to be a part of this in any way, much less be governed by a bunch of lunatic nonsense. Why can I not be god?

    As a thinker who struggles with this, I find that coming to an understanding that there could be a god requires deep, analytical and rigorous thinking, more than I am able or willing to deal with. My mind is not that open. In fact I have trouble reasoning through this. So called ‘faith’ requires an open mind and a willingness to understand certain premises which I find troublesome.

    I’d rather try to convince myself to believe there is no god. The alternative is incomprehensible and worrisome to me, and my mind is not that open.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Heidi ranger

      To the one who has no faith,

      I don't understand how anyone cannot see God's spirit in everything that exists in this world. I'm not saying this to be condescending, but another thing that puzzles me is that, If there is no God, then how does anyone explain the fulfillment of over 100 prophecies concerning the coming of his son, Jesus Christ, thousands of years before, and why would anyone suffer such a horrific death by crucifixion only to pretend to be God's son? The book of revelation talks about the impending doom that will happen to those who refuse to believe in God's precious gift of his son's sacrifice. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. God sent his precious son to die for your sins so you could live life eternally by sending his spirit into all those who will believe in him and his precious gift. Read your bible and pray and ask him to come into your heart. He will reveal himself to you in ways that will leave you without a doubt that God is real and alive in everyone who loves him, follows his spirit within him, and believes. Those who refuse to believe will face eternal death. You may think this is hogwash but, what if you are wrong?

      May 19, 2011 at 1:43 am |
    • Sally

      Heidi- any God who would torture one of his children he purports to love for all of eternity simply because they legitimately struggled to believe is NOT a kind and loving god. How is it that you cannot see this? There is nothing loving about it. To burn forever billions of kind, devout, loving Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics and athiests either because they haven't been exposed to Christianity or struggled to believe is not love. And in addition to that, it's crap.

      May 24, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  15. dtw

    What a fall, What an Errorman, full completely in error. What a faithless generation!!!

    Each of Errman's points there are thousands of cases to against it. Especially about illiteration: If you go to China countryside churches, numberless peasants who were illiterate, but being able to read bible and write. Errman is impossible to understand the power and wisdom of holy spirit. The most popular holy songs in China, guess what, were writen out by one illiterate countryside girl.

    I do not think it would be far away for Errman to see his real errors soon, real soon.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • JK

      Your post would indicate to me that you, too, are agrammatoi, or at best semi-agrammatoi.

      I really do wish the religious right would put on their big-girl Christian panties and stop interpreting various ways of questioning man's poisoning of religion as denying the existence or possibility of god (lower case intentional). Nothing this guy has written says there is no god – only that some of the religious texts may have been corrupted over the centuries by mortal, fallible men with self-serving interests.

      Given the nature of man, the real shocker would be that there was NO corruption.

      May 18, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  16. Aizu

    This is all very interesting, but I wouldn't use it to argue that christian faith is wrong. As he said the bible was written by man, and I have known that for a long time.

    However, I can tell you that after facing death at a young age and making it through very dark times in my life, my faith was the one thing to bring me back. Believing in God and Jesus has helped my family and myself to move on. I think that everyone should be allowed to be faithful, if they wish, as it's one of those things that makes us get through life and comforts us in dark times. It is wrong for people to push their beliefs on others and I hate hearing people saying my religion is fake or that I am stupid for believing in God. Even if the bible is written by men, it still holds great moral values such as the ten commandments and stories of how Jesus helped people despite who the where and what they believed in. Most Catholics realize that you can't take the writing too seriously and you have to look past the writing to absorb the good morale values of how mankind should interact with each other, through love and care. Also, those who persecute others for not believing in God are morons. (Just thought I'd add that.)

    May 18, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Sally

      Aizu, I am with you! I hate people telling me that I am going to burn for all eternity because my spiritual beliefs are different from their own. I am tired of being called "ignorant" because I have dismissed Christianity and believe the Bible to be full of fallacies. I do not believe we can know the mind of God. I do not believe a God that loves his children would burn them forever because they struggled to believe. I do not believe the God described in the Bible is a loving God. I do not believe you are stupid for being Christian, and I am glad you and your family have found comfort in it. I have Christian friends who don't judge me, that i can have theological discussions with- I love them! And they me, we do not judge one another. The Golden rule- if you look at all of the major religions that is the ONE common thread, and I believe with all my heart that is what matters in the end.

      May 24, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  17. ubflamed

    Believing in god cannot affect whether he exists or not. If he does exist, then the most unreasonable man would spend his life searching for him. Since you can't possibly know if he does or does not exist without looking, wouldn't logic dictate that you try to find out? I have not said whether I do or do not believe in god. I've only stated that it would make sense to try to find out if there's a supreme being in control of our past, present and future.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  18. PM

    I'm curious. How can fiction be forged?

    May 18, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  19. Elizabeth K. Best

    In the past few months there has been a rash of articles assaulting the truth of the Word of God, or better yet its validity. These attacks take place in waves, and are often in reaction to key events or times of the year which increase belief (i.e. passover, Easter, & holidays). "Forgeries?" Do you know how ridiculous that sounds after 2000 years of scholarship? This is a part of the 'God is dead" mentality at best. The letters and people in the epistles are very believably mentioned within the other epistles and without in historical references. A scribe who writes what Paul said is not a forger-the term is not only too strong it is a slander. Before misleading the public, it should be noted that all these 'new finds' which seem noteworthy are a product of people who already do not believe. The battle for belief has been fought along these lines for centuries: recently we hear that some 'scholar' found Jesus' bones, Paul's tomb, or that Jesus wasn't really crucified he was impaled....now the NT has forgeries and I suppose someone will resurrect thepassover plot in which Jesus only took a soporific and the whole thing was staged. Sounds like someone who came too close to the truth of God being real and it bothered him.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • ChristSaturatedIgnorance

      Remember folks. The north American continent wasn't forcibly engrained with Radical Islam in the 1600s that gave "Christian" Men's Militias reign in the years after to push out aboriginals so their holy leaders could build banks and railroads and diners for the "Gawduh Fearinuh"... It was Radical Puritanism. And it still distracts you while your "holy leaders" still rake in billions. Keep your hands raised to the sky, while they knife you in the back. The universe as a whole really doesn't care.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Slipperypick

      "Before misleading the public..."

      That's RICH! The Bible and its fairy tales have been misleading the public for centuries. Time for society to wake up.

      May 18, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • JBBW

      The article isn't discussing the existence of God. When people are approached with ideas that contradict their own they get all bent out of shape. Everyone must come to terms with the existence or non-existence of God on their own. Unfortunately for one group there isn't any real evidence, only traditions. Frankly, I came to figure it out when I asked myself two questions. 1) Why would God want the kind of primitive 'worship' you see people doing? It seems kind of silly. Respect, love, yes – but Sunday Sermons and dreary music – no. 2) Why would God put so much effort into hiding his existence? It doesn't seem like a well thought plan.

      May 18, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  20. Shandooga

    85% of CNN is propaganda...including this. Now what?

    May 18, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Dantropy

      Then go to FoxNews.com

      May 18, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • RCinAL

      I am a Master's student pursuing an MA in Theology, and this kind of Biblical critical scholarship is certainly not something new. Why does CNN choose to publish a full length story on it now? Where is the full length story defending the integrity of the New Testament according to Christian tradition? This is just so interesting to me...you could find anyone with a PhD who believes anything. Perhaps next an article on how Jesus wrote all of the New Testament on his death bed? I could see it on CNN for sure...

      May 18, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Bill Kilpatrick

      This isn't propaganda. It may be publicity disguised as news. "Forged" is a newly-printed book by Ehrman, whose previous books created stirs of their own. It seems like Ehrman is getting increasingly bolder – even brazen – with every new book. Whether that's because he has anything new to say – or is just getting more desperate for attention – is yet to be decided. I own one of Ehrman's books in my personal library and enjoyed reading the first half of the book. I grew bored with it, however, as Ehrman went from telling his personal story to actually proving his case. I found much of Ehrman's argument to be the commercialization of theological criticism that has been around a long time. It's as if somebody had graduated from law school and was now writing a book where he'd been credited for inventing the Bill of Rights. As for his latest book, Ehrman isn't just pointing out the problems with superinerrancy. He's calling half of the New Testament a forgery. Yet, for such a bold claim, Ehrman produces precious little support.

      May 18, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
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