IntroductionChapter OneChapter Two

(N.B.  This is a long post on this chapter, and you may want to take it in doses, as there is much to deal with).

So we may orient ourselves appropriately we will start with Bart’s bold conclusion on p. 114.— “the majority of scholars acknowledge that whereas there are seven letters in the New Testament that Paul certainly wrote, , six others are probably (or for some scholars, certainly) not by Paul…”    I have already warned in these posts against Bart’s penchant for making out-sized and unwarranted  large claims to back up his assertions and this is one of them.    If by ‘majority’  Bart meant something like  the ‘majority of German commentators in 1970’, then a statement like this could probably stand.

As it is, it is completely erroneous if we are talking about worldwide Biblical scholarship in 2011.   But let us suppose we are only talking about scholarship in the English speaking world and commentaries and monographs written in English.   Even here, this conclusion would be erroneous and leaving a completely false impression.    In fact the majority of English speaking commentators and specialists on documents such as 2 Thessalonians, Colossians and Ephesians think these documents also should be attributed to Paul, whatever scribes he may have used to produce them.   I ought to know.  I have researched and written commentaries on all these books.  How many commentaries on books of the New Testament has Bart researched and written?  None.   Not one.   And he should not be taken as a reliable guide on what the majority of commenting scholars think about these matters.

It is then only the Pastoral Epistles which are much more heavily debated by scholars, and understandably so as their style and vocabulary are different from the earlier Paulines.   But even here, at the point of my writing this,  there are probably only a slight majority of commentators and specialists who think it more likely Paul didn’t write these documents than that he did.   And if we are talking about trends,  increasingly the tendency even in very non-traditional commentaries is to be less dogmatic about asserting these can’t possibly be by Paul.  For example,  have a look at the introductory discussion in Luke Timothy Johnson’s detailed commentary work on the Pastorals, and see the many, and good reasons why no one can afford to simply say these documents must be forgeries any more.

Bart, is actually swimming against the tide of the scholarship, even on the Pastorals.   And here I must register a big complaint.   Look at the footnotes to Chapter Three.   Do we find any evidence at all that Bart has even read a broad and representative sampling of commentaries on Paul’s letters, or even on the Pastorals?   No, we do not.  Maybe he has,  but his views only match up with a sort of cherry-picking approach to the scholarship, highly selective in character, and tendentiously favoring only the more radical or controversial commentators on Paul.   It is also worth noting that he relies heavily on the older scholarship  of A.N. Harrison or N. Brox or the eccentric work of  D. MacDonald.   But this older scholarship has long since been critiqued, and largely discarded as inadequate.   Bart however trots it out as if: 1) it was news, and 2) such conclusions would go unchallenged today by the majority of scholars.   Wrong, and wrong.    With these preliminary remarks we are now ready to deal with the particulars of Chapter Three.

To begin with,  Bart is certainly right that Paul has had an appalling number of phony stories, unhistorical stories, penned about him.  Not surprisingly,  Bart begins his discussion (pp. 81ff.) with the ‘Acts of Paul’ in particular ‘ the Acts of Paul and Thecla’ a second century narrative, which, while it may have some historical features (e.g. the physical description of Paul has sometimes been thought to be accurate, though it appears to be more likely to be a typical character description in the form of a physical description— e.g. large forehead equals wise man), it is overwhelmingly likely to be a work of fiction. Here, Bart and I would agree.   The question then becomes whether it was a recognized novella, or a deliberate attempt to deceive some public about Paul, claiming to be some sort of eyewitness account.    This latter question can actually be debated.   Ancient Christians knew about novella,  fictional works often about famous persons,  and so it is appropriate to ask if ancient Christians created their own versions of Harlequin romances.   I think in some cases the answer is clearly yes, and that the audience would have known this.   The charming stories about St. Paul and the baptized lion or St. John and the bed bugs  are probably not intended to make historical claims about these figures, they are moralizing tales meant to teach moralizing lessons based on lives of the saints.  In other words, they are forms of fictionalized hagiography about real historical persons.     The question then becomes does a document like ‘the Acts of Paul and Thecla’  fall into this category?

Last summer,  I was given the special privilege of visiting the cave church of Paul and Thecla, have on a hill hovering over Ephesus.  There are famous wall paintings in this church of both these figures.  There can be little doubt that at some point in the pre-Constantinian era the stories of Paul and Thecla had caught the imagination of early Christians, and some of them probably believed various of these tales were true.   Otherwise, why make them wall paintings in a cave church?    The term legend  is applied to stories that gestate over a long period of time, and have a kernel of historical substance,  but are embellished in various ways as the tale is retold.  It is possible the story of Paul and Thecla is like this, but there are some reasons to doubt the substance of the story in various particulars.  For example, the element of extreme asceticism in the story, attributed to Paul, probably involves a rather serious misreading of what Paul says about such things in 1 Corinthians 7.

Bart then is quite right to point out on pp. 81-82 that the preaching of Paul in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, about sexual abstinence as being a necessary part of holiness, is quite at odds with the typical preaching of Paul in the NT.   This red flag must be taken seriously.   Indeed, in this story Paul even forbids sex within marriage, quite the opposite of what he says in 1 Cor. 7.   An important element in this story which is grounded in the actual ministry of Paul in the first century, is having women as Pauline co-workers who taught or proclaimed the Gospel.   There is clear historical evidence for this both in Paul’s letters and in texts like Acts 18, so here is an element in an otherwise fictional story that would be recognized to be true to the ministry of Paul.   But the story reflects a very different ethos than the one of Paul in the mid-first century.   In the second century and later in Christianity we have the rise of extreme asceticism,  asceticism of a form that sexual abstinence is seen as a key to being holy at all, much less be a holy man or woman proclaiming God’s Word.  This certainly did not characterize the lives of the earliest Christians,  especially not the Jewish Christians,  and reflects the growing dominant Gentile ethos of the church in the second century and thereafter.     Unfortunately this deficient view of the goodness of human sexuality and sexual expression in the right context has continued to infect and affect large portions of the church ever since then.     So here it needs to be stressed— sexual asceticism has nothing to do with the NT ideas about holiness, except if we mean by that sexual abstinence in the life of an unmarried person.    The church sadly has long proclaimed a mixed and oxymoronic message about sex—- the message I was given in MYF in junior high school was basically—- ‘sex is dirty, save it for the one you really love’. The Acts of Paul and Thecla sadly perpetuate that sort of view, and go beyond it, even calling for abstinence within marriage.

One of the more helpful distinctions Bart makes in his study is between forgery and fabrication.  In this case, a fabricator is a person who makes up stories about Paul, a forger is one who usurps the name and voice of Paul.  I think this is a helpful distinction, and on these terms ‘the Acts of Paul and Thecla’  could be called a fabrication.  Bart gives us the famous story of Tertullian about the book saying it was a fabrication by an elder in the church in Asia Minor who was disciplined for writing it.  If true, it suggests that the book was not seen as a harmless moralizing fiction.  It was seen as seeking to make some historical claims about Paul and women  (see p. 83).   Tertullian of course was indeed a misogynist. He had a dog in this fight, and he wanted to repudiate the idea that Paul had female co-workers.  But Tertullian’s axe to grind does not obviate the probably truth that this document was simply fiction masked as an historical account— not a recognized and harmless novella,  but a fabrication, hence the disciplining of the elder in question.

Pp. 84-92 present us with forgeries in the name of Paul, such as 3 Corinthians, or the work of Marcionites, or  the famous letters of Paul and Seneca.  It is widely agreed these documents were not written by Paul, and so on Bart’s terms, are forgeries.   I don’t have an argument with the case he lays out in these pages,  the pressing question is not addressed until page 92— are there forgeries in the NT canon of Paul’s letters?    There is however one point made on p. 90 that deserves correction.  In fact, Paul uses the term sarx in various texts simply to mean our physical skin or body.  There are texts where it is simply interchangeable with the use of soma. R. Bultmann was wrong about this, and so is Bart.  Yes, there are also places where sarx is used by Paul in a loaded moral sense— to mean our sinful inclinations generated by our fallen bodies or desires.   But in texts like 1 Cor. 15— ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom’ especially the pairing with the term blood makes clear Paul is simply using sarx in a mundane sense there.   Thus, it is quite impossible to use Paul’s varied uses of the term sarx as a litmus test to prove that later documents like 3 Corinthians must be forgeries because they confuse the Pauline uses of flesh and body, and assume they can be seen as synonymous.   There are other reasons for seeing 3 Corinthians as a forgery, but this is not one of them.

Notice again how Bart’s modus operandi  and rhetorical strategy is to trot out first documents widely agreed to be forgeries or fabrications, thus gaining momentum for the conclusion that there must be such documents in the canon itself,  since it seems to have been a widespread Christian practice.   The problems with this sort of approach are numerous,  not the least for the reasons I have already given— the social situation in the first century in which Jewish Christians were in the majority, and the movement was just beginning to establish itself,  and the apostles and eyewitnesses were still around to correct attempts at forgeries and fabrications is a very different social situation from that in  the middle of the second century and later.

So the anachronistic attempt to read back into the first century later conditions is fraught with peril, and should not be allowed to stand as good historical reasoning.    Were the social conditions in Nazi Germany in which all sorts of propaganda supporting the Third Reich was churned out, identical to the situation fifty years earlier in Germany before WWI?  No of course they were not, and indeed it is not an accident that the Nazi propaganda did not much need to fear contradiction in the way it interpreted the  era before Kaiser Wilhelm.  The people of that earlier generation were by the 1940s dead, or forced into silence by oppression and persecution.  The proper methodological for a historical study like Bart is undertaking is to work forwards, from the earliest Christian documents and situations in life, and take care to make sure one doesn’t read into later periods conditions only prevalent in earlier ones, and vice versa.   We cannot reasonably assume that because there are forgeries and fabrications in the second and later centuries there must have been in the first century as well and some of them must be in the canon.  This is an assumption that must be proved,  not simply asserted, and Bart does not offer any compelling proof.

The discussion of the Pastoral Epistles is found on pp. 93-105 and here we find a more detailed argument to make the case for the Pastorals being forged.    Let us start with a point of agreement.  Bart is right that the vocabulary, grammar, syntax of 1 and 2 Timothy are sufficiently similar to rather strongly suggest these documents are written by the same person.  Bart uses this point as an argument against those  (see L.T. Johnson)  who would argue that 2 Timothy, but probably not the other Pastorals, is by Paul.   In fact, all three of these documents share a good deal in common, for example the phrase about ‘it is a faithful saying…’ followed by some kind of quotation.  And there is no gainsaying that are notable differences in style and vocabulary between these letters, and the earlier Paulines.     How are we to explain these things if these documents are by Paul?   You will have to consult the full-length case made in my Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians Vol. One. Here a few key remarks will have to do.

Firstly,  Bart makes the mistake of trying to compare these letters, which come as close to being personal letters as any in the Pauline corpus, to letter written to whole congregations (e.g. 1 Corinthians).   This is a mistake. If there is an authentic Pauline letter it should have been compared to in terms of its form, it is Philemon.  And if there is a letter it should have been compared to because the shadow of death overs over these letters as Paul is either under house arrest or in jail, particularly when 2 Timothy is written,  it is Philippians, the latest of the so-called capital Pauline letters.    When we compare the Pastorals to Philemon what do we learn?    First of all, we learn that it is not true that Pauline churches were purely pneumatic in their order or leadership structure.  This is not even true in 1 Corinthians which rightly refers to Stephanus and his household  (1 Cor. 16.15) who are to be listened to and served, as leaders in Corinth.    So the attempt to contrast the Pastorals with a definite hierarchial leadership structure with the earlier genuine Paulines does not work.    Indeed, it especially does not work when we compare Philippians to the Pastorals, for in the prescript to Philippians we hear about elders and overseers/bishops  who are specifically addressed in this letter.   It seems clear that the leadership structure in the Pauline churches develops over time, and what we find in the Pastorals is simply the latest stage of such a development, not a departure from Paul’s genuine and earlier practices.  And indeed, it is totally  believable that Paul, on the verge of being executed would be concerned about leaving the churches in the hands of good leaders like his co-workers— Timothy and Titus.

The second old chestnut trotted out and retreaded by Bart in these pages is that Paul, like Jesus, blessed their hearts,  thought Jesus was coming back necessarily within decades, and therefore couldn’t have been very interested in church structure or the long haul or encouraging marriages or the like.  What’s the point if the world is definitely coming to a screeching halt soon?  Unfortunately,  this too is a caricature of Paul and Jesus, as I have made very clear in my book, Jesus, Paul, and the End of the World, (IVP).   Bart is simply retreading the old arguments of A. Schweitzer, and they have been shown to be deeply flawed many times over since Schweitzer wrote in the early 20th century.    Both Jesus and Paul talk about the return of Christ coming at an unknown and surprising time like a thief in the night—it could be sooner, it could be later, but no one can be certain it will definitely be sooner.   Paul himself in 1 Thess. 4-5 does not claim Jesus is certainly coming back in his lifetime.  He believes it is possible, and when there are two unknowns, namely the date of one’s own death and the date of Christ’s return it is quite impossible for Paul to say ‘no we who are dead when Christ returns….’   The only category he can put himself in  when those two dates are unknowns is in the category of the living.  Thus, the attempt to take that passage as proof Paul thought Christ’s return was necessarily imminent must be said to have failed.

Is Paul opposed to marriage in 1 Corinthians 7?  Certainly not.  He simply says that the single life gives one more time to serve the Lord and less anxieties, and he is surely right about both of those things.  In fact, he encourages people to marry in 1 Cor. 7 if they don’t have the ‘charisma’ or grace gift for remaining single.  In short, there is nothing in 1 Cor. 7 that is at odds with advice to leaders in the Pastorals that they should be ‘the husband of one wife’.  It should be noted that this is not advice to get married.  It is rather advice about a person not being married multiple times or to multiple women at one time—they are to be monogamous.    It is not really difficult, and it does not take that long to show the flaws in Bart’s logic when it comes to the Pastorals.

But I want to return briefly to the issue of vocabulary, grammar and style.    Stephen Wilson,  sometime ago wrote a very helpful book entitled  Luke and the Pastoral Epistles. What he showed is that there is a remarkable amount of unique vocabulary in the Pastorals, including phrases and ways of referring to things,  that are found nowhere else in the NT except in Luke-Acts.    This  is in fact so extensive in these three little letters that Wilson concluded Luke wrote these little letters, perhaps even as the sequel to his Acts.   Now, I think the latter conjecture is unnecessary, but the former point needs to be taken seriously.   These letters have enough of a unified style and vocabulary that it does seem likely one person wrote them all.    And so, I have argued that Luke, who in 2 Timothy is said to alone be with Paul at the end,  is responsible for the writing out of these letters from things Paul has said to him.   When Paul had a long time trusted colleague, he might well do what many writers, including Cicero did,  not feeling the necessity of dictating word for word, but having the trusted colleague or co-worker do the composition.  And in the case of 2 Timothy, there was good reason for this— Paul was likely in the Mamartine prison and quite unable to do dictation or composition.   Luke, then, in his own words, preserved the last will and testimony of Paul for his closest long time co-workers and church leaders encouraging them to carry on.   The hands that composed these documents are Luke’s but the voice is the voice of Paul.

In Bart’s discussion of  2 Thessalonians  (pp. 103-08) Bart continues to assume that Paul had preached the definite imminence of the return of Christ, and that now he must write the Thessalonians and say— not so fast, that’s not quite what I said.   The Thessalonians are worried about their fellow believers who have recently passed away.   In fact all Paul had suggested was the possible imminence of the parousia in 1 Thess. 4-5, used as an eschatological sanction and reassurance,  but perhaps some of his audience had misunderstood.    Bart then trots out the old argument that 2 Thessalonians 2 obviously flatly contradicts 1 Thess. 4-5  because the former text talks about preliminary events that will precede the return of Christ.    While is a common enough argument, that doesn’t make it a valid one.  Why not?  Because if you bother to read both early Jewish and early Christian eschatological texts, they frequently juxtapose remarks about the possible imminence of an event with discussion of the events that will precede it.  While to a late Western mind this might seem to be a contradiction, obviously it wasn’t for early Jews and early Christians.  And in the case of Paul, it wasn’t for him precisely because he was not asserting the definite imminence of Christ within his lifetime.    I have dealt with this supposed contradiction at length in my 1 and 2 Thessalonians commentary (Eerdmans), and you are welcome to seen the extended argument there.   In short, once again Bart is wrong in his assumptions,  instead trotting out views that have been critiqued and shown wanting for a long time.

In addition, we have on p. 108 the odd argument that the reference to Paul signing his name to a document as a telltale sign of a forgery.  Really?   Isn’t this exactly what Paul says in Galatians 6.11, and wasn’t it a normal practice for letter writers to sign their documents giving an assurance of authenticity— yes, and yes.    But all too typically Bart doesn’t bother to actually deal with Gal. 6.11.   And since this is a book for lay people,  the failure to deal with well-known counter evidence may go unnoticed.   But this is not just sloppiness, it is tendentiousness.   When you fail to fairly deal with counter evidence, especially when it is considerable, you may be a successful rhetorician with the unlettered,  but you will hardly persuade those who know the evidence as well or better than Bart does.

Moving on to Ephesians, on p. 109  Bart once again makes the claim— the majority of scholars think Paul did not write Ephesians.  This is simply a false claim.  If by the majority you mean the majority who are actual experts in Ephesians, have written commentaries or monographs on Ephesians, then no,  this is not true.   Don’t take my word for it, look at the massive Ephesians commentary by Harold Hoehner and the long and definitive list of scholars writing on Ephesians he is able to produce.   His listing takes us up to 2002, and one can compare my commentary list since then.   This is simply a factual mistake on Bart’s part, and it’s the kind of mistake he keeps making.   Let me be clear that I am not even counting devotional commentaries, commentaries written by ministers, or commentaries written by uncritical or precritical or fundamentalist Bible teachers.   I am only counting scholars who are members of societies like the SNTS and the SBL.   Even on this showing,   Bart is wrong.

It is not clear to me whether or not Bart knows much about Greco-Roman rhetoric, and in particular about Asiatic rhetoric, a rhetoric in which great orators like Cicero were trained.  If he does know something about that, then he should have recognized that Ephesians, unlike earlier Pauline letters is written in the style of Asiatic rhetoric, noted for its long sentences and hyperbolic speech, and on top of that it is an epideictic discourse focusing on the praise and blame of certain things in the present.    The reason it differs from earlier Pauline letters is not because it isn’t by Paul.  It’s because this is a circular letter written to the very region where Asiatic rhetoric was most popular,  in Asia Minor,  and reflecting the conventions of that species and kind of rhetorical discourse.

Again, on p. 110 we have to deal with caricatures.  Paul in the genuine letters does not talk about doing good works,  or salvation apart from good works.  He is always contrasting salvation with works of the Mosaic law.    Really?   Always? And does he never have a good word for good works?   In fact, this is false.   It does not account for all sorts of material in the ethical sections of Paul’s earlier letters in which Paul talks both about the importance of work and good works.  See for example Rom. 12-15,  Gal. 5-6,  Philippians 4,   and the discussion of work in 1-2 Thessalonians.    Sorry Bart, once again, that dog won’t hunt.  Paul does not contrast faith and works of the Mosaic law in all the undisputed Paulines.   And as for themes that are crucial—the urging to ‘seek the welfare of the city by doing the good’, a theme explored at length by Bruce Winter  on the basis of the undisputed Paulines,  is simply ignored here.   And the claim that the genuine Paul never uses the term ‘save’ to refer to the present condition of  Christians is simply astounding and absurd—  take for example 1 Cor. 1.21— God saves people (now) through the foolishness of Paul’s preaching,  or 1 Thess. 2.16 where Paul complains that Satan is hindering his ability to speak to the Gentiles so that they may be saved (in the present) and I could go on.   Notice that in Phil. 2.12 Paul talks about believers working out their salvation which God is already working in them to will and to do.

Bart then makes the argument that Paul does not talk about having resurrection life spiritually in the here and now as Ephes. 2.5-6 suggests.  He points to  Rom. 6.1-4 as evidence that Paul always talks about resurrection as something believers will experience in the future.     I think this is in the main a valid point, but there is a very good reason why in Ephesians Paul would focus on the present benefits of Christ for believers.  This is the very nature of epideictic rhetoric, to focus on what is now true and can be praised.   The case that Bart makes for Colossians being unPauline is even less credible.  A good writer in Greek is perfectly capable of varying his style, but Bart is right that there is a clear connection between Colossians and Ephesians, the latter based on some of the former.  For this reason, he should have dealt with Colossians first, which the majority of Colossians scholars do indeed think is by Paul.  See the arguments for example in the recent commentary by J.D.G. Dunn or my Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, (Eerdmans).    In other words, there is an answer to every single one of Bart’s assertions and arguments he wants to make about these various canonical Pauline letters.

IntroductionChapter OneChapter Two

Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’– The Interview Part 5
Finding Jesus— Begins Sunday Night at 9 P.M. on CNN
Finding Jesus— Reboot
Finding Jesus– Review of Part One
  • bill

    Thanks for this informative post. I am glad I am reading this before I read Bart’s book. I have not been too impressed with his writing in the past, nor any of his personal appearances or debates. Even Stephen Colbert made him a little uncomfortable on the Colbert Report.

  • Lawson Stone

    What is sad is the number of thoughtful lay people who will read Ehrman’s book and think that he is representing scholarship accurately. Ben, your detailed analysis here is deeply helpful. I hope you are planning to publish this material more broadly.

  • Ethan Magness

    Thank You,

    There is more to say, but for now. Thank You.

  • Chris McCauley

    Ben, you openly admit that some of these letters are “written by scribes” but can be attributed to Paul. So…. THEY WEREN’T written by Paul! I think this is grossly glossing over this. You admit that the aren’t written by Paul, but then say that they were written by scribes and think that maybe these scribes wrote them as dictated (or directed) by Paul. Is there any evidence whatsoever that Paul directed scribes to write them? Or is it just the result of Theological wishful thinking?

    Anyone can look at these letters and tell (even in English) that they weren’t written by the same author. The style and vocab is different, and they are internally attributed differently.

    Hebrews doesn’t even mention it is written by Paul! It’s anonymous! And Paul talked about himself specifically in all his other works!

    Bart rightly points out that the books attributed to John and Peter could not have been written by them! The Bible itself testifies to the fact that they were illiterate! Not only that, but they were completely uneducated! So are we to believe that they learned Greek (one of the world’s most difficult languages) later in life and then wrote the books attributed to them?

    Again, I think that’s unlikely and the result of Theological wishful thinking.

  • Ben Witherington

    Chris you don’t seem to understand that the chief function of a scribe was as a secretary for others, not speaking in their own voice. Yes indeed there is plenty of evidence that scribes acted as secretaries for others, even famous literate scribes like Tiro for Cicero. Bart is simply wrong when he questions this— wrong about the plethora of historical evidence against his case.

    As you will see in subsequent posts— Bart is wrong about Peter and John, and especially hugely wrong about the illiteracy of Peter, James, John and Jesus. This is an argument from silence by Bart and it flies in the face of the actual historical evidence we have.

    Style and vocabulary of a good writer in Greek using rhetoric varied with the subject, audience and occasion.

    I quite agree Hebrews wasn’t written by Paul. It never claims to be. The personalia at the end of the document may suggest it is by someone in the larger Pauline circle, but that’s all.

    Let’s be clear about something. Bart is not standing on the high ground when it comes to the historical evidence, leaving theological preferences completely out of consideration. Indeed, the historical evidence is strongly against his views— go read the widely praised book by. K. van der Tooren on Scribes and Scribal Culture. Scribes played many roles including that of secretaries for authority figures.


  • Paul Doty

    Dr. Witherington,

    Thank you for your reviews of Dr. Ehrman’s most recent book. They have been very helpful to me.

    I have a couple of questions:

    – what is Dr. Ehrman like in person?

    – I understand that as a young man he had a strong conservative/fundamentalist view of the New Testament and later abandoned those views. It seems that he has a certain ax to grind because of his former views and that this colors much of his current views. Not to ask you to try to get into his head, but why in light of his scholarly education do you think he didn’t adapt and mature in his faith rather than, I believe, abandon it altogether?

    Thank you.

  • rob Haskell

    Thank you. This is good stuff. According to Bart, only the fundamentalist fringe actually believes the traditional attributions of the NT books. But you’ve done a great job of contradicting this!

  • ben witherington

    It is interesting to me that most of the Jewish NT scholars tended to agree with the more conservative assessment, so it can’t be just a matter of theology, it has to do with historical evidence.

    As for what Bart is like personally, I have not spent enough time together with him to say. I have heard him lecture a good deal, and he is clear and sometimes dramatic, and sometimes angry, or seems so. But again i don’t know enough to really say in any definitive way why he abandoned his faith. He talks about it himself in most of his popular books, and I have no reason to doubt he is sharing honestly about it. My concern in these reviews is his views. I don’t believe in trying to psychologize or mind read, or to use ad hominem arguments.


  • Trey


    With respect to the Bible and I say this respectfully, Ben is for all intents and purposes a fundamentalist and inerrantist, though I am sure he would be loathe to use those words to describe himself. That presupposition is deeply ingrained and is a guiding force in his attempt to do critical analysis of the Bible and especially the disputed letters. Exhibit A is the tact Ben takes with respect to II Peter. While there is a very strong consensus that II Peter is pseudonymous – the eminent Christian scholars Raymond Brown, Werner Kummel and Bruce Metzger to name just a few support this view, Ben offers up the euphemestic phrase ‘composite document’ to describe his position on II Peter. It is instructive to note what Metzger has to say on II Peter in his “The New Testament, its background, growth, and content” that the document “was drawn up sometime after A.D. 100 by an admirer of Peter who wrote under the name of the great apostle in order to give his letter greater authority” . Kummel is even more strident in his view ruling out Peter’s authorship definitely and further noting that it could not have been written by one of Peter’s helpers or pupils under his instructions, not even at some time after the death of the apostle.

    A scribe who creates a document from composite sources, embellishes it with his own material and attempts to personalize the document to make it appear as if it is a letter written by someone with great authority as seems to be the case with II Peter is doing more than just passing on received teaching from an apostle.

    In my short critical study of the Bible I have come to the realization that there is very little that one can say definitively. One can only speak in terms of what is likely or unlikely. But a strong inerrantist mindset inevitably leads to dubious and disingenuous conclusions.

  • Rick C

    I have thoroughly read it. I have critically (as critical as I can be) read it. I have read it. “It” referring to the entirety of this particular post. Quite frankly I did not find it difficult to understand. I have found it useful and quite frankly, quite interesting. It is a good piece of writing well worth keeping and pondering over. In it are good things to think about to bring about good things.

    I’m not trying to be overly critical herein. The view that has emirged in my brain from reading it, is this, Bart D. Ehrman is not a person in possession of nor widely and copiously using the gold standard of every day practical living and the same for good scholarship in any discipline…common sense. It is as if the fuse has been lit but it really doesn’t matter where the fuse leads and more importantly to what it may be connected. Nor are we likely to attempt to investigate the path of the fuse. The fuse is lit just for the sake of lighting the fuse with the resulting consequence that harm may or may not come about. This is, to say the least, not very endearing to me!

  • Rick C

    Oh, BTW, is F.F. Bruce considered a cogent and respected scholar in today’s NT scholarship environment? I think him quite good in his that which he produced but time has flown and scholarship seems to flux in/out.

  • Eric C

    Trey said:

    “Ben is for all intents and purposes a fundamentalist and inerrantist, though I am sure he would be loathe to use those words to describe himself.”

    While terms like fundamentalist, conservative and liberal are often thrown around, they rarely prove accurate in describing the person (or position) they are directed towards, nor do they contribute meaningfully to the conversation. More often those kinds of terms tell us more the ideological center of the person using the term then the subject it was initially directed towards: i.e. you use the term “fundamentalist” to describe BW3 because your ideological center is more “liberal” than his and visa versa. Calling Ben a fundamentalist (which in a strict sense he is not) is about as helpful as me calling Brad a liberal. It tells you more about me than Brad—not that I am calling you anything :).

    Your comments regarding II Peter are helpful. Many prominent scholars have their doubts about II Peter, something BW3 acknowledged. I think all of us (you, Ben, and myself) agree that there is a large about of division and disagreement over II Peter. But that was Ben’s point: The scholarly community is divided, and therefore it is unfair to for Bart to claim that the majority of scholars agree. The problem isn’t that BW3 writes from a position of faith, he makes it clear he does, the problem is that Bart simply claims there is a consensus when there is not. It’s not a unforgivable sin but one certainly one that deserves to be pointed out in a review.

    Trey said regarding BW3:

    “a strong inerrantist mindset inevitably leads to dubious and disingenuous conclusions.”

    I could also say that regarding Bart:
    “a strong skepticism inevitably leads to dubious and disingenuous conclusions”

    Both statements are equally unhelpful and untrue. How about we don’t say those kind of things at all and instead talk about the actual claims and arguments made by the authors?

  • Chris McCauley

    >As you will see in subsequent posts— Bart is wrong about >Peter and John, and especially hugely wrong about the >illiteracy of Peter, James, John and Jesus. This is an >argument from silence

    Ben I agree that Jesus was NOT illiterate in Hebrew, since he quoted scripture at length and was likely a former rabbi. And it is possible that he knew Greek since the Septuagint was in use in synagogues around Judea at the time.

    But it is NOT an argument from silence that John and Peter were illiterate! John and Peter were poor, uneducated fisherman! Not intellectuals who could read and write! AND scripture itself says that they were “uneducated” in Acts 4:13.

    Since they were both Jewish and had already reached the age of bar mitzvah at the time of writing of Acts, that means that the only institution by which they could learn to read and write (the synogauge) was firstly, no longer available to them (as they weren’t allowed in synogauges after becoming Christians), and secondly, wasn’t used by them for bar mitzvah.

    I’m sure you can claim that they learned Greek later, but when you are raised illiterate, learning a language later in life is incredibly difficult, and on top of that, Greek is an incredibly difficult language.

    The idea that John and Peter were able to write sufficiently in Greek to write scripture as elaborate as Revelation or the poetic genius of 1 John is just theological wishful thinking.

    And since you agree that Hebrews doesn’t have an attributed author, it’s a historical document with no traceable lineage!

    And as far as “the use of scribes” go, there’s a big difference between a dictation from Paul to a scribe, and a scribe creating a document based on Paul’s teachings or things he thinks or has heard about Paul. And if the scribe is masquerading as Paul, as the evidence suggests, then Bart is right in calling it a forgery!

  • Craig

    The use of “uneducated” in Acts 4:13 simply means that Peter and John were lay men, not trained as scholars in a Rabbinic school. It does not necessarily mean that they were illiterate. To insist that it does mean they were illiterate is anachronistic.

  • Chris McCauley

    >It does not necessarily mean that they were illiterate. To >insist that it does mean they were illiterate is anachronistic.

    The temple (which Paul and John didn’t attend) and the Synogauge were the only institutions of learning for a Jew in that time period. It’s not as if there were public schools all over Galilee!

    Rather, to insist that they could read and write is anachronistic. Most people (especially the poor, who lived in Galilee like John and Peter) had no education whatsoever.

    Where do uneducated fisherman living in one of the poorest districts of the area learn Greek?

  • Craig

    There are many people, including poor people, who can speak both English and Spanish for the simple reason that they were raised in a home and local culture were both languages are commonly used. Some children grow up bilingual, even prior to going to school. Likewise, it is not unreasonable to think that many Jews living in the first-century, heavily influenced by Hellenistic culture, would grow up being bilingual, even without a “formal” education.

    In any case, Peter and others used scribes when writing (e.g. Peter used Silvanus as his scribe when writing 1 Peter), so even if Peter did not know Greek, he could simply have had the scribe translate his words into Greek.

  • Chris McCauley

    >Some children grow up bilingual, even prior to going to >school. Likewise, it is not unreasonable to think that many >Jews living in the first-century, heavily influenced by >Hellenistic culture, would grow up being bilingual, even >without a “formal” education.

    That’s not writing. Writing in Greek is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT. You cannot learn Greek writing without education. You cannot “pick up” written Greek in the same way that you could possibly “pick up” a few spoken phrases in Greek. Jews in galilee were certainly NOT bilingual. Bilingual people weren’t from galilee. Paul was bilingual and could write in Greek because he was a Roman Citizen. Peter and John were not.

    You are also not recalling the fact that areas in the middle east were highly racially segregated and that this was galilee, a remote and poor town, not a metropolitan city. Could Peter or John know a few key phrases in conversational Greek? Yes. Could they compose lengthy prose in Greek? Poetically expressive letters? NO. Absolutely not.

    The “scribe” thing is just a cop out. These documents weren’t written by Peter and John, they couldn’t have been. End of story.

    Could they be a partial dictation? A scribe writing down a sermon or a teaching of paul or John? Sure. A document written after their deaths? Absolutely.

    But the fact remains they were NOT written by Peter or John.

  • Chris McCauley

    Here is where Peter and John were from: The small fishing town of Bethesdia on the northern tip of the sea of galillee, a few miles from Capernaum. It was nowhere near Jerusalem. it’s citizens spoke Aramaic (not greek) and it had little contact with Roman soldiers, being so far from Jerusalem.

  • Craig

    1. You don’t know that all Jews in Galilee were “certainly NOT bilingual.” There were Greek speaking cities in Galilee including Sepphoris and Tiberias, and it is not unreasonable to think that Jewish merchants (including fisherman) conducted business in these cities. They were also in close proximity to Hippos and the other Greek cities in the Decapolis.

    2. Roman citizenship has nothing to do one being bilingual (although I agree that Paul was bilingual).

    3. Galilee is not “a remote and poor town.” It is an entire region, and one that had been extensively Hellenized prior to the Maccabean period. Although some of the smaller towns such as Nazareth may have been a little more insular, they were not completely unaffected by Hellenism.

    4. The use of scribes is not “just a cop out.” It was a well-established practice within Greco-Roman society at that time.

    5. Having little contact with Roman soldiers is irrelevant. Hellenism and the Greek language was brought to the area centuries earlier when Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire, which was later reinforced by the Seleucid Empire. Greek became a second language for many Jews long before Rome conquered the area.

  • Craig

    “…nothing to do with one being bilingual.”

  • Chris McCauley

    >1. You don’t know that all Jews in Galilee were “certainly >NOT bilingual.”

    Paul and John were from Bethesdia. It’s a poor, remote fishing town. Galilee is a province or region. Bethesdia was not bilingual.

    >is not unreasonable to think that Jewish merchants >(including fisherman) conducted business in these cities

    That’s not how fishing works. You don’t travel miles with fish. They rot. They were NOT travelling merchants. They were poor fishermen that lived on the north shore.

    > 2. Roman citizenship has nothing to do one being bilingual >(although I agree that Paul was bilingual).

    Certainly it does. Paul was a traveler and a roman citizen. He traveled all over first persecuting Jews and then spreading Christianity. He spoke the lingua franca, which was greek at the time. John and Peter were not. They were fishermen living in a small town in the northern part of a lake. There’s a vast amount of difference.

    >3. Galilee is not “a remote and poor town.”

    Bethesdia is. And Galilee was the poorest region in the area, which was why Jesus wanted to minister there.

    >4. The use of scribes is not “just a cop out.” It was a >well-established practice within Greco-Roman society at >that time.

    I’m aware of the practice. It’s a cop-out because when someone says that Paul or John or Peter wrote a particular book, and evidence shows they did not, the conservative Christian just says “Oh a scribe helped them.” Either they wrote it or they didn’t. If a scribe wrote it, they didn’t. And if a scribe wrote it, that doesn’t prove that it was dictated word for word either.

    >5. Having little contact with Roman soldiers is irrelevant. >Hellenism and the Greek language was brought to the >area centuries earlier when Alexander the Great >conquered the Persian Empire, which was later reinforced >by the Seleucid Empire. Greek became a second language >for many Jews long before Rome conquered the area.

    Yes, for many Roman or Greek Jews. Maybe for Jew like Matthew who was employed by the Empire to collect taxes. Not for a bunch of Jews living in a poor town in Bethesdia who spoke Aramaic and are described as uneducated. And all of this is irrelevant anyway.

    Even if John or Peter knew a few phrases of Greek, or even if they spoke a bit of it, they still couldn’t write it. Greek is an incredibly hard language to learn to read, much less write intricate compositions in prose or poetic form.

    You think that two uneducated fisherman learned Greek later in life and composed two of the most intricate and beautiful pieces of Greek scripture?

    Again, Theological wishful thinking. Highly unrealistic.

  • Chris McCauley

    oops “first persecuting Christians, then spreading Christianity.”

  • Craig

    I’m not going to continue to debate this with you, but I do need to correct one serious error. You said: “That’s not how fishing works. You don’t travel miles with fish. They rot.”

    Fish was preserved by using salt, and you are wrong if you think fishermen didn’t travel to sell their fish.


  • Chris McCauley

    “I’m not going to continue to debate this with you”

    Okay. Run away. You couldn’t address my arguments anyway.

    “Fish was preserved by using salt, and you are wrong if you think fishermen didn’t travel to sell their fish.”

    Yes, fish were preserved using salt. No, you couldn’t walk from city to city easily. Yes if you walked to Jerusalem, your fish would rot.

    Fisherman aren’t the same as merchants either.

  • mike

    Sorry, this is a late note, but I read this today which was relevant to the last few comments from J. R. Edwards’ commentary on Mark (Pillar):

    “In the first century fishing was a thriving industry on the Sea of Galilee, which counted no fewer than sixteen bustling ports on the lake and several towns on the northwest shore, including Bethsaida (“house of the fisher”), Magdala (“fish tower”), and Taricheae (“salted fish”), named for the fishing trade. So numerous were fishing boats that Josephus was able to commandeer 230 of them during the war in Galilee in A.D. 68 (War 2.635). Nor was the catch consumed by local markets alone. It should be remembered that fish, and not meat, was the staple food of the Greco-Roman world. Fish from the Sea of Galilee were exported and prized in distant Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria. That fishermen in Galilee competed in the larger Mediterranean market testifies to their skill, prosperity, and ingenuity — and probably to their command of Greek, which was the international language of business and culture. The fishermen whom Jesus called were scarcely indigent day laborers. In order to survive in their market league, they needed to be — and doubtlessly were — shrewd and successful businessmen.”

  • mike

    Oh, and I should mention that Edwards is referencing in the footnote J. Murphy-O’Connor (1999), “Fishers of Fish, Fishers of Men: What We Know of the First Disciples from Their Profession”

  • Dave K

    I disagree on a lot of the points you make, especially pertaining language.

    First of all, I agree with you that Greek was the lingua franca of much of the Roman Empire (if not the entire Roman Empire). Concerning your comment about Paul, and his knowledge of Greek because he was a Roman citizen – wouldn’t that mean he should have known Latin as well (or in the first place)? After all, Latin was the mother tongue for the first, we should say, Roman citizens. And in Acts we have an episode where a centurion (I believe) mutters that he had to pay a large sum in order to get his citizenship. Being a citizen of a certain country does not mean necessarily that the person knows the language. For a good example of that, go to Southern California, and meet some of the Asian citizens of the US – many of them sure don’t speak the lingua franca (which was spoken for hundreds of years before they came). Just making a point that this is a very weak argument.

    Concerning the “illiteracy” of Peter and John, based on Acts 4:13… I agree with bw3 that the proper translation of the word here is “uneducated”. Adding “illiterate” to the context of Acts 4:13 would really be stretching the meaning of the word.

    Coming from a “multi-lingual” background, I do not find it hard to accept the belief that Peter and John must have known Greek. (I grew up speaking russian, korean, and english. In kindergarten, I knew how to read and write in all three languages. The lingua franca where I grew up was russian, english was taught at school, and korean was spoken at home. Oh, and did I mention that I’m a citizen of South Korea and that korean is the language I speak least proficiently of the three?) I should add, that russian is truly a hard language to learn, both to write/read, and speak. But this being the lingua franca where I spent most of my life, it came naturally.

    Whether Peter and John, as fishermen knew Greek, I think bw3 makes a good enough argument in the blog. Besides, if you study some of the ancient texts from the Second Temple Period, one of the complaints of the Jews, is that many Jews did not speak their own language, and that they were becoming extremely Hellenized. I should say, proficiency in a language comes mostly from practice, and that practice is most often found in places where commerce abounds – of which, there must have been an abundance in Galilee, as someone previously mentioned. If we were to accept your statement, that fish was not transported far from the Sea of Galilee because it would rot, we would have to assume that the inhabitants of Jerusalem did not eat fish because there is no sea or river nearby that would provide that fish. On the other hand, if fish was in (high) demand, then it’s logical that a lot of it would come from the Sea of Galilee. I’m really not an expert at the type of fish that are found in the Sea of Galilee, but I’m willing to bet that a lot of them would not have been kosher fish – i.e. not salmon and tuna; which would likely mean that Jews would not have bought and eaten those fish – due to kosher laws. In that case many if not most of the demand would come from non-Jews, (and) those who did not abide by kosher laws – most likely, Greek-speakers.

    Concerning Paul’s knowledge of Greek. Let’s not forget he was a Pharisee – meaning he would have kept as far away from Gentiles as possible, interacting a lot less with them, than, perhaps, Peter and John. Although he obviously got formal training, and knew the Tanakh in the Septuagint very well. (This is going back to the citizenship+language argument).

    And by the way, if they (Peter and John) really did not know Greek well enough to write it – they could have dictated it to scribes, who would have translated their words into Greek. I think you should really look into some scholarly works concerning scribes and their roles in ancient times. I think bw3 gives a good enough argument here in this blog already, though. Besides, if you are to doubt the role of scribes so much – we must really discard much of ancient history. Most of the kings (especially in earlier times – i.e. before the period now under discussion) were truly illiterate, and the scribes did the writing and reading for/to them. Does this mean all the ancient texts written by scribes we have are forgeries? That would really strip history of a lot of its sources and texts.

  • Dave K

    “Yes, fish were preserved using salt. No, you couldn’t walk from city to city easily. Yes if you walked to Jerusalem, your fish would rot.”

    Who said they had to walk to Jerusalem all the way from Galilee? They did have horses, mules, and carts, you know… And as I mentioned in my previous entry – if you are right, that the fish would rot – does this mean the inhabitants of Jerusalem did not eat fish at all (unless they visited Galilee?).

    “Fisherman aren’t the same as merchants either.”

    Yes, but fishermen need to sell their fish. So:
    1) They sold the fish to merchants – who later sold them to others.
    2) They sold the fish directly (without a middleman).

    In either case, they would have had to interact with non-Jews (kosher laws, remember?).
    Oh, this could, in fact imply that Peter and John themselves might not have been strict in keeping the kosher laws (also, the episode in the Gospels where they pluck the heads of grain, and don’t wash their hands – what do the Pharisees complain about? That they did not abide by the Jewish laws, of which, kosher is a big part). That means, they were probably more influenced by other mm, “cultures” rather than the Jewish Law. Just because Bethsaida (etc) were small cities in Galilee, does not mean the inhabitants of those cities did not know Greek.
    Yes, they probably were most proficient in Aramaic, but being based on a trade which is mostly non-kosher, it is reasonable to assume, that the population was quite familiar with the Greek language and culture. Also, let us not forget that by the 1st century CE, Hellenism was in this part of the world for almost 300 years.

  • Eric Sawyer

    Why it is I always arrive late to the tea party ? (Nods head furiously) I dunno, but thanks so much!

  • Eugene

    Hi Dr. Witherington,

    I greatly enjoyed this entire series of reviews and found your comments on the current majority views on authorship very interesting. I’m struck, though, by what seems like a contradiction. In this post you state that “at the point of my writing this, there are probably only a slight majority of commentators and specialists who think it more likely Paul didn’t write [the Pastorals] than that he did.” But in your review of chapter 1 you stated “By my count when I wrote a commentary on the Pastorals, a slight majority favored some sort of Pauline authorship”. Has the situation changed that much in the last 5 years?



  • Dumm Sean

    Hello Dr. Witherington,

    I think I would still agree with Dr. Ehrman that the disputed “Pauline” letters are forgeries, even if all the specific points you raised in this post were true.

    That said I did struggle with many of your points on their own terms, and appreciated several as well. Maybe I could offer a few humble criticisms.

    *selection bias. Your complaint about Ehrman’s selective treatment of scholarship is problematic in my opinion, because all polls are necessarily selective. The question is what selection of the population is relevant to the topic. So when Ehrman says most scholars think Paul did not write the 6 disputed letters, I suspect he is counting only critical scholars. Whereas you may be counting Evangelical scholars who believe on faith that the Bible is inerrant.

    Could this be why Ehrman and you come up with different numbers as to what the “majority” thinks? For example, you said you are counting members of the SNTS. But based on their public records, many members of the SNTS are from what I would consider fundamentalist or in other words noncritical seminaries (RTS, SBTS, Concordia, etc). Should noncritical scholars be counted?

    *sarx. Agreed that Paul uses sarx to mean different things, but Ehrman’s larger point about 3 Corinthians is correct. Paul always says flesh will not be raised, whereas the author of 3 Cor says flesh will be raised. Two different teachings.

    *church leadership. It seems to me Paul wanted everyone in his churches to be equal. He chastised Corinth when they tried to get bureaucratic. The pastoral “Paul” on the other hand encourages bureaucracry, laying out a complex hierarchy of bishops, elders, deacons, lay men, mothers, women with no children, children, and slaves. The Pastorals seem like more of a departure than a development.

    By the way, Stephanus of Corinth had no leadership status as far as I can tell. And Philippians 1 does not mention any leadership structure in the earliest manuscripts. Perhaps a scribe added that bit to a later manuscript?

    *parousia in 1 and 2 Thess. I agree it is possible (though unlikely) that 1 and 2 Thess actually juxtapose rather than contradict each other’s teaching about the parousia, but for one thing juxtaposition already implies a difference in teaching so I don’t think this point is very strong. My real problem though is you seem to be comparing the wrong things (imminence vs. predictability). The actual issue, to my eye, is that 2 Thess says the parousia is predictable but 1 Thess says it is UNpredictable. I don’t see an easy way to reconcile these two teachings.

    *signature is not a sign of forgery. Agreed, but that’s not Ehrman’s point. Ehrman’s point is that one reason the author of 2 Thess cannot be Paul is because he claims to sign all his letters, but Paul usually does not sign his letters.


  • Anonymous

    Hi Sean: This is a thoughtful response and it deserves one in kind. First of all, most Evangelicals are critical thinkers and they should not be confused with fundamentalists. And while we are at it, many Evangelicals scholars do not hold to inerrancy anyway if by that you mean that they could not possibly allow for errors in the Bible. Many would simply say that their study of the Bible suggests it is true and trustworthy in what it asserts. In other words, they are not basing this on faith but on a close reading of the evidence itself. It is interesting that a person of no Christian faith at all, for example many Muslims hold that the Bible in its original text is inerrant. So, inerrancy is a red herring in this discussion.

    Secondly, who gets to define what counts as a critical scholar? Bart Ehrman? I don’t think so. All scholars in the SNTS are critical scholars who have done good scholarly work or they would never have been elected to the society. Period.

    I must say I am totally mystified by your comment about the flesh in Paul’s teaching. 1 Corinthians 15 is very clear indeed that Paul believes believers will be raised in the flesh. This is what resurrection means. A transformed flesh yes, but still flesh all the same.

    Philippians 1 is perfectly clear in the earliest Greek text— Paul addresses overseers and elders, or you can translate it bishops and elders. These are clearly leaders who are distinguished from the group.

    2 Thessalonians says not about the timing of the second coming. It simply refers to events that must precede it whenever. That’s a different matter.

    Galatians is clear enough that Paul does sign his letters. Look at Galatians 6. He talks about his distinctive signature in his letters. It was in any case the normal ancient practice for the author using a scribe to take the pen at the end and write a few words and sign. So 2 Thessalonians is simply stating more clearly what is already evident from general practice and from what Paul says in Galatians 6. So let me be clear. On these matters Bart Ehrman is simply wrong. What he is certainly right about is that pseudonymity was not an approved, sanctioned, or normal literary practice. I agree with him on that main point. But we have no examples of that practice in the Pauline corpus. None.

  • Dumm Sean

    Hello again,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.

    Your point about inerrancy is well taken because we don’t want a discussion of historical approach to descend into name-calling or questioning of motives. Only you would know whether you are genuinely curious if some of the NT is forged, or precommitted to a particular answer before asking the question.

    But, if we want to decide whether a scholar is critical or fundamentalist, I think the easy way through that maze is to ask whether that person claims something, in their capacity as a scholar, that could not possibly be asserted by historical-critical methods. Going back to your list vs. Ehrman’s, do any of the scholars in your list claim that God raised Jesus from the dead, or God inspired scripture, or God’s spirit impregnated Mary? If so then Ehrman might say that person is being faithful, or Christian, or something else; but he is not being historically critical, because “history” can only tell us what probably happened, and miracles are by definition the most improbable events possible. I’m inclined to agree, and I might say the scholars in Ehrman’s list are more therefore relevant to the question “Were some NT letters forged in Paul’s name?”

    1 Cor. Forgive me. Could you point me to where 1 Cor 15 says flesh will be raised? Paul refers to flesh (sarx) five times in the chapter. But is seems none of those makes your point and one contradicts it, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”

    Philippians. The earliest copy of Php 1:1 I’m aware of does not mention a leadership hierarchy; see P46 ( Please do point me to an earlier copy if you know of one, I would be very interested.

    parousia. My point is that 2 Thess says the parousia is predictable, whereas 1 Thess says the parousia is UNpredictable. Would you disagree with that statement?

    Galatians. Thank you, I think I understand your argument more clearly now. You’re saying we can safely assume Paul customarily signed his letters because this was a common ancient practice, and Galatians and 2 Thess simply corroborate this fact, right? But I’m not convinced we can make this assumption.

    Six of the seven undisputed letters of Paul have no signature in Paul’s hand. Galatians is the only example where Paul writes the ending in his own hand, and he does no’t say the practice is customary. Yet 2 Thess claims Paul always signs his letters – what gives? To quote Ehrman who with unusual faithfulness quotes Hamlet’s queen, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”


  • Anonymous

    Sean in the first place, it is not the job of the historian to say things like ‘miracles cannot happen, therefore they do not happen’. No one is omniscient and can assume that is the case. It is the job of the historian to critically evaluate evidence, reports, using the usual historical critical means and methods. There are more credible reports and less credible reports. But it is a philosophical a priori, not an historical stance to simply say ‘we can tell if someone is a critical historian by asking the question— do they believe Jesus rose from the dead?’ Actually no you can’t tell using that test at all. I’ve run into some pretty fundamentalist agnostics on the issue of miracles and they won’t even consider the evidence.

    In regard to p46, check this link, You will see in fact at the bottom of that page that portions of the opening line of Philippians are missing. In other words, p46 does not provide any evidence that the phrase bishops and elders were not in the opening line. It simply provides no evidence because the line is mostly missing.

    You seem to be confused on the sarx/soma issue as well. These terms are frequently equivalent in Paul’s letters. Paul is perfectly clear that the physical body will be raised (as was the case of Jesus). The sentence ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit’ of course refers to flesh in its present condition. It has to be transformed and become a pneumatikon soma, which does not mean a body made out of spirit any more than the phrase psuchikon soma means a body made out of soul. The former refers to a body entirely suffused with the Holy Spirit, and animated by the Holy Spirit.

    As for the signature issue, you cannot say that Paul did not sign all his letters. The normal place to do that would be on the verso side. Galatians is unusual in this regard. We do not have the verso side of any of these letters where both the address and the signature, and if a seal was used, the seal, would be put.

    Ben W.

  • Dumm Sean

    Dr. Witherington (may I call you Ben?),

    My purpose is to understand the difference between your and Dr. Ehrman’s definition of critical scholars. There is obviously at least one important distinction as you pointed out: the issue of miracles. So rather than debate whose definition of the word critical is “right”, I would be more intrigued if you would elaborate the difference. I will speculate:

    A critical historian must:
    1. limit her historical explanations to natural causes and events? (BW: No, BE: Yes)
    2. claim no personal precommitments to a particular position? (BW: Yes?, BE: Yes)
    3. have no professional commitment to a particular position? e.g., she is not required sign a statement of faith in her capacity as a scholar. (BW: ?, BE: Yes)
    4. [any other differences?]


    1 Cor. I think Ehrman’s point is that Paul never says sarx will be raised. I concede the meanings of sarx and soma sometimes overlap, just not dealing with resurrection. When Paul talks about the resurrection, sarx is exactly the thing that will not be raised; meanwhile the author of 3 Cor says sarx will be raised up. This is a point against the authenticity of 3 Cor.

    Philippians. P46, the earliest manuscript of Philippians does not mention church leadership. You are correct that one line is missing from the text, and that is the key. Only one line is missing. That is not enough room for the presumed reference to “bishops” which, when it does finally show up in the manuscript tradition 300 years after Paul wrote the letter (Sinaiticus), is several lines too low to have fit on the original P46. Compare the recto ( to the verso

    Galatians. The point about 2 Thessalonians being forged has to do with a very particular claim about content. The author thinks Paul always guarantees his letters with a handwritten note like “I, Paul am writing this in my own hand”. Well sometimes Paul does, but sometimes he does not, and the latter includes 1 Thessalonians which is pretty ironic if you think about it.


  • Benw333

    Sean I am glad you ask good questions. First of all, I don’t think your criteria to determine who is and isn’t a critical scholar is very helpful. There is no such thing as a scholar without certain presuppositions and commitments of course, even if they are just ‘I will not commit myself to X…’ I would say a critical scholar is a person who is willing to follow the historical evidence wherever it actually leads, whether this confirms or challenges the person’s presuppositions.

    In regard to sarx and soma, once you concede that the terms are often synonyms even in Paul, then Ehrman’s argument will not work. Now, I suspect that sometimes for Paul the term sarx has the sense of fallen mortal flesh, as does soma in some contexts. So when he says ‘sarx cannot inherit….’ he is thinking of flesh in its current condition. In other words, he is not making an ontological statement— human flesh is inherently incapable of being part of the Kingdom. He is stating that in its current condition, it cannot go forward into the Kingdom.

    I am sorry but in regard to p46 there certainly is plenty of room for a reference to episkopoi and elders as well…. so this dog of an argument will not hunt.

    As I said before…. you cannot say Paul did not sign all his letters, since signing normally would be on the verso side. Cheers, BW3

  • Dumm Sean

    Thank you once more for your thoughts.

    Just to clarify again, I’m not offering my own criteria for critical scholarship, I’m trying to discover your criteria compared to Dr. Ehrman’s. Now, your criterion of “following the evidence wherever it leads” seems to address criterion #1 in our list below. And I think you’re saying “yes” to #2. Would you mind weighing in on #3 and #4?

    Sarx. Again I think the focus should be the uncontested point that Paul never says sarx will be raised yet 3 Cor does. But to your point about soma: my reading is that sarx = soma psychikon (not raised), which is different from your and 3 Cor’s reading that sarx = soma pneumatikon (raised). cf. 1 Cor 15:44

    Php. The phrase “with the bishops and deacons” does not fit in P46, because it is exactly the number of Greek characters that must be omitted from the lacuna front side to explain where the text resumes on the back side. See TC Skeat, cf. recto vs. verso. Also I think historians are better off never claiming “certainty”.

    Gal. I do not follow your point, or how it relates to Paul’s phrase “I, Paul am writing this in my own hand”, but I am eager to learn. Can you elaborate or point me to an article that expands on this?


  • Anonymous

    Sean at this point the thread has gone cold. Read Richard’s book on letter writing. You are wrong that there isn’t room for those Greek letters on the front side of the page in Phil. 1 in p46. Since there is no 3 Corinthians document, I don’t know what you are talking about unless you mean 2 Corinthians as the third letter Paul wrote to Corinth. There is no evidence, textual or otherwise, to parcel out 2 Corinthians into several separate letters. Indeed the rhetoric of 2 Corinthians makes evident this theory doesn’t work (See the monograph by Fred Long on this very matter).

  • Dumm Sean

    Dr. Witherington,

    I do not buy your excuse that the thread has gone cold, it comes across as evasive to me.

    In my opinion I have provided reason and evidence to support my views, whereas on each point you have eventually retreated to either dogmatically restating your belief with no evidence, or changing the subject. Do you really not know what 3rd Corinthians is? It has nothing to do with 2nd Corinthians so I don’t know why you’re pointing me to Fred Long. And please do read the article by Skeat on P46 – his data are sufficient to make my point. Facts being stubborn things, I’m happy to let my evidence on the other points stand as they are, uncontested.

    I respect your right to run your blog as you wish. But please keep these comments unedited so others can evaluate our responses.


  • Anonymous

    Sean if you are talking about the second century document 3 Corinthians, it’s totally irrelevant to discussing Paul. Paul, as you admitted uses the terms soma and sarx as synonyms at various points. So your point on 1 Corinthians is not only insufficient, it is inaccurate. As for P46, it is absolutely untrue that you could not get the letters episkopoikaipresbuteroi on that line at the bottom. So I am simply not buying Skeat’s argument. He is a good scholar, but all of us can be wrong at times. Let me be clear— you have not made your case, especially about Paul, and frankly, if you read a spectrum of Pauline scholarship on Paul’s views on sarx and soma you will discover that most scholars of whatever theological opinion would disagree with you.

  • Anonymous

    P.S. As you ought to know Sean, Bart Ehrman is not an authority on Paul, has written no commentaries on any Pauline letter, and his opinions do not represent any kind of Pauline consensus either.

  • TheDude

    Is it possible Luke-Acts was an ancient novel? What about the gospels?

  • Anonymous

    Nope neither the Gospels nor Acts meet the criteria for being ancient novels. For one thing they regularly expose the disciples foibles, the very same disciples who were later turned into saints. For another thing Jesus and his disciples keep saying and doing things hero figures don’t say and do in antiquity—- like dying on crosses.

  • Dumm Sean

    Dr. Witherington,

    I have explained a couple different (uncontested) reasons why soma and sarx cannot be used transitively, despite the point that they occasionally overlap. But you keep repeating that point anyway :). Gotta like your stubbornness.

    The implausibility of the phrase “with the bishops and deacons” in p46 is based on a full line by line reconstruction of the original text, accounting for: the scribe’s nomina sacra habits, his average lines per page, and average characters per line. Try for yourself: reconstruct the entire folio with the phrase “with the bishops and deacons”, and you will see it renders the text too long by exactly the number of characters in that phrase. Stubborn things, those facts.

    I agree with you 100% Ehrman is not an authority, but that’s because I don’t believe in authorities in the first place. I believe in reasons and evidence, which is why your point about most scholars disagreeing with me sailed, as they say, right past my bat.


  • Bobby Garringer

    Isn’t Rom 6:1-11 about the current experience of “resurrection”? The significance of the future tenses in the earlier section seem to point beyond beyond baptism to the life that follows. This seems to be clearly the case, because of the present tense in verse 11.

  • Dave

    Are you seriously saying something couldn’t be a part of the original text because it would have required more space than normal and made it longer? Very interesting. Please explain.