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Not for the Faint of Heart (Authorship of Colossians)

As I was writing up my post yesterday on the evidence that speaks against Paul having written Colossians, it occurred to me (as I indicated at the time) that it might be instructive to show the difference between how I might present that case to a lay audience and how I might present it to fellow scholars. The following is how I cover the same material in Forgery and Counterforgery . (All of this is related to the larger thread I have going on just now on whether the Third Gospel was written by Luke the Gentile physician, traveling companion of Paul; see yesterday’s post on the connection. In my next post I’ll return to that thread and point out other problems with the “logic” that says Luke wrote the Gospel. This current post will not be to everyone’s taste. If not, just sample it – or spit it out!)


As with every instance of forgery, the case of Colossians is cumulative, involving multiple factors. None has proved more decisive over the past thirty years than the question of writing style. The case was made most effectively in 1973 by Walter Bujard, in a study both exhaustive and exhausting, widely thought to be unanswerable.

Bujard compares the writing style of Colossians to the other Pauline letters, focusing especially on those of comparable length (Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians), and looking at an inordinately wide range of stylistic features: the use of conjunctions (of all kinds); infinitives; participles, relative clauses; repetitions of words and word groups; use of antithetical statements; parallel constructions; the use of preposition ἐν; the piling up of genitives; and on and on. In case after case, Colossians stands apart from Paul’s letters.

Here I can mention a slim selection of his findings. How often does a book of Paul’s use adversative conjunctions? Galatians 84 times; Philippians 52; 1 Thessasonians 29; but Colossians only 9. Causal conjunctions? Galatians 45 times; Philippians 20; 1 Thessalonians 31; but Colossians only 9. Consecutive conjunctions? Galatians 16 times; Philippians 10; 1Thessalonians 12; but Colossians only 6. How often does the letter use a conjunction to introduce a statement (ὅτι, ὡς, πως etc.) Galatians 20 times; Philippians 19; 1 Thessalonians 11; but Colossians only 3.


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Who Wrote Luke and Acts?
Problems with Luke as the Author of Luke



  1. Avatar
    mjardeen  September 22, 2013

    I find that reading your post in volume gets my brain working and this week has been one of my catch-ups. I just want to thank you for this post. It gives me greater insight into how textual criticism works and how you look at the texts. This type of post on occasion is a great way to see the rigors of your process. So thank you for this and the site!

  2. Avatar
    btdavis6876  November 9, 2014

    Professor Ehrman,

    I have to agree with you that Colossians was not written by Paul. The differences in writing style, the Christology differences compared to his other epistles and the arguments of yourself and other critical scholars have led me to think it’s highly unlikely Paul wrote it. It’s not impossible Paul wrote it, but highly unlikely.

    But just to play devil’s advocate, let’s say Paul DID write it. How then would you explain the verse “the firstborn of all creation?” That would seem to stand at odds with 1 Corinthians and Galatians, where Paul believes Jesus died, was buried and appeared to the twelve and others recently. So that would seem odd to say he was the “firstborn.” Paul doesn’t seem to think Jesus was Adam, the first person on earth, so that wouldn’t make much sense compared to what Paul says elsewhere about Jesus Christ.

    Additionally, Paul makes it clear Jesus was born in an earthly way when he wrote “… born of a woman, born under the Law…” in Galatians, which is obviously one of Paul’s authentic letters. So, if Jesus was the “firstborn” how could he also born of a woman? Haha, seems like the woman would have to have been born first to give birth to Christ!!

    So, my main question is, for those who think it WAS written by Paul and even that it shows that Paul believed Jesus to have lived long before other Christians thought (as argued by G.A. Wells) how would you respond? He seems to believe that would show Jesus must have been thought to have lived long ago, if he was the firstborn.

    What would you argue in response to that claim? I don’t buy this claim, but would really appreciate hearing your opinion!

    Thanks a lot,


    • Bart
      Bart  November 10, 2014

      I think Paul himself *did* think that Christ pre-existed. I discuss that in my book How Jesus Became God. Christ was an angelic being — possibly the Chief Angel — before becoming human, for Paul.

      • Avatar
        btdavis6876  November 10, 2014

        So basically what you’re saying is that Paul believed Jesus was an angel, but one who was born of a woman, had disciples and brothers (one named James), was crucified and suffered like a slave in a human form? Would your argument then be that IF Paul even wrote Colossians (which is doubtful) he meant God created the angel Christ “first” and was in a pre-existing form long before Paul, but lived ON EARTH recently?! That is very interesting. I plan to buy your book soon!

  3. Avatar
    ancadudar@yahoo.com  March 3, 2018

    The entire city of Colossae was leveled and destroyed by the earthquakes of the AD 60s, and it was never rebuilt. According to evangelical legend, Paul is believed to have been martyred around AD 65, or a least not have written any more letters beyond AD 65. At the same time, conservative evangelical scholars tend to defend Paul’s authentic authorship of Colossians by saying it was written during Paul’s imprisonment right before his death, yet that would put it in the 60’s either after or right before the city was destroyed.

    My thinking is that it never even reached Colossae or at least was not discovered there and was probably conveniently forged after the city was leveled so there are no witnesses to its reception and validity.
    What do you think Bart?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2018

      There are debates about that earthquake. I talk about hte issue in my book Forgery and Counterforgery.

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