Here’s an important question I received recently from a blog member:

Someone told me that “I should never listen to you” because you say Paul did not write six letters of the New Testament, even though the letters start with the claim he did:  “Paul, an Apostle of Christ to the Church at …..”  This person’s main issue was: what is the evidence Paul did not write Ephesians? Your thoughts.


This is an issue I dealt with directly in my book Forged: Why The Biblical Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2012).  Here’s what I say there.  (If you are interested in the hard-core academic and detailed discussion of the evidence, I have a much fuller discussion in my book Forgery and Counterforgery)


When I was teaching at Rutgers in the mid 1980s, I regularly offered a course on the life and teachings of Paul.  One of the textbooks for the course was a book on Paul by a conservative British scholar named F. F. Bruce.[1]  I used the book because I disagreed with just about everything in it, and I thought it would be a good idea for my students to see a different side of the story from the one I told in class.  One of the things that F. F. Bruce thought about the writings of Paul was that Ephesians was the most Pauline of all the Pauline letters.  Not only did he think Paul wrote it; he thought it encapsulated better than any other letter the heart and soul of Paul’s theology.

That’s what I once thought too, years earlier, when I was just starting out in my studies.  Then I took a course on the New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary with a professor named J. Christiaan Beker.  Beker was a formidable scholar of Paul.  In the late 1970s he wrote a massive and influential study of Paul’s theology,  one of the truly great studies ever to be published on the matter. [2]  But Beker was thoroughly convinced that Paul had not written Ephesians, that in fact Ephesians represents a serious alteration of Paul’s thought.[3]

At the time, when I took the course, I wasn’t so sure.  But the more I studied the matter, carefully comparing what Ephesians says with what Paul himself says in his undisputed letters, I became increasingly convinced.  By the time I was teaching at Rutgers, I was sure Paul had not written the letter.  Today the majority of biblical scholars agree.  Ephesians may sound like Paul, but when you start digging a bit deeper, large differences and discrepancies appear.

The letter of Ephesians is written to Gentile Christians (3:1) to remind them that even though they were once alienated from both God and his people, the Jews, they have now been reconciled: they have been made right with God and the boundary that divided Jew from Gentile – the Jewish Law – has been torn down by the death of Christ.  Jews and Gentiles can now live in harmony with one another, in Christ, and in harmony with God.  After laying out this theological set of ideas in the first three chapters (especially chapter 2), the author turns to ethical issues and discusses ways that followers of Jesus must live in order to manifest the unity they have in Christ.

The reasons for thinking Paul did not write this letter are numerous and compelling.  For one thing, the writing style is not Paul’s. Paul usually writes in short pointed sentences; the sentences in Ephesians are long and complex.  In Greek, the opening statement of thanksgiving (1:3-14) – all twelve verses – is one sentence.  There’s nothing wrong with extremely long sentences in Greek; it just isn’t the way Paul wrote.  It’s like Mark Twain and William Faulkner; they both wrote correctly, but you would never mistake the one for the other.  Some scholars have pointed out that in the hundred or so sentences in Ephesians, nine of them are over fifty words in length.  Compare this with Paul’s own letters.  Philippians for example has 102 sentences, only one of them over fifty words; Galatians has 181 sentences, again with only one over fifty words.  The book also has an inordinate number of words that otherwise don’t occur in Paul’s writings, 116 altogether, well higher than average (50% more than Philippians, for example, which is about the same length).[4]

But the main reason for thinking that Paul didn’t write Ephesians is that what the author says in places does not gel with what Paul himself says in his own letters.  Ephesians 2:1-10, for example, certainly looks like Paul, but just on the surface.  Here, as in the letters that Paul himself definitely wrote, we learn that believers were separated from God because of sin but have been made right with God exclusively through his grace, not as the result of “works.”   But here, oddly, Paul includes himself as someone who before coming to Christ, was carried away, by the “passions of our flesh, doing the will of the flesh and senses.”  This doesn’t sound like the Paul of the undisputed letters, who says that he had been “blameless” with respect to the “righteousness of the law” (Phil. 3:4).  In addition, even though he is talking about the relationship of Jew and Gentile in this letter, the author does not speak about salvation apart from the “works of the law”, as Paul does.  He speaks instead of salvation apart from doing “good deeds.”  That simply was not the issue Paul addressed.

Moreover, this author indicates that believers have already been “saved” by the grace of God.  As it turns out, the verb “saved” in Paul himself is always used to refer to the future.  Salvation is not something people already have, it’s what they will have when Jesus returns on the clouds of heaven and delivers his followers from the wrath of God.

Relatedly, and most significantly, Paul was emphatic in his own writings that Christians who had been baptized had “died” to the powers of the world that were aligned with the enemies of God.  They had “died with Christ.”  But they had not yet been “raised” with Christ.  That would happen at the end of time, when Jesus returned and all people, living and dead, would be raised up to face judgment.  That’s why in Romans 6:1-4 Paul is emphatic: those who are baptized “have died” with Christ and they “will be raised” with him, at Jesus’ second coming.

Paul was extremely insistent on this point, that the resurrection of believers was a future, physical event, not something that had happened yet.  One of the reasons he wrote 1 Corinthians was precisely because some of the Christians in that community took an opposing point of view, and maintained that they were already enjoying a resurrected existence with Christ now, that they already were enjoying the benefits of salvation.  Paul devotes 1 Corinthians 15 to showing that no, the resurrection is not something that has happened yet.  It is a future physical event yet to occur.  Christians have not yet been raised with Christ.

But contrast this statement with what Ephesians says: “Even when we were dead through our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places” (2:5-6). Here believers have experienced a spiritual resurrection and are enjoying a heavenly existence in the here and now.  This is precisely the view that Paul argued against in his letters to the Corinthians!

In point after point, when you look carefully at Ephesians, it stands at odds with Paul himself.  This book was apparently written by a later Christian in one of Paul’s churches who wanted to deal with a big issue of his own day:  the relation of Jews and Gentiles in the church.  He did so by claiming to be Paul, knowing full well that he wasn’t Paul.  He accomplished his goal, that is, by producing a forgery.


[1] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free  (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977).

[2] Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980).

[3] See his other book, Heirs of Paul: Paul’s Legacy in the New Testament and in the Church Today (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991).

[4] See the discussion of Victor Paul Furnish, “Ephesians, Epistle to,” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2; pp. 535-42.