Implications of Forged by Bart D. Ehrman

I just read Forged by Dr. Bart D. Ehrman (published in March, 2011). I have to say I’m livid. Majorly pissed off. Shocked. Free.

My first emotion is to be angry because if anything Ehrman says is true, I have been lied to my whole life. And not just pretty white lies. I’m talking the kind of lies that imprison and chain your soul. Lies that force you to do and believe what you don’t want to do and believe. Lies that claim God doesn’t allow women to speak, so if I choose to do so, I have to believe that I’m going against God. Lies about the bible being inspired scripture, based on writings by people who lied about their identity.

Note: there are lots of great book reviews of Forged such as this one ( I started this post to blog about the implications for me and others like me who have been taught for years that the New Testament is the infallible Word of God. But since the implications are so extreme, I decided to also check out criticisms of the book that could weaken or invalidate Ehrman’s theory. It got pretty long, and the criticism part ended up being college-essay style, so if that sort of thing turns you off, you can skip it. However, if, like me, you’re interested in digging deeper in the arguments from this book, I hope you interact with what I’ve written in the criticism section.


In Ehrman’s book, he explains why certain books of the New Testament are today considered by scholars to have been written by different authors than was originally thought. Below is a summary of Ehrman’s conclusions (as I remember them) about authorship in each book of the New Testament.

Matthew – written anonymously, but later attributed to Matthew. Probably not by Matthew.

Mark – written anonymously, but later attributed to Mark. Probably not by Mark.

Luke – written anonymously, but later attributed to Luke because people thought Luke wrote Acts. But Luke didn’t write Acts so not Luke either.

John – written anonymously, but later attributed to the apostle John. Probably not by John.

Acts – forged to make it look like a companion of Paul wrote it, but a companion of Paul did not  write it, so not by Luke.

Romans – truly by Paul.

1 Corinthians – truly by Paul (but Ehrman suspects that the part about women not speaking in church is forged).

2 Corinthians – truly by Paul.

Galatians – truly by Paul.

Ephesians – forged. The style doesn’t match Paul, and the content doesn’t agree with his other books.

Philippians – truly by Paul.

Colossians – forged.

1 Thessalonians – truly by Paul.

2 Thessalonians – forged. Paul believed the end of the world was imminent, and this book contradicts his other writings.

1 Timothy – forged.

2 Timothy – forged.

Titus – forged. First Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus were all written by the same person but not Paul, and supposedly all scholars agree that Paul didn’t write them.

Philemon – truly by Paul.

Hebrews – anonymous, but it was attributed to Paul. Not by Paul.

James – forged.

1 Peter – forged.

2 Peter – forged.

Jude – forged.

Revelation – possibly by a “John” but probably not by the apostle John. It could have been by another person entirely who wanted to sell the belief in 1000 years of paradise on earth.

Ehrman also mentions that Daniel is forged, and Isaiah was written by three different authors.

Ehrman explains that it was a common practice for a person in New Testament times and the centuries that followed to write a book to advance his beliefs. But if this writer was not well-known, he faced a huge temptation to claim to be someone of greater Christian authority. If readers believed his book was written by one of the original apostles, say John, Peter, or Paul, they would be much more likely to accept the doctrines in the book, and the book would be circulated much more widely, read in meetings, and viewed as an authority. It may even be thought of as Scripture. Because of this dynamic, many books written in the centuries after the death of Christ were forged, claiming to be written by one of the original apostles, when they obviously were not. A lot of the books were out to lunch, telling tall tales (like the one where Jesus comes out of the tomb with two angels. The angels are as tall as mountains, but Jesus is taller yet. After Jesus the cross comes out of the tomb. God asks if the cross preached to those who are asleep, and the cross answers, “yes.”)

When people chose the books that would make it into the New Testament, they rejected a lot of forgeries. Ehrman doesn’t really go into the process that books went through to be chosen, but a check of the Wikipedia entry about the New Testament canon explains how certain church fathers accepted certain books that matched to their beliefs. Almost all of these books were supposedly written by apostles. All the epistles, with the possible exception of Jude, that eventually made it into the New Testament canon claim to have been written by an apostle or are attributed to an apostle. (James & Jude were brothers of Jesus, which gave them nearly the authority of an apostle, but I think James also claimed to be an apostle, even though he was not one of the original 12.) Two of the four gospels were attributed to an apostle, and the other two and Acts were attributed to a companion of an apostle. However, the gospels and Acts are supposed to be historical accounts of the life of Jesus and the apostles. So the authors of Mark, Luke, and Acts didn’t themselves give apostolic-type instruction as is found in the epistles (unless they changed things Jesus or apostles supposedly said in these books to match their own views, but according to the official fundamentalist view, they would not have done that).

Thus all the books of the New Testament were eventually accepted as Scripture based in large part on the authority of the author, and the people who accepted them probably didn’t realize that many of these books were forged.


What pisses me off the most about all this is that even though it was believed for hundreds of years that all the books in the New Testament were written by the authority the books claimed wrote them, (or the person they were attributed to), in the last two centuries scholars have realized that that is simply not true of many of them. So if all these scholars admit that the books were written by someone else, WHY IN HELL DID NO PREACHER OR TEACHER EVER TELL ME THAT THERE WAS ANY CONTROVERSY? Why didn’t my parents? I vaguely recall the idea that maybe some of them were dictated to a scribe who wrote the actual words. But that is all I was ever told. Both my parents went to bible college for four years. Did they hear nothing about a controversy with any of these books? Maybe their school was under a rock that only looked at writings by other Church of Christ leaders. Though I seem to recall them studying the bible and books about the bible my whole life.

I went to the Church of Christ until I was 18. That church believed that they taught nothing but the bible and completely went by the bible, to the point that they found verses about baptism that disagreed with the way the rest of the evangelical church saw it, so they wrote off all of Christianity besides their cult as unsaved. So since they didn’t think other Christians were saved, it’s possible that they didn’t read anything by Bible scholars that brought out the controversy. (Though I highly doubt that. I think they knew about the controversy but didn’t say anything since their whole religion is based on the view that the Bible is the “Word of God.”)

After I left the Church of Christ, I went to two different ministry schools, 1 year at Oral Roberts University, and a bunch of other churches. All of them claimed to believe and follow the bible, though they usually validated personal experience as well. None of them mentioned the controversy. Unlike the Church of Christ, the churches I attended in my 20’s allowed women to speak and minister in meetings. These churches didn’t mention the fact that the verses that say women can’t speak weren’t written by Paul; they just tried to explain it away or ignore it. I got to the point where I concluded that the repression of women is so wrong that if that is truly scripture, I can’t completely follow the scripture.

So maybe it makes sense that people forged much of the New Testament. After all, none of the Christian leaders I used to listen to thought it necessary to mention that the authorship of these books is in question. At least some of them must have known about the controversy, but if they talked about it, it could discredit some of their teachings. So they kept their mouths shut about it. They may have felt that laypeople were not equipped to handle the knowledge that books of their precious bible were actually forged. This would be similar to the reasoning people used when they forged the books in the first place. They wanted their beliefs to be authoritative, so they used apostles’ names. Fundamentalist Christian leaders want to consider the Bible authoritative, so they don’t tell their people that someone wrote these books using apostles’ names.

I wonder if it is possible that many of these leaders who taught me actually did not know about the controversy. In an article critiquing  Forged, evangelical leader Dr. Mike Licona asserts that “[t]he 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” (1). (I talk more about Licona’s article in the Critique section below.) In other words, the news that there is contention about the authorship of numerous books of the New Testament is being held back from the general Christian public, even from some students who obtain a bachelor’s degree in theology.

I asked a friend who has a master’s in the history of religion about this, and he said he did learn about the discrepancy in an undergraduate class at a Baptist school. He also said that more liberal churches talk about this all the time, but if he were a pastor at, say, a Southern Baptist church and mentioned in the pulpit that there was a controversy about authorship of books in the New Testament, he would be fired. Is it because scholars assume that unless someone is a New Testament scholar, they won’t be able to figure out how to handle the evidence for or against authorship of a book by a certain person? I think Ehrman was right to bring this out into view of the lay public, and I applaud him for doing so. I think people in the churches need to know for themselves that there is a problem with the book they revere, and they need to be able to decide for themselves what to do about it.

In his book Ehrman does not focus on the implications of his conclusions. In this book, he doesn’t even say what he currently believes about God, though he does say he believes Jesus existed. (Other websites that talk about his work say he’s now an agnostic, though in the book he explains that he used to be a fundamentalist who went to Moody Bible Institute.) But in this post I would like to get into the implications for me and other people who question things in the Bible.

It boils down to this. Growing up every Sunday since I came to a certain Church of Christ at age 11 until I left at age 18, the preacher repeated certain verses in nearly every sermon. One of those was 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” This was the basis of teaching at that fundamentalist church. If I were to say that I think this verse was talking about the Old Testament, they would quote 2 Peter 3:15b-16: “just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” In other words, the writings of Paul, which make up ½ the New Testament, are considered scripture by the author of 2 Peter, so the rest of the New Testament must be too. That means all the New Testament is inspired by God. So it’s error free, and you can’t question it. You must just believe it, and “[s]tudy to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). (As I recall, that repetitive preacher from my teens routinely quoted the King James version of this verse or something similar because most of the modern translations say “be diligent” or something like that, and he wanted to emphasize the importance of studying the Bible, even though that’s a mistranslation.)

Since these verses are found in books that were forged, I think it’s likely the doctrines about the New Testament being Scripture inspired by God are actually doctrines of humans not inspired by God who wanted to get their beliefs to be seen as authoritative. In Forged, Ehrman discusses the verse in 2 Peter and explains that there was a controversy in the early church about whether or not Peter and Paul were in agreement. He theorizes that the author of 2 Peter wanted to promote the idea that Peter and Paul were in agreement, so in his book supposedly by Peter, he has Peter calling Paul’s writings Scripture.

My contention starting in my early 20’s was that the bible never claims to be the Word of God, and the only time the bible refers to an entity as the Word of God, it’s referring to Jesus (John 1). So I felt that the bible was being used for a purpose that wasn’t intended by the original authors. For the past several years, I thought that the purpose of the bible was to share truths about God that would lead people to get to know God for themselves, but instead many people, like the ones I grew up with, see the bible as an end in itself and try to follow the bible instead of following God.

As you can see if you read other posts on this blog, I’ve lately been questioning the wisdom of following the bible at all. There is so much in there that I find deeply troubling that I would rather throw the whole thing out then feel crammed in the boxes it provides. I’ve really been doubting the inspiration of the bible. I concluded that it must be a work of men who were fallible, including Paul. I held the teachings of Jesus in a little higher regard, but I still wondered how we can know for sure whether he actually said any specific teaching. How did people remember exactly what he said to write it down years later? I’m sure some things he said are recorded, but I doubt if we have any of his exact words, especially since he probably spoke in Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek.

Well, I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I felt anger, but I also felt shocked and even free at reading Forged. Shocked because I had no idea that these books were in question. Free because if these books really weren’t written by apostles, then they shouldn’t have been included in the New Testament in the first place, according to the standards for inclusion that men chose to follow when they picked the books for the New Testament. So they’re definitely not “scripture.” Furthermore, all the verses that were used to prove the New Testament is all inspired scripture and must be studied and followed as if it were God are actually written by people who were so adamant that they wanted their beliefs to be accepted that they lied about who they were, one claiming to be Peter and another Paul.

So I feel free because my impressions of the bible are validated. It’s human. The only books for sure written by an apostle are six by Paul. But why should I assume they’re inspired words of God just because Paul happened to be an apostle (but not one of the original twelve)? Paul himself says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).  Paul, the only writer of the New Testament who for sure wrote some of the books attributed to him, saw in dimly and knew in part. He’s saying he’s human. He doesn’t have the whole picture. I think the picture he gives in the whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter) is beautiful, because he shows that it’s all about love. And though my Church of Christ preacher uncle would like to think that the “then” Paul mentions in this verse (talking about “the perfect” from a couple verses back) is the completion of the Bible, there’s nothing in that passage or anywhere else that indicates Paul even has an idea that there would be a New Testament. My uncle’s idea is ludicrous. The chapter is about love, the greatest thing in the world. To me, Paul’s “face to face,” can only mean that he believed that when he sees God, who is perfect love, face to face, then he will fully know. But not in an academic understanding kind of way. He wants to know God relationally, just as God knows him. He wants to fully love.

So since we surmise that most of the New Testament is forged or mis-attributed, should we throw the whole thing out? Even though I’m incensed that the authors lied about their identities and deceived Christians for hundreds of years, I think they have some valid things to say. I think there is spiritual revelation that can be helpful to our current spiritual development in many of these books. Am I going to hang on their every word, believing that everything they say is from God? Absolutely not. Just as I would not blindly follow any other spiritual teaching. I have some favorites that come to me at different times in my life. I think when someone has revelation to share, that’s valuable. But ultimately my spiritual walk is found in my own spirit. I can trust the God I’m coming to know far more than I can trust any other humans with their varied motivations for spouting out beliefs. I do think God or my own spirit brings teachings and revelations from other people to me at the right times when I need them.

And this all comes back to my post on the Garden of Eden. Ultimately, like Paul said, we see in part. Dimly. God and the spiritual world is a mystery. We know that the most important thing, the greatest thing that will abide forever is love. If we try to heap up to ourselves knowledge, like the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, we just might miss God.

Criticism of Forged

Since I am not a biblical scholar, I know that I could easily miss any weaknesses that might exist in Forged. And I realize that there’s two sides to every story. I wanted to see if there was any reason not to believe Ehrman’s assertions, so I looked for critical reviews of the book by an educated fundamentalist-type who disagrees with Ehrman’s conclusions. I found a 16 page article written by Mike Licona, who holds a doctorate in New Testament studies, is on the board of several evangelical ministries, and opposes the conclusion that Ehrman reaches. You can read the article here.

Licona points out two potential weaknesses in Ehrman’s argument. The first has to do with content and the second with secretaries. Ehrman asserts that the content of some books doesn’t match up to what the apostle said in other books, and this is one reason to think the books are written by different authors. An example is Ephesians. Ehrman finds a discrepancy with what Paul seems to say about resurrection in Ephesians and what he says about the same subject in Romans. But Licona contends: “Paul’s teaching concerning the resurrection of believers in Romans is completely compatible with what we find in Ephesians and Colossians. 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.” (3). I’ll grant that when I first read the argument by Ehrman about resurrection, it sounded a little fishy to me. I never saw a discrepancy before, because I always thought that what he said in Romans and in Ephesians were talking about two separate things. I also think it’s difficult to pinpoint the content issue when talking about deep or complex theological issues because in my experience, people interpret these types of passages in many different ways. But there are some content issues that are more cut-and-dried. Ehrman points out that Paul seems to be concerned that salvation is not by works of the law, but some of the books under contention talk about good works in general instead of works of the law, which wasn’t Paul’s primary area of interest. But I will agree with Licona that in at least some of these cases, the content discrepancy doesn’t definitively prove that the book was forged, though a discrepancy in content added to a stark difference in style would prove the forgery, in my opinion.

The main weakness that Licona and other reviewers found in Ehrman’s argment has to do with secretaries. In fact, this was the first thing my husband brought up when I told him what I was reading, and it’s the only thing I remember hearing about authorial controversy when I was growing up. Licona quotes Ehrman as saying, “Virtually all of the problems with what I’ve been calling forgeries can be solved if secretaries were heavily involved in the composition of the early Christian writings. (134)” Licona ends his article by saying, “Ehrman’s treatment of Paul’s use of secretaries is both weak and problematic. If secretaries were involved with the traditional New Testament authors in the editing and composition of their letters, most of the arguments used against the traditional authorship of this literature lose their force and, as an old friend of mine would say, Ehrman is left with a firm grasp on an empty sack” (15).

So on the subject of secretaries, Ehrman presents four basic scenarios, which I’m going to paraphrase. In the first scenario, the apostle dictated to a scribe, who wrote down word-for-word what the apostle said. The apostle is the author, no question. There’s evidence that this happened in the epistles of Paul, including in books that aren’t suspected of forgery.

Scenario two: the apostle wrote the epistle, then had it copyedited. In modern times there are different levels of copyediting depending on the original state of the draft and what the author wants. In light and standard copyediting, the editor points out inconsistencies in the author’s arguments and attempts to resolve errors of grammar and problems with clarity. The copyeditor usually makes minor changes, such as to correct a misspelled word or misplaced comma. The copyeditor will often rewrite a short segment or offer a suggestion of a rewrite then show these changes to the author, and the author has the option to accept or reject them. In heavy copyediting, the copyeditor may do more extensive revision, but the author still gets to accept or reject the changes. In all these cases, the copyeditor is not considered the author but is only helping the author polish his or her prose and fix errors and inconsistencies. There’s still no ethical problem with the author claiming the work. Ehrman doesn’t offer any examples of copyediting in the New Testament and only a couple examples of that happening in ancient times with rich people. If this did happen in the New Testament and the editor did a good job, readers wouldn’t be able to detect the difference between the words of the author and the words of the editor, and this certainly wouldn’t explain the changes in style and content that Ehrman points out in the books in question.

Ehrman also brings up the possibility of co-authoring, but says there’s no examples of that in New Testament times. My thought is that if the apostle co-authored with someone else, and the work that appeared was so different from the apostle’s other works as to seem like it was written by someone else, than it was probably ghost-written (the fourth option), not co-authored. Licona does offer one example that implies a secretary did more than just take dictation:

In 2 Corinthians 10:9-11 [Paul] writes, ‘it is said, “His [i.e., Paul’s] letters are weighty and powerful, but his physical presence is weak, and his public speaking is despicable.” Such a person should consider this: What we are in the words of our letters when absent, we will be in actions when present.’ Notice carefully how the subject changes from Paul the poor public speaker in the singular to the ‘we’ who write the letters. More than one person is involved in writing Paul’s letters. So, the involvement of the secretary appears to go beyond taking simple dictation. (14)

While this could indicate a co-author adding his two-cents into the draft, why would the co-author also be involved in disciplinary actions of a church in person? Perhaps Paul is including other leaders in this statement, who may have even written their own letters, or perhaps he has a cohort taking dictation who is also involved in church discipline. In any case, Paul seems to have control of the content and style in 1 Corinthians as this is not one of the disputed books. Also co-writing involves some of the other problems I talk about next in the section on ghostwriting.

I think that the most likely scenario that does not technically involve forgery is ghost-writing. Ehrman remarks, “And it does not seem possible that Peter gave the general gist of what he wanted to say and that a secretary then created the letter for him in his name, since, first, then the secretary rather than Peter would be the real author of the letter, and second, and even more important, we don’t seem to have any analogy for a procedure like this from the ancient world” (156). I don’t agree that the second reason is more important. Just because we don’t have examples of ghostwriting from the ancient world doesn’t mean it wasn’t done or the apostles weren’t smart enough to figure out they could do that. By definition, ghostwriting means writing that is attributed to an author but actually written by someone else. In today’s world, a lot of times authors don’t want their readers to know that the book was ghostwritten, so they try to hide it. I think it’s possible that bible authors could have done that too, especially if the fact that the book was ghostwritten would have diminished the authority of the book.

So in some of these cases where it’s not evident that the book was written after the death of the apostle and the content isn’t too far off the author’s beliefs as shown in other texts, it’s possible that the book was ghost-written by a friend or assistant of the apostle. The apostle could have contributed content, an outline, or some ideas to the book, had someone else write it, and then he would have reviewed the book, possibly made changes, and approved that it be sent out in his name.

I still agree with Ehrman that it’s more likely that the book was forged, but for argument’s sake, let’s assume that the book really was ghost-written and the apostle approved it. What does this mean for the status of the book? Although in modern times it’s considered ethical to ghost-write certain types of works (but sometimes people get really pissed off when they find out a work by their favorite celebrity was ghost-written), I think there’s definitely a valid place for ghost writing, though if you want to be perfectly honest, I think it is better to mention somewhere in the work the fact that the author had a good bit of help creating it. Also there are certain types of works that cannot be ethically ghostwritten. For example, if I would have hired someone to write a college essay for me and the school found out, I would have been kicked out of school. I do think that this is an instance where it’s completely unethical to have something ghost written because this is an instance, similar to a college essay, where the author’s identity was vital to how the book was going to be received. If an apostle did this, he was lying, and that doesn’t fit the character the original apostles supposedly had.

So the question becomes, what are the implications for the books of the New Testament if they were ghostwritten? Many people consider these books to be inerrant scripture that was inspired by God. The scenario my old churches painted for me is that an apostle sat down with ink and a scroll, heard from the Holy Spirit, and wrote down what he heard. This corresponds to the image presented in 2 Peter 1:20-21: “know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (Though this verse doesn’t say that this process applied to all scripture, only to prophesy. And isn’t prophesy by definition something that people said when they were moved by God? So yes, obviously no prophesy occurred without people being moved by God because if they weren’t moved by God, what they said would not be defined as prophesy. That really doesn’t prove anything, and it’s similar to the circular reasoning in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God . . . “ So one part of the definition of Scripture is that it is something inspired by God. That doesn’t really prove anything.)

So when we read the New Testament, we supposedly read the very words of God. But what happens when the person doing the initial writing isn’t actually the apostle? Well, it still could be the same scenario. Someone without any particular authority in the church sits down with God and hears the Holy Spirit. He then writes down what he hears. He brings it to the closest apostle, and the apostle says, “Yup, that sounds like God. in fact I think people really need to hear this message, and they’ll receive it better if my name’s on it. Why don’t you just right here in the beginning add these words: ‘Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Eph. 1:1-2). That should tie in just fine with your intro here where you have ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Eph 1:3).” So in this scenario, the book is still inspired by God. Just like when I sit down in my contemplative prayer time, get really still, and begin hearing something from the spirit. I write down what I hear. What I wrote down is inspired by God.

Lots and lots of people have done this through the centuries, so there’s probably thousands or millions of inspired writings. But when I write something I hear, I don’t consider it scripture, and I’m pretty sure that if I tried to pass it off to my fundamentalist parents as scripture, they’d laugh at me. I know when I hear from God, everything God says gets passed through my own filters and the fog in my own head. So what I hear and write down could very well not exactly be what God meant. I studied communication and rhetorical theory in college, and this helped me realize just how dicey words and meanings are. To have an imprint of someone else’s idea in your head is pretty much miraculous, let alone getting the same exact meaning from the words that someone else said, especially when talking about complicated issues. So I try to be careful when talking about messages I get from God to use the words, “I heard” rather than, “God told me” because maybe what God told me is not what I heard, and all I know for sure is what I heard.

The books of the New Testament don’t even use the words “I heard.” But people assume that because the content is profound, and the author is an apostle, the words must be inspired scripture. So while there’s lots of works that are inspired, very few of them have been considered Scripture, and that’s because who the human author is holds a lot of weight. Maybe Paul’s head wasn’t as cloudy as mine, and his filters were all cleaned out. So when he heard from God, he got the message a lot more clearly than I do. More likely, because the message came to him for the church, and he had a lot of authority in his time, the church receives it as from God and doesn’t worry about possible filtering problems.

But if the message did not come to him but to his friend, why would that be considered scripture when what I (or some other first-century person who didn’t add an apostle’s name to his work) wrote is not being considered scripture? So Licona’s secretary hypothesis discredits the very purpose these books are being used for in fundamentalist churches today. I maintain that the book was included in the canon because the editors of the canon concluded that this book was written by an apostle who clearly heard from God. I don’t think they would have included it if they knew it was ghost-written or told from God to someone else and an apostle put his name on it. The filtering system wasn’t the apostle’s, it was his friend’s.

So while the ghost-writing scenario may not be as unethical as the outright forgery Ehrman suspects, it’s still not completely honest. More importantly, by the definition of the editors of the canon and fundamentalists today, the work can’t be considered Scripture. Some no-name person heard from God instead of the authoritative apostle. Only what the apostle himself heard from God is weighty enough to be considered scripture.

What it boils down to for me is that whether a disputed book is ghost-written as Licona implies or outright forged as Ehrman concludes, it still lies about the author and should not be part of the canon of the New Testament.

13 Comments to “Implications of Forged by Bart D. Ehrman”

  1. I read just about every word of your post. I’m very impressed. I’m sure this was a difficult thing to realize. I have to say that I admire you for being so fearless just to read the book given your prior understandings. Even after you started I’m sure that you evinced great courage just to carry on reading it to the end. I really, really can’t say enough how great that is to me. Why, because it’s a real sign that things really are changing for the better one person at a time. I very much believe in God (though my beliefs are very different from most people’s beliefs).

    I do have two of Ehrnan’s other books and find them to be very good.

    The so called original fundamentalist values were actually brought about by Lyman Stewert and his brother around about 1910 from a collection of books called “The Fundamentals”. These books were sent FREE to many, many Ministers, YMCA, and YWCA throughout the country. See here:

    Another good new book is “Love Wins” by Rob Bell, a minister out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He explains his belief that he doesn’t think there is fire and brimstone Hell of permanent damnation. This has been very controversial but he actually ended up on the cover of Time because apparently his message resonates with many people today. See here:

    I could say a whole lot more but I’ll just come back again and read your other posts. Thanks again for just trying to understand the truth no matter what. Keep Blogging. Keep Writing.

    • @informationforager, thanks for your encouraging comment. I’ve been hearing about Rob Bell’s book, and I think I’ll read it very soon. It’s funny because for years I’ve had my doubts about hell, and those doubts grew to being a major force in pushing me out of Christianity. Even 10 or 15 years ago, I remember reading Psalm 88 where the writer, acting as if he were in hell, questions God’s interaction with those in hell and basically begs God to remember him in hell. I used to think this Psalm was in the Bible for a reason, and maybe God will eventually rescue all people from hell. Now I have a great hope that grows every day that there’s no hell at all, or if there is, it’s like a medicine man in Eat, Pray, Love says, hell and heaven are the same place; it’s only the road you take to get there that is different. For this reason, heaven is better, because the path to get there is love and light, while the path to hell is darkness and pain. But when you get there they are “same, same.”

      Thanks for reading my blog, and I hope to hear from you again!

  2. Very interesting post, I have found that truth is usually so common sense filled that if it makes sense then it could easily be true, if not, I would not believe it. If it does not go with the commandments and basic early teachings with some updating then I suspect it strongly. Blessings In Balance & Love=BIBLe


  3. Great analysis, Eva. Very valid points. Also a very intellectual and well-thought-out look at the issue. True freedom is being able to question and think for ourselves and not accepting something we’re told just because. In my own church environment (I had several) faith=belief. But I have found that beyond the fence of religion you discover that belief is only necessary when something is not true. When you KNOW something-deep down in your heart KNOW it-whatever it may be, then you don’t need to believe it. believe=convince yourself something’s true without confirmation from your own spirit. I agree there are some valid spiritual points in the bible as a whole, but there’s much more to do and learn than what has been written between those pages. However, we do have to be mindful of the intent behind what was written and it’s purpose of being made available to the masses.

  4. Well, what about the council of Nicea? Also, the dead sea scrolls which never got into the Bible… e.g.:

    I really like this gospel. It resonates more than the heavily edited New Testament.

  5. Hi Eva,

    Thanks for being so candid about your doubts and concerns regarding the veracity of NT writers. I have been following the debate around Prof Ehrman’s views ever since ‘Forged’ was released as I was very interested to know whether the faith that was so dear to me was actually nothing more than the whimsy of deceitful people.

    I must admit that I am not a scholar, neither a theologian. I’m a person of average intelligence who, by listening to podcasts and reading as much material I can, tries to come to some sort of understanding on topics that range from evolution to theology. I love learning new things and my personal philosophy is ‘sink or swim’. I learn by throwing myself into the deep end of a subject and it’s sheer determination to learn that helps me stay afloat. It’s not easy and I’ve often found myself drowning in information I do not understand. I also open myself to criticism by entering into debates and chats with people online (often strangers, who’ve become great online friends!) to test my views and learn from others. My reading also extends to writers whose views differ from my own so that I look at things from an opposing perspective as well.

    And if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that solid, objective thinking is hard to come by whether in the scientific, the historic, or the theological realm. After a point, people’s subjective beliefs take over; because there just isn’t enough evidence one way or another.

    Personally, I believe in God; specifically the God of The Bible. I believe in the historicity and divinity of Jesus Christ. So I believe that if the Bible is indeed the infallible, inspired Word of God, it will withstand every challenge that is thrown at it.

    So I plunged headlong into an investigation of Prof Ehrman’s claims. I must admit I was nervous, though. There were so many doubts. Because, as you have rightly pointed out, the implications are huge if Prof Ehrman is correct. But is he?

    I have found that most people in online forums use Prof Ehrman’s claims to back their own beliefs. Instead of delving further to understand all perspectives, most people blindly accept his scholarship to be the last word. However, there are a couple of equally proficient scholars like Darrel Bock and Ben Whittington who have exposed quite a few holes in Prof Ehrman’s work. This is not to say that Prof Ehrman is completely wrong; not at all. However, his error lies in drawing conclusions that cannot be substantiated.

    I have included links to these perspectives if you are interested in looking at the issue holistically. Also provided is a one-hour debate between Prof Darrel Bock and Prof Ehrman in which Prof Bock does bring out the weaknesses in ‘Forged’.

    It’s not easy reading. After all, the issues are complex. But I persevered because I felt I owed it to myself to test my faith. I hope that you will feel the same way too. If ‘Forged’ is right then we’re wasting our time as ‘Christians’. But if ‘Forged’ is inaccurate, then we will have dismissed the God of the universe without much thought! That would be a pity indeed.

    Thanks much for your patience in reading through.


    This might be a helpful overview
    What is Missing from a Key New Testament Introduction Text?

    A Look at Forged (Chapter 1) by Bart Ehrman and Another NT Blog Recommendation, Ben Witherington’s Site

    Issues of Ancient Composition, Thucydides, and Ehrman

    Ehrman Chapter 2- Forgeries and the Name of Peter: Apples, Oranges, and Scripture

    Ehrman on Paul, Part 1 Pastorals and 2 Thessalonians

    Ehrman Chapter 4: Agreement But More Nuancing Is Necessary and Crucial

    Ehrman Chapter 5 On Conflicts with Jews and Pagans (revised)

    Ehrman Chapter 6 On Forgeries and False Teachers

    Ehrman Chapter 7 and 8 False Attribution and the Book as a Whole

    Bart Ehrman & Darrell Bock on “Forged”: A Radio debate

    • Wow Peter, very insightful comment. I’m sorry I didn’t see it until now. I’ll look at the links you provided. I do think that there are vast implications, and I do agree that these subjects can be subjective. For years I have believed that the Bible never claims to be the “Word of God” but claims that Jesus is the Word of God, so I’ve been thinking that Christians misuse the Bible. But I did read Forged at a point where I was actually relieved to find` that the Bible may not be as perfect as I’d always been taught. Thus my prejudice was probably to accept Ehrman’s views. That’s why I looked for a scholar who disagrees to try to find another viewpoint. I’m well aware that it’s our propensity to just believe what we want to believe and hold to whatever we find that supports that.

      You wrote, “If ‘Forged’ is right then we’re wasting our time as ‘Christians’. But if ‘Forged’ is inaccurate, then we will have dismissed the God of the universe without much thought! That would be a pity indeed.” I must say I don’t think the implications are that drastic. Just because the books in the New Testament were not authored by who they claimed to be doesn’t mean they don’t hold any valid revelation from God. And the four gospels were written anonymously and later attributed to apostles and authority figures in the early church. That means that even if they were written by someone different than the person they were attributed to, the original authors weren’t lying about their identities, and the gospels very well could contain as correct a history of Jesus’ life as the authors could come up with. Even if none of the New Testament can be trusted to be inspired by God, that does not negate the reality of who God is and the possibility of having a relationship with God for ourselves. After all, isn’t that supposed to be the point of the Bible in the first place? I wrote in my blog how Paul said, “we see through a glass dimly,” and I think that’s true for all authors of spiritual books. What they wrote is valuable, but it’s not necessarily something we have to force ourselves to follow. I would recommend that people follow spiritual teaching to the extent that it leads them to God, and no further.

      Your statement, “if ‘Forged’ is inaccurate, then we will have dismissed the God of the universe without much thought” couldn’t be further from the truth for me. My relationship with God may have started with things I read in the Bible, but it is not based on that. If the entire Bible were found to be a fraud, I’d still be left with a rich and deep relationship with God that is abiding and does not go away. I might be a little confused about what to mentally believe about God, but my spiritual relationship with God is solid and based on the reality I have experienced inside. Maybe it would be a good thing for Christians to question the Bible and ask themselves “what if?” If the Bible is a fraud, and I throw it all out, do I have anything left with God? If the answer is no, then I suspect they have been wasting their time reading the Bible and have not experienced what the point of the Bible was in the first places–to show us the way to know God for ourselves.

  6. Hi Eva,

    First let me wish you all the best for the year ahead. I wish you and your family the very best of health, success and wellbeing; along with a greater understanding of God, His Word and His Son Jesus Christ.

    Thanks for your patience in reading through my thoughts. I have read and re-read your reply several times in order to understand your position, and also to reply to you in a manner that represents an opposing viewpoint without causing offence.

    The last point is difficult because we all have belief systems that we have constructed by our own knowledge and experiences. And whenever these belief systems are challenged or confronted we take it as an attack on our intelligence. My only hope is that you will see my questions, not as a personal attack, but as yet another perspective that you may not have considered. If you have already thought about these things, I offer my apologies in advance for wasting your time.

    Here are my queries.

    You have said:

    “My relationship with God may have started with things I read in the Bible, but it is not based on that.”

    My question is:

    1.) If not The Bible, then what is your relationship with God based on?

    Then you have said:

    “If the entire Bible were found to be a fraud, I’d still be left with a rich and deep relationship with God that is abiding and does not go away.”

    I have two questions here:

    2.) If The Bible is fraudulent, isn’t your relationship with God fraudulent as well? After all, if the starting point itself is false, won’t every step of the journey be false as a result?

    3.) How do you know that this relationship is not just a figment of your imagination?

    The reason I pose these questions is because The Bible says that God exists and that we can have a relationship with Him. But if The Bible itself is fraudulent, then the very existence of God is doubtful, isn’t it? Therefore, what gives you the confidence that God indeed exists and that you are in a relationship with Him?

    And lastly,

    4.) Do you profess to be a Christian?

    I ask this because I want to better understand the philosophical position that you are coming from.

    Once again, if I have crossed any lines with my questions, and if I have caused you offence, I apologise deeply. However, if I have engaged your mind, I look forward to a rewarding conversation.

    Thanks for your time and have a wonderful New Year.

    God bless.


    • Hi Peter,

      I don’t think of myself as a person who’s easily offended, and I think you have some great questions that actually get close to the root of what I am thinking about lately in regards to spirituality and the Bible.

      1. You asked what my relationship with God is based on, if not the Bible. I would say my relationship with God is based primarily on my own experience of God including conversations with God where I listen and often hear what I perceive to be God’s voice and also encounters with God’s presence, which have come in many different forms. A secondary basis of my relationship with God that I consider to also be vitally important is testimonies from other people. This includes the Bible and other spiritual writings as well as conversations and verbal testimonies.

      I had brief snatches of experiencing God’s presence as a youth in a fundamentalist Christian church (usually at camp or sometimes at youth group meetings; the church usually didn’t have a format that allowed people to encounter God in Sunday meetings), but when I was sixteen I had my first encounter where I felt myself lying in the presence of eternity. I think that’s great fodder for a blog post, so I think soon I’ll post about these eternity-type encounters and try to describe them a bit. That was when I was still in that church. But after I left that church I began a long spiritual quest for God. And I sought to experience God’s presence through many venues. I also delved into contemplative prayer, which is a waiting stillness that can open one up to the spiritual realm. There have been many times when I opened a notebook or sat down at my computer and listened and wrote what I heard. I don’t look at these writings as inerrant, because I recognize that I can get it wrong, but I do believe that even if I partly misheard based on my own prejudices, I still got the message I needed at the time, and that has helped me move forward to where I am today. Because of all this seeking for encounters with the spiritual realm, I have become a much more spiritually aware person, and I’ve developed abilities to dive into the awareness of my spirit that I want to foster more. But at the beginning it is very hard and even may seem impossible to do this–I think of it as a spiritual muscle that has to be developed, and I think that too many people have never learned how to access their own spirit. I think worship can lead people to a spiritual place to an extent though.

      2. You asked, “If The Bible is fraudulent, isn’t your relationship with God fraudulent as well? After all, if the starting point itself is false, won’t every step of the journey be false as a result?” I would say no. I think to answer this question in depth, we would have to define what we mean by fraudulent. Does fraudulent mean every word of the Bible is false? Every story is made up by someone to enhance their personal agenda? No person heard from God in the Old Testament or the New? Every psalm by David was written by a clever poet with an over-active imagination? There was no Jesus? Obviously, it’s absurd to go to that extreme. The Bible is a historical book, and even if it’s a completely human document, that doesn’t negate the fact that it records some pretty amazing things, many of which I believe to be based on divine revelation.

      But taking the worst case absurd scenario–not a word of the Bible is true (excepting, perhaps, stories that are verified by other sources), is my relationship with God fraudulent? Well, even if there had never been a single word written about God by anyone, I still have my own experiences with God, as I wrote above. Of course, I probably would not have had these if I had not been exposed to testimony by other people who have encountered God, but that’s beside the point. I did have them. I have encountered God for myself, I have talked back and forth with God, and even if by mind’s idea of what God is like is far from reality, my spirit still knows God on a much deeper level than my mind could ever comprehend.

      But in addition to my own relationship with God, there is the witness of many others who have encountered God, both within and outside of Christianity. I do believe that it is possible to develop a relationship with God outside of Christianity, because the true spiritual reality of God runs through the spirit of every human, and those who seek, find.

      But also, you asked if the starting point of the journey is false, doesn’t that make the whole journey false? I don’t see why one would have to follow from the other. If my journey is toward love, spiritual enlightenment, revelation of God, relationship with God, and I start with something that is skewed, why isn’t it possible for me to keep seeking a thread of love and spirituality that draws me out of the false perspectives and along the way drop off a lot of messed-up beliefs? That is what I think I have done. I started off in a very skewed, even cult-like, form of Christianity that denies that Christians outside of their group are saved. But through opening my heart to God for years, I have changed so many things about myself that my sixteen-year-old self wouldn’t recognize me. So no, the journey is not false.

      3. You also asked, “How do you know that this relationship is not just a figment of your imagination?” That’s a good question, and I think that’s where the secondary sources come in. I have read and heard hundreds if not thousands of testimonies from people who have encountered God. When I hear someone say the same thing I just heard from God, I take that as a confirmation that I’m not too far off the deep end. I’ve experienced that things God says tend to be heard by lots of people around the same time, so I’m not the only one hearing the things I’m hearing. For me the idea that my relationship with God is a figment of my imagination is impossible unless I am out of my mind or the human race completely misunderstands how reality works, like some philosophers who might claim the physical world does not exist. But given that things nearly all humans take for granted are true, I am completely assured I’m not making this up. I can feel the peace when God is there, and that is something I don’t think my imagination could ever conjure up.

      You wrote, “The Bible says that God exists and that we can have a relationship with Him. But if The Bible itself is fraudulent, then the very existence of God is doubtful, isn’t it?” No. If not a word of the Bible is true, that doesn’t make the existence of God doubtful. God’s existence is NOT dependent on the existence of the Bible. There’s plenty of other writings that say that God exists and we can have a relationship with God. There’s plenty of people who never had a Bible who still had a conception of God and often experience of God. That’s not to say they have the same understandings about God that people who’ve studied the Bible would have. But there’s a lot to know about God, and I’m convinced that God has been revealed to people all over the planet, throughout time, in many ways. I am convinced that while a spiritual relationship with God is made more likely by our understanding certain things about God, it’s not dependent on what we know or even our awareness that there is a God.

      4. You ask whether I profess to be a Christian. I did up until a few months ago. I’ve blogged about this in other posts, but suffice it to say that I have decided I am not comfortable with wearing that title. A big part of that is because the word Christian can mean so many things to different people, and many Christians have developed a bad name for certain attitudes and actions I no longer hold to or want to be apart of. So I don’t really want to be associated with the religion of Christianity, especially the institutional form of it. I did just read Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, though, and that book made me realize that it is possible for people with a more universalist mindset to still consider themselves Christians, which I thought was an interesting idea. I do believe that I’m in a relationship with the same God that the Bible talks about, and I’m pretty sure it’s Jesus’ work that made possible a lot of what is now possible in the spiritual realm.

      Something I want to make clear if it’s not already clear is that even if a lot of the New Testament is forged like Ehrman thinks, for me that doesn’t negate the possibility that much of that still provides revelation from God. In fact, before I ever heard of the book Forged, I had become convinced that the Bible is a human book filled with revelation from God that was filtered through a prejudiced human. When I read Forged, it was more of a confirmation that what I was thinking about the Bible was probably right. Even if someone lied about his identity to gain authority and a wider readership, that does not mean he had no revelation from God or important things to say. I think the Bible is a collection of some pretty important spiritual writings that can provide a portal into relationship with God for the spiritually hungry. For people who simply want to look at the Bible as God, spend endless time studying it, and never get to know God for themselves, I think the Bible is a waste of time.

  7. Hi Eva,

    Great to know you’re not easily offended. That gives me confidence to present my thoughts knowing you will not take them personally. You’ve made a lot of points, however, I believe they can all be addressed by one statement you have made:

    “I do believe that I’m in a relationship with the same God that the Bible talks about …”

    So, who is this God that The Bible talks about? Let’s examine the data closely.


    Part A

    Let me present a few of God’s characteristics as mentioned in The Bible:

    • The God of The Bible is completely and utterly holy. i.e. there is nothing sinful in God i.e. God is perfect.
    (Leviticus 11:44)

    • The God of The Bible never lies; in fact, He cannot lie. i.e. God is perfect truth.
    (Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:17,18)

    • The God of The Bible never contradicts Himself. i.e. God’s truth is consistent.
    (James 1:17)

    • The God of The Bible never changes. i.e. God’s truth never changes.
    (Malachi 3:6; Psalm 119:160)


    Part B

    Some other aspects of God as mentioned in The Bible are:

    • There has only ever been one God, there is only One God, and there only ever will be one God. i.e. all other gods of all the other nations are false.
    (Isaiah 43:10,11; Isaiah 46:9,10; Psalms 96:5)

    • There is only one true revelation of God (by corollary from the previous point).

    • God is sovereign and all powerful. i.e. He does what He sees fit and nobody can thwart Him.
    (Daniel 4:35)

    • God provides salvation (and reconciliation to Himself) only through one person, His Son Jesus Christ.
    (John 3:16; Deuteronomy 18:15,18,19)

    • God Himself, through His Spirit, directed the Biblical authors to write His words; so that the entire Bible is not the words of man, but the words of God Himself.
    (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21; 1 Corinthians 2:13)


    Now let me explain why I’ve broken these ‘data’ about God into two sections, A and B.

    If you say that you are “… in a relationship with the same God that the Bible talks about…” then you should agree with Part A. Because I have drawn these conclusions from various portions of The Bible.

    And if you do believe in Part A, then it necessarily follows that you should believe in Part B as well. After all, the God who spoke Part A, also spoke Part B.


    Part C

    What if you don’t believe Part A either? Well that would mean that you believe that God is unholy and imperfect, He is capable of lies and does lie, He contradicts Himself, and He does change.



    01. Since you “believe that it is possible to develop a relationship with God outside of Christianity”, you are going contrary to Part B. Which leads me to believe that you are not in a relationship with the God of The Bible. (Because every word in The Bible is God’s and He never lies.)

    02. If you still believe you are in a relationship with the God of The Bible, can you please show me which parts of The Bible support your belief. More importantly, can you tell me why you would choose to believe these specific passages and not others that I have pointed out?

    03. If God lies (Part C), how do you know that He is not lying to you and the thousands of others who’ve had ‘encounters’ similar to yours?



    Part A references:

    For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy … (Leviticus 11:44)

    God is not a man, that He should lie … (Numbers 23:19)

    … it is impossible for God to lie … (Hebrews 6:17, 18)

    Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17)

    For I am the LORD, I do not change (Malachi 3:6)

    The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever. (Psalm 119:160)


    Part B references:

    You are My witnesses,” says the LORD, “ And My servant whom I have chosen, That you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, Nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, And besides Me there is no savior.
    (Isaiah 43:10,11)

    Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’ (Isaiah 46:9,10)

    For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens. (Psalms 96:5)

    All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:35)

    “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear … I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.” Deuteronomy 18:15,18,19

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16

    All Scripture is given by inspiration of God … (2 Tim 3:16)

    … for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)

    These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:13)

  8. Eve, Actually I think that you’ve expressed yourself quite well. Usually mankind has to earthilize God. What does that mean? That God is so big, so grand, so complete that it’s hard for everyday humans to understand God. So what do they do? They put God in a tangible earthly context they can understand. They put God in a book, a person, or a sacred place. “This book is God speaking, all others are less then, my preacher has the inside skinny, this place is hollowed ground, tread lightly.” Because of that they fool their own selves and others. Eva, I believe with all the instinct in my gut, all the emotion in my heart, and all the logic of my mind that NO ONE can communicate with God for you, or better than you, or about you better than yourself. You are your own greatest connection with God. You are not God, you are not greater than God but your own personal relationship with God is indeed Sacrosanct.

    You’ve made your point to not earthilize God anymore which I think is what you were trying to say. Good job. Peace be with you.

  9. Saw what you had written. Found this page as I was looking for other commentary on Ehrman’s recent book. what you shared inspired me to write up an actual review of the book (haven’t done that before), will post that below. some initial thoughts:

    First, I imagine you hadn’t heard of much of these claims in your conservstive circles as most conservative scholars are well aware of these arguments, and simply discount them as unimportant. I don’t agree (I’d think it important to address the questions), but I can appreciate the sense that most of these arguments that have been around for a long time are very, very weak, and for many, not even worth addressing. The attitude is probably similar to going to a class on rocket science and never being told by your teacher that there are all these scholars out there that doubt the authenticity of the Apollo moon landing.

    Second, and I don’t mean to come across rude or antagonistic, but I am really dumbfounded by Ehrman’s lack of scholarship or integrity in his writing. This I explain more in my review – and itisn’t just his dealing with the Bible – I was dumbfounded by how shoddy and dishonest (whether intentional or no) his approach was in describing Thucydides’ manner of writing the speeches he recorded. What he does with the Bible books is not any better.

    One final thought – without having something authoritative that tells us what is or isn’t true about God, we are left to our own experiences and preferences, and as such you’d be unable to tell any other person that theirs are more or less wrong than yours. So terrorists, polygamists, those committing incest on religious grounds, etc., they must be just as free to follow their own religious experiences as any of the rest of us, if we claim that there is no objective standard outside of human experience and preference.

  10. Anyway, here’s the review I was inspired to write. Wasn’t trying to be mean, but reading this was seriously painful, the logic leaps and the carelessness of his arguments…


    Ah, Thucydides, one of those great historians of the ancient world. Renowned for his care and detail, and his attempt to be as thoroughly accurate as possible. I remember reading about his method some years ago, and found it again recently:

    “As to the speeches that were made by different men, either when they were about to begin the war or when they were already engaged therein, it has been difficult to recall with strict accuracy the words actually spoken, both for me as regards that which I myself heard, and for those who from various other sources have brought me reports. Therefore the speeches are given in the language in which, as it seemed to me, the several speakers would express, on the subjects under consideration, the sentiments most befitting the occasion, though at the same time I have adhered as closely as possible to the general sense of what was actually said.”

    With that kind of care, adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what was said, keeping to the language of the speakers, and the sentiments. We can agree with Thucydides that his method will not produce historical speeches of “strict accuracy,” but with such a thorough method, surely no one would ever accuse Thucydides of simply making them up….

    Enter professor Ehrman.

    “…Thucydides explicitly states that he simply made up the speeches himself.”


    That is hardly what Thucydides “explicitly” states. But this claim did give me my first impression of what kind of scholarly method Professor Ehrman will be employing in this book. Having been relatively familiar with Thucydides before reading “Forged,” I was horrified already by this method – and I hadn’t even gotten to the point where he began critiquing the Bible. But his method seemed clear already – to make a gross overstatement, taking an element of truth and recasting it in the worst possible light. This is either careless or intentionally misleading. With an approach like that to even secular historians – with whom (presumably) Ehrman has no personal grievance – I could only imagine with what underhanded hostility he would treat the Bible.

    Well, I was not to be disappointed. Perhaps my favorite of his egregious misrepresentations is the claim about salvation in the Pastoral epistles:

    “For Paul himself, only through the death and resurrection of Jesus can a person be saved. And for the Pastorals? For women, at least, we’re told in 1 Timothy 2 that they will ‘be saved’ by having children. It is hard to know what that means, exactly, but certainly doesn’t mean what Paul meant.”

    And such is his treatment. At least he is consistent with how unfairly he maligned Thucydides. From his treatment of 1 Timothy above, one would think there was an obvious, stark contrast, and that the Pastorals do not look to the work of Christ as our basis of Salvation. But he is either incredibly careless or intentionally misleading. Why would he not in all fairness acknowledge that, whatever the “childbearing” passages mean, that in 1 Timothy, the author is quite explicit that salvation is in fact based on Christ’s work and our faith in it:

    1Tim. 1:15-16 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

    1Tim. 2:3-6 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…

    Based on his other errors, i think will go with “incredibly careless.” Another example is when he compares the developed “hierarchy” of the Pastorals with the lack of elders and deacons in 1 Corinthians, arguing that…

    “There were no leaders of the church in Corinth. There were no bishops or deacons…. Contrast that with what you have in the Pastorals…. You have the church leaders: bishops and deacons. You have hierarchy, structure, organization. That is to say, you have different historical situation than you had in the days of Paul.”

    Again, his logic displays gross carelessness. Could he really be so clueless not to notice that one of what he claims as an undisputed letter of Paul (Philippians) was addressed to “the saints in Christ Jesus that are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons”?

    The next example of such opprobrious carelessness is his treatment of the letters to the Thessalonians. Quoting 1 Thessalonians 4:17, he makes much of Paul’s statement that “we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air” – “read the verse carefully,” he advises, “Paul expects to be one of the ones who will still be alive when it happens.”

    Excellent advice, to “read the verse[s] carefully.” Would that he would take his own advice. So if, without question, 4:17 means that Paul expected to be alive, then what does Ehrman do with Paul’s statement in the very next chapter (5:10), “whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him”? Given his record thus far, my guess is that he hasn’t even noticed this verse, or at least its obviously ruinous implication to his argument.

    More carelessness is exhibited in his claim, “the verb ‘saved’ in Paul’s authentic letters is always used to refer to the future.” It took me about 8 seconds with a computer word search to find Romans 8:24, “for in this hope we were saved.” Saved here is ἐσώθημεν, aorist tense. Can he really be so careless? Perhaps he would argue that this particular “past tense” salvation in Romans 8 is a salvation that nonetheless is looking to the future for its completion–But of course, this would be little different than those instances in the disputed letters. And thus we would bid farewell to yet another of his arguments against Pauline authorship of certain books.

    Numerous other problems remain. He fails to address the obvious response that the “Pastoral” letters use different language and speak in more technical language because they were written to, well, “pastors.” (Ever had to ask a doctor to speak in plain English about something that another doctor would easily have understood?) He fails to acknowledge Paul’s likely “signature” in 1 Thessalonians (where the “we” throughout the book becomes “I” in the 2nd to last verse). Of significant theological importance, he claims that any discussion of “good works” (as opposed to “works of the law”) as unable to save a person is absent from authentic Pauline letters – entirely missing Paul’s repeated emphasis in Romans that even Gentiles’ own good works (apart from the law) cannot save. This is exacerbated by his grossly shallow equating of the “law” with “Jewish law.” (Does he really think that Romans was trying to say that uncircumcised Gentiles had the “Jewish law” written on their hearts?)

    These are just the highlights, but the careless fallacies were quite nearly constant. But I share these to show the level of scholarship I found in the a book. His approach was quite nearly one-sided, and rarely dealt with the most common objections to his claims. So many of his arguments are built by overstating his case while ignoring (or being ignorant of) very obvious counter-examples that would nullify those very arguments. Let no one find their faith in the Bible shaken if this book in any way reflects the quality of the modern critical arguments against it.

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