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.