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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. R

    Beg pardon, but do we call fiction "forged?" Do we call Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs "forged?" Works of fantasy and fiction are not forgeries. They are works of fiction ... like the New Testament, the Torah and the Koran.

    May 20, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Monte

      Old hat, higher criticism, go and write something original. End of day though, religion will soon be destroyed, not because of insipid little blurbs like this, but due to the danger religion poses...

      May 20, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Sally

      We call it forged if it is written by someone who pretends to be someone they are not.

      May 24, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  2. Gannon

    I believe there is a God and I pray/talk/pay my respects in my own way and its between him/her/it and me. I respect everyone else's choice to worship & pray the way they want and to who or what they want.

    In my opinion, large organized religions have turned into massive con operations full of stupid little sheep handing over their money and doing what they are told.
    Anyone want some Kool-aid?

    But I want to point out a couple things:
    1) Please keep your religion to yourself unless I ask you about it
    2) Religion has killed more people in history than anything else

    If EVERYONE could remember those 2 things, the world might become a better place....

    May 20, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • No god

      Agreed.

      We atheist should keep our religion to ourselves and stop posting here or anywhere else.

      Religion has killed more people than anything else in history, and here's my evidence...

      May 20, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  3. Jacob

    Like every other religion or philosophy, Islam also claims to be the one and only true way to God. In this respect it is no different from other systems. However, the Quran intends to provide some evidence for the validity of that claim.

    I grew up a Catholic, but converted to Islam after so much research.

    I was thinking how before being a Muslim I thought Muhammad (pbuh) made Islam and it was fake. Once into this religion, I no longer can even think of how a mortal could make up such a religion. I will not go into too much details of the scientific facts, because I know people hate to read.

    The Quran says:
    This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” (Quran 5:3)

    Islam is the one and only religion of God. It is NOT a new religion, but a restoration of the teachings of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and all prophets. Being raised a Christian I was taught Jesus is God, or the son of God, and about the holy trinity, etc. It all did not sit too well with me and was very confusing. Then I questioned why things in the old testament were different from the new testament. Jesus was born a Jew and lived like a Jew, however much after his death, people wrote the new testament and began to worship Jesus! The Gospel became distorted. I will list a couple of flaws:
    ___________________________________
    "And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be cloven footed, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you". [Leviticus 11:7-8]

    If Jesus was GOD, then why in John 8:28 Jesus said "I do nothing of myself"?

    If Jesus was GOD, then why in Matthew 26:39 Jesus fell on his face and prayed to his GOD?

    If Jesus was GOD, then why in Matthew 24:36 Jesus told his followers that no one (including Jesus) knows when the judgment day will come, only GOD knows?
    ___________________________________

    I can go on with this. But my point is much after Jesus passed away, and after Christianity became so distorted, Islam came as Gods final religion.

    People who drink or eat pork can do it, but it is a sin. God forbid this.

    If Islam was man-made as you say, why does it not contain the desires and flaws of man in it? Why would a mortal put so many restrictions on himself? Muslims cannot drink, eat pork, women need to cover up, lower gaze, fast, etc etc.. If the religion was made up, why would a pig be picked as something to not eat? Why lower the gaze? Why can't we take our clothes off, since Islam was made in the desert heat? Why can't muslims date?

    God created men, angels and jinn for worship only. Muslims pray 5 times a day according to the time of day (sunrise, noon, evening, sunset and night). And when I say pray, I do not mean "God bless our food, bla bla". It amazing how someone is worshipping God somewhere every minute of the day across the world!

    God made it like this to discipline us and to be worshipped. Prayer keeps a person from sinning.

    The Quran mentions SO MANY scientific facts. How could mortals know this 1400yrs ago? Why not OMIT this info rather than mention it in fear of being proven wrong?

    As for what scientific proofs? You need to visit the links below! If you think evolution is right, visit the links below!
    -www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zq7iEK7m6w

    -islam.about.com/library/weekly/aa092300a.htm

    May 20, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • Stephanie

      I think you are right!!! I also beleive that when he is called by his name GOD,, that so many mis interept his name. His name means,, Guardian Over Demensions between time and space in which we were created. he gave his rules,, so mant dis obey. But he is not cruel,, he is the greatest teacher, of existence. And soon,, we will all understand and know the truth!!!!

      May 20, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  4. Daniel James Dick

    This book, "Forged", is simply up there with Da Vinci Code and Chariots of the Gods as yet another book simply too stupid to bother debating.

    May 20, 2011 at 3:25 am |
    • John

      Forged, Da Vinci Code, Chariots of the Gods, the Bible, the Talmud & the Koran are ALL JUST BOOKS!

      May 25, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  5. Great News!

    This comment is intended for those follow Jesus.

    Dear friends, brothers and sisters, these articles are great news! Can you see past the earth-bound and through to the eternal!

    As members of our Heavenly Father’s family, we can be encouraged.

    Right now, read 2 Timothy chapter 3 and 2 Peter chapter 3.

    We have every reason to be excited and joyful!

    May 20, 2011 at 1:13 am |
  6. Joe Walikowski

    I always find it interesting that people refer to God as cruel, yet so willingly submit to a Godless universe where justice will never be known. Putting aside your own personal mortality for a moment, even at best case, Astronomers tell us our inevitable fate is to be flushed down a giant black hole in the center of our galaxy. Whatever thoughts, ideas, art, poetry, memories or music you have in you all go down the cosmic toilet. If that's really true, nothing you do really matters in the end, including taking the time to share your own opinions. Might as well write your posts, and just before you click the 'Post' button delete all the text.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  7. Country Boy

    Why does it seem that the republicans will find some way to blame Obama for this? According to them he is the antichrist right?

    May 19, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Dawn

      I'm pretty confident that the Antichrist is/was Dick Cheney! And the son of was W!

      May 19, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  8. Muneef

    Wonder is the bible has any details related to this subject for believers;

    THE LIFE BEYOND THE GRAVE  THE CONDITIONS OF BARZAKH 
    The  interval between death and the Day of Resurrection is called Barzakh in arabic. The literal meaning of Barzakh is  obstruction or barrier. Since this period is a barrier is between this world and the life Hereafter, that is why it called  Barzakh.

    The grave is either the garden of Paradise or the pit of Hell-Fire. O People, make your graves as  gardens of Paradise by doing righteous deeds; and do  not make your graves the pits of Hell-Fire by doing  evil deeds.
    http://www.as-sidq.org/barzakh.html
    A book in PDF you might be interested to read about same subject!!!
    http://d1.islamhouse.com/data/en/ih_books/single/en_Life_in_al_Barzakh.pdf

    May 19, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  9. Alex Gessong

    No Christian ever needs to fear the truth. What this scholar has found is simply truth, as supported by evidence. It explains why there are contradictions in the Gospels. Human beings picked and chose which writings would be included in the Bible as we know it. Unless we're prepared to declare that those human beings were infallible, we have to accept that they were subject to the same motivations as the rest of us. This scholar's work is valuable. It doesn't threaten belief in God or Jesus. Truth should be embraced, not feared, even when the truth is not what we'd expected.

    May 19, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Dawn

      You are a very wise man! I greatly appreciate the thoughtfulness in your comment. I wish there were more people like YOU!

      May 19, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  10. Walter

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

    May 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  11. thessalonian

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

    This guy ever heard what a scribe was?????

    May 19, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • John

      A scribe can write, but an illiterate cannot proof the result?

      May 25, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  12. calvin

    i suggests Bart Ehrman find an apostolic oneness church and see just what he refer to lies is happening. God poured out the Holy Ghost on the day of pentecost to many according to the New Testament. That is still happening today. He would alos find that the practices of the gifts of the spirit is alo happening today as well. He will also find that the many miracles performed in those days are still happening. Not just in the apostolic oneness churches but all over this world. I also would tell Bart to check out what was asked of Peter in the question of-what must one do to be saved? Peter replied-Acts2:38-Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost Acts 2:39 For this promise is into you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, as many as the The Lord our God shall call. This promise happened then and is still happening today. I personally know this to be true myself. Its funny that people can lash out on things that they themselves have not experienced to be true. Yet so easily can discard these thinks to be untrue. May God really have mercy on all who ridicule, blaspheme and label Him, His Word to be False. A false deception of the devil and his lies. God Help bart and theis sad world in Jesus name

    May 19, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      Bart is a scholar who has examined the original texts and reached a well-reasoned conclusion. There's nothing to be gained from rejecting the simple fact that human beings are fallible. Religious forgery was common in the past and still exists today. Remember a few years ago someone found the supposed artifact belonging to "James, the brother of Jesus." It was a forgery, created sometime in the late 20th century. The fact that much of the New Testament may be forgery does not diminish Christianity. If our belief is based solely on words written centuries ago by people we never met, how strong can that belief really be? There are contradictions in the Gospels. That's simply a fact. Now we have a better understanding of why those contradictions exist. That's a good thing, not something to fear.

      May 19, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  13. Tyler

    <>
    American King James Version

    3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. 5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: 6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: 7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved to fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

    8 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

    10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

    May 19, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      I prefer Mother Goose...

      May 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  14. W.G.

    Mr. Ehman is looking for sales not truth . Sure Peter had scribes write what he dictated
    So did kings and everybody else . They thing is they were accurate dictations much more
    accurate than you´ll find in the Koran which was put together over time many , many
    years after mohammeds death many things written on leaves and hipbones of animals
    all eventually put together in the hopes of accuracy by captured Jewish scribes in some instances .

    May 19, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Harry

      150-300 years isn't many, many years? That's when some of the gospels were written by supposed contemporaries of Jesus. Nice try on the Muslim bashing though. Both of your faiths are equally ridiculous and irrelevant.

      May 19, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      W.G. wrote: "they were accurate dictations"

      How in the world would you know?

      May 19, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  15. SarahP

    What?

    The bible was written by men making stuff up.

    Well Duh!

    May 19, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • P Smith

      Uh oh, now you've gone and done it. The religious don't like to be confronted with the fact that their buybull is fiction.

      One has to buy the bull to believe it, and part of buying the bull is sticking their heads into steaming dung piles in order to avoid hearing anything that conflicts with their myths.

      May 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Martha

      No, the Bible wasn't written by men making stuff up. It was written by men who had heard the stories of Jesus, etc. They didn't have the written word. If four men tell the same story – it won't be exactly the same in any of the 4 instances. Just think how hard it must have been for the men copying the stories, maybe very tired at the end of the day – and with no punctuation in the writings they copied and trying to figure out what the meaning was intended to be. I bet you couldn't do any better. It might be helpful for you to take a class or some classes in New Testament History. The fact that someone else wrote it and used someone else's name was very common in antiquity. It is called Pseudepigrapha. It was very common for people whos names were not known to write and use the name of someone who was well known, as it would be more enticing to read. Go back in the history and you will see why it happened.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Ogre

      Martha,

      One would certainly expect an all-knowing and all-powerful "God" to keep better watch over his pen-men, and not allow such discrepancies, misunderstandings and such easily disputed 'facts' to get through.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  16. nimitta

    Ben Witherington: you're in denial...and I don't mean a river in Egypt.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  17. JoeS

    I am a Mormon, and God told us that the Book Mormon is the most correct book in the world when it comes to doctrines and the salvation of Men. The Bible had some errors and people at different ages misinterpret it. There was no mentioned of full of errors but definitely the Bible is not complete. There are no such thing a complete Bible.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Liam

      http://www.christiananswers.net/q-cc/cc-archaeology.html

      The Book of Mormon was a fanciful story made up by Joseph F. Smith.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • MuleHead

      You sir are deluded – The Mormons are the most evil of all cults. Period.

      "And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet
      above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after
      the reckoning of the Lord's time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the
      throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same
      order as that upon which thou standest."

      Book of Abraham Translation by Prophet Joseph Smith

      May 19, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • W.G.

      There is so much wrong with the book of mormons they should call it the book of morons

      May 19, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Ogre

      JoeS,

      "God" told you, eh? What a goofball this "God" must be. He told you (and Joe Smith) a bunch of stuff; and he told Mohammad a bunch of stuff (which disagrees with your stuff); he told Jim Jones and David Koresh a bunch of stuff (which disagrees with your stuff). I could go on all day with 'stuff' that "God" has told folks... right down to telling them to kill their children. They ALL claim that theirs is the real, true stuff.

      You are full of 'stuff'.

      May 19, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  18. Tim

    Paul Harvey stated it best years ago...Even if the Bible is false and God doesn't exist, if we all followed the Ten Commandments, and the Golden Rule...wouldn't the Earth be a better place to live? Who cares about where we spend eternity?

    May 19, 2011 at 4:34 am |
  19. Steven Streets

    My Mom lied to the grave for 34 years of my life about being my Mom. So what?
    God still tells the Truth. He brought it up from her grave.
    She gave me this cool name before she died and I thought it was a joke at the time.

    May 19, 2011 at 4:31 am |
  20. Steven Streets

    There is no GOOD NEWS for religion.
    The GOOD NEWS of the Cross is for the victims of religion.
    The religion of religious predation is the most prolific religion in history.

    May 19, 2011 at 4:26 am |
    • jit

      Well said!

      May 19, 2011 at 6:59 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      @Steven streeets'
      You said: There is no GOOD NEWS for religion.
      The GOOD NEWS of the Cross is for the victims of religion.
      The religion of religious predation is the most prolific religion in history
      When you speak that way of religion, it;'s one thing... But when you say what you said about the good news of the Cross of Jesus Christ who came to die so that you may live, you speak of things you know NOTHING about. Even a fool is counted to be wise if he refrains himself from speaking about things he knows nothing about... Then you should know what does this make you! The very cross of Jesus Christ that you belittle and discard as nothing, is what you need to keep your miserable soul out of that place of the damned called hell, where there is weeping and endless mourning, where lost souls go and never come out ! You think it's a fable? I hope you never find out,, I truly do! But without the cross, it's your destination!

      May 19, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
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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.