Forged! Bart Erhman’s Disengenuous Allegations

In the first century, letters were written with a reed pen using ink made from soot, gum and water on to 9 1/2” x 11” papyrus sheets  which could hold around 150–250 words.[1] Since even Paul’s shortest letter, Philemon, contained 335 words, all of Paul’s letters joined the papyri sheets to form a scroll.  Because this was an expensive and labor intensive process, one could ill afford false starts. Due to this and the general lack of education, trained scribes called amanuenses were frequently employed for writing letters.[2] For example, from Romans 16:22 we learn that Tertius was Paul’s amanuensis. Similarly, Peter tells us in 1 Peter 5:12 that he used Silvanus as his secretary. It also appears to be standard operating procedure for the actual author to compose a final salutation in his own hand (2 Thess. 3:17; Gal. 6:11).

A crucial issue to New Testament scholarship is the degree of freedom an amanuensis had in vocabulary and style. It seems natural that the more trusted and familiar the relationship, the more editorial the role. According to Carson and Moo,

Many scholars think that the influence of various amanuenses may explain the differences in Greek style among the Pauline letters, rendering it difficult, if not impossible, to draw conclusions about authorship based on such criteria.[3]

This is a vital yet overlooked fact in modern authorship disputes. Still yet, even highly critical scholars must face this issue as a potential defeater to their arguments. A prime example being Bart Ehrman, who in his sensationalistic book Forged acknowledges, “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.”[4] It seems entirely feasible, if not likely, that they were.

Many modern scholars argue that some New Testament books might be pseudonymous. Pseudonymity refers to the practice when a writer purposefully attributes someone else’s name to a document. Pseudepigraphy refers to the documents which are believed to be falsely attributed.[5] Sometimes the author likely thought that by attaching a well-known name to a work, it had a better chance of being taken seriously. Other times there was indeed mal intent as in the case of the Acts of Pilate which blasphemously slandered the character of Jesus.[6] Other possible explanations which have been offered include students honoring a leader posthumously or even for reasons of personal safety in the face of unpopular polemics.[7] While some books are better evidenced than others, left wing sensationalists like Ehrman attach the pseudepigaphal label to more accepted New Testament books like Acts. The term “forged” usually refers to a counterfeit of something which already exists. In this case, its more marketable than “pseudonymous.” While scandalous titles like Forged or Misquoting Jesus generate sales, they present a disingenuous portrait of the New Testament. While scholars may argue, none of the New Testament books are proven to be pseudonymous. There are excellent defenses for traditional authorship of every book presented in the New Testament introductions by D.A Carson and Douglas Moo or Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black referenced in this essay.

The church fathers that were responsible for selecting the cannon were particularly interested in authorship. For example Eusebius writes, “Paul’s fourteen epistles are well known and undisputed. It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews saying that it is disputed by the Church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul.”[8] Of course, today Hebrews is considered anonymous as it is not officially attributed to any author. The book makes no claim. This distinction is paramount in that no deception is perpetrated. In contrast, the Epistle to the Laodiceans was ascribed to Paul but the Muratorian Canon refers to it as “forged in Paul’s name.”[9]

Furthermore, there were many works attributed to Peter such as the apocryphal Gospel of Peter. Eusebius also records the work of an early apologist Serapion who wrote, “For we, brethren, receive both Peter and the other apostles as Christ; but we reject intelligently the writings falsely ascribed to them, knowing that such were not handed down to us.”[10] Similarly, Tertullian rejected the book, The Acts of Paul, not only by its heretical content but due to its doubtful authorship.[11] In general, the books were thoroughly examined based on orthodoxy and authenticity of authorship.[12] It seems clear that the early church would never knowingly accept a forged book as canonical.

The onus is on those who uphold the idea that the writing of pseudonymous letters was an accepted practice among the early Christians to produce some evidence for their view. On the contrary, the evidence we have is that every time such a writing could be identified with any certainty, it was rejected. (Carson and Moo, 344)

The ethics of Jesus and the apostles were decidedly partial to integrity and transparency. It seems likely that those early Christians with serious concerns for truth and piety, being far more contemporaneous to the era of authorship, got it right. Modern scholars who want to revise history are not in such a position and have questionable motives. Erhman’s own confession that the use of amanuenses potentially overthrows all of his indictments consigns his own work Forged to a questionable genre.

 


[1]Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament : Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 335.

[2] Lea and Black, The New Testament, 334.

[3]D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005) , 335.

[4]Bart D. Ehrman, Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 134.

[5]Carson and Moo, An Introduction, 337.

[6] Carson and Moo, An Introduction, 338.

[7]Lea and Black, The New Testament, 338.

[8]Eusebius, Church History, 3.3.5.

[9]Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 41.

[10]Eusebius, Church History, 6.12.3.

[11]Lea and Black, The New Testament, 340.

[12]Lea and Black, The New Testament, 341.

The Coherence of Paul’s Conversion Accounts


The conversion of Paul is an extremely perplexing fact of history for skeptics.  Paul was an ardent opponent of Christianity and had everything to gain by destroying its claims. He persecuted the early Christians with zeal and thought he was serving God. When someone must confess such a drastic error in embarrassing detail, it is not likely they are fabricating their testimony. Accordingly, the testimony of a hostile witness is considered extremely convincing in a court of law. For these reasons skeptics have concocted fanciful theories such as Paul suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy[1] or conversion disorder.[2] Yet these desperate attempts do not account for the evidence of Jesus’ empty tomb or the eye witness testimony of the disciples or the appearance to and conversion of the once skeptical brother James. Paul was not in the frame of mind to hallucinate the risen Jesus and he does not fit the medical profile of someone who is likely to experience conversion psychosis.  For this reason skeptics seek to nitpick at the details in Acts to derive contradictions.

I have charted the three accounts of Paul’s conversion and color coded the key parallel phrases as a means to demonstrate the basic consistency of the accounts.  Paramount is to note the context of each passage. The first (Acts 9:1–19) is told by the narrator Luke. The second version (22:3-16) is told in Paul’s own words after he was arrested at the temple and taken to the barracks. The third is Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa. Accordingly the first has detail Paul would be unaware of like Ananias’ commission from God. The second and third have more detail in the message from Jesus to Paul reflecting the first person. From my arrangement and color coding it is readily apparent that the basic account is the same and that the minor discrepancies are merely the normal variations found when someone recalls an important event. They also reflect the contextual emphasis based on the setting.

Acts 9:1-19 Acts 22:3–16 Acts 26:8–19
1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 

2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

 

3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. 

4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women,

5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.

 

8 Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them.
11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. 12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests.
3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 

4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.

8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.

9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”

11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying,

12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”

13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.

14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.

16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

 

 

6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 

7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’

8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’

9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me.

10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’

11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.

 

13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me.
14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.
15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,
17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you
18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. 

 

 

 

17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 

18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized;

19 and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus.

 

 

12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 

13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him.

14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth;

15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.

16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

 

 

 

The coherence is much more significant than the minor variations.  It is consistent that Paul was persecuting the Christians and in that duty he was approaching Damascus when he was suddenly enveloped by a blinding bright light. He heard a voice but his traveling companions only heard a sound. Skeptics make much of the fact that 9:7 says they heard the voice but 22:9 reads that, “they heard not the voice” in the old King James.[3] This is merely a case of an unfortunate translation choice on the part of the KJV.  While the Greek term, ἀκούω, can be rendered “hear”, it is also is used for “understand” or “comprehend” as in the case of Mark 4:33.[4] Modern translations reflect this rendering. While the atheist Dan Barker has criticized this as unjustifiable[5], the alleged contradiction seems drastically overstated because it is entirely possible to hear and not understand. Furthermore, in the third account (Acts 26:8–19), Paul supplies an additional detail that the voice spoke in Hebrew. Perhaps it is as simple as the fact his companions did not comprehend Hebrew?

The details that are consistent are far more significant. Paul fell to the ground and heard Jesus asking him why he was persecuting Him. While the third account to Agrippa presents a general summary of Paul’s commission, the other two give more detail. Jesus told him to travel onto Damascus where he would be told what to do. Blinded, he was led to the city by his companions where he fasted for three days. The first account provides the details about Ananias, who God had convinced to encourage and heal Paul. Paul was healed, converted and baptized and began to preach in Damascus.  According to his writing in Galatians, Paul then spent some time in alone in the Arabian Desert. I suspect he studied the Old Testament prophecies like Isaiah 53 and developed his theology. He also may have received additional revelation from the Lord during that time.[6] The results are self-evident in his composition of nearly half the New Testament.

Let’s say I am on a jury hearing your case. If your mother says you are a wonderful person and can be trusted, I still would have my doubts. However, if someone who dislikes you testified that you were honest, I would be inclined to think you trustworthy. The conversion of an enemy is powerful evidence. Even more, what could be more convincing than the complete turn around of an educated and skillful opponent with nothing to gain? Paul had everything to lose by converting yet the historical record is clear and undisputed. Paul went from persecutor to preacher of the Gospel. The only adequate explanation is that he met the risen Lord.

 

 


[1] D Landsborough, “St Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy,” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry.;50, no. 6 (June 1987): 659–664.

[2] Gary R. Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), 114.

[3] Skeptics Annotated Bible http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/acts/9.html compared with http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/acts/22.html (accessed 5/18/2011).

[4]James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Greek (New Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), DBLG 201, #8.

[5] Dan Barker, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. (Berkely: Ulysses Press, 2009), 246–50.

[6]Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament : Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 296.

The Spirit of Antichrist: Polycarp vs. Bishop John Shelby Spong


It has been said that there are no new heresies. In light of that, apologists have a wealth of scholarship to draw upon in the works of the apostolic fathers. One such early leader, Polycarp, died for his faith when he refused to treat the emperor as a god.  It is interesting to note that Christians were called atheists by the Romans because they denied their pantheon of gods. Polycarp was martyred February 22, 156 when he would not renounce Christ. Here is an excerpt from the very oldest of Christian martyrdom accounts, The Martyrdom of Polycarp:

‘Swear by the genius of Caesar; change your mind; say, “Away with the atheists!” ’ Then Polycarp looked with a stern countenance on the multitude of lawless heathen gathered in the stadium, and waved his hands at them, and looked up to heaven with a groan, and said, ‘Away with the atheists.’ The Proconsul continued insisting and saying, ‘Swear, and I release you; curse Christ.’ And Polycarp said, ‘Eighty-six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong: how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’[1]

In my study this week, I was researching the arguments concerning John’s epistles 1, 2, and 3 John. One of the supporting arguments for the Johannine authorship of 1 John is that it was quoted very early in second century by his disciple Polycarp. Polycarp was an inspired apologist who fought vigorously against heretics. He quotes 1 John 4:2-3 in reference to the Antichrist and false teachers. When it came to refuting heresy, neither John nor Polycarp minced words or bothered with pleasantries.

As I read Polycarp, it occurred to me that these words certainly travel across the many years and cultural conditions and can still find application today. I teach a Sunday school class of single adults. A year or so ago a visitor told me that, “Not everyone believes in atonement theology.” I replied with something along the lines of, “I don’t see how anyone can call themselves a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word without believing in the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.” A week or so later I saw him carrying a book by the Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, Jesus For the Non Religious.

It is without a doubt that my visitor’s aberrant “non-atonement theology” was fueled by Spong’s book. Unfortunately, I think Spong convinced him. He no longer attends our church. I believe Spong is a prime example of the sorts of teachers that John was warning the first century church of. Notice the denial of classic Christian doctrines set out in the preface of his book,

The second stream flowing through both my professional life and my writing career was the recognition that the expanding knowledge of my secular world had increasingly rendered the traditional theological formulations expressed in such core Christian doctrines as the incarnation, the atonement and even the trinity inoperative at worst, and incapable of making much sense to the ears of twenty-first-century people at best.[2]

The incarnation, atonement, and trinity are not exactly negotiable doctrines. Under the classical definition, without them, the word “Christian” is unintelligible.  But he errs in that this skepticism is not a product of the twenty-first century. It’s nothing new; I think Paul addressed it especially well in 1 Corinthians 1:20-25. While there are many sound refutations of Spong’s work available online, I thought I would put Spong up against Polycarp, who warned the church in Philippi concerning the spirit of antichrist and false teachers.

The Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians

7. For everyone “who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is antichrist”; and whoever does not acknowledge the testimony of the cross “is of the devil”; and whoever twists the sayings of the Lord to suit his own sinful desires and claims that there is neither resurrection nor judgment—well, that person is the first-born of Satan. Therefore let us leave behind the worthless speculation of the crowd and their false teachings, and let us return to the word delivered to us from the beginning; let us be self-controlled with respect to prayer and persevere in fasting, earnestly asking the all-seeing God “to lead us not into temptation,” because, as the Lord said, “the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Polycarp, Phil. 7) [3]

Polycarp presented three criteria based on three essential Christian doctrines: 1) The Incarnation 2) The Cross 3) The Resurrection. He first quotes 1 John “For every one who shall not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is antichrist” (1 John 4:2–3). This refers to the incarnation, the doctrine that God incarnated into human flesh, Jesus Christ (Phil 2:6-8). While Spong previously expressed his incredulity in the preface, he makes his position on this doctrine crystal clear later in the book:

Therefore, when I say that God was in Christ or when I assert that I meet God in the person of Jesus, I mean something quite different from the theological definitions of the past that forged doctrines like the incarnation and the trinity, both of which depend on a theistic definition of God. So in order to get to the essence of who Jesus was and even who Jesus is, I must get beyond the traditional theistic definition of God that I now regard as both simplistic and naïve, to say nothing of being wrong.[4]

Thus, he has qualified himself by Polycarp’s first criterion.  Polycarp’s second qualification is, “Whosoever shall not confess the testimony of the Cross, is of the devil;” Spong writes:

This means that anyone seeking to discover the meaning of Jesus today must be prepared to acknowledge that this story of the crucifixion is not history. While Jesus was undoubtedly crucified by the Romans, the familiar details that accompany the story of the cross are not literally true and did not actually happen. [5]

Thus, he denies the testimony of the cross meeting criterion two. Polycarp’s third warning was, “and whosoever shall pervert the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and say that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, that man is the first-born of Satan.” According to Spong,

The resurrection language of the gospels is literal nonsense. Earthquakes do not announce earthly vents. Angels do not invade time, space and history to roll back a stone, to make a historic resurrection announcement. A resuscitated Jesus does not walk out of his tomb in some physical form that can eat, drink, walk, talk, teach and expound on scriptures. [6]

Thus, we see Bishop Spong abundantly meeting all three of Polycarp’s criteria. Making Spong, in Polycarp’s words, the antichirst, of the devil, and first born of Satan. I suppose Spong can be grateful that modern apologists are not usually so blunt… ;) In closing, I will defer to Jude: “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. ” (Jud 3–4)

 


[1]James Stevenson, A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD 337 (London: SPCK, 1987), 25.

[2] John Shelby Spong, Jesus For the Non Religious,(New York: Harper Collins, 2007),  ix.

[3]Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers : Greek Texts and English Translations, Updated ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1999), 213.

[4] Spong, Jesus, 214.

[5] Spong, Jesus, 112.

[6] Spong, Jesus, 122.

Presbyterian Church of USA Goes Gay

Presbyterians OK gay pastors; Twin Cities cast deciding vote
Church will lift ban in place since the mid-1990s

Updated: 05/10/2011 11:48:22 PM CDT
An amendment to allow Presbyterian congregations across the United States to ordain openly gay pastors won approval Tuesday night, with the pivotal vote taking place in the Twin Cities.
http://www.twincities.com/ci_18036950?nclick_check=1

Confirmed by the PCUSA site here

Christ came to save sinners and of course this includes those who suffer from a sexual attraction disorder. Still yet, loving those who struggle with a sin is an entirely different matter than approving of and endorsing it. The New Testament is very clear on the results of an unrepentant homosexual lifestyle (1 Cor. 6:9) and the qualifications for leadership (1 Tim 3:2).  By allowing Pastors to model a lifestyle that leads to hell, the PCUSA is knowingly leading its sheep to the slaughter. When the ELCA Lutheran denomination passed a similar measure their meeting place was struck by a tornado, prompting John Piper to comment:

Unbelievable: Deconstructing Brian McLaren’s Postmodern Nonsense


One of the podcasts I listen to weekly is Unbelieveable. If you have yet to discover it, it is one of the best apologetics shows going. On last weeks show the reformed Baptist apologist, James White, squared off with emergent church leader Brian McLaren. The show is available here. First of all, I was impressed with James’ restraint and professionalism. He obviously did his homework. Second, McLaren seems sincerely concerned for the lost. I have often seen him demonized but he seems very genuine. While  McLaren’s empathy is admirable, it has certainly clouded his better judgment. His postmodern stance on Bible interpretation is nonsensical. Like compatriot Rob Bell, he questions biblical truths which have withstood millennia of scrutiny.

James White represented evangelicals well and in fine presuppositionalist style demonstrated that no postmodernist can really live consistently within their worldview. James quoted McLaren’s books and McLaren largely sidestepped. After some discussion, McLaren’s cognitive dissonance became apparent. He argues that because evangelical systematic theology is based on exegesis filtered through a western colonialist worldview, we cannot really be sure about basic doctrines like penal substitutionary atonement. What nonsense!

I wonder does he think John the Baptist was influenced by Western colonialism when he exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!“(Jn 1:29) Seriously…

John the Baptist’s prophetic title for Jesus is theologically rich.  It infers the doctrine of substitutionary atonement which would be accomplished by Jesus death on the cross. Thus, fulfilling the pattern set by the Old Testament sacrificial system by the shed blood of the substitute animal which covers sins and propitiates divine wrath by way of atonement. It’s right there in the early first century. Compassion notwithstanding, it seems that McLaren has lost the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).