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. GenXmyfoot

    Funny that when you tell the truth on how fast your post is removed. Seems like some people are afraid of the truth. lol.

    May 16, 2011 at 4:45 am |
  2. deek


    May 16, 2011 at 4:15 am |
  3. TruthBTold

    And to think I was concerned, yet, even half the Word of God is far more than enough to overcome man's attempt at forgery. Nonetheless, my experiences are "The real Macoy" and I can see both the hand of God and His Word written all over them.

    May 16, 2011 at 4:12 am |
  4. Heather

    I do believe that the God, the Father of this universe ...the creator of everything .....could take care of the simple task of getting written in his book.....That which he desired.

    May 16, 2011 at 4:03 am |
  5. Faiyyaz

    Almighty God has revealed 4 books:- Zabour to Prophet David (Dawood), Taurat to Prophet Moses (Musa), Injeel (Bible) to Prophet Isa (Christ) and QURAN to Prophet Muhammad [May peace and blessing to all of them]. All of the books are forged except QURAN.

    It is a challenge of God in Quran that no human being can change this book, nobody can make a similar book like Quran. Millions of Muslims around the world had memorized by heart word by word this complete book and they are called HAFIZ e Quran. During the month of Ramdhan the complete book is being recited during worship without reading from the book. Its a miracle in itself. This is the only book that cannot be changed.

    Let us look at Noble Verse 2:23 "And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Sura like thereunto; and call your witnesses or helpers (If there are any) besides God, if your (doubts) are true."

    Let us look at Noble Verse 17:88 "Say: 'If the whole of mankind and Jinns were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur'an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other with help and support.'"

    [10. Surah Yunis: Ayah 37]
    "And this Quran is not such as could be forged by those besides Allah, but it is a verification of that which is before it and a clear explanation of the book, there is no doubt in it, from the Lord of the worlds."

    [4. Surah Nisaa: Ayah 82]
    "Do they not then meditate on the Quran? And if it were from any other than Allah, they would have found in it many a discrepancy. "

    [42. Surah Ash-Shura : Ayah 7]
    "And thus have We revealed to you an Arabic Quran, that you may warn the mother city and those around it, and that you may give warning of the day of gathering together wherein is no doubt; a party shall be in the garden and (another) party in the burning fire."

    [6. Surah Al-An'am : Ayah 19]
    "Say: What thing is the weightiest in testimony? Say: Allah is witness between you and me; and this Quran has been revealed to me that with it I may warn you and whomsoever it reaches. Do you really bear witness that there are other gods with Allah? Say: I do not bear witness. Say: He is only one God, and surely I am clear of that which you set up (with Him)."

    [41. Surah Fussilat : Ayah 1-4]
    "Ha Mim! A revelation from the Beneficent, the Merciful God. A Book of which the verses are made plain, an Arabic Quran for a people who know. A herald of good news and a warner, but most of them turn aside so they hear not."

    [20. Surah Ta-ha : Ayah 1-5]
    "Ta Ha. We have not revealed the Quran to you that you may be unsuccessful. Nay, it is a reminder to him who fears. A revelation from Him Who created the earth and the high heavens. The Beneficent God is firm in power.

    "Surely this Quran guides to that which is most upright and gives good news to the believers who do good that they shall have a great reward. And that (as for) those who do not believe in the hereafter, We have prepared for them a painful chastisement. "

    "And We have indeed made the Qur'an easy to understand & remember, then is there any that will receive admonition?"
    (Surah Al-Qamar : 17)

    Kindly read Holy Quran with clear hearts, it is the word of God – the cherisher and sustainer of whole worlds.

    May 16, 2011 at 3:42 am |
    • Chris

      Herp derp

      May 16, 2011 at 3:53 am |
  6. Pauluss ll

    Thy shelt get it done with belief
    One's work is everyone's wish
    Thy it be done with us
    –Ok this is my forgery version. ;D

    May 16, 2011 at 3:39 am |
    • Larry The Cable Guy

      Translation: "Get 'Er Done!"

      May 17, 2011 at 1:03 am |
  7. Brian

    This book review spends too much time trying to refute the author of the book. Every Bible scholar knows that the Bible is full of contradictions and discrepancies. This is why we have hundreds of creeds, sects and denominations each claiming to have the TRUE RELIGION. Also, the "Greek" of the Bible was Koine Greek – an illiterate dialect.

    May 16, 2011 at 3:32 am |
  8. Bubba Dixon


    May 16, 2011 at 3:29 am |
  9. Faiyyaz

    Kindly pay attention to what Almighty God said in His book Al-Quran:

    Noble Quran Verse 17:88 "Say: 'If the whole of mankind and Jinns were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur'an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other with help and support.'"

    May 16, 2011 at 3:22 am |
    • Chris

      Sorry to burst your bubble, but the Koran is crap too. And Mo Mo wasn't a prophet either. He was a fraud, just like every other 'prophet' who's ever lived. Religion in general is poison, bro.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:52 am |
    • I_get _it

      "God" said it - really?

      It is just another fantasy book that says, “This book is true because this book says so”.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:54 am |
  10. Aezel

    Perhaps 50% forged. 100% fairy tale either way.

    May 16, 2011 at 3:19 am |
  11. ahemahem

    It's man bites dog. Plenty of equally competent scholars disagree with the axe-grinding Ehrman. Thanks, CNN, for your frequent citations of this guy without rejoinders.

    May 16, 2011 at 3:18 am |
  12. DolphinTop

    It is not unexpected but I guess unfortunate that we can't have a debate and discussion here about if the author has some merit to his arguments, and what are opposing views – rather than getting personal, claiming that since it's the bible basically any discussion is hands off or anti-God in some way, and the like.

    I'm for a discussion about if his research is thorough – is there an error in his facts and how he drew his conclusions, did he miss important facts – treating the bible as any other history book –
    but I doubt this is possible and hence nothing is ever really discussed in the light of day – it just degrades into insults, claims of no God, this God, or that God, ... you name it except if he might be correct.
    Treat it as a book on history and examine based on that – then base your belief on what remains.

    May 16, 2011 at 3:04 am |
  13. Baptist Friend

    I believe in God the Father Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth;
    And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:
    who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
    and born of the Virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, dead, and buried;
    the third day he rose from the dead;
    he ascended into heaven,
    and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
    from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
    I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting. Amen.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:58 am |
    • Slipofthepen

      Ooops, a minor problem.

      "Creatorem caeli et terrae" or "**Creator** of Heaven and Earth". 'Maker' is an improper translations with unwanted implications.

      May 16, 2011 at 4:24 am |
  14. jentou

    I can't make a judgement on the academic rigour of this book, Forged – but I always thought Paul had a bit much to say for himself. We must also remember that there have been Gospels attributed to many people in Jesus' circle which the churches have declined to include in the New Testament – clearly a contemporary political decision, made with the welfare of the church – not the people, in mind. As in any other branch of learning, it pays to be sceptical.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:54 am |
  15. thes33k3r

    Religion poisons everything.

    May 16, 2011 at 2:44 am |
    • soingene

      I suggest you ask a knowedgeable historian if your statement is correct.

      May 16, 2011 at 4:48 am |
  16. Lee

    I apologize for the typos in my post that made it unreadable. I will try again...

    Martin Luther "found it an offensive piece of work" – That is a half truth like so much of this article. No, Revelation like James was not two of his favorite books but he never said that they should be excluded from Scripture. Also, this professor in calling much of the Bible a forgery and full of lies completely ignores the truth that people writing in the style and name of a person they followed was common and accepted in Jesus' day. Paul even makes reference to this himself in Philemon, a letter that most scholars overwhelmingly believe was an original letter of Paul, when he makes it clear that the words to his friend Onesimus were written by his own hand and not by that of one of his followers. Plus, only a small segment of Christianity has ever claimed that all of Scripture is equal in weight and relevancy. This article manipulates a few truths and spins them completely out of context to make a complete lie.

    May 16, 2011 at 1:09 am |
  17. Lee

    Martin Luther "found it an offensive piece of work" – That is a half truth like so much of this article. No, Revelation like James was not two of his favorite books but he never said that they should be excluded from Scripture. Also, this article calling much of the Bible forgeries and lies also conveniently forgets that people writing in the style and name of a person they followed as not uncommon and not view as "lying" or "forged". Paul even makes reference to this himself in Philemon, a letter that scholars overwhelmingly believe was an original letter of Paul, when he makes it clear that the words to his friend Onesimus were written by his own hand and not that of one of his followers. Plus, only a small segment of Christianity has ever claimed that all Scripture is equal in weight and relevancy. This article manipulates a few truths and spins them completely out of context to make a complete lie.

    May 16, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  18. Adil Ahsan

    We muslims have been saying this for 1400 years but who is to listen!!

    And among them there are those who are uneducated and know not the Book, but only lies, and they do but conjecture. Woe, then, to those who write the book with their own hands and then say: This is from Allah (2:78-79)

    May 15, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Know What

      "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. It is I, the Great and Powerful Oz [who you should listen to]!"

      May 16, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • RSG

      If you think the quran wasnt also written by people then youre a bigger idiot than i thought...

      May 16, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • Chris

      Ha! Like the Bible, the Koran is a work of man.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:50 am |
  19. Abdallah

    O people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians)! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, nor say of Allah aught but the truth. The Messiah 'Iesa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, ("Be!" – and he was) which He bestowed on Maryam (Mary) and a spirit (Ruh) created by Him; so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not: "Three (trinity)!" Cease! (it is) better for you. For Allah is (the only) One Ilah (God), Glory be to Him (Far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is All-Sufficient as a Disposer of affairs. (4-171)

    May 15, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • Sharon

      Abdallah, that's a lot about what Allah purportedly said. Why should we take what he purportedly said as what to follow over what thousands of other gods have supposedly told us to do in human history?

      May 16, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • Chris

      Pfft, don't flatter yourself. Islam, like Christianity, is a delusional fantasy built upon an ancient tribal religion. There is no God, and the Bible and Koran both are works of man.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:45 am |
  20. Abdallah

    Isn`t it sad sleeping everynight with doubts. You do have doubts.
    Let me see, hmmmm, there is no mention of the trinity in the bible?hmmm

    May 15, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
    • ambx

      dude, shut up. There is no god – all 'holy' books were written by men with a little imagination and creativity. Human beings are too weak to accept loneliness and too proud to accept that we can't live forever. We need to hang on to something to make ourselves feel better. Every book whether it's the bible, quoran or gita – was written by humans – just like they have harry potter now. If harry potter was written 2,000 years ago, there would be statues of harry potter in a lot of countries and a lot of worshippers. Funny thing about religion is – it promises you rewards *after* you die. Lol.. perfect ponzi scheme.. and the sheep fall for it.

      There are no virgins for you after you die – if you want virgins, then get them in your current life – in a legal manner (or not)

      May 16, 2011 at 2:29 am |
    • Is it fake or is it Memorex?

      You want forgeries? My ex-wife said she could cook...one day I checked the food she served me & it was from a Chef-Boy-R-Dee can. What a fake..even during love-making she yelled out her own name.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:42 am |
    • Edwin

      Why is having doubts sad? The ability to question is one of humanities greatest gifts.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:46 am |
    • me

      i love you god. forgive those in this post who do not believe.

      May 16, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • ahemahem

      Bart Ehrman is a former fundamentalist who has an axe to grind. Take his opinions with a grain of salt.

      He is a sharp guy, though.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:16 am |
    • Chris

      Hi Abdullah! Islam is a violent, intolerant cult. Anyhoo, don't mock the Christians' beliefs. Yours are just as illogical as theirs. Your book is a work of man and not of any 'God,' just like the Bible.

      May 16, 2011 at 3:49 am |
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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.