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. JohnQuest

    crucified, you appear to be a bright person (misguided but bright). If what you say is correct and Physics "disproves" the Atheistic view of the universe, wouldn't it also disprove the existence of a creator? If not, how does a creator fit into the universe as Physics sees it?

    May 15, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  2. JHiker

    Oh, and Satan doesn't exist in the Old Testament and there is no mention of the Messiah having to make two appearances. Once and done.

    May 15, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  3. JHiker

    You can believe in God but not believe in religion. The two have nothing to do with one another. Nothing at all.

    May 15, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  4. read him before

    Ha, it's this guy whose idea of God couldn't stomach suffering. Don't worry folks, this guy has an axe to grind.

    May 15, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  5. Quran

    Thats funny... The Quran already talked about this 1400 years ago:

    "Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say:"This is from God," to traffic with it for miserable price!- Woe to them for what their hands do write, and for the gain they make thereby. (The Noble Quran, 2:79)"

    "Who can be more wicked than one who inventeth a lie against God, or saith, "I have received inspiration," when he hath received none, or (again) who saith, "I can reveal the like of what God hath revealed"? If thou couldst but see how the wicked (do fare) in the flood of confusion at death! – the angels stretch forth their hands, (saying),"Yield up your souls: this day shall ye receive your reward,- a penalty of shame, for that ye used to tell lies against God, and scornfully to reject of His signs!" (The Noble Quran, 6:93)"

    Heck, the Bible itself has much to about this as well:

    "How can you say, 'We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us'? But, behold, the false pen of the scribes has made it (i.e., the bible) into a LIE. (From the RSV Bible, Jeremiah 8:8)"

    May 15, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • read him before

      this author is a known quack.

      May 15, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  6. MAH

    No matter what those who believe in the bible will continue to believe. Those who do not probably will continue to do the same. The root of Christianity is a path of love for GOD and each other as Christ was displayed to love the world via his love for GOD his father. I am sorry for anyone who has met one of those holy rolie christians who do not remember the pain and sin they have done in thier own lives. Those "christians" who totally mis represent the faith. Please do not judge christianity by the imperfect people who try to follow its teachings. I myself am a christian and just want to say that I am no better than anyone else. I am probably even worse than the worst person you would ever meet. The only difference between me and anyone else is that I realize that I need to change and that when I do wrong (Based on GOD's law the ten commandments) I drive a wedge between myself and GOD. In this since I realized I needed a saviour since I could never achieve perfection when it comes to the law of GOD. That is why I appreicate and believe in what Jesus Christ has done for me.

    Just remember to in order to come to the same conclusion I have, one would have to believe there is a GOD. If you do not believe that there is one true GOD what I am saying will sound like crazyness. That is ok. I respect your choice not to believe. I just as that you would please respect my choice to believe and study the Bible for yourself in order to give it a real chance to make a change in your life as it has in mine.

    May 15, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  7. Brian

    The author of this book obviously has no evidence. First he said Paul was not Paul then he said Paul wrote differently in different books. Of course who ever heard of learning to write better or an illiterate person learning to read. The author does not take into account the time lapse between when the events happened and when they were written. He has no direct evidence to prove any assertions and just uses speculation to keep athiests not thinking the one question they all try to avoid "What if I'm wrong?"

    May 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • S101

      Like quoting Acts on the disciples illiteracy. No proof Acts itself may not be forgery.

      May 15, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  8. Azrael

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

    Wow for a scholar this guys an idiot. Beleive in outrageous things? You mean like the book your defending with virgin births, a guy parting the sea and a guy coming back from the dead? Not to mention you wanting us to beleive that even if it wasn't forged in the first place, that it then has also remained unaltered and never mistranslated over thousands of years? Yeah I see no way you should be throwing stones about people being gullible.

    May 15, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  9. Reality

    Many if not most contemporary NT scholars have been saying this for years with the Timothy and T-itus epistles being even questioned for authenticity by many RCC-approved scholars.

    A summary:---–

    Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Crossan, Borg, Ludemann, and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

    For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".................................................................................

    May 15, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  10. Muneef

    [2:0] In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

    [2:1] A.L.M.

    [2:2] This scripture is infallible; a beacon for the righteous;

    Three Categories of People 
    (1) The Righteous
    [2:3] who believe in the unseen, observe the Contact Prayers (Salat), and from our provisions to them, they give to charity.

    [2:4] And they believe in what was revealed to you, and in what was revealed before you, and with regard to the Hereafter, they are absolutely certain.

    [2:5] These are guided by their Lord; these are the winners.

    (2) The Disbelievers
    [2:6] As for those who disbelieve, it is the same for them; whether you warn them, or not warn them, they cannot believe.

    [2:7] GOD seals their minds and their hearing, and their eyes are veiled. They have incurred severe retribution.

    (3) The Hypocrites
    [2:8] Then there are those who say, "We believe in GOD and the Last Day," while they are not believers.

    [2:9] In trying to deceive GOD and those who believe, they only deceive themselves without perceiving.

    [2:10] In their minds there is a disease. Consequently, GOD augments their disease. They have incurred a painful retribution for their lying.

    [2:11] When they are told, "Do not commit evil," they say, "But we are righteous."

    [2:12] In fact, they are evildoers, but they do not perceive.

    [2:13] When they are told, "Believe like the people who believed," they say, "Shall we believe like the fools who believed?" In fact, it is they who are fools, but they do not know.

    [2:14] When they meet the believers, they say, "We believe," but when alone with their devils, they say, "We are with you; we were only mocking."

    [2:15] GOD mocks them, and leads them on in their transgressions, blundering.

    [2:16] It is they who bought the straying, at the expense of guidance. Such trade never prospers, nor do they receive any guidance.

    May 15, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  11. Shampoohorns

    Bottom line is that those who believe in the bible will continue to believe it as they just cherry pick the parts they like and rationalize why they are pious and everyone else is damned anyway, and those of us who get a real day of rest on Sunday will just sit back and laugh at them.

    May 15, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • read him before

      the author is a known opportunist.

      May 15, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  12. whalt

    This article tries to portray a controversy but most of the claims being made by this author are well known by biblical scholars and in no way shocking new revelations. It is only people who have a poor or nonexistent knowledge of the history of the church and the cultures of the ancient world, i.e. most people I suppose, who would be surprised by this. It always amazes how many people invest their lives in studying the Bible but have no curiosity about the cultural context in which it came to be.

    May 15, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  13. LeeCal

    I am a bit amused by all these fundamentalist evangelicals bashing Ehrman for simply presenting the results of his research. What they don't realize is that Ehrman is a former fundamentalist evangelical himself. He was one of you before devoting his career to serious scholarship. If what Ehrman is saying is such a challenge to your beliefs, why don't you actually read his book and objectively look at the evidence he presents, instead of just ranting on this message board? Who knows, you might just (God forbid) LEARN SOMETHING! What a concept!

    May 15, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  14. RD

    WHEN are people going to realize the WHOLE BIBLE is man-written FICTION???

    Written by GOD? AW, C'MON, WISE UP, PEOPLE!

    May 15, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  15. Oi

    Pretty much every criticism Witherington makes of Ehrmann's work can be said about the bible as well. For example, “Almost anything can pass for historical information…", and: Witherington calls Ehrman’s book “Gullible Travels, for it reveals over and over again the willingness of people to believe even outrageous things.” Yeah, like the bible.

    May 15, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • hypocrisy

      Well said!

      May 15, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  16. Paul Hager

    This a typical hypocritical polemic against those that have a faith that transcends the supposed knowledge of the "so-called" experts. Christianity is a faith that has been able to withstand ideas of the critics and the faithful. Each side has been guilty of the same thing, lack of love and grace. The critics try and demean the faith of the faithful by ranting and raving about the truth that they believe in and the faithful are guilty of railing against those that are trying to study the bible. The truth is the criticism of the bible has brought out some excellent responses and study of our bible. The best defense we have against those that rail against the truth of the bible is to pray for their enlightenment. We should love those that persecute us and spitefully use us. Jesus would say to those that don't believe in Him- he would say, I believe in you.

    May 15, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  17. Charles

    I won't spend any time on whether the "formula" you keep displaying "proves" anything let alone the existence of another reality of which "ours" is a "sub-reality", and I'll even "stipulate" to your claim to prove the existence of design in nature! BUT, The existence of "design" doesn't prove the existence of any "designer"!! c.f. Daniel Dennett's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" for an extremely well argued exposition of this concept!!

    May 15, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • crucified

      I will add that the formula I provided though you may not want to bring out.. so I will... In quatum..There is the measurablility problem.. which means measurable sciences are useless.. guess what Ph.ds your degree is useless.therefore darwin's explanation for nature is useless or anyother biological or chemical explanation.. and neither explains the introduction of information processing in species anyway..however quantum does. unification is not going to be found in the archaic physical sciences anyway. expand your mind..dimensions disapate at subatomic level to energy.yet the images have purpose and design..and we interpret it. you are in a subreality of something out side our existance created ie.. GOD/Jesus Christ.

      May 15, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  18. Bobbyshane

    ".to answer your question of creation..it is really about love. for if we were to have the ability to choose God we had to have the ability to reject. the ability to reject is the imperection you are describing however, I present that the only possible way for growth, Love, acceptance. is to have the opposite forces exist also. Yes your creator could of made you a chair and you would do your purpose..but the act of love is to choose to be the chair. the colmination of God's creation is recognciliation to him not the original carving...but the ability to receive or reject. Yes he made us with the ability to receive therefore be complete his spirit and be perfect."

    crucified: Do you have children? Would you leave them all alone in a house with the stove on, during an earthquake, with a crowd of people that included murderers, rapists, and pedophiles all because your firstborn ate from a piece of fruit you told them not to? Christians always talk about love. But they never talk about the love of someone who is accountable. And the god of the bible is never accountable!

    May 15, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • crucified

      Nothig ever has to be accountable to it creation only creation to its creator.. As my Children are accountable to me.. I am not accountable to them for a created them. Your arguement is backwards. And if you realized that the true existance is the next you would not be so concerned with the trials of this.. This life is only to grow are faith for the next.. If you are a marathon runner you must prepare for the race!

      May 15, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Shostakovicz


      If you think for one moment that you're not accountable to your children, then you're not a very good parent. Every parent should be accountable to their children for their actions to them. The lack of accountability you describe leaves open all the horrific possibilities of child abuse. If you're not accountable to your "creations" then you can do anything you want to them, correct? They're merely your "creations" so sure!

      I hope you don't have children.

      May 16, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  19. hethathathanear

    Bart D. Ehrman must not be reading the New Testament. The letters are often written by Paul and one or two other Christians at the same time. There are many “biblical scholars” that spend their time picking apart the Word of God but they lack the one credential that really matters to understand the Bible and that is being a Christian first.

    Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:12-14

    Written by Paul and Sosthenes.

    May 15, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • oceanmaster

      oh jeez, we all heard that one before. It's the cheapest trick in the book, if you will excuse the pun I will explain. Whenever we point something obviously wrong with the bible or koran or other holy books there's always the "you must understand it from the point of view of a beliver" or " look at it like a child would". Well that doesn't cut it buddy. All you are saying is that believers are gullable as are kids and so yes, I would expect uneducated people from the first century to say that and be that. GULLIBAL AS CAN BE! Try a new argument. If we are to believe in god we expect he would be logical. Hence us being given logic. There is NOTHING pious about faith. Faith would be what the devil would want. God of the universe on the other hand would want us to use the talents he has given us to build the truth and that wich can be built upon.

      May 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • An-Theist

      It's Sunday Morning, shouldn't you be in church confirming your own personal views of the world, rather than out here in the real world rejecting anything that you disagree with? There is no such thing as Special Knowledge that only a few people can know. If there were, why is it always the illiterate societal rejects who live in the wilderness away from the rest of mankind who find "The Truth"? And how is it that people who are honest and skeptical are somehow barred from understanding?

      The Reason Christians can "understand" the Bible is because they read it selectively and they forgive anything that doesn't conform to their personal view of God. You are suffering from the No True Scotsman Fallacy and moving the goal posts because the result doesn't fit your personal expectations. In Fact, Bart Ehrman WAS a Christian and it was his Devout Faith that led him to seek a Doctorate in Theology and Religion, and as such he is a learned and experienced Biblical Scholar. As a scholar, he found many many contradictions and outright lies in the Bible and he had to decide whether to be Intellectually honest about them, as all Agnostic and Atheist former Christians do, or to continue to ignore them because of his certainty and faith, thus lying to himself.

      May 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Steve

      Only one poblem trying to discredit ehrmn as a non christian...his father was a minister, he grew up as a funamental christin, went to princeton's seminary school an is the foremost expert on early christian writings and history....he knows more about te bible than most christians do. To say he doesnt understand it shows very little to what you all know

      May 15, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • ttwp

      There's a difference between knowing and understanding. Without the Holy Spirit one cannot understand...

      May 15, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      ttwp wrote: "There's a difference between knowing and understanding."

      Are you saying that only the uneducated can "understand" the bible? You may get a bit of agreement on that viewpoint...

      May 16, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  20. Dobro

    Why argue anyway? We'll all find out on the 21st when atheists rise to heaven and the gullible descend into some sulphuric pit for being inflexible suckers.

    May 15, 2011 at 10:25 am |
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