Bart Ehrman has a new book out and it’s got a rather attention grabbing title: ‘Forged: Writing in the Name of God — Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are’ (HarperOne 2011). And in a recent piece for HuffPo, Ehrman is rather blunt and non-Orwellian in his designation of certain New Testament authors. He calls them liars:
Many of the books of the New Testament were written by people who lied about their identity, claiming to be a famous apostle — Peter, Paul or James — knowing full well they were someone else.
Bart Ehrman elaborates on 2 Peter as a specific example:
Whoever wrote the New Testament book of 2 Peter claimed to be Peter. But scholars everywhere — except for our friends among the fundamentalists — will tell you that there is no way on God’s green earth that Peter wrote the book. Someone else wrote it claiming to be Peter. Scholars may also tell you that it was an acceptable practice in the ancient world for someone to write a book in the name of someone else. But that is where they are wrong. If you look at what ancient people actually said about the practice, you’ll see that they invariably called it lying and condemned it as a deceitful practice, even in Christian circles. 2 Peter was finally accepted into the New Testament because the church fathers, centuries later, were convinced that Peter wrote it. But he didn’t. Someone else did. And that someone else lied about his identity.
Ehrman also brings up, in his article, the Taliban-like misogynist who wrote, in the name of the apostle Paul, 1 Timothy:
Whoever wrote the book of 1 Timothy claimed to be Paul. But he was lying about that — he was someone else living after Paul had died. In his book, the author of 1 Timothy used Paul’s name and authority to address a problem that he saw in the church. Women were speaking out, exercising authority and teaching men. That had to stop. The author told women to be silent and submissive, and reminded his readers about what happened the first time a woman was allowed to exercise authority over a man, in that little incident in the garden of Eden. No, the author argued, if women wanted to be saved, they were to have babies (1 Tim. 2:11-15).
I suppose the author of 1 Timothy believed that his ends justified his means: women speaking in public meetings and exercising authority over men were greater sins within the church than the forgery he had decided to distribute among it. He probably also presumed that Jesus was coming back soon in any event, and that the little harm he caused would prove, in the broad scheme of things, trivial.
And, in any case, he could always repent afterward.
But you never know where your deeds may ultimately lead. It’s unlikely he anticipated that his forged epistle would be brought into a collection of books deemed by later generations to be, not just authoritative, but infallible, and so ring down through centuries, through millenia, oppressing the lives of millions—perhaps even billions—of women over the course of history.
Contingency is a funny thing. Except when it isn’t.