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. Scott

    Why do people believe in God? Because they WANT to. Even if it is a COMPLETE lie.

    June 8, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Sean

      Even worse, sometimes it's because they're given no choice.

      June 10, 2011 at 8:15 am |
  2. Jason

    This false representational responsibly. Dont believe everything you hear. .

    June 8, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  3. tonlok

    People, please stop caring about the authenticity of the bible.
    It was written to give people morals, in a time when the Romans were doing whatever they pleased. The stories no more than nursery ryhmes to warn people of living a sinful life and promote kindness and charity.
    Somewhere along the way that point has been lost, but please, if your a christian stop for a second and let go of your grip on the bible. It's ok, you can still live a life worth entrance into heaven (if you believe that) without taking it literally.
    And if your an Athiest, stop being jerks. You make the rest of the atheists (the ones who became atheist for belief and not to ridicule non-atheists) look terrible. Stop caring about other people and focus on living your life the way the bible was SUPPOSED to promote.
    And for God sake(pun intended) atheists, stop acting so religious...

    June 8, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Sean

      This is an article about the Bible. When people say, "This book is false and your shouldn't believe it," people like you call them jerks. When people say, "This book is true and you should believe it," people like you shout, "AMEN!"

      You're offended by some atheists? Too friggin' bad.

      June 10, 2011 at 8:23 am |
  4. jA

    FALSE prophets will rise in the days of the end.

    June 8, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  5. Rob

    "It was also the Holy Spirit who guided the Church as to what books to include and omit"
    This is questionable.

    June 8, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  6. alex

    I called this a long time ago.

    June 8, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  7. mightyfudge

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

    June 8, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  8. BetW

    @LizM, that's because you're scared; it's the fear factor. God is intimately connected with ALL; we are here as spiritual beings living a physical existence so that the Life Giving Force you call God (who is not a separate being), can expand it's Consciousness through physical reality. All one really needs to know is that God is Love. Since God is All, God loves All. You can't get it wrong, since there is no "place" that God is not.

    June 8, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Realist

      Can you not see why your “faith” and everybody elses draws a line between all of us. Drop the faith stories and stop dragging humanity back to the dark ages! We’re all on this huge spinning rock with no real clue about where we are going. Still to this day, religion causes more civil unrest across the globe than any other facet of our being. Give the future of this world a lifeline so they have an opportunity to be constructive with ideas, rather than beliefs. This was THOUSANDS of years ago and it still causes people to fight to the death. Sounds like a book “Satan” would write for all the good it has done

      June 8, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  9. V. I. Ysyaye

    The apostles ALL illiterate? Hardly I have authored my own book, The Good Centurion (on Amazon) in which I went to pains to point out that Matthew was the son of a wealthy merchant and himself a Roman tax collector - as a tax collector for Rome (unlike IRS employees of today) he had to be able to read and write. In fact, he would almost certainly have recorded events in the standard Roman shorthand script of that age. And that Matthew was the recorder, the scribe, explains why many of the events recorded among the apostles are nearly identical. Writing down your memories of our savior? Missing a spot here and there? Just fill in with Matthew's version, after all he was there and he saw what happened. Unlike the author of Forged, Matthew wrote the truth.

    As for anything written by Paul being forged, well, that I believe - Paul's gospel is a splendid example of how a Roman lickspittle would proselytize. But I don't place my faith in Paul, and I do not quote Paul in my ministry, ever. I place everything in the four gospels, where were written down on the spot by a very literate eyewitness, Matthew. PTL

    June 8, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  10. JP

    You may choose to believe what you want, but the writing style discrepancy proves that Paul did not write everything he was credited with. "Faith" doesn't supersede forensic evidence where I come from.

    June 8, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  11. KA

    Some christians believe in their religions from their chaplains, not by the bible. Be it the Bible is the true words of God or not, most Christians that I saw do not follow what the Bible say. As an example, the Bible prohibit the believers from eating pork, but so many do that. And if Bible is the true words of God, we can always prove it scientifically, historically, or by any means. Those claiming that the Holy Spirit just gave the Jesus disciples the ability to be literate out of sudden sounds illogical and they are not prophets.

    June 8, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  12. N8aciss Maximus

    The bible was written 100's of years ago by sand-strewn people of which a wheel barrel would have been a technological advancement.~Sam Harris. The bible is not the word of any deity. It's note fake, it is what it is albeit fiction; the ones who profess that it is the unalterable inerrant word of god are fake. GET A GRIP PEOPLE FOR THE LOVE OF HUMANITY!

    June 8, 2011 at 2:36 am |
    • John

      it's "wheel BARROW" you idiot.

      June 8, 2011 at 5:59 am |
    • phil

      i haven't the foggiest idea what point you are trying to make? your comment may have been written by a forger.

      June 8, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  13. LizM

    seems to me people that do junk like this are atheist or scientist trying to take away peoples beliefs. I dont care what religion you are,,that is your belief. idf the said Allah was fake the Muslims would be after them. Scripture says if u take away from these words you will be taken away your part of the tree of life. People believe the Bible,,its FAITH.. I would rather believe and be wrong than NOT believe and be wrong !

    June 7, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • Dave B

      Liz M.. it's onethting to have faith.. it's another to completely shut out the notion you MAY be wrong, or refuse to do any sort of research that may prove as such.. you were given the ability to think, examine, and research on your own, for a reason... I love how people say " believers of god just deny the truth"... well pot,.kettle,black on that... because you KNOW darn well , that if sciebce were to ever prove, conclusively that god doesnt not exist, you, and the millions of others, would continue to deny it as fact... tell me Im wrong here..

      June 8, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Dave B

      and the fact you use the term " junk" only serves to prove what a close minded individual you really are. you want others to have an open mind about your beliefs, but seem to refuse to extend the same courtesy to others. typical xtian mentality...

      June 8, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  14. Muneef

    What ever the case is here is the True Religion;

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

    [2:130] Who would forsake the religion of Abraham, except one who fools his own soul? We have chosen him in this world, and in the Hereafter he will be with the righteous.

    [2:131] When his Lord said to him, "Submit," he said, "I submit to the Lord of the universe."

    [2:132] Moreover, Abraham exhorted his children to do the same, and so did Jacob: "O my children, GOD has pointed out the religion for you; do not die except as submitters."

    [2:133] Had you witnessed Jacob on his death bed; he said to his children, "What will you worship after I die?" They said, "We will worship your god; the god of your fathers Abraham, Ismail, and Isaac; the one god. To Him we are submitters."

    [2:134] Such is a com-m-unity from the past. They are responsible for what they earned, and you are responsible for what you earned. You are not answerable for anything they have done.

    [2:135] They said, "You have to be Jewish or Christian, to be guided." Say, "We follow the religion of Abraham – monotheism – he never was an idol worshiper."

    [2:136] Say, "We believe in GOD, and in what was sent down to us, and in what was sent down to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Patriarchs; and in what was given to Moses and Jesus, and all the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them. To Him alone we are submitters."

    [2:137] If they believe as you do, then they are guided. But if they turn away, then they are in opposition. GOD will spare you their opposition; He is the Hearer, the Omniscient.

    [2:138] Such is GOD's sys-tem, and whose sys-tem is better than GOD's? "Him alone we worship."

    [2:139] Say, "Do you argue with us about GOD, when He is our Lord and your Lord? We are responsible for our deeds, and you are responsible for your deeds. To Him alone we are devoted."

    [2:140] Do you say that Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Patriarchs were Jewish or Christian? Say, "Do you know better than GOD? Who is more evil than one who conceals a testimony he has learned from GOD? GOD is never unaware of anything you do."

    [2:141] That was a com-m-unity from the past. They are responsible for what they earned, and you are responsible for what you earned. You are not answerable for anything they did.

    June 7, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • John

      take it somewhere else

      June 8, 2011 at 6:01 am |
  15. Lucas Mun

    Shame on the person who said this. If you want to go against it, why don't you just become a catohlic or something?
    Really, I also expected more then this on CNN, which what my friend said also.

    June 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Dave B

      "expected more" meaning what?? meaning to censor those opinions that dont jibe with your personal beliefs??

      June 8, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  16. Kirsten

    "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God."
    Article of Faith # 8

    June 7, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Michael Schnaars

      "insofar as it is translated correctly" meaning translated from the Greek, or the Hebrew, or the old English? Or, translated into human language from God? How do you know if something's translated "correctly?" Don't you have to know what God said, in order to know whether a man correctly relayed the Word of God? But if you already know what God said, then why do you need to read what some man said God said?

      June 7, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  17. john

    Paul was not a physician..he was a tent maker..but all of the apostles recieved from the Holy Spirit their knowledge.Jesus told them do not be worried what you are to say..the Holy Spirit will give you the words.The genius that discovered that the books in the New Testament were not written by the apostles is a little slow and very ignorant. Much of what was written was by disciples of the apostles..look in the bible and you'll see that oral tradition of passing down history is a central part of Judaism and Christianity..it was'nt until the apostles started dying off that they began to write.But you must also know that it is the Holy Spirit who filled them with what to write.If you deny the Holy Spirit you deny God.To deny thr Holy Spirit is a sin that Jesus even warns is not forgiveable.It was also the Holy Spirit who guided the Church as to what books to include and omit..CNN's article is just another ignorant attack on God and on Christianity.Satan is desperate because his time is truly drawing to a close and CNN as well as much of todays media are busy doing his bidding in an attempt to discredit Christians and steal souls.All Glory be to the Father,the Son and the Holy Spirit.Keep kicking at steel walls with feet of clay..you can not shake our faith with pathetic little lies.

    June 7, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Michael Schnaars

      The holy spirit is in me and it is telling me that the bible is completely faked.

      June 7, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Realist

      Can you not see why your "faith" and everybody elses draws a line between all of us. Drop the faith stories and stop dragging humanity back to the dark ages! We're all on this huge spinning rock with no real clue about where we are going. Still to this day, religion causes more civil unrest across the globe than any other facet of our being. Give the future of this world a lifeline so they have an opportunity to be constructive with ideas, rather than beliefs. This was THOUSANDS of years ago and it still causes people to fight to the death. Sounds like a book "Satan" would write for all the good it has done.

      June 8, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • mightyfudge

      "God's will" is just your panacea for every argument, critique and contradiction. It's a shallow trick you're willfully playing on yourself. Quoth the Church Lady: "How convenient!"

      June 8, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • tonlok

      You do realize the irony of posting as John right? Should I think your the real one?
      Anyway, if oral tradition is the mainstay of the bible's existence then it doesn't matter if the 'illiterate' apostles were accurate in what they spoke. Most of these accounts were recorded for many(hundreds) of years. Ever heard a rumor and found out that the real story is completely different. Imagine illiterate peasants trying to recall exactly a story that was told to him, after about the 3rd generation of peasant. Your hinging the legitimacy of the bible on the thought that from the time the stories were told until the bible was collaborated that not a single word has changed? That is faulty reasoning.
      Stop taking the bible literally. It is supposed to provide direction and meaning to a life, not argue over who wrote it or what it "LITERALLY" says. Take a step back and live as God would want you. Maybe when people stop caring about the accuracy of the bible, they can start caring about those in need around them.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  18. H

    CNN's article are about at the standards of a fish wrapper. Are you really trying to say that Luke was illiterate? Prove it. Because he was a Physician, he would not have been a peasant nor illiterate. And the article on the Beliefs of Satanist; they do not believe in God or Satan than what the Hell is the Church founded upon? So only a narcissistic evil man to blame? Then why call it the Church of Satan? Worship what you create- CNN hire some serious writers and investigators. The media loves it's self the same way. Church of Murdoch Turner Soros

    June 7, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • tom

      H, you seem to be the first person to mention Luke. He's not mentioned in the article at all and I don't think that if it were the author of the book would only contend that somebody put Luke's name on their own thoughts. I'm not saying that's what he said, but the article claims that is partly what happened.

      June 7, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  19. Adnan

    This just proves that the Bible is not the word of God. Period

    June 7, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Peter Griffin

      Everybody knows that The Bird is The Word.

      June 10, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  20. Domain Lords

    Didn't they realize the whole bible was proven to be a fraud. The Torah was recently proven to be Ancient Phonetic Sumerian, it's actually the Book of the Dead in phonetic Sumerian.


    The NT was written to point that out using the analogies that no one can explain, all the weird analogies point to a word in the Torah in Hebrew that in phonetic Sumerian means the Greek analogy. Example asteroid named wormwood in Revelations. In the Torah wormwood is Lana, prefixed the one time it is used with a vau, so UL ANA is the phonetic hebrew and that in phonetic Sumerian is sky rock or asteroid, the whole NT uses this simple code. That destroys the whole NT and the NT was written to destroy the whole OT. So the Bible is FAKE.

    June 7, 2011 at 7:49 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.