Guest Post by Bart EhrmanFebruary 26, 2011
Hello, Bart Ehrman here. Chris has graciously permitted me to write a guest post for his blog. I would like to take this opportunity to plug my upcoming book, Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.
Alright, I made that up. This isn’t Ehrman. It’s just me. I’m pretty sure Bart Ehrman doesn’t even know I exist. And he wouldn’t appreciate me pretending to be him to lend greater weight to my writing. Neither would you. Neither would anyone. Which is pretty much the point of Ehrman’s new book.
Even the most conservative of biblical scholars would acknowledge that during early church history (1st and 2nd century A.D.) many writers falsely attributed their works to someone other than themselves, typically someone famous within the church, such as Paul or one of the disciples. By claiming that your work was written by an apostle, you improved the chances that it would reach a wider audience and be treated as authoritative. Falsely attributing your work to another is known as pseudepigraphy.
Where the problem gets a little sticky is the discovery that several of the texts that made it into the NT canon are likely pseudepigraphal. If you’re new to the subject, it may come as a surprise to learn that scholars are largely agreed that texts such as 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Thessalonians were not written by Paul, nor was 2 Peter written by Peter. Many other NT books are the subject of similar debate as to authenticity.
Some scholars have downplayed the significance of pseudepigraphy in the NT by contending that such practices were considered acceptable in the 1st and 2nd century context. Ehrman’s disagrees. In Forged, he musters evidence that false attribution was as condemned in the ancient world as it is today.
My motivation for this post was James McGrath’s very thorough review of Ehrman’s book. Be sure to check it out.
Given that the primary consideration for canonicity was apostolic authorship, what are we to make of these books that seem to have snuck in under the radar? Are they deserving of less weight than the authentic epistles? Are they still useful as evidence of the beliefs of an early Christ-following community? Are they inspired, and if we maintain that they are, would God inspire pseudonymous attribution?