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Bart D. Licona, March 27, On March 22, the New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman published his latest iconoclastic book challenging the traditional Christian view. Ehrman is well read on the subject, citing from a number of doctoral dissertations, scholarly monographs, and journal articles in both English and German.
Why is the subject matter of this book important? For years, a significant number of biblical scholars have contended that the traditional authorship of a large portion of the New Testament literature is mistaken. After all, if God does not lie, it would seem that he would not have inspired a letter written by someone who was deceiving others by claiming to be someone he was not.
So, if it can be soundly concluded that some of the New Testament literature were not written by the traditional authors, should the guilty literature be removed from the New Testament canon? This is a fair question and discussions among scholars concerning canonicity have been occurring for the past several years at papers read at annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Institute of Biblical Research, and even the Evangelical Theological Society. It is just a matter of time before the issue is placed in the public spotlight.
The issue of authorship is discussed at length in most introductions to the New Testament, which differ from surveys and are usually written for graduate students. These books explain the pro and con arguments for the traditional authorship of all of the New Testament literature. They also discuss the identity of the original readers to whom the book was addressed, where they were located, why it was written, and when it was written.
The small percentage of New Testament literature to which he grants traditional authorship is one example.
Moreover, his view of who Jesus regarded as the apocalyptic Son of Man is closer to the Muslim view than the Christian one. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. However, I will be interacting with a few of the new arguments offered by Ehrman. My approach to the traditional authorship question is that there is evidence of varying weight in support of the traditional authorship of each of the 27 books and letters in the New Testament. For example, there is stronger evidence that Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome than there is that Peter wrote 2 Peter.
This was apparent even to the early Church. Finally, the literature regarded as heretical by the fourth century Church included several Gospels such as the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Matthias and other Gospels, the Acts of Peter, the Acts of John, and Acts attributed to other apostles. As you may have noticed, some in the early Church placed Revelation among the accepted literature while others included it in the rejected literature.
The general tendency in the early Church was to exclude rather than include. Given this caution in the early Church, my approach is this: Before jettisoning belief in the traditional authorship of any of the 27, the arguments against it must be reasonably stronger than the arguments for it and be able to withstand the counterarguments.
Some like Ehrman appear to take a different approach, assuming that all of the 27 are guilty of false attribution until nearly unimpeachable evidence to the contrary can be presented. Evidence of this approach can be seen when the evidence for traditional authorship is dismissed too quickly or when arguments against the traditional authorship are strikingly weak.
For example, in his discussion pertaining to the authorship of Ephesians, Ehrman contends that Paul speaks of the resurrection of believers as a future event and provides Romans and 1 Corinthians 15 in support that Paul wrote these letters is undisputed.
Ehrman is correct that Paul thought of the resurrection of believers as a very real and physical event that would take place when Jesus returns. He appears unaware, however, that Paul also spoke of the resurrection of believers in a symbolic sense. Many of the teachings in the disputed letters of Paul that Ehrman regards as contradictory to the teachings in his undisputed letters are solved just as easily with a careful look at the texts in question.
In chapter one, Ehrman informs readers of the abundance of forgeries authored by Christians in the first few centuries of the Church. Ehrman also discusses how some in the early Church questioned the authenticity of some of the New Testament literature. Literature that was at first anonymous, that is, it was not attributed to any author, and was later attributed to someone who did not write it, carry this label.
What qualifies pseudepigrapha as forgery, then, is authorial intent. With only a few exceptions, the ancients condemned forged literature once they knew it had been forged In chapters 2 and 3, Ehrman discusses forgeries composed in the names of Peter and Paul respectively.
Ehrman goes on to argue that some forged letters attributed to Peter and Paul made it into the New Testament. In chapter 4, Ehrman turns to a discussion of the various ways in which biblical scholars have attempted to explain the uncomfortable presence of forgeries in the New Testament. But Ehrman rightly in my opinion replies that, whatever reason the forger had in mind and however noble it may have appeared to him, it is still deceit. Moreover, the evidence suggests that the early Christians always rejected known forgeries.
A second attempt to get around the scandal of forgeries in the New Testament has been to state that the Holy Spirit still inspired the book in question even if it is a forgery. I agree with Ehrman that this is a desperate move. For me, at least, if this is the extent one must go in order to preserve the canonicity of forged literature, it is perhaps better to question whether that piece of literature should remain in the canon.
A third attempt is to claim that the forger has taken a genuine apostolic teaching and has rewritten it in order to address a different situation. In other words, because the teaching is still apostolic in a sense, the book should remain canonical. A fourth attempt contends that students in the ancient philosophical schools often penned literature in the name of their teacher since they had learned the content from them.
Ehrman observes that there are only two examples often cited in support. The first does not actually say what is claimed and the second does not prove that this was a practice within the philosophical schools much less outside them. Moreover, there is evidence that students in these schools often wrote in their own names.
The fifth and final attempt cites the involvement of secretaries in the writing of letters. Most, though not all, of the arguments against traditional authorship fall into two categories: style and content.
If an author employed the use of a secretary to write what he dictated as well as provide varying degrees of editing, this would explain quite well why some of the questionable letters in the New Testament have vocabulary, grammar, some content and an overall writing style that differs, even significantly, from the undisputed letters. In chapter five, Ehrman turns to some of the motives behind ancient forgeries.
In the cases presented in this chapter, the Christians were responding to their conflicts with Jews and pagans. Although Ehrman is correct, it is likewise noteworthy that none of the literature he cites became canonical. Ehrman fails to mention that. Before we leave this chapter, I want to note that at one point Ehrman has made what I regard as a huge historical blunder. But there were no imperial decrees leveled against Christianity in its first two hundred years, no declarations that it was illegal, no attempt throughout the empire to stamp it out.
It was not until the year CE that any Roman emperor—in this case it was the emperor Decius—instituted an empire-wide persecution of Christians. Consequently, to get rid of the report [that he was responsible for the fire], Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.
Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car.
And what about the letter of Pliny the Younger c. AD in which he informs the emperor Trajan that he has been going to the homes of those accused of being Christian and executing those who had refused to deny Christ Book 10, Letter 96? In chapter six, Ehrman provides examples of Christian forgeries created in the midst of conflicts with false teachers. However, Ehrman then enters dangerous territory. The New Testament emerged out of these conflicts, as one of the Christian groups won the arguments and decided which books would be included in Scripture.
Other books representing other points of view and also attributed to the apostles of Jesus were not only left out of Scripture; they were destroyed and forgotten. As a result, today, when we think of early Christianity, we tend to think of it only as it has come down to us in the writings of the victorious party. Only slowly, in modern times, have ancient books come to light that support alternative views, as they have turned up in archaeological digs and by pure serendipity, for example, in the sands of Egypt.
I was shocked when I read Ehrman here. However, the impression Ehrman leaves his readers is that the only thing distinguishing the literature that made it into the New Testament from the literature that did not is the results of a vote and perhaps there were some floating chads there too!
But sometimes the winners deserve to win. Consider the following statements by an expert in the early pseudepigraphal Christian literature. The scholar who wrote the above has credentials identical to those of Bart Ehrman. He received his doctorate from the same school and also had Bruce Metzger as his mentor.
He has published a number of books on the non-orthodox communities of early Christianity and the literature they produced. When comparisons can be made, Ehrman is almost always in agreement with this scholar. This is because the scholar who made this statement is Bart Ehrman!
For him, anyone calling himself a Christian qualifies. One of the reasons Ehrman regards Acts as a forgery is because he sees contradictions between how the relationship between Peter and Paul are presented in it and how Paul speaks of Peter in his undisputed letters. In fact, when it came to accepting the Gentiles as brothers in Christ and eating with them, Peter received a revelation of this even before Paul.
This is not actually true. However, in Galatians an undisputed letter , Paul tells us that he opposed Peter to his face when he withdrew from eating with Gentiles Ehrman recognizes there are ways of reconciling these differences.
But he extends no charity in such an exercise. One could argue that Paul was right, that Peter was simply being hypocritical. But there is nothing in Galatians to suggest that Peter actually saw it this way or that he thought Paul was right about the matter There is also nothing in Galatians to suggest that Peter did not see it this way or that he thought Paul was wrong about the matter.
Reconciling Galatians with Acts in this case is quite easy. But Ehrman will have none of it. Could it be because it would throw a wrench in his views? We again notice this type of stubbornness on the next page. In Greco-Roman historical writing, keeping the narrative flowing was an important component. In Galatians , Paul said that after his conversion, he did not go to Jerusalem.
Instead, he went away to Arabia for an unspecified period before returning to Damascus.
Review of Bart Ehrman’s book “Forged: Writing in the Name of God”…
Below is a link to the lecture. I gave the lecture soon after my book Forged: Writing in the Name of God. In that book I try to present, to a lay audience, the evidence Commonwealth Club , Forgery and Counterforgery. As I was writing up my post yesterday on the evidence that speaks against Paul having written Colossians, it occurred to me as I indicated at the time that it might be instructive to show the difference between how I might present that case to a lay audience and how I might present it to fellow scholars.
Forged: Writing in the Name of God
Bart D. Licona, March 27, On March 22, the New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman published his latest iconoclastic book challenging the traditional Christian view. Ehrman is well read on the subject, citing from a number of doctoral dissertations, scholarly monographs, and journal articles in both English and German. Why is the subject matter of this book important? For years, a significant number of biblical scholars have contended that the traditional authorship of a large portion of the New Testament literature is mistaken. After all, if God does not lie, it would seem that he would not have inspired a letter written by someone who was deceiving others by claiming to be someone he was not.
Forgeries Served Christian Propaganda
Although it has long been recognised that numerous books of the New Testament bear names of authors who are unlikely to have written them, it has often been said that it was an accepted practice in antiquity for a writer to attribute his work to a well-known figure from the past, or a teacher who has greatly influenced him. Forged contends that this is incorrect and the practice would have been condemned as dishonest by all authorities in antiquity. Falsely attributed writings are often referred to as " pseudepigraphs " but Ehrman maintains that the more honest term is " forgery ". The book posits that 11 or more books out of the 27 books of the Christian New Testament canon were written as forgeries.