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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. Dan

    No *** Dick Tracey, er, John Blake. Biblical scholars have stated this for over 75 years now.

    September 25, 2011 at 1:14 am |
  2. Twain Shakespeare "Cat'smeat" Ross

    Of course the Q'ran is also a "forgery."
    http://www.mukto-mona.com/Articles/kasem/quran_origin.htm

    August 23, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  3. Dkgonzalez

    Yup it's true. the religions based on that book are clearly corrupt. Paul and, Peter I think, were spys for the romans and the Jews. and they conspired against a righteous being. and thus this history was doomed to be repeated. I would know. 😦

    August 18, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  4. Enrique Sanchez

    So, Ehrman is our new PROPHET? All this stuff is such OLD OLD scholarly news! We are witness to a slick MARKETING campaign that CNN is happy to endorse because it's founder is a godless man. Old Turner is only too glad to proselytize his atheism.

    August 7, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • gozer

      Care to back up your claims with some references? And being old doesn't mean that it's wrong, necessarily, or not worth discussing. This is a blog, not exactly headline news.

      August 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  5. Pastor Will Sampson

    This is old news. At worst, Ehrman is spilling old trade secrets that the clergy have privately acknowledged for the past century or so. Heck, one could look at the wikipedia under authorship of Pauline texts and save yourself some money.

    August 7, 2011 at 5:46 am |
  6. quedula

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

    Yet Witherington is presumably is ready to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, walked on water, and rose from the dead!

    August 7, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  7. Grace

    Hmmm so 1/2 of the New Testament is probably a forgery so then anything even similar to what's written in it, as in the Qu'ran or the The Book of Mormon, which almost verbatim take most of their scripture from the Bible. And the prophet wrote the Qu'ran in one day and Joseph Smith used magic stones to translate gold plates also in a short time, and who couldn't speak that ancient language that the people apparently spoke. Personally the Sumerians had it right all along, and Judaism, Christianity and Islam all come from what those people believed 6000 years ago. It's just that the Sumerians didn't organize and proselytize or threaten to kill unbelievers or make millions off of their beliefs. The Bible was compiled and edited over 300 years after Jesus and quite a few books weren't included, which were even mentioned in it. I mean come on now, those priests in Rome sure weren't good editors were they?

    July 18, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  8. CC

    Why are most Believers and or Christians loving, giving, kind, decent awesome people?? I would rather be with Believers than non believers and atheists..Go with the bible..IF it is wrong which it is not at least we lived a better liife than non believers..I have lived both ways..ILL take the Christians any day

    June 20, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Twain Shakespeare "Cat'smeat" Ross

      CC said "Why are most Believers and or Christians loving, giving, kind, decent awesome people?? I would rather be with Believers than non believers and atheists..Go with the bible..IF it is wrong which it is not at least we lived a better liife than non believers..I have lived both ways..ILL take the Christians any day"
      What planet do you live on, CC? Sincerely, what flavor of Christians do you associate with? Not Texans, I hope.

      August 23, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  9. soA

    MAY ALLAH GUIDE THE IGNORANT, Peace.

    June 14, 2011 at 8:18 am |
  10. Servant Of Allah

    So, if you know that the bible is forged then, why don't you follow the Qura'an where nothing is forged..everything is preserved as it was revealed by The Almighty through the Archangel Gabriel to the Last and Final Prophet which the bible prophecies in many places:Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him).

    The Qur'an clearly mentions that they have written with their own hands : "Therefore woe be upon those who write the Scripture with their hands and then say, "This is from God," that they may purchase a small gain therewith. Woe unto them for that their hands have written, and woe unto them for that they earn thereby." (al-Baqarah, 79)
    Verily, Allah has spoken the truth..

    Have an open mind and read The Glorious Qur'an-if you are a seeker of truth.

    Peace. =)

    June 12, 2011 at 3:00 am |
    • ruemorgue

      That's right.Nothing is forged in the Quran. The entire Quran, 100 percent, are all the ramblings of a megalomaniacal, religous fart - The Profit.

      June 12, 2011 at 3:39 am |
    • soA

      Salam, The Qu'ran is 100% Authentic, just go to The British Library, Kings Cross, London, A Couple Of The Oldest Copies Of The Qu'ran, Proves nothing has been changed ever since, miraculous, SubhanAllah.

      June 14, 2011 at 7:44 am |
  11. AnnieCee

    So... one person decides they're fake? And this is reported as news? In my opinion, I think this is a good example of "selling controversy."

    How is anyone going to figure out who wrote what, 2000 years later? And besides, everybody used scribes back then. What's the big deal. The scribes had the education, the paper (which wasn't easy to come by) and the writing utensils (whatever that was.) Letters were so rare that they were very carefully delivered by personal couriers.

    AND because the letters came from people who were worshipped as saints as soon as they died (or maybe even BEFORE) they died), those letters would have been considered very precious. I read recently that shrines to the Apostle John sprang up all over the island of Patmos as soon as he died. And Patmos is still a destination for the faithful.

    II'm not sure this belief blog is actually about believing. It seems to be casting out a lot of seeds of doubt and I really don't see much point in doing that based on one person's book. I'm really disgusted. This world needs MORE faith, in fact, I think Jesus is the only hope for our country and the rest of the world too. So instead of insulting HIm with doubts about who wrote the Bible, we should be trying to figure out what Jesus is REALLY all about.

    People seem to think you can compare religions and choose one. Well, you can probably do that with Religions but Jesus is not a religion.

    Well, it's frustrating to try to explain Jesus in a few words. People really need to get a Bible and read the New Testament for themselves. God speaks through the ENTIRE New Testament so even if the authors are in Doubt (which I doubt) it really doesn't matter anyway because God is using it, regardless of who wrote it. And there always has been some question about the actual authorship of some of the NT books anyway, so that's nothing new either.

    June 12, 2011 at 12:45 am |
    • Brad Welch

      "Jesus is not a religion."

      Huh.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:23 am |
    • That Guy

      You are knocking people for gaining views and looking at insight and taking to to heart from one book. Ummmmm, that seems a little hypocritical to me seeing as how you do the same thing with the bible. Were do you get Jesus from? The bible. If it had never been written you would not know him or the "Christian" God. There are a lot of holes in the bible. That is a FACT. Its filled with contradictions and lies.
      People seem lost, lonely and scared so they turn to religion to help them do what is right. They are desperate for something to put there life's together (or afterlife cause everyone wants to be immortal and life forever) and fall into this ignorance born from this desperation. God has done nothing, the idea of God has done everything. From coping with losses to destroying the Twin Towers. From helping sick people in Africa to burning "witches". From causing mass amounts of love to mass amounts of hate. All it does is manipulate, and people get manipulated so easily by something that doesn't and never existed.
      Grim view, huh? Not really, all humans have compassion and can use it. Its about being selfless that makes you a good person. Not about some silly beliefs. Religion, God, the Bible are not important. YOU are important and what you do defines who you are, NOT what you belief. Beliefs aren't guna save this country, nor God nor Jesus. WE are going to save this country. No God can stop or catalyst that.
      "My religion is to do good." Thomas Pain.

      September 21, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  12. Shamwow Guy

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

    Oh, the irony.

    June 11, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • jimmynog

      Yes, and I think he's so brainwashed he is incapable of seeing the irony.

      June 20, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  13. All-of-Time

    CNN Writer Johnny Blake and everyone dumb enough to believe him are complete fools. Problem with all fools is they dont give a rip about truth. You fools will die in falsehood by your own choice and spend eternity wishing you were never born. Free will/choice is a wonderful thing along with all the consequences it brings.

    June 10, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Shamwow Guy

      That's exactly what the people who gave away all their money because the world was going to end on May 21st thought.

      June 11, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  14. VoipOfReason

    Anyone know they YEAR the bible was published? Here's a hint, it was almost 300 years after the death of Jesus. Another question, Anyone know WHO put the bible together? Here's a hint, he lives in Rome.
    Last Question, If I were to write a book today about Christopher Colombus, and told people that I recieved eye witness testimoney from people aboard the Nina', Pinta' or the Santa Maria, what do you think they'd say?

    June 10, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • hey

      A big amen to that, VOR

      June 10, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  15. Upon this rock

    The claim here is that the Apostles and Jesus existed, but the authors were imposters. The fact that Jesus Christ existed
    should in itself cause one to study His life. The fact that He is who He says He is should cause one to believe. And yet Jesus never forced a single person to believe. He is a "Sheperd and Sheperds do not drive sheep they lead them.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • I_get _it

      "Sheperd [sic] and Sheperds [sic] do not drive sheep they lead them."

      Lead them where?... off to the market and to someone's dinner table.

      p.s. Besides, they most certainly do herd them and drive them. Perhaps you are thinking of the Pied Piper, who led the rodents out of Hamelin?!

      June 9, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  16. Milleniall

    Just half?

    June 9, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  17. Jokester

    He's totally right. Half the Bible IS forged, and millions of people have been duped. That's exactly why I don't go to church anymore.

    June 9, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • NorEaster TC 6

      Your belief, that the bible is forged is the reason you don't attend church anymore is pretty lame!

      Instead you should read the scriptures for what it truly represents God forgiving mankind violations of his laws through Christ. Read the book of John with an open mind no preconceived notions.

      The bible represents a new life in Christ, Christ being with you through thick and thin, this means your not going to have a life of roses,( some people are taught when they accept Jesus as lord that no bad things will happen in life this is ridiculous thinking). Difficult time are there to make us strong in our faith asking God for his divine help and guidance. you're going to go through some hard times everyone does from rich to the poor We have Christ to helps us make it through, it those without Christ have their temporary wealth to lean on like in the depression of the thirties, and the money scandals of today. Christ never leave or forsake us.

      God promises 3 things when it comes to justification first the pardon of sins, second promises of eternal life , and third on principles of righteousness.

      Friend rethink your decision seeing what going on around us and Jesus predictions thousand of years before it happens.

      However, if you want to believe secular men (and false representatives of Christ) who believes the bible is foolishness, to those who will perish. ? what will your answer be to the creator of the universe when that day of judgment comes, the bible says God knows the motives and thoughts of his creation. When you will see the awesomeness of his holiness and his power, seeing supernatural beings the bible describe as angels not the nonsense secular television producers try and make you believe in. I pray you make the right decision I would like to meet you as a brother on that day.

      One of the Saints of God.

      June 12, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  18. Alexander Michaels

    FLASH! Idiot claims writings of Plato forged! Aristotle said to be behind the forgeries. This author is a complete genius–and a real deceiver. But, it will get him money and interviews. This is news?! All one need do is pick up any well annotated Catholice Bible. It is loaded with factual references about the authors, especially Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John. Any person even remotely educated in Bible studies knows that these four apostles are most likely not the authors of their gospels. The gospels were, however, written by students/disciples of the apostles, not dissimilar to Plato and Aristotle. There is much more to it than this, of course, but that's the basic understanding. But this author decides to call the writings "forgeries." That sounds BAAAD. It gets him media attention, and is great fun and fodder for a society that is becoming clearly and increasingly hostile toward the religion which was the foundation for many of its underlying principles, particularly the uniqueness of the individual. Pray.

    June 9, 2011 at 6:53 am |
  19. Alexander Michaels

    FLASH! Idiot claims writings of Plato forged! Aristotle said to be behind the forgeries. This author is a complete genius–and a real deceiver. But, it will get him money and interviews. This is news?! All one need do is pick up any well annotated Catholice Bible. It is loaded with factual references about the authors, especially Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John. Any person even remotely educated in Bible studies knows that these four apostles are most likely not the authors of their gospels. The gospels were, however, written by students/disciples of the apostles, not dissimilar to Plato and Aristotle. There is much more to it than this, of course, but that's the basic understanding. But this author decides to call the writings "forgeries." That sounds BAAAD. It gets him media attention, and is great fun and fodder for a society that is becoming clearly and increasingly hostile toward the religion which was the foundation for many of its underlying principals, particularly the uniqueness of the individual. Pray.

    June 9, 2011 at 6:51 am |
  20. Muneef

    [wp] Hadith on obedience to the parents & intention.

    'Abdullah ibn 'Umar related that Rasulullah (SAW) said:
    Obey your parents and treat them kindly, for if you do so then your own children will be obedient and kind to you.
    (Tabari)

    It is narrated by Anas that Rasulullah (SAW) said:
    If anyone intends to seek blessings of the Hereafter, Allah gives contentment to his heart, takes care of his affairs and the world comes to him submissively. But if someone intends to seek the pleasures of this world, Allah puts poverty before him and disorders his affairs, yet only so much of worldly things as have already been ordained for him come to him.
    (Abu Daud, Tirmidhi)

    A relevant Ayat related to the above hadith is worthy to mention in this regard: 

    Whosoever desires the life of the world and its glitter, to them We shall pay in full (the wages of) their deeds therein, and they will have no diminution therein. They are those for whom there is nothing in the Hereafter but Fire, and vain are the deeds they did therein. And of no effect is that which they used to do. [Surah Al-Hud, Ayat: 15-16]

    June 8, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Freethinksman

      Does this explain the abject poverty among the lower classes in Arab countries, or does it explain the vast wealth by the leaders (both political and religious) of Arab countries?

      For people who feel they have been slighted in this life, religion offers an ultra-convenient way to excuse it. Payments are deferred. Of course, no one has ever come back from the dead to verify whether the promise of post-life prosperity are real. That's what perpetuates religion: a desire to see justice done in light of all the injustice we see around us every day. That's some awful wishful thinking.

      June 10, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Muneef

      Free T.

      I disagree and agree in the same time, that is confusing;
      First of all there are verses that says it allows us to have and increase wealth as long as we pay dues such as Sadaqa & Zakah as well as lending God for the truth to prevail... But verses as well says to spend all time on that on accout of duties of Worship prayers adding to not lending nor pay charity...!?

      But still we ought to remember that few of the ancient Holy Men and Kings had manipulated things for their vasted interests as you have mentioned above clearly....tell you what I will follow with similar case;

      June 11, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • Muneef

      Today 10 June 2011 heard over the news about the little baby cow that had been genetically modified to produce milk similar to Human Female milk...! Again they said that this experiment is already effective in China with large number of cows and already ready for export as dried powder milk...!

      Now let us see;
      Old cows used to produce cows milk.
      New cows is to produce Human Female milk..

      This in religion is not justified since interfering and the changing of nature is considered as corruption on earth....! Some will say this is backward and give credit to science for such experiment to go on wide scale...but on the day they find how wrong they were when they experience that such thing had made some genetic interference with the generation that will consume such milks then only when too late they admit to mistake but still remain disbelievers..

      Feeding cows which God created to feed on grass and forage, that man has made it to become to feed on feeds prepared from animals/birds wastes and blood meals has created what became to be known as "Cows Madness Disease". Such nature breaking moves unapproved religiously or logically has created losses for effected farmers herds besides having effected all those consumed it's products for long to have similar effects....no wonder that even politicians and holy men got effected and do mad things to the innocence of mankind....

      Now by adopting this genetical mutilation today to a Cow to produce Human Female Milk....beside already read about introducing female pigs for the same purpose... Soon seems will see human complexions maybe changing to look differently or God knows what could happen...!

      Still the Old and the New issues goes around forging even Animal genetics to become some thing else than it's natural creation was for....!
      Just isn't that have some how similarity to "Old Testament & New Testament" ? Do you think it had as well faced in the past some genetic mutilations that has caused it to produce extreme ignorance among it's followers to follow their Popes or Pastors or Rubies blindly with out second thought considering them as next to God on earth ?!!

      Sorry you are not alone in that since maybe as well Islamic religion had the same through a big bunch of Hadith's that might never could the Quran have mentioned nor the Prophet did say...but made up and inserted by the Israelites and the pagans of Mecca for a purpose God knows what but surely it did produce extreme ignorance among those who follow Hadith imams blindly with out second thought considering them as next to God on earth ?!!

      Hope am not disturbing any one with my comment since they were just a passing thoughts that I thought to sure with you. Peace2All.

      June 11, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • Muneef

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/agriculture/geneticmodification/8423536/Genetically-modified-cows-produce-human-milk.html

      July 18, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • Muneef

      http://www.ellenwhite.info/mad_cow_disease.htm

      July 18, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Muneef

      http://www.ellenwhite.info/mad_cow_disease.htm

      So cows whom God has created to feed on green fodder and grass are now rather being fed with meat and blood of her own type...this way the Cow became a Pig like eating any and every thing..

      After that all they did now they expect to make it produce human milk for our babies....and wonder if her born babies will drink the same human milk from their mothers!?

      Then after all that mess being done they are telling Muslims and Jews that their slaughter of animals letting all blood out is cruel to the animal...

      That blood stored in the body and the meats contain all the mess man made other than carrying all that medicines or vitamins given to the animal...!!

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/agriculture/geneticmodification/8423536/Genetically-modified-cows-produce-human-milk

      July 18, 2011 at 11:35 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.