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Another Forgery in the Name of Peter

In my talk the other night at Unity Village, called “Are there Forgeries in the New Testament?” (or maybe I called it something even more provocative, like “Is the New Testament Forged?”), I started out, as I indicated in my previous post, by discussing several forgeries that are found *outside* the New Testament, as a way of introducing the audience to what I meant by the term “forgery” (which I use in a strict and technical sense to refer to books whose authors claim to be someone famous, knowing full well they are someone else; this kind of false authorial claim, of course, has little or no bearing on whether anything else found in the writing could or should be considered “true”) and as a way of “easing them into” the idea that there could be forgeries within the New Testament as well.

And so I chose three later forgeries, all done in the name of Jesus’ disciple Simon Peter. In my previous post I mentioned the Gospel of Peter, as the first of the three I discussed. The second is a much less well known writing known as the Letter of Peter to James. This letter is found as one of the opening documents for the Pseudo-Clementine writings. This gets a little complicated.

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A Third Forgery in the Name of Peter
Forgery and the Gospel of Peter



  1. Robertus
    Robertus  April 7, 2013

    A most interesting work. Is it thought that the letter of Peter to James and the rest of the pseudo Clementine literature originated in Rome? Perhaps by a remnant of the Jewish-Christian church there that saw themselves as continuing in the tradition of Peter and the other disciples of Jesus. Much like deutero- and trito-Isaiah who were understood to write in the tradition of the prophet Isaiah.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 8, 2013

      Our current Pseudo-Clementine literature appears to have originated in Syria.

      • Robertus
        Robertus  April 8, 2013

        Interesting. I wonder if a sizable portion of the church in Antioch sided with Kephas and the men from James and and bore a grudge against Paul.

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    Xeronimo74  April 7, 2013

    Bart, what about the earliest ‘forgeries’ (although ‘alternative/competing interpretations’ would probably be more historically correct?) that Paul is already complaining about in his letters? That other people, already at that early stage, proclaimed Gospels on Jesus that differed from his own?

    And how probable is it then that the Gospels we have do, or that Paul’s view does, indeed correctly represent the belief of the actual first believers, of the the actual Apostles (or at least those of them that didn’t doubt …)?

    • Avatar
      Xeronimo74  April 9, 2013

      Hi there, just curious, why got the above comment not accepted with the others on this page? That way I can avoid the same mistake in the future? Thank you.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  April 9, 2013

        Sorry — ran out of time yesterday. I assume it’s there now (not sure which comment you’re referring to).

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 9, 2013

      2 Thessalonians 2:2 mentions an earlier forgery, but that’s the only reference to the phenomenon in the NT. And yes, most of our early writings are “correcting” the views of others — especially Paul.

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    stephena  April 7, 2013

    I’ve always found this “Letter of Peter to James” fascinating, because even if not authentic, its preserves an earlier tradition that isn’t Pauline, and is in fact opposed it strenuously. It’s worth noting that there are a lot of Pauline-friendly (and Gnostic-friendly) additions to the Pseudo-Clementines.

    That this survived in this form is amazing. It’s really a “smoking gun” I often point out to those who read Acts and the so-called Petrine Epistles literally. Frankly, my belief is that the Jerusalem Church, led by James, the Brother of Jesus and the original Apostles – and their heirs – never accepted Paul and were actively opposing him right up until the war in 66-70 that destroyed the city (and it’s an opposition hinted at, in a distorted way, in Acts) and that this group would have created something like this letter.

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    salon_1928  April 7, 2013

    Hi Bart (or anyone else who wants to chime in),

    A bit of a newbie question…in the case of this letter, how do we know the “enemy” is Paul? Could it have been Marcion instead?


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 9, 2013

      Well, the “real” enemy may have been a Paulinist of the second century when the letter was written; but the “ostensible” enemy was Paul himself, since he was living in the days of Peter (unlike Marcion)

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    AGAPE1  April 7, 2013

    I think it is important to remember that people often will change things when their power is in jeopardy. During the time that Jesus was preaching, the “Teachers” if you will, saw how it would effect them as a whole. Here we have someone who is trying to turn them away from sin and to live the way that God intends. From the view point of these so called teachers, they would basically loose everything. As it is stated in the Old Testament, they were very dishonest and truly prospered the more people sinned; the more the sin, the more they obtained in offerings for those sins. As I stated, the teachings of Jesus would have done away with all they received. Now having that in mind, lets try and think on the same level as them; as low as it may be. What must we do to ensure our survival? Well first we must discredit this person Jesus in whom our people are following. Next how can we prevent this from happening again? Well given they are well aware of prophesies that had been given, they knew they needed to try and do something to first stake claim to their inheritance in which Jesus said they would never have. The reason He said this was because He knew that they were going to change what was written. In looking at certain text of prophesy, you start to see the difference between the books. Not only that, you begin to see how things have been added, thus making things seem out of order. Things that were changed was done to benefit the Priest. We can find this out and know by what Jesus said when He told them that they would hide the keys to Eternal life because they themselves would not enter. The crazy part is, this did not just stop here; it spread over to Rome and continues even to this day. When you think about how Israel kept the Dead Sea Scrolls for so long without letting anyone else see them, this backs up what I just said. They wanted to make sure that there was nothing that would give them away and bring people to the truth thus revealing the truth behind what is to come. Between Israel and the Roman Catholic Church, we see that they are always seeking to be the first to know what is discovered so that they would never loose what they have. They both know what is soon to come and have tried to contain it through their various schemes, but just as Jesus said, all will be revealed in the end and all that has been hidden will be brought to light. All will see what will happen to those in which did much evil in His sight and lead many astray. There is much more, but I just wanted to comment on the above. I will say this though, the scribes who were ordered to do the changing still encoded part of the original text but could only be discovered by who it was meant for. With this being said, I hope you have had a chance to read the email I sent you to your edu email with the subject line GDE; that;s the abbreviated version of it.

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    Joshua150  April 7, 2013

    Your books have made it much easier to have in one place what took me 40 years to distill with hundreds of books.
    They have reinforced my understanding of all this.
    Therefore I wish to ask, Bart, Any criticism of my understanding of the following?
    *All these writings, canonical and apocryphal, show the great divergence in the early days, and how long such arguments prevailed orally, eventually being written down. A close reading of Acts shows that it is a ‘Pauline’ apologetic that doesn’t even match Paul’s letters -the few not forged, though maybe interpolated here and there. Paul was not accepted, after awhile, by the Jerusalem church. Some of them, maybe more than we are comfortable admitting, saw Paul as an Enemy. But Paul still acted like he was chosen to enlighten and fight them if necessary. IMO because his direct vision of Christ told him so. His letters indicate he had that continual relationship in a visionary way. After the Temple was destroyed what was left in Jerusalem became the ‘ebionites’, and ‘christianity’ was what evolved in many factions in the gentile population.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 8, 2013

      Yes, it’s an interesting statment I don’t know that we know that members of the Jerusalem church necessarily considered Paul the enemy, or that they became the Ebionites.

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    Pat Ferguson  April 7, 2013

    Hi Dr. Bart,

    You wrote: “what I meant by the term “forgery” (… books whose authors claim to be someone famous, knowing full well they are someone else;…).

    Well,so much for the argument / theory of “channeling” 😀

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    toddfrederick  April 7, 2013

    I’ve said this before and I will keep saying it because it is a huge problem in Christian understanding of the scriptures. I am still communicating with a gentleman who I can not prod to even consider that the Bible is anything other than the inerrant words of God dictated by God himself through robotic scribes. Heaven help me if I use the word forgery !! That is the status of Christian belief among millions of people, and they won’t consider anything else and simply do not want to make the effort to look into it. The Bible has become a relic to be worshiped. So, it’s like two trains running parallel to each other…what you present and what they believe, and the two trains will never cross paths. I let it “get” to me. I guess I should just not bother. Keep up your good work.

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      Pofarmer  April 9, 2013

      I’m right there with ya. It’s pretty amazing what people, intelligent, caring people, accept without apparently the slightest questioning. Conditioning from youth shuts off ones mind, I think.

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    Mikail78  April 8, 2013

    Bart, I apologize in advance for the content of this comment as it has nothing to do with your post. If you don’t already, have you considered setting up a twitter account and tweeting the partial blog posts designed to lure potential members to get a membership……like what you currently do on facebook? This might be a way to get even more members. It certainly couldn’t hurt. This is just my opinion, but it seems like twitter is overtaking facebook as the social media of choice. I could be wrong on that. Anyway, hope you don’t mind the suggestion. I just thought this might be a way to get even more subscribers/members.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 8, 2013

      Interesting idea. Uh, would it require work?

      • Avatar
        Mikail78  April 8, 2013

        It depends on what you mean by “work.” Ha! In all seriousness, I don’t think it would be much work at all. It would be very similar to what you already do with facebook. With twitter, all you could do is tweet the link to your partial blog post that is meant to lure potential members. Anyway, as I said, it’s just a suggestion. Do what you’re most comfortable with.

    • gmatthews
      gmatthews  April 9, 2013

      I’m not the only one who despises Twitter, but it would be far more effective at getting the word out than Facebook.

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        Xeronimo74  April 10, 2013

        Agreed. And there are even plugins from Twitter that automatically also post to Facebook so it’s not more work. Or maybe there’s even a WordPress plugin that automatically posts to both Twitter and Facebook!

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    Wilusa  April 8, 2013

    Can’t help wondering: what do you believe is the truth about Peter and Paul? *Would* either of them actually have thought of the other as an “enemy”?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 8, 2013

      I think “enemy” is probably too strong. You might look at my book on Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.

  11. talitakum
    talitakum  April 8, 2013

    So, the only genuine source we have about doctrine dispute between Peter and Paul is Paul himself describing the “Incident at Antioch”.. It’s apparently about table fellowship (and, in my opinion, Jesus approach to table fellowship seemed to be closer to Paul’s than to Peter in this case).
    Is that all? No witnesses of major christological disputes?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 8, 2013

      Yes, that’s the only first hand account we have, since it’s the only place Paul mentions it and Peter never wrote anything. Acts, of course, has a very different account.

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    Scott F  April 8, 2013

    Who in the fourth century would copy a letter that insists on complete CHristian obedience to the Mosaic law? Were their still Judaizer sects who practiced circumcision, for instance, that late?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 8, 2013

      Yes indeed there were. That becomes clear, among other things, from such sources as Chrysostom’s Orations against Judaizers….

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    Wilusa  April 8, 2013

    One more question I have about the Resurrection! I’ve always been puzzled by a line in the Apostles’ Creed, that says Jesus “descended into Hell.” I don’t recall ever hearing a Catholic explanation of why he would have made a side trip to “Hell,” or what he did there.

    Was that passage written by someone who was actually thinking of “Sheol”? A place he believed all deceased went to, regardless of morality – so it was just a way of stressing that Jesus was, at some point, truly dead?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 8, 2013

      Yes, I think “hell” in the creed simply refers to the realm of the dead, not to the place of eternal punishmnent. Jesus allegedly went there to proclaim that salvation he had just achieved.

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    bobnaumann  April 8, 2013

    I thought Paul had issues with Peter and James over circumcision and eating with the uncircumcised which led to the incident at Antioch (Galations 2).

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 8, 2013

      Actually, that controversy was ove rwhether it was legitimate for Jewish followes of Jesus to have table fellowship with Gentiles (Paul said yes; Peter waffled — at least according to Paul)

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    dennis  April 8, 2013

    The ironic thing here maybe that Paul’s original intent to destroy those followers of Jesus (pre- Road To Damascus Conversion ) may have been unintentionally fulfilled if the author of the Gospel of Mathew was right in portraying Jesus’s intent as enhanced Judaism rather than a brand new religion and theology . Author of ” Peter’s ” letter to James a disgruntled 2nd Century Ebionite ?

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    RonaldTaska  April 8, 2013

    I assume you will get to this point after you talk about the 6 forged epistles of Paul and the forged epistles of Peter that are in the Bible, but how do you think the four Biblical Gospels got assigned to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 8, 2013

      Long answer to that one! I’ll think about devoting some blogs to it down the line….

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    Arthur_  March 12, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Could it be true that these Clementine writings represent the views of a community that was founded by Peter and thus its views could be traced back to Peter? Sure they may not contain a complete and exact copy of his views but the writings still contain them and some modifications to them?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2018

      It’s possible, though not really susceptible of demonstration.

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