Sunday, December 4, 2011

Forged: Et tu, Paulus?

“[Paul] is about 5 foot high; very dark hair; dark complexion, dark skin; large Roman nose; sharp face; small black eyes, penetrating as eternity; round shoulders; a whining voice, except when elevated and then it almost resembles the roaring of a lion. He was a good orator.”
~ Joseph Smith

Today’s post continues a discussion of Professor Bart Ehrman’s book, Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, moving on to Chapter 3, which addresses writings that are attributed to the Apostle Paul.

Ehrman advances the rather shocking proposition that up to six of the epistles attributed to Paul, plus the Book of Hebrews, were not written by Paul, but were forged – i.e., written by others and attributed to Paul.  He is not alone in his views, as he notes in his book, but is joined by many other Biblical scholars.

The books that are generally accepted as authentic are Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon.  “These seven,” writes Ehrman, “cohere well together and appear stylistically, theologically, and in most every other way to be by the same person … The other six differ in significant ways from this core group of seven.  Three of them – 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus – are so much alike that most scholars are convinced that they were written by the same person.”

One might ask why Ehrman and other scholars believe the other books are forged and why someone would have forged these books in the first place.  As to the latter question, Ehrman lays out detailed arguments as to why the authors of these books would have desired to write them, then claim that they were written by Paul. 

Essentially, however, it boils down to this:  early Christianity was a battleground of competing sects that makes today’s Christian community look positively ecumenical or even cohesive in comparison.  Forgers used these writings as weapons to assert their claims for authenticity as against those of others.  The fact that their writings eventually made it into the canon of the New Testament is ultimate proof of their victory.

As to the evidence of forgery, Ehrman points to things such as statements and theological positions made in the “forged” books that directly conflict with Paul’s writings in those books generally acknowledged as authentic.  For example, in the genuine Pauline writings, it is clear that Paul believed that the “second coming” was imminent.  For example, he wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 that he expected to be alive when Jesus returned from heaven. 

In the other texts, however, i.e., those considered to be forged, the author(s) fudge(s) on this point and advance(s) the proposition that the second Advent could be many years hence.  Several propositions are advanced as to why this is the case, and one of them has tremendous theological significance to Mormon theology:  the apostasy.

It is extremely interesting to note that many, if not most, of the New Testament references to an apostasy come from these Pauline letters that are generally considered to be forged.  For example, in 2 Thessalonians, writes Ehrman, the “author of 2 Thessalonians, claiming to be Paul, argues that the end is not, in fact, coming right away.  Certain things have to happen first.  There will be some kind of political or religious uprising and rebellion, and an Antichrist-like figure will appear who will take his seat in the Temple of Jerusalem and declare himself to be God.”

How many missionaries have memorized the following scripture?:

 “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us … Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” [2 Thess. 2:1-3]

Other scriptures well-known to Mormons that refer to an apostasy are these from the books of 1 and 2 Timothy, both believed to have been forged:

“1 Timothy 4:1: Now the spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart form the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.”

2 Timothy 3:1 et seq:  “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come, For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters … Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”

2 Timothy 4:3-4:  “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned into fables.”

Much could also be written about what these forged letters have to say, for example, about the role of women in the Church as well as Church organization and government.  With respect to the latter, Ehrman notes that:

“[In his letters to the Corinthians] the one thing Paul does not do is write to the leaders of the church in Corinth and tell them to get their parishioners in order.  Why is that?  Because there were no leaders of the church in Corinth.  There were no bishops or deacons.  There were no pastors.  There was a group of individuals, each of whom had a gift of the Spirit, in this brief time before the end came.  Contrast that with what you have in the Pastorals [i.e., 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus] … [Here] you have the church leaders: bishops and deacons.  You have hierarchy, structure, organization.  That is to say, you have a different historical situation than you had in the days of Paul.”

One is left to wonder and ponder.  Just saying …


  1. Bart Ehrman is a genius of a historian. It's interesting to note that there was a huge theological war going on not long after the death of the apostles. Men's ego's were in full force then. Ehrman's book "Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew" gives the reader examples of this. I highly recommend that book for those who want to know more about early Christianity.

  2. Excellent post! I appreciate the summarizing and focus on a single example important to the church.

    What would we have to do in revising our teachings / organization structure if Ephesians really isn't authentic scripture?
    Eph. 1:10 "...the dispensation of the fulness of times"
    Eph. 4:5 "One Lord, one faith, one baptism"
    Eph. 4:11-13 "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers...Till we all come in the unity of the faith"
    Eph 5:24 "Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing."
    Eph. 6:11f "Put on the whole armour of God" (xf D&C 27:15f)

  3. Ben - Thanks for the recommendation.

    Thaumkid - Thanks to you, again, for your welcome additional points. Yes indeed. What if .... ?