Saturday, April 2, 2011

Are Many New Testament Books Forgeries?

I don’t feel like buying another Bart Ehrman book, but it seems that I must. First of all, he is now expanding his attacks against the New Testament in saying that many of its books are forgeries – lies! Predictably, the press is luxuriating over such juicy claims. Do you remember when the Gospel of Judas was made public about four years ago. The media was able to dredge up the most radical and extravagant scholars to inform the world that the church had now been undermined.

Wild allegations will continue to persist. However, what’s worse is that many Christians are stumbling upon these septic-fields and are in lacking the tools and perspectives to counteract them. I therefore have been receiving frantic calls and emails. Here’s why. Ehrman writes,

• ….good Christian scholars of the Bible, including the top Protestant and Catholic scholars of America, will tell you that the Bible is full of lies, even if they refuse to use the term. And here is the truth: Many of the books of the New Testament were written by people who lied about their identity, claiming to be a famous apostle -- Peter, Paul or James -- knowing full well they were someone else. In modern parlance, that is a lie, and a book written by someone who lies about his identity is a forgery.

He is correct to say that if a book is a forgery, it’s also a lie. However, he offers no evidence for his outrageous claims other than the fact that others agree with him, even scholars who seem not to agree. Throughout the article, Ehrman repeats his meaningless and erroneous claim that “top…scholars…will tell you that the Bible is full of lies.”

• Most scholars will tell you that whereas seven of the 13 letters that go under Paul's name are his, the other six are not. Their authors merely claimed to be Paul.

While the opinions of “most scholars” might be of interest, this hardly constitutes evidence. Truth isn’t a matter of “majority rules.” Nor is it established by an endless repetition of dogmatic claims:

• Whoever wrote the book of 1 Timothy claimed to be Paul. But he was lying about that -- he was someone else living after Paul had died. In his book, the author of 1 Timothy used Paul's name and authority to address a problem that he saw in the church.

• It may be one of the greatest ironies of the Christian scriptures that some of them insist on truth, while telling a lie. For no author is truth more important than for the "Paul" of Ephesians. He refers to the gospel as "the word of truth" (1:13); he indicates that the "truth is in Jesus"; he tells his readers to "speak the truth" to their neighbors (4:24-25); and he instructs his readers to "fasten the belt of truth around your waist" (6:14). And yet he himself lied about who he was. He was not really Paul.

On the basis of what does Ehrman make these indictments? Dogmatic assertion isn’t the same thing as evidence, although it sells books. However, Ehrman provides no evidence whatsoever to support his claims. It also bears observing that this same Ehrman also claimed that

• The oldest and best sources we have for knowing about the life of Jesus…are the four Gospels of the NT…This is not simply the view of Christian historians who have a high opinion of the NT and in its historical worth; it is the view of all serious historians of antiquity…it is the conclusion that has been reached by every one of the hundreds (thousands, even) of scholars. (“Truth and Fiction in the DaVinci Code” p. 102)

Nevertheless, no stranger to exaggeration, he then denied that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – the four canonical Gospels had been ascribed to these men – could not have written these Gospels, because they were illiterate. However, in this case, he did offer one bit of “evidence”:

• When they [the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish court] saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled [Ehrman thinks that this word should be translated as “illiterate”], ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

While the Sanhedrin were able to “realize” that they were “unschooled” and unrefined, they couldn’t simply “realize” by virtue of their speech that they were “illiterate.” This is something so patently obvious that no other translation (as far as what I could tell) renders the Greek as “illiterate.”

I intend to read Ehrman’s book, but I hope that he will take this suggestion seriously: The Bible has undergone intense criticism for 300 years and still stands. However, the Koran hasn’t. undergone anything comparable. This imbalance is so obvious and lamentable. I’d therefore suggest that he and other courageous critics remove themselves from the cowardly herd and seek to correct this inequality. Any takers?

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