Bart Ehrman says many Bible books are ‘Forged’

Bart Ehrman jokes that some evangelicals at the Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College (where he studied in the 1970s) would like to recall his degree! Ehrman went on to study at Princeton, worked under the world-renowned Bible translator Bruce Metzger. In the end, Ehrman developed a passion for honesty concerning the cutting-edge in Bible scholarship. That honesty is obvious in his new Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, which you can order at Amazon.

We heartily recommend Ehrman’s new book, because it reflects widespread Bible scholarship—with a distinctive twist or two that we’ll explain in Parts 1 and 2 of our coverage. If you care about the Bible, you’ll want to read Ehrman’s arguments and, if you’re part of a Bible-study group, you’ll certainly spark spirited discussion.
TODAY, we’re sharing an excerpt of Ehrman’s new book.
In Part 2, you’ll meet Ehrman in our in-depth interview about this book—and a second book he has written about early Christianity for Oxford University Press.


There were a large number of literary forgeries in early Christianity, some of which may be found in the New Testament. These really are forgeries, books whose authors claim to be well-known authority figures, even though they were someone else. Some scholars today avoid the term “forgery” … (But) the books we are talking about are by authors who lied about their identity in order to deceive their readers into thinking that they were someone they were not. The technical term for this kind of activity is forgery.

Forgery in antiquity was different from forgery today in some important respects, and these differences need to be constantly borne in mind. Most important, in the modern day, forgery connotes an illegal activity that can land a person in jail. In the ancient world there were no laws against such things, and so the practice should not be thought of as illegal. But this difference is not significant enough to require us to use a different term for the practice. “Books” in the ancient world, for example, were quite different from books today. They were written on scrolls and were not mass-produced. Still, that doesn’t stop anyone from calling them books. Forgeries in the ancient world were different in some ways from forgeries today, but they were still forgeries.

The negative connotations of the term are appropriate to the ancient phenomenon. Ancient authors called such works: falsely inscribed writings, lies, and “illegitimate children.” Multiple attempts by modern scholars to see the practice in a more positive light simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. The most common claims found widely, both among scholars and laypeople, are that this practice was widely accepted in philosophical schools or that the phenomenon can be explained by assuming that an author made use of a secretary who composed the writing himself. Neither explanation has adequate support in the ancient sources.

It is important to recall that ancient writers who mention the practice of forgery consistently condemn it and indicate that it is deceitful, inappropriate, and wrong.

… (So, why were books forged? Here’s one reason that Ehrman explores) …

One of the most fascinating features of early Christianity is that so many different Christian teachers and Christian groups were saying so many contradictory things. It is not just that they said different things. They often said just the opposite things. There is only one God. No, there are many gods. The material world is the good creation of a good God. No, it comes from a cosmic disaster in the divine realm. Jesus came in the flesh. No, he was totally removed from the flesh. Eternal life comes through the redemption of the flesh. No, it comes through escaping the flesh. Paul taught these things. No, Paul taught those other things. Paul was the true apostle. No, Paul misunderstood the message of Jesus. Peter and Paul agreed on every theological point. No, they were completely at odds with one another. Peter taught that Christians were not to follow the Jewish law. No, he taught that the Jewish law continued to be in force. And on and on and on, world without end.

Not only did those on every side in all these debates think that they were right and that their opponents were wrong; they also maintained in all sincerity and honesty that their views were the ones taught by Jesus and his apostles. What is more, they all, apparently, produced books to prove it, books that claimed to be written by apostles and supported their own points of view. What is perhaps most interesting of all, the vast majority of these apostolic books were in fact forged. Christians intent on establishing what was right to believe did so by telling lies, in a attempt to deceive their readers into agreeing that they were the ones who spoke the truth.

Come back tomorrow to read Part 2, our interview with Bart Ehrman about “Forged” and “The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations” for Oxford University Press.

Care to read more?

We’ve published earlier interviews with Bart Ehrman, including this 2009 conversation about his earlier book, “Jesus Interrupted,” about contradictions in the biblical record.

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Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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