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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. monkey gunner

    Thinking takes place in the brain and blood pumping takes place in the heart. So, I know in my blood pump that god is a waste of time. And a waste of blood.

    May 29, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  2. Paul Wilson

    I have reason to believe that Daniel and Revelations are both spurious and forgeries. Omit them and you get rid of most of the doctrinal mischief that Camping and others have been preaching. I also have never accepted the idea of the Trinity (three separate and distinct Gods that are somehow One.). Streitferdt claimed and bugled that God, Christ and the Holy Ghost are all aspects of the same person, and never manages to explain how Christ could be God the Father who was up in Heaven while Christ was on Earth. The bible always refers to them as separate persons.
    I also am an evolutionist and ,while I believe in the immortality of the soul., I do NOT believe in a hell. Those who do try to keep as many people OUT of heaven as they can !

    May 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  3. AthiestAvenger

    The bottom line is if you don't believe that a man who was his own father rose from the dead to make up for the mischief of a talking snake you are going to burn forever, for God is love.

    May 29, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  4. alsmeer1

    the Word warns us that in the last days there would be scoffers and doubters and more. men who would 'tickle' the ears of others and preach what they prefer instead of the Truth. this man is one of those.
    just for arguments sake.... suppose they were illiterate.. so what.? maybe they had someone to pen their words for them. you know, like dictation?
    I believe the Bible is Gods Word and I will not side-step any of it for mans pleasure.

    May 29, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  5. Dogwelder

    The bible is infallible. Why? because it is the word of god. but how do we know that? because the bible says so. how can we trust the bible? because the bible is infallible. Why? because it is the word of god. but how do we know that? because the bible says so. how can we trust the bible? because the bible is infallible.

    ISN'T CIRCULAR LOGIC FUN CHRISTIANS?!

    May 29, 2011 at 2:48 am |
  6. hustlenflo

    "The early church was embroiled in conflict – people argued over the treatment of women, leadership and relations between masters and slaves" Not much has changed in 2000 years.

    May 29, 2011 at 1:59 am |
  7. Ted

    ....Wolves among Sheep...Trying to destroy and Pervert the Word of God...Very Hot place in HeII waiting for these Fake Bible scholars...

    May 29, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  8. CalgarySandy

    Aramaic is an older Semitic language that grew into Hebrew as we know it. The Greek would be Koine and being a scholar of classical Greek does not make you literate in Koine.

    It is not necessary to be literate in a language in order to memorize it. A Jewish boy could memorize the Torah as many Jewish scholars continue to do. One person reads and the rest memorize. A very common practice.

    May 28, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  9. pnut

    god is imaginary.

    May 28, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  10. Ed Galbraith

    Christianity, Judaism, Islam, et al...complete madness. Dreamed up by people only dimly aware of their surroundings, let alone their place in the universe...shame on your ignorance.

    May 27, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  11. watchman

    xuxun--Why is it so hard for those of you who believe you are intelligent to reason logically.Read the story of Abraham inGenesis22 and you will see a man who was willing to sacrifice his son because God told him to do it. Abraham is tested in obedience in the same way Adam and Eve were. They failed the test, while Abraham passed. So do you have a problem with God the Father asking Jesus to die for the sins of the world, and then resurrecting Him. Human nature is selfish at its best, in the same way Isaac was willing to be sacrificed by his father, Jesus willingly allowed us to crucified Him, but God the Father Showed His power to bring Jesus back to life, and gave him a body that cannot die ever.

    May 27, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Freethinksman

      Nonsense. Rubbish. Anyone who would murder his son to appease a god should be removed from society. To treat this behavor as noble instead of wicked gets to the heart of the problem with religion. People don't need a god to be be good. They just need one to justify sociopathic behavior

      May 28, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Know What

      When someone says that "God" (or any other supernatural 'voice') told them to kill their child (or anyone else) we commit them to a mental insti.tution. Abraham was either mentally ill,... or the whole story was made up just for the drama of it.

      May 28, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • PsiCop

      The very idea that one wrong (i.e. "sin") can be remedied by another (i.e. the execution of Jesus, or any other type of sacrifice) is quite obviously fallacious. Everyone, I assume ... even dutiful & devout Christians ... has been taught, from an early age, that "two wrongs don't make a right." The wrongness of this whole scheme is so plain to see, that I'm astounded that most Christians refuse to acknowledge it ... and in the few cases they do, they dismiss its wrongness and simply declare that's how God wants it and that's just the way it is and you should agree with them or perish eternally.

      May 28, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • gary

      the whole mess is myth and folklore! Dragons and fairies, trolls and wizards! It's all pretend!

      May 28, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  12. NYCMovieFan

    Nothing really new here. We've know for years that the New Testament as it currently stands is a mess, mostly produced to justify power for a few. For example, the powerful roles of women in the early Christian church have been completely removed. So is somebody trying to find the truth, or do we need the X Files for that?

    May 27, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • watchman

      NYCMoviefan--Who are the WE in your post. How old are you anyway. I bet you have never heard of the DEAD SEA SCROLLS. So go and check them out . see if what you knew all along is confirmed by the srcolls and get back to me-cwalrond2000@yahoo.com

      May 27, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  13. Peter

    Well now, I guess it's safe to say that the Koran is filled with fantasy, forgeries and lies too huh? Come on, just because the guy is on the scene centuries later doesn't mean God actually communicated with this select individual and nobody else picked up a pen and decided to add their own concepts of this selected individuals communication with said God.

    So let's see if CNN has to guts to be fair and allow people to offend Muslims like this article obviously offends Christians – regardless of what you believe...

    May 27, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  14. Terri

    Who created the "trinity"?

    May 27, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • watchman

      Terri--you asked a question and I know you are hoping that some one will answer it for you. I have a question for you if you answer it I will answer yours.Who created you and then trace back who created them., See how far back you can go. i KNOW THAT YOU HAVE PARENTS and they have or had parents. Where did it all began?

      May 27, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • Kelly

      Terri, the trinity was an idea invented hundreds of years after Jesus' death. It was patched together by church leaders from scraps of information in different parts of the scripture. It became formalised at the council of Nicea (where we get the Nicean Creed) as an official church belief, but before that it was quite acceptable to believe that Jesus was a prophet of God, not his son. Karen Armstrong has written some fantastic books that touch on these themes. Try 'A History of God' if you want a life-changing reading experience!

      May 28, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  15. truthsettler

    This is a great resource for all Bible doubts/concerns: http://esoriano.wordpress.com/. We should try out every spirits if they are of God before we should believe them. These pastors and Bible proclaiming preachers are not at all opening themselves to questioning from people who seek the truth, BUT Brother Eliseo Soriano is open for questioning regarding topics about faith and the Bible. TRY him and you'll find out the truth with God's help!

    May 27, 2011 at 1:43 am |
  16. browardcountyboy

    A belief in hell or eternal damnation as the final destination for people who believe differently is shared by many fundamentalist christians and muslims. My response to these people is, "It's your hell, you go live in it."

    May 26, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  17. DisgruntledGrrl

    "Even if Paul didn’t write the second book of Timothy, he would have dictated it to a scribe for posterity, he says"
    From a prison cell – imprisoned by people who didn't really like him OR wanted the things he said to get out?

    May 26, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Xuxun

      My point exactly. So the Roman imprisoned him for his teachings... no, they had him executed for the preaching of his faith - BUT, they allow him to dictate his teaching to further spread the words! No wonder Christians prayed for and believed in miracles, they need it.

      May 27, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  18. Daver

    What if all humans and all traces of current human existence were wiped from the face of this planet, and somehow we re-evolved into the same or nearly the same intelligent species of animal, would christianity survive? Would that species be condemned to hell for not believing in someone they never knew? Does the concept of god and salvation only apply to the current line of the human family tree? What primitive explanations would we come up with the next time around? Would today's gods survive? This is the reality we live in. These are questions worth thinking about.

    For those who don't believe in the scientific evidence that supports the theory of evolution, make a different assumption that puts people back onto earth with no pre-conceived notions of modern religion. Ask the same questions.

    May 26, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • savvyiq

      Daver. Who ever received the message of God and christianity; only then is able to be judged. If you have had the chance in your life to be given and to hear Gods message through family, friends or any other source and you fail to believe or follow his words, then you will be judged on what you know. If the message does not get to you, like animals or like people who live in countries that have not heard about christianity; they will only be judged on what they know. God has placed many prophets on this planet in many forms. be it from the bible or the guy next door. Its up yo every individual to either take the information and use it or ignore it.

      May 27, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • watchman

      Daver--So you believe in evolution ok . I want you to start retracing your ancestry and when you get to the ameba drop me a line. Tell me what it name was or is. Has evolution stop? and how long will it take man to evolve into the next stage. Have you seen any animals or reptiles evolving or will man evolve before them.

      May 27, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • AthiestAvenger

      There is a difference between what you are told and what you know.. Christians BELIEVE in God, they dont KNOW of his existence, thats why it is called FAITH

      May 29, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  19. Peter L.Griffiths

    The author of the New Testament was Berenice a great granddaughter of Herod the Great. The massacre of the Innocents included her own relatives. She was born in AD28 the only year mentioned in the New Testament see Luke chapter 3. Her motive was to put an end to animal sacrifice at the Jewish Passover. Most of her facts but emphatically not the dates were obtained from her distant cousin Josephus.

    May 26, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • watchman

      Let see if your statement as any validity. Berenice was born in AD 28, When did Jesus start his ministry. Since she knew about the massacre of the Innocents she would have to be told about it.Jesus was 30 years old when he began his ministry. In what year did Jesus die and how old was Berenice. If we take any of the dates fromAd 30-33 Berenice would only be 5years at the most..Did she follow Jesus for that time and did se have a tape recorder to recall all that is in the four Gospels. Have you heard this "WHERE IGNORANCE IS BLISS, IT'S FOLLY TO THE WISE" GETsome sense man. The names of the writers are the same names as the men who JESUS CHOSE. Where was Berenice that Luke the historian did not see her or mention her among the many women who were Jesus followers.

      May 27, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  20. Cornerstone

    Many people today think that you have to turn off your mind to be a Christian or believe in God. With the resurrection of Christ as its unshakable center, Christianity is backed by evidence in every area of study. We can know that God exists, that Jesus lived, died, and rose again, and that the Bible is accurate. I am a Christian as a result of evidence not ignorance and definitely not because I inherited the name. To know that we do not need to commit intellectual suicide is an experience in itself beyond comparison. If we believe in the God of the Bible than we know He created our brains and to use it. The Lord says “let us reason together.” We are not required to exchange our hearts for our brains. We can love God with all our heart and mind at the same time.

    May 25, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • Daver

      This would be an interesting discussion. Outside of the bible, which retells stories and narratives, and is therefore subject to the fallibility of every individual contributor, I'm always interested to see how people are able to mesh scientific theory and the laws of nature with the theory of god.

      May 26, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • rachel

      You may want to rethink your position. The Lord said alot of things. And ALOT of them were pretty heinous.

      May 26, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Xuxun

      Backed by what evidence? That God created Adam and Eve in His own image? That God endowed them with intelligence and promised them Eternal life only to test their obedience by telling them not to eat the forbidden fruit? A test that God should have known they will FLUNK? So is God all-knowing, or is He not?

      By the way, what kind of a sick dad would offer his only son to suffer, then died, nailed on the cross. And that is supposed to wash away the sins of the entire world - like that’s no sin and sinning from that moment on? Well, think again! Again, should God have known better? Wait! Then God resurrect His Son from dead. Was that God’s way of saying, “My bad, I really didn’t want him to die”?

      May 27, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • annasmum

      @Xuxun – read the Bible and it will speak to you. Jesus had a choice and he choose to die for your sins. That didn't mean there would be no more sin. that just shows you how much He loved you.

      May 27, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • CalgarySandy

      Why do you think trotting out the same old guff will make anything respect you or believe you. You claim in makes sense but all you do is say it is true. I want footnotes. I want authorities. I want philosophers and historians. I want a bibliography. You got bupkus with this childishness.

      I know god is real. How do you know god is real? Because he said so. Oh, and where did he say this? In the Bible. Who wrote the Bible? God. How do you know God wrote the Bible? He said so. Where did he say this? In the Bible.

      Why cannot Fundamentalists understand that what they say is illogical and insulting?

      May 28, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • AthiestAvenger

      What evidence do you have of anything happening in the Bible? other than the Bible itself... NONE? Thought so

      May 29, 2011 at 12:32 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.