Bart Ehrman, perhaps the most popular New Testament critic today and a self-confessed agnostic, heads the religion department at the University of North Carolina. His unrelenting criticism of Biblical Christianity has led several to confess that they had abandoned the faith because of him.
However, with only the scantiest evidences he happily challenges the consensus of the early church that Paul had written all of the 13 epistles ascribed to him. Of these 13, Ehrman regards six as pseudonymous forgeries – the Pastoral Epistles, Colossians, Ephesians, and 2 Thessalonians.
On the basis of what evidence does he make his claim? Stylistic and theological! Let’s take the Book of Colossians as an example. Ehrman claims:
· 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. (Forged, 112)
However, since Ehrman also regards Ephesians as a forgery, Colossians is also to be regarded as a forgery. In his discussion of the Pastoral Epistles, which he also regards as “forgeries,” Ehrman makes the identical charge that their style doesn’t match that of the “genuine” Pauline Epistles. However, Ehrman then admits:
· At the same time, probably not too much stock should be placed in mere numbers. Everyone, after all, uses different words on different occasions, and most of us have a richer stock of vocabulary than shows up in any given letter or set of letters we write.
Taking his confession at face value, let’s go on to the one alleged theological disagreement between Colossians and the “genuine” Epistles. Ehrman writes:
· The author [of Colossians] indicates that Christians have already been “raised with Christ” when they were baptized, despite Paul’s insistence that the believers’ resurrection was future, not past (see Col. 2:12-13).
Ehrman also cites Col. 3:1 in this regards:
· Believers in Christ were already above all human rules and regulations, because they were already raised with Christ in the heavenly places, experiencing some kind of mystical unity with Christ in the here and now. (112)
There are two problems with the contrast Ehrman is trying to establish between Colossians and the “genuine” Epistles:
1. The “genuine” articles also affirm this “mystical unity with Christ in the here and now.”
2. Colossians affirms a future resurrection, in contrast with Ehrman’s baseless claims.
First, “mystical unity with Christ in the here and now” is also found in the “genuine” Epistles:
· Romans 6:4: We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
· 1 Corinthians 6:15-19: Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!... But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him… Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.
· 1 Corinthians 12:13: For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
· Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
· Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Ehrman’s charge that his two groupings of the Pauline Epistles – one group forged, the other genuine - are in theological opposition is unsustainable, perhaps even deceptive. All of the above five verses teach that we enjoy a mystical union with Christ, even prior to His return.
Of course, our present mystical union with Christ in no way denies a future resurrection, when we will experience an even more profound union with our Savior.
Ehrman claims that Colossians teaches against a future resurrection in contrast to Paul, as quoted above:
· Paul’s insistence that the believers’ resurrection was future, not past (see Col. 2:12-13).
However, the Book of Colossians also looks toward a future resurrection:
· Colossians 1:5: …because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel.
· Colossians 1:27: To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Even though they were already mystically connected to Christ, they too looked forward to a future glory.)
· Colossians 3:4: When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Yes, we already share in His glory, but not yet its fullness.)
· Colossians 3:24: …knowing that from the Lord you will receive the [future] inheritance as your reward.
In view of the above, there is no theological discrepancy between Colossians and the Pauline Epistles, which Ehrman regards as genuine, and, therefore, there is no basis to charge that Colossians is a forgery.
However, shoddy, sensationalistic “scholarship” sells books, as Ehrman has seen with his many best-selling books.