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Bible Scholar: Half of New Testament 'Forged


"Bart seems to think he can play mind-reader..."

Did you know:

  • 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.

Those are the claims coming from one biblical scholar in a new book, "Forged." The author is Bart D. Ehrman, a Wheaton College graduate and current professor at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill.

"Bart D. Ehrman, the New York Times bestselling author of Jesus, Interrupted and God’s Problem reveals which books in the Bible’s New Testament were not passed down by Jesus’s disciples," The Harper-Collins book description says, "but were instead forged by other hands—and why this centuries-hidden scandal is far more significant than many scholars are willing to admit."

One of Ehrman's major targets is the Apostle Paul, who he says didn't write 2 Timothy. In all, he claims only seven of the 13 letters attributed to Paul were actually written by him. CNN explains:

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?”

But Ehrman's charges aren't just limited to Paul:

... He [also] 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.

Prominent fellow biblical scholar Ben Witherington -- who authors a popular blog on faith -- takes umbrage with Ehrman's thesis. Witherington offers a chapter-by-chapter critique of the book, agreeing on some level with some of Ehrman's point about the culture of forgery in the ancient world, but ultimately offering a new name for the book: "Gullible Travels."

Among the critiques Witherington lists, he says Ehrman doesn't adequately understand ancient Jewish culture, that Ehrman thinks he can play "mind-reader," and that he ignores counter-arguments:

  • Bart grossly underestimates and seems ignorant of the vast number of roles scribes played in the ANE, in second temple Judaism, and probably in early Christianity, including composing documents for other persons.   He needs to go back and read Scribal Culture and do a rethink about the range of possibilities with the use of scribes.
  • Bart seems to think he can play mind-reader when it comes to some of the writers of early Christian literature.  The proper question to ask is— How in the world do you know these documents were created as deliberate forgeries or falsifications, or fabrications when the author does not suggest this in the document, and we can’t interview him now?     Most of the time this conclusion is based on mirror-reading of the documents themselves looking for telltale signs of deceit sometimes more successfully than others.
  • Time and again Bart fails to take into account major factors that count against his argument.   Let’s take the argument about Greek style for a minute.  Nowhere in this book does he really acknowledge that what we have in most of the so-called letters in the NT are actually discourses, rhetorical discourses  set in the framework of epistolary features since they were sent at a distance.  These discourses are oral texts, and they follow the rules of such rhetorical texts and their structures and furthermore, the copying of these texts by scribes follows procedures already well known from the practices of someone like Tiro with Cicero.   Yes indeed, scribes did write down speeches, and notes on speeches, and then reframed them in more eloquent prose.   You cannot for example conclude Paul didn’t write Ephesians on style grounds, just because it uses Asiatic style rhetoric and epideictic rhetoric at that.  It follows those conventions.  Of this sort of thing, Bart says nothing.

You can read more of Witherington's critiques here.

As for Ehrman, who admits he "moved from being a committed church-going Christian to become an agnostic," he claims he's not trying to completely discredit the Bible, but rather show people that its authors weren't perfect.

“I’m not saying people should throw it out or it’s not theologically fruitful,” Ehrman told CNN. “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.”

Read more from CNN.

(H/T: David)

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