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New Boxes Related to Literary Forgery and the NT

Here are two more new boxes in my new edition of The New Testatment: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.    Both of these deal with issues that I cover in my book Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics and, to a lesser extent, in my trade book, Forged.


Box 25.2  Another Glimpse Into the Past

The Secretary Hypothesis

For a very long time there have been scholars who have argued that the reason books like 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Ephesians, and the Pastoral epistles are so unlike Paul’s other writings – both in writing style and contents – is that in these instances Paul used a “secretary” and that this other person, his secretary, actually did the writing for him, after Paul gave some instructions about what to say.  This is a view that I myself was taught in graduate school.  It is still widely taught today.   The problem is that there is almost no evidence for it.

By that I do not mean that there is no evidence that Paul ever used a secretary.  He obviously did.   Look at Romans 16:22: “I Tertius, the one who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.”  Tertius was not the real author of the book of Romans – that was Paul!  Tertius was the scribe to whom Paul dictated the letter.   And so we know that Paul used scribes or secretaries on occasion.  So what is wrong with the theory that sometimes these secretaries were the ones who wrote  the letters – in a different writing style and with different contents from those written by Paul?

As it turns out, we know a lot about secretaries from the ancient world, both because they are mentioned and discussed in ancient texts and because we have references to them in other ancient documents that have survived in the sands of Egypt.   There have been full and exhaustive studies of the phenomenon, by scholars who have looked at every reference to them by ancient authors and at the numerous letters written by secretaries that have been discovered.

We now know that…


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A New Box on Why A (Christian) Author Would Lie About Who He Was
New Boxes on Problematic Social Values in the New Testament



  1. Avatar
    bonnie43uk  November 1, 2014

    This may seem like a silly question, but why weren’t the Gospels of the New Testament written originally in Aramaic? All of Jesus’s exploits and ministry happened in and around Judea to the best of my knowledge, it seems odd that the earliest writings were in the Greek language.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2014

      It’s not a silly question at all! Aramaic was the spoken language of Palestine. We don’t have any literary texts produced in Palestine that have survived. Writers from outside Palestine would write, normally, in the language most widely used in the Roman Empire, and that was Greek. Since the Gospel writers lived outside of Palestine, they wrote in Greek. (THey were writing decades after Jesus had died.)

  2. Avatar
    Jason  November 1, 2014

    Heheh… I never thought about this before, but to illustrate your second to last point, I could have my name legally changed to Bartholomew Ehrman and spend my life writing biblical/historical homoerotica. Seems like a lot of work though.

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  November 1, 2014

    Thanks for so succinctly and clearly clarifying the differences between false attributions, forgeries, confused identities, and anonymous books,

  4. Avatar
    richard  November 2, 2014

    Dr Ehrman

    is it possible the following conversations between jesus and peter were invented/forged?

    13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

    14They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

    15“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

    16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

    17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter,b and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hadesc will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will bed bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will bee loosed in heaven.” 20Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

    what i don’t understand is why is jesus blessing peter, when peter does not even have jesus’ understanding of the word “messiah” in mind?

    after all that blessing, jesus does a 360 degrees turn and starts rebuking peter:

    21From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

    22Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

    23Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

    what? stumbling block who got blessed and rewarded? think about it from peters perspective , he heard that he would get rewarded and later on is told that he is a stumbling block for not having jesus’ interpretation of messiah in mind?

    is this really a conversation between jews and christians fighting over the interpretation of what messiah meant?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2014

      I don’t think the conversation actually took place; it’s Mark’s attempt to show that precisely as the messiah Jesus had to suffer and die, something that for most Jews made no sense at all.

      • Avatar
        richard  November 8, 2014

        i have two books . forged and misquoting jesus , unfortunately none of this is covered in them. why would matthew have his jesus praise peter for having the wrong interpretation of the word “messiah” ?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 10, 2014

          He praises him for recognizing him as messiah, but he upbraids him rather severely, calling him Satan, for showing that he doesn’t recognize what the title means when applied to Jesus.

      • Avatar
        richard  November 8, 2014

        and like you said “…something that for most Jews made no sense at all.” so poor old peter cannot be attacked for having wrong interpretation , most jews in his day would have had his understanding and matthew’s jesus promises high rewards

  5. Bethany
    Bethany  November 4, 2014

    I can’t recall if I’ve asked this before, alas…

    I’m curious what you think of the idea I’ve heard floated that the author of Mark might very well have been named Mark since there’s no real obvious reason for people to have come up with “Mark” as the author otherwise (as there were no apostles or people particularly important in the early Christian movement mentioned anywhere named “Mark”).

    Obviously there’s no way to know one way or the other, of course.

  6. Avatar
    Hngerhman  March 14, 2019

    Dr Ehrman –

    In Forged (which I finished last week and am now swimming in Forgery & Counterforgery) you lay out wildly compelling logic why Ephesians isn’t authentically Pauline. If one wanted to find the best arguments for the opposing view that it is from Paul’s own hand, whose work would you point a layperson to as mounting the best counteroffensive?

    Many thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 16, 2019

      Probably Luke Timothy Johnson? Check out his Introduction to the NT.

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