Friday, April 29, 2011

Ephesians and Colossians: Genuinely Pauline?

Bart Ehrman denies that either of these letters had been authored by Paul. Regarding the Book to the Ephesians, Ehrman writes:

• The writing style is not Paul’s. Paul usually writes in short, pointed sentences; sentences in Ephesians are long and complex. In Greek, the opening statement of thanksgiving (1:3-14)—all twelve verses—is one sentence. (Forged
, 110)

However, even Ehrman admits that these considerations aren’t very determinative. Our writing styles vary quite a bit according to our audience, time and situation. If I’m writing to my wife, I’ll adopt one style; to a prospective employer, another style. Ehrman therefore admits that,

…the main reason for thinking that Paul didn’t write Ephesians is that what the author says in places does not jibe with what Paul himself says in his own letters [Romans, Corinthians, Galatians…]…Here [Eph. 2:1-10], as in Paul’s authentic letters, we learn that believers were separated from God because of sin, but have been made right with God exclusively through his grace, not as the result of “works.” But here, oddly, Paul includes himself as someone who, before coming to Christ, was carried away by passions of our flesh, doing the will of the flesh and senses” [2:3]. This doesn’t sound like the Paul of the undisputed letters who says that he had been “blameless” with respect to the “righteousness of the law” (Phil. 3:4).

Ehrman claims that we encounter a different and “blameless” Paul in the genuine epistles as opposed to the rank sinner “Paul” of Ephesians. Let’s just take a look at Romans – a book Ehrman regards as genuine. Here too, we encounter the sinner Paul:

• We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (Romans 7:14-15)

Consequently, there is no contradiction between Ephesians and Romans, and there is no reason to suspect that a forger wrote Ephesians. Ehrman continues:

• …even though he is talking about the relationship of Jew and Gentile in this [Ephesians] letter, the author does not speak about salvation apart from the “works of the law” [Rom. 3:28], as Paul does. He speaks, instead, of salvation apart from doing “good deeds.”

It seems that Ehrman has regressed to quibbling over mere distinctions in terminology. Although Ehrman fails to specify to which verse in Ephesians he refers, it seems evident that it’s this one:

• For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by WORKS [“ergon”], so that no one can boast. (Ephes. 2:8-9)

However, “ergon” is the very word that Paul uses in his “genuine” epistles. I’ll just cite several verses from Romans: 2:6-7, 15; 3:27-28; 4:2, 6; 9:11, 32; 11:6; 13:3, 12; 14:20; 15:18.

Regarding “works” (“good deeds”) as opposed to “works of the law,” Ehrman adds, “That [“works”] simply was not the issue Paul addressed.” However, “works [“ergon”] of the law” vs. “good deeds” (also “ergon”), this isn’t a meaningful distinction. Paul argues in all his letters that we’re saved by grace, without “works of the law” or “good deeds.” In the NT, both terms are used almost synonymously. And even if there is a distinction in terminology between the seven epistles Ehrman regards as genuine and the six that he doesn’t, does this mean that the six are forgeries? There are serious problems in Ehrman’s reasoning:

1. While he points out distinctions between his two groupings of Paul’s epistles, he makes little attempt to weight these against the commonalities. (Actually, he doesn’t attempt to draw out any common patterns among the six “forgeries,” since, according to him, they were composed by different forgers.)

2. He has failed to set forth any criteria to judge whether a letter has been authored by a forger. For instance, how many distinctions must he find relative to commonalities in order to deem a letter a “forgery?”

3. Even if the distinctions far outweigh the commonalities, there may be other factors to account for the findings. We need not conclude that a forger had been at work.

4. Sometimes he argues that the commonalities reflect the attempt of the forger to make a convincing forgery. Sometimes he argues the opposite – the commonalities reflect the fact that the writings in question must have the same author. Ehrman can’t have it both ways. This type of inconsistent reasoning suggests that he hasn’t thought through the implications of the criteria he is using to separate forgery from the authentic.

Ehrman continues with linguistic distinctions:

• Moreover, this author indicates that believers have already been “saved” [Eph. 2:8-9] by the grace of God. As it turns out, the very “saved’ in Paul’s authentic letters is always used to refer to the future. Salvation is not something people already have; it’s what they will have.

Although Ehrman is correct about the usage of “saved,” this certainly doesn’t represent theological contradiction but merely a different choice of words. Indeed, Ephesians uses “saved” in the past tense and Romans, for example, doesn’t. However, this distinction doesn’t demonstrate contradiction and fails to argue for two separate authors. Instead, Romans opts for the word “justified” in the past tense to convey the identical meaning – that we have already been saved:

• For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (Romans 3:28)

• Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1; 3:20; 4:2; 8:30)

Ehrman charge that “Salvation is not something people already have; it’s what they will have,” in regards to Paul’s “authentic” epistles, is evidentially unsupportable. Romans also describes salvation in the past tense, but with a different term – “justified.”

Besides, even though “saved” in Ephesians indicates that salvation is a done-deal, as in Romans, there are verses that also indicate that salvation is a process. While Ephesians states that already He “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (1:3), it also states that the Christian must continue to “put off the old self” (4:22) and “put on the new self” (4:24), knowing that those of the “old self” have no “inheritance in the kingdom of Christ” (5:5) – the very message of Romans, indicating the salvation is both a done-deal and also a process.

Ehrman further argues that, while in Paul’s “authentic letters” – Romans, for example – the resurrection is future, in Ephesians, it has already taken place:

• Paul was extremely insistent …that the resurrection of the believers was a future event, not something that had already happened…[but] Ephesians says: “even when we were dead through our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places” (2:5-6). Here, believers have experienced a spiritual resurrection and are enjoying a heavenly existence in the here and now. This is precisely the view that Paul argued against…

Once again, Ehrman is outrunning the evidence. Paul never once – anywhere – argued against a present-life spiritual resurrection as described in Ephesians. Instead, he argued that, even now, we partake of the glories of Christ:

• And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also GLORIFIED. (Romans 8:30).

There does not seem to be any substantial difference between the message of Ephesians and Romans – certainly not enough to argue in favor of another author. Besides, if there had been found a greater degree of verbal agreement between these two letters, Ehrman might then have o argued, “See, the forger is so intent on passing Ephesians off as genuine, that he uses the very same language as Romans uses.” Therefore, Paul is darned if he does and darned if he doesn’t. There are no consistent controls, standards, or limits upon his gelatinous argumentation.

It’s so easy to generate “contradictions,” especially when the subject is other-worldly. For instance, the Bible claims that no one has ever seen God nor can see Him (1 Tim 6:16). Jesus was seen. Therefore Jesus can’t be God. However, this conclusion ignores the many nuances. Although Jesus is fully God (Hebrews 1:3), His glory had been shrouded (Matthew 17:2; John 17:24).

Likewise any state law is “contradicted” by others. Although murder is a crime, there are many nuances (qualifications, not contradictions) – self-defense, warfare… Ehrman, however, turns a deaf ear to the nuances. For him, they are no more than an impediment to setting forth his alleged discrepancies. Consequently, using his methodology, we can even argue in favor of multiple authors within a single epistle. Without scholarly controls, the data can be manipulated in any direction, and this is just what Ehrman does. Of course, Colossians is also a forgery. Why?

On the surface it looks like Paul’s work, but not when you dig deeply into it. Colossians has a lot of words and phrases that are found in Ephesians as well, so much so that a number of scholars think that whoever forged Ephesians used Colossians as one of his sources for how Paul wrote. (112)

If the commonalities between these two books argue in favor of a forgery, why shouldn’t the commonalities among the “genuine” Pauline also argue in favor of forgery? According to him, commonality proves authenticity, but it also proves forgery! Heads I win; tails you loose! Ridiculous perhaps, but if he’s laughing all the way to the bank, he might not be too concerned about that.

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