Is the New Testament a Forgery?

There are few certain things in this world, but one of them is that each year around Easter and Christmas you’ll see a lot of media stories that purport to debunk Christianity. You’ll also see the release of books and films with the same goal. It’s like clockwork.

Some of these would-be debunkers, like Dan Brown, are just hacks. Others attempt to speak with scholarly authority. Probably the best known of this latter sort these days is Bart D. Ehrman of UNC, who is an engaging enough speaker to get gigs with the Teaching Company to promote his views.

This year’s Easter Surprise from Ehrman is Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. I’m a month or so late writing about this one, but the book is still generating buzz at places like CNN’s religion blog, so I figure it’s still open season.

Ehrman claims that three of the four Gospels are forgeries because the purported authors would have been illiterate. He also claims that six of the thirteen epistles attributed to the (admittedly literate) Paul were written by someone else, and we can tell this because of the “inconsistencies in the language, choice of words and blatant contradiction in doctrine.”

To think that Christians have been blindly using these texts as Scripture for nearly 2,000 years without noticing any of these things or taking arguments like Ehrman’s into account!

Actually, Ehrman is saying absolutely nothing new here. He is recycling arguments that skeptics have been trotting out for about 200 years now. All of these supposed problems with the Biblical text have been on the table pretty much forever, and have been thoroughly answered over and over by believers. The critique of Forged cited in the CNN blog is one of many examples.

Ehrman and other so-called “higher critics” of the Bible want us to believe that their analysis of these texts is dispassionate and objective. But in order to reach their conclusions, they start off by assuming a priori that the Bible is a merely human document that will yield to the many assumptions they place upon it (such as that authors never change their voice depending on their audience, or that ancient forgers were foolish enough to “blatantly contradict” things they had written just a few lines earlier). That’s just begging the question, isn’t it?

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About Dr. J

I am an Associate Professor and head of the Department of Humanities at Faulkner University. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy.
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4 Responses to Is the New Testament a Forgery?

  1. Matt Lee says:

    Part of the sad story of crackpots like the May21 rapture folks is that when it doesn’t come to pass many will slant this towards the Bible not being true rather than their interpretations and assumptions being wrong. But if being a Christian were easy…

  2. Victoria says:

    An interesting and amusing aside: in addition to many serious rebuttals to the higher critics, Ronald Knox (click the link on my name) wrote a terrific spoof of Higher Criticism (in 1911) entitled ‘Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes’. Ironically, it was the beginning of the bizarre game of Sherlockiana, the centenary of which The Baker Street Irregulars celebrate this year.
    Btw, Ronald Knox is – I believe – the only person since St.Jerome to translate the entire Bible single-handed (all other translations being done by committee, so to speak).

    • Dr. J says:

      I didn’t know that about Knox. Do you know how much help William Tyndale had with his English translation?

      • Victoria says:

        My impression was that Tyndale received much help from Erasmus (understatement) and that – due to being beheaded – he wasn’t able to finish it. I’m no expert in the field so I could be wrong on both counts, but that’s what I’ve heard. Please do let me know if the facts are otherwise. But my main point was simply that it’s a heckavu lot harder to do than one would imagine!

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