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Pauline Forgeries: 2 Thessalonians as a Test Case

In my previous post I started answering the question of how the letters not by Paul differ from the letters that are by Paul.  In that post I pointed out that we know that there were Pauline forgeries in the early church (that is, letters written by authors who were claiming to be Paul when they were in fact someone else).   No one doubts that.  We have letters from outside the NT that claim to be by Paul but were absolutely not:  3 Corinthians, the Letter to the Laodiceans, and the 12 letters exchanged between Paul and the Roman philosopher Seneca.   These are all forged.

But are there letters that falsely claim to be written by Paul that are also *in* the New Testament?   Critical scholars (as opposed to fundamentalists and very conservative evangelical Christians) agree that there are.   Scholars normally place the thirteen Pauline letters of the New Testament into three categories:  The Pastoral Epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, which are very widely recognized as having been written by someone other than Paul; the Deutero-Pauline letters of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians, which are fairly widely as being written by other authors (three different authors; these must be judged as authentic or not on a case by case basis); and the other seven letters, which are called the “Undisputed Paulines”:  Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.

When I say these are “undisputed” that’s a bit of an exaggeration since, as you probably know, scholars dispute *everything*.  It’s in their DNA.   But just about every (not quite every) New Testament scholar on the planet agrees that Paul wrote these seven.

Since we have seven letters…


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The Inauthenticity of 2 Thessalonians: The Simple Reason
Forgeries in the Name of Paul



  1. cwspeaks  December 16, 2014

    I’ve definitely been doing some thought exercises: what if the seven “undisputed” letters were actually the forgeries and something like 2 Thessalonians or Ephesians was actually indicative of Paul’s actual thought? It just goes to show, I think, how little we actually know about Paul – more than Jesus, yes – but still relatively little considering his prominence and impact.

    • SWerdal
      SWerdal  December 17, 2014

      After watching the utube video of Carrier’s 2-hour debate in San Diego from a few months ago, I’m pretty sure even he wouldn’t dispute the historicity of an actual Paul. Or the existence of forged letters. Or a criterion for identifying a Pauline core persona/personality that comes out of his established undisputed missives. When I studied at Luther Sem 30 years ago I recall books theorizing a LOT about Paul from what comes out his letters, making a psychological mountain out of his thorn in the flesh peccadillo/molehill, whatever it was. Former Roman soldier, I forget what kind. of Tarsus? Persecutor of early Christian heretics, rabble rousers? Converted after his fall from a horse and vision of Jesus? Determined to have his place/authority among the apostles with pre-crucifixion contemporaneous Jesus lifetime experience, and post-vision directives to spread the gospel. Vied with Peter and James for dominance/control of the message and audience? Made truce after parley? But I think you’re right that we may know more about him than Jesus, whose emerging psych profile can’t help but be lumped in with other itinerant apocalyptic preachers for the sayings we attribute to him with most confidence. He certainly inspired a devoted following “in his time” though, huh? Paul too.

  2. RonaldTaska  December 16, 2014

    Keep going!

  3. Scott  December 16, 2014

    I can’t wait to see the difference in approach between your monograph and lay book. I may have been reading the wrong books all this time!

    • Bart
      Bart  December 17, 2014

      I’ll be giving the argument of the monograph in my next four posts; so far I’ve just been giving the lay book.

  4. silvertime  December 16, 2014

    Dr/ Ehrman: I am very grateful(described as being appreciative of what you are thankful for) for your daily blog comments. You do not have to do this, however I’m glad that you do. It is refreshing to find regular critical thinking and discussion on a subject that I find compelling.

  5. Hon Wai  December 16, 2014

    Hal Lindsey, in his 80s, still going strong in his apocalyptic fervour and hasn’t recanted anything he wrote in the Late Great Planet earth. In 2008, he predicted Obama is the antichrist.

  6. Kevin Nelson  December 17, 2014

    When you were a teenager, how did you reconcile your belief in a pre-tribulation rapture with Rev 14:3 and the 144,000 virtuous people who were “redeemed from the earth”? In Revelation, their redemption seems to occur after a great deal of tribulation, so you might suppose that if a pre-tribulation rapture had occurred at all, then those people would already have been raptured away.

    I suppose now you are more likely to say that the scenarios in Revelation and 1 Thessalonians are simply incompatible–was that something that you worried about at all as a teenager?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 17, 2014

      I can’t remember *how* I reconciled them — maybe the 144,000 were converted during the trib but after the rapture?

      • David
        David  December 18, 2014

        My wife is an ex-Jehovah’s Witness. For the JWs, the 144,000 are a select group beginning with the apostles, and acquiring (and losing) members over the course of history. They are the only ones who will dwell in heaven, while the rest of the faithful remain eternally on a New Earth. Some still live today (all JWs of course), and the only way they are known is that they are the only ones in a congregation who will partake of the “Lord’s Supper.” When asked how they know they are of the 144,000, the answer is that they “just know.” The fact that Revelation tells us that the 144,000 would be Male Virgin Jews from the 12 tribes of Israel is of no concern. That, according to JWs, is purely symbolic.. A prime example of how you can make the scriptures say just about anything you want. Looking back, my wife is astonished that she could maintain such a belief for over 20 years.

      • Kevin Nelson  December 18, 2014

        The 144,000 are stated to be the “firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb,” though! And if the rapture had already occurred, then they wouldn’t be first after all.

  7. timlarison  December 20, 2014

    Thanks Dr Ehrman for the best argument against “rapture” teaching that I have read. The rapture was strongly emphasized in the church of my youth. I remember thinking “why even consider college? The rapture is happening soon.” (this was in the 70’s when Late Great Planet Earth was at the height of its popularity. Thank goodness I ignored those thoughts and did continue with my studies (which led to a successful engineering career).

  8. Jana  December 23, 2014

    Did those who selected and then designated these texts as biblical inclusions know at that time that they were forgeries?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2014

      No way! If they knew they were forged they absolutely would not have included them.

      • Jana  December 24, 2014

        This then is actually funny. The Forgers really ARE having the last laugh.

  9. Jana  December 23, 2014

    I can only imagine that the selection process as a lively one 🙂

  10. Jana  December 23, 2014

    Ah … the Apocalyptic Myth which was most recently foisted upon the Maya … December 2012 “End of the World” hysteria … of course the Maya never predicted the End of the World but that didn’t prevent westerners from capitalizing by writing a bunch of silly books.

  11. thelad2  December 31, 2014

    Bart: Hello and Happy New Year. I know I”m a little late here, but I have a tangential Paul question. Did Paul see Jesus or Christ or both as pre-existent? If so, in what sense? Thanks for a great year of posts.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 3, 2015

      Yes, he thought Christ was a pre-existent divine being of some kind, who after his death was exalted to a level of equality with God. See Philippians 2:6-10; I discuss this in my book How Jesus Became God.

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