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. Muneef

    Why was it needed to be forged?
    They said;

    The Pope Has All  Power in Heaven and Earth and Can Change Divine Laws
         "The Pope is of great authority and power, that he is able to modify, declare, or interpret even divine laws. The Pope can modify divine law, since his power is not of man, but of God, and he acts as vicegerent of God upon earth...".

    They said;

    "The Pope takes the place of Jesus Christ on earth...by divine right the Pope has supreme and full power in faith, in morals over each and every pastor and his flock. He is the true vicar, the head of the entire church, the father and teacher of all Christians.

    The Quran said; 
    [3:79] Never would a human being whom GOD blessed with the scripture and prophethood say to the people, "Idolize me beside GOD." Instead, (he would say), "Devote yourselves absolutely to your Lord alone," according to the scripture you preach and the teachings you learn.

    [3:80] Nor would he command you to idolize the angels and the prophets as lords. Would he exhort you to disbelieve after becoming submitters?

    [9:31] They have set up their religious leaders and scholars as lords, instead of GOD. Others deified the Messiah, son of Mary. They were all commanded to worship only one god. There is no god except He. Be He glorified, high above having any partners.

    [3:64] Say, "O followers of the scripture, let us come to a logical agreement between us and you: that we shall not worship except GOD; that we never set up any idols besides Him, nor set up any human beings as lords beside GOD." If they turn away, say, "Bear witness that we are submitters."

    Special Warning to the Leaders
    [19:68] By your Lord, we will certainly summon them, together with the devils, and will gather them around Hell, humiliated.

    [19:69] Then we will pick out from each group the most ardent opponent of the Most Gracious.

    [19:70] We know full well those who are most deserving of burning therein.

    Everyone Sees Hell*
    [19:71] Every single one of you must see it; this is an irrevocable decision of your Lord.

    [19:72] Then we rescue the righteous, and leave the transgressors in it, humiliated.

    May 25, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  2. JamesC

    I always wondered why Jesus, the all-knowing sage and Son of God didn't write down his thoughts or philosophy. It is indeed because they were all illiterate peasants. The Christ figure is interesting without a thought but when you begin to dissect the evidence objectively its hard not to see the bible as anything more than a book of pseudo intelligent stories and aphorisms.

    May 25, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  3. Susanne

    In my opinion, this is where faith comes in. As a Christian, I MUST have faith that the Bible is the message God wants us to hear. I must have faith that he has protected his word. Christianity as a whole is based on faith, so why should the Bible be any different?

    May 25, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • JamesC

      Sure, but why throw out logic and reason? Faith without intellect is nothing more than ritual and blind acceptance.

      May 25, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  4. Ivan Bial

    where in the bible does it talk about the world ending in May 2011 no make that October 2011

    1/2 of New Testament was written by impostors. and the other half was written land owners that needed to scare the surfs into line.

    If you think the New Testament is real then you should celebrate Mickey Mouse’s birthday. Another fictional character

    May 25, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  5. Sue

    Are you a devil worshiper? Because the Bible tells us that hate is of the Devil.

    May 25, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  6. Sue

    All organized religions are created by a few to control all. It is about power, pure and simple. Politics by another name.

    May 25, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • rachel


      May 26, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  7. Sue

    I have long known of the distinct possibility that much of the bible was either forged, improperly translated and otherwise manipulated for "the good of the church". I use this simple little thing that God gave me. It's called common sense and the ability to reason. Yes, there very well could be a God, but "one true church", very doubtful.

    May 25, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  8. Sandra Conti

    Amand, tt's not so much as Christianity but Christendom is the biggest haux. There is a major difference here between the two!

    May 25, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  9. Sapient

    Turning to the the Bible for inspiration is entirely acceptable under the First Amendment, but those who do so need to understand that it carries no weight whatsoever for people of other religions or those who simply do not believe. There seems to be a curious blind spot in folks who insist on quoting scripture to support their view of things. It is as if they are ignorant to the fact that large numbers of people do not see any relevance in passages written in the late iron age by people who had no understanding of disease, that the earth was round and revolves around the sun, or that it wasn't dances, sacrifices or prayers that brought rain, rather than shifts in conditions within the natural world. The wisest man three thousand years ago was far more ignorant than the average fourth-grader is now. Depending upon the advice of such men in support of any argument in the year 2011 is beyond ludicrous to any rational person.

    May 24, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  10. signman2

    This author has obviously fabricated his own "forgery". There is more evidence to support the Bible than any other book of it's age, such as the works of Socrates, Plato, etc., that we regularly accept as genuine. Do you homework, rather than simply accept something because it is "sensational". Greater minds than this have attempted in vain to discredit the assertions of Scripture- It comes down to this. Jesus was either a lunatic and a liar, if he was anything other than what he asserted: The Son of God, the Saviour of mankind. If He was a liar, go on with your life on your own terms. BUT if He is the Savior, He came for you too. If you do the research, you will discover what is true. If He is what He claims to be, it changes everything.

    May 24, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • KingPellinore

      There are no surviving works of Socrates, only what Plato had written about him. As a matter of fact, there is a good chance Socrates didn't exist at all and was invented by Plato as a rhetorical device, as the works of Plato are all the evidence we have of Socrates's existence. But you'd probably know that had you read them.

      May 25, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  11. ummyeah

    just as long as you people know the parts about being gay is all true. The rest may be false but oppressing the gays is the truest thing I know to be true! Please if you must abandon some parts of the bible dont let it be opposition to gays, they are destroying our multi universe and on top of that giving marriage in the United States a bad name!

    May 24, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  12. WKM

    The bible was written mostly by Jews. And to truly understand the old and new Testament, this must be taken into account. Without this understanding, protestants have taken scripture out of context for centuries..i.e. Reverend Camping.. Without a true Jewish understanding of the writers and the ones asking them to write it down for them, the bible will always be used for personal and possibly harmful gain. Whether St. Paul wrote every word attributed to him or not, the truth and teaching of Paul is evident. The seemingly contradictory statements must also be taken in context.

    May 24, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  13. Dave

    I read some previous books by Bart D. Ehrman and none of them are convincing in the slightest. His arguments do not make sense, nor can he back it up with anything logical. I have read several other scholarly works which promote the accuracy and reliability of the New Testament. I highly recommend the author Larry W. Hurtado who makes convincing arguments for the truth and accuracy of the New Testament writings. Also remember, according to the Bible, it is impossible for those who have no faith to truly understand, no matter how highly educated.

    May 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  14. Harold Visser

    If I was not able to read or write, I could dictate to someone else and they could write what I say. I would still be the author. A lot of people over analyse, trying to prove everything before they believe the truth of the scriptures. The truth is that will never happen[ in our lifetime. It is only by faith that we can believe. No one can ever prove or disprove the existence of God by logic. Only God can open our eyes to His truth, by His Spirit. Our faith becomes sight. There are some things we just do not know or can not prove by logic. We only know what God has chosen to reveal to us.

    May 24, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  15. Cameron


    May 24, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Harold Visser

      Pray for them brother!

      May 24, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Steve

      That's not very Christian of you. Most of us don't hate theists or theology. We just want it out of politics, policies, and education.

      To gain a little perspective, try replacing the word God with the word dragons. Imagine politicians saying proposing legislation against certain types of scientific research because he feared the wrath of dragons. How about a small group of vocal parents demanding (and succeeding) that dragon anatomy be taught in biology and that King Arthur should replace Thomas Jefferson in textbooks. Or parents pulling their children entirely out of public schools because they lacked fundamental dragon training, describing secular teaching as "anti-dragon". Imagine people shooting and killing, or blowing up buildings, or starting wars all because they believed that's what dragons demand of them. Billboards on every major highway threatening you with bodily and spiritual harm if you don't believe in a specific breed of dragon.

      It would be comical if it didn't happen every day.

      May 24, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  16. Fred

    First of all, he's pushing a book he's written. OF COURSE he's going to stir up controversy to sell books and make money.
    Second, he's an agnostic now. OF COURSE he's going to take up a position to try and buttress his own (current) beliefs.
    Third, he misinterprets the meaning of Acts 4:13. It does not say that Peter and John are illiterate. It says that was the perception of the people listening to them speak. Big difference!
    Conclusion: EPIC FAIL on his part

    May 24, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Thomas

      By your "logic", any book written by a believer would also not be valid as it would be only representing their viewpoints.

      "OF COURSE he's going to take up a position to try and buttress his own (current) beliefs" applies to both sides. Are you saying then that all books are invalid because they represent the author's beliefs?

      Epic logic failure for you.

      May 24, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Fred

      Poor Thomas. The only "epic logic failure" here is YOU.
      Next time you should try reading for comprehension instead of reading to nitpick.
      Really, it will open your mind and you won't sound so foolish.
      By the way, are you from West Virginia? You seem to be a product of their school system.

      May 25, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  17. Jeremy

    This article is a joke. Does he really expect me to believe that he knows how the apostle Paul wrote? Science cannot prove anything from the past, so you cannot rely on it for anything. Just another Jewish writer trying to discredit christianity

    May 24, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Joe

      Yeah you're right. Science can't prove anything from the past. Therefore, carbon dating is wrong, dinosaurs never existed, and the world is 10,000 years old, as the bible tells us.
      Moreover, since science can't p[rove anything from the past, it's is wrong for the police to use forensic science to explain what happened in the past, and therefore we should let anyone convicted from that be free, because, as you said, science can't prove anything from the past...

      May 24, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  18. captain video

    Still another attack by a Jewish writer to discredit Christanity. Like we're suppose to believe only the old testament is true, handed down by mouth for how many centuries until someone decided to write it down. Yea, right. You can't get a real time group of people to pass a sentence from one to the other in a room quietly and have it come out the other end the way it started let alone centuries after the fact. You take the bible for what it is and leave it lay. Bible scholar is an oxymoron, like the writer..............

    May 24, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      captain video wrote: "Still another attack by a Jewish writer to discredit Christanity."

      For starters, if you tried to get past your bigotry, you'd find out that the writer isn't and never was Jewish... As far as discrediting "Christanity" – people like you do a good enough job that no help from "Jewish" writers would be needed...

      May 24, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  19. Fred Yontz

    Witherington calls Ehrman’s book “Gullible Travels, for it reveals over and over again the willingness of people to believe even outrageous things.” This willingness to believe even outrageous things can also be applied to Bible literalists, and to Christian believers in general.

    May 23, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • Joe

      On one hand, you have: science and linguistics prove different writing styles.
      On the other hand: abracadabra, water just became wine in a split second.

      The first one is outrageous... yeah right.

      May 24, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  20. DelMonte

    In this era of science and reasoning, does anyone still believe that the entire bible isn't fiction?

    May 23, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • cheewizz

      They do, even the ones that actually read it - and that IS their right, after all.

      May 24, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • Amanda

      Christianity is the biggest hoax of all time. It is a religion that was created by few to control all. Since it's inception as a theology, more people have died in the name of GOD than any other war or religion. Things like feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor, and general charity are done by people not by GOD.

      May 24, 2011 at 10:37 am |
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