In discussions of original authorship pertaining to the Christian Bible, there remain controversial issues on whether the Pauline epistles were really written by Paul. On the one hand, Bart Ehrman in his Huffington Post article, “Who Wrote the Bible and Why It Matters,” contends “many of the books of the New Testament were written by people who lied about their identity.” From this perspective, this means the Holy Scriptures are errant and fallible and are therefore incapable of being trusted. On the other hand, however, others contend the legitimacy of Paul’s authorship to his acclaimed epistles. The issue, then, is whether Paul wrote the epistles ascribed to him or if someone else did while claiming to be him. Bart Ehrman argues several of Paul’s epistles to be pseudepigrapha, but I will reveal how his claim is unreliable and invalid.
Ehrman makes several false claims about New Testament canon, but he seems to single out Paul’s authorship of 1 Timothy as well as a specific teaching in it. He claims the person who wrote 1 Timothy “was lying” and was “someone else living after Paul had died.” Yet he does not provide any evidence to support this claim. Several times he makes the claim that “some good Christian scholars” and then “most scholars” supposedly recognise certain books of the Bible being pseudepigrapha. You might ask: Who are these so-called Christian scholars? What are their credentials? Are they expert exegetes and systematicians? Ehrman does not supply any sources for these wild claims. While I do recognise there exist Bible scholars who would support Ehrman’s claims of the Bible’s inauthenticity, I maintain that these Bible scholars are not Christian in the true sense of the word. A Christian does not question the inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures because if they did so, it would undermine their entire faith. So to say there are “Christian scholars” who supposedly unanimously agree with his claims is by no means accurate nor reliable. These would not be Christian Bible scholars, but rather secular Bible scholars whose goal is to sabotage the Christian faith.
Within 1 Timothy Ehrman attacks a specific doctrine, but before we discuss the matter we first need to address the issue of Paul’s authorship. Ehrman palpably believes Paul did not write 1 Timothy, but rather someone was claiming to be him. Dr. Peter Walker lists three options for possible dating of the pastoral epistles: 1) Paul wrote them during his arrest in Rome in the book of Acts (AD 62-63), 2) he wrote them after the Acts narrative when he was released from prison in Rome (AD 66-67), or 3) Ehrman’s unsupported theory that it was written by an unknown author and thus pseudepigrapha (between AD 64 and AD 100) (Walker, 5). Walker’s proposal is the first option—Paul wrote the epistles during his imprisonment in Rome, which is the argument I agree with.
First, it is unlikely Paul was released from prison in Rome because of Nero’s scapegoat against Christians for causing the enormous fire in Rome. It is more likely, Walker suggests, that Paul’s “brave witness only irritated the emperor, leading not only to his own execution but also to Nero’s incipient hostility to this new movement” of persecuting Christians (Walker, 6). The book of Acts does not give us a conclusion to Paul’s trial either, so it is likely that “what happened was in reality deeply anti-climactic,” such as Paul’s execution (Walker, 5). We must also remember Paul was imprisoned several times before his appeal to Rome and prolonged imprisonment there, which also would’ve given him ample time to write other letters. There is also the witness of the early church father Clement to support this. Clement wrote in AD 96, “Paul… bore testimony before the rulers, and so departed from the world and was taken up into the holy place—the greatest example of endurance” (Walker, 6). According to Clement, Walker contends, Paul (and Peter) were among the first Christians to anger Nero and were executed for doing so. Before Paul’s death, Clement writes that Paul “was a herald both in the east and in the west… having reached the limit of the west,” in reference to Paul’s missionary journeys in the west (Walker, 6). In summary, then, it is highly likely Paul was executed in Rome after appealing to Nero when considering the savagery of Christian persecution and, by Clement’s witness, traveled throughout the west before the trial.
While arguing for 1 Timothy as pseudepigrapha, Ehrman assumes fundamentalist Christian scholars use the term pseudepigrapha to “shy away” from specific epistles as being forgeries. He also makes the claim that university and seminary professors who teach the New Testament do not tell their students the term “literally means ‘writing that is inscribed with a lie.'” As a university student in the pre-seminary programme at Concordia University Ann-Arbor, and as a future seminarian, this claim is deceitful to his readers. In my undergrad pre-seminary studies, my professors have taught my fellow students and me what pseudepigrapha are, which are not only written works falsely attributed to biblical characters but also works that are falsely accounted as the Word of God. Such works, we learnt, include the Book of Enoch, the Apocrypha, the Book of Mormon, and others. Ehrman is attempting to implement historical criticism, which endeavours to discover the original authorship of documents through human reasoning as opposed to the text’s claims. Historical criticism helps when examining a purely human document, but like all historical critics he fails to acknowledge the Scriptures were not merely written by human authors, but more importantly a divine author—God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16). Ehrman also fails to mention whether he’s actually sat in a large variety of seminaries and Christian universities to make such an assessment. So, in order to perpetuate ancient historical criticism that was debunked by Christian scholars long ago, Erhman tells a secular lie in order to expose a supposed Christian lie.
Ehrman is not the first to call to question the authorship and integrity of the Pauline epistles. Other critics such as Schleiermacher also made the same argument during the Age of Reason (roughly 1600-1800). For example, Adolf Jülicher argued that the early Christians “were indifferent to the form in which truth was expressed” (Lea, 72). Those who have read Ehrman’s books and agree with his historical critical method likewise argue that the early church fathers assumed that epistles like 1 Timothy were written by Paul, so they added into the epistle Paul as the author, or Peter for Second Peter. Conversely, Dr. Donald Guthrie affirmed, “There is no evidence in Christian literature for the idea of a conventional literary device, by which an author as a matter of literary custom and with the full approbation of his circle of readers publishes his own productions in another’s name. There was always an ulterior motive.” The ulterior motive always being concerned with unbiblical doctrine and other practices the Church did not accept (Lea, 72-73). Therefore, it is not only false to say Paul is not the author of 1 Timothy, it would also be false to say the Church would accept false documentation and falsely attribute it to a false author because nowhere is it indicated in historical writings that this would be the case. Another argument proposes that the language used in 1 Timothy and Ephesians are different than Paul’s other writings, such as Romans or Galatians. Yet this idea is absurd. As a writer myself, if you examine the language I use in my Sheep of Christ blog and compare it to my academic essays for seminary, you would think two different people wrote them since I use completely different languages because of who my audience is, yet I still remain the author. Just because I speak differently to different audiences doesn’t mean I’m not the author; the same thing applies to Paul. It is illogical to assume Paul was using the same exact language in every letter he wrote because each letter speaks to a different audience for different purposes. When an experienced writer does that, which Paul was, he uses language differently for each audience in order to drive home specific points for easier understanding. If pseudepigrapha exists, it is because it’s a document that opposes universal doctrinal agreement and other false practices the Church prohibits, not because a person is claiming to be someone he’s not with the Church’s secret knowledge of it. Thus, Ehrman’s claim that many books of the Bible “were written by people who lied about their identity” is an unfounded claim not supported by any church father or objective biblical scholar.
Ehrman not only has an issue with Paul as author of 1 Timothy, but like many liberal thinkers he cannot come to terms with Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:11-15. This passage is where “conservative churches” (i.e. orthodox churches) get the doctrine of prohibiting women ordination. Ehrman has an issue with Paul’s saying women must remain quiet and learn in submission. As a result, “liberation minded” people label him as a misogynist. But what are “liberation minded” people? People who wish to be free from any religious institution and act how they deem worthy? If so, being “free” from God’s Word, why should they care about Paul’s authorship? It should apparently matter to them because he purports it “is still used by church leaders today to oppress and silence women.” To see if this is true, let’s first analyse the section saying women are to be silent and learn in submission.
What Ehrman fails to do is pay attention to context in two notable ways. His first error stems from failed exegesis—indeed, no exegesis was done on his part at all. He simply grabbed a small section out of the entire epistle like a child who pulls out raisins from a bag of Trail Mix and made a claim of what it supposedly means without any authority or evidence to support it. In the context of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul is listing instructions for public worship. Verses 1-7 begin as instructions to all general people in the congregation, he changes the subject to men in verse 8, then he switches to women in verses 9-15. All these instructions precede 1 Timothy 3:1-15, which are qualifications for overseers (pastors) and the masculine personal pronoun is used for these overseers. All that precedes these qualifications, then, must be understood in that context. Paul’s concern is public worship because of the further context for the reason why he sent Timothy to Ephesus—”to curb the excesses of false teaching and its effect in the church (1 Tm 1:3)” (Mbalamu, 2). Thus, Paul’s instructions for public worship in chapter two stems from his concern for preventing false doctrine from entering the church, not because of an imagined misogyny in which he desires to oppress women and sustain the (false) preeminence of men.
This supposed misogyny of Paul is his second error. Contrary to this modern western thought, Paul’s mention of women in this way was to be “countercultural” in the culture he lived in as well as “antisyncretistic”(against blending two or more religions into one). During Paul’s time, pagan religions “allowed women to serve as priestesses and instructors in the cult” (which were unhealthy and harmful practises) and Judaism at the time treated women as “second-class members of the community” not in religious practise but in social practise (Lockwood, 1,972). Paul’s command as an apostle in this passage, then, was in actuality a statement distinguishing Christianity from the surrounding religions of their time. Furthermore, Paul drew from their Scriptures that prohibited women to serve as priests (Exodus 28:1) as evidence that women are not to exercise pastoral authority. He also uses the order of God’s creation for his reasoning (1 Timothy 2:13) from Genesis two. “This does not mean men are more important than women (Eph 5:22-33) but that God established different callings for them” (Engelbrecht, 2,072). The treatment of women in pagan religions and ancient Judaism were misogynistic during Paul’s time. Paul, relying on God’s revealed Word in His Law and created order, used the Gospel to provide “the motivation for men and women joyfully to take their appointed places in God’s order, especially in the church” (Lockwood, 1,972). This is not only seen here, but also elsewhere in his epistles (e.g. Ephesians 5:22-33). Furthermore, women were not the only people Paul excluded from the pastoral office; he also excluded certain men. Those men who fall short of the qualifications he lists are unfit to be pastors (1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:6-9), and other shortcomings such as those who are new to the faith (2 Timothy 3:6). To call Paul misogynistic while he excludes a large number of men is an intellectually dishonest claim. (For more reading on women ordination and the true meaning of women learning in silence and submission, read the following articles: The Position of Women in the Church, and The Ordination of Women into the Pastoral Office.)
Lastly, Ehrman infers from 1 Timothy 2:11-15 that “if women wanted to be saved, they were to have babies.” Again, he ignores the context. He deceptively leaves out the second half of the verse. The full verse says, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Paul is not saying their means of salvation is through childbirth, as if that’s all women are good for. Paul connects childbirth to faith and love of God. “Through faith in the child Jesus, women are saved as they live out their God-given vocations. Childbearing is an example of a most noble, exclusively feminine vocation” (Engelbrecht, 2,072). Paul was not demoralising women; he was honouring their God-given role of blessed motherhood. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession likewise states a woman receives salvation through the forgiveness of sins and justification, just as all Christians do. In addition to her justification, God gives her the specific calling of childbearing while following faith (Ap XXIII, 32) (Engelbrecht, 2,072). In other words, her faith saves her and because of this faith, her childbearing pleases God when she continues her vocation as a mother in the faith and love of God—when she raises her children in the faith. It is no different for the father who does the same.
Without giving any evidence to support his claims, Bart Ehrman makes several assertions of the false authorship of Paul in 1 Timothy as well as Ephesians. These are apparently pseudepigrapha since “most scholars” will confirm seven of the thirteen Pauline letters were written by someone else. These scholars are not listed. Perhaps he does not provide any evidence because since he is the professor or Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina and has written books on this subject, we should just take his word for it. I concede this is a prestigious position and he may have evidence in his books, but he is not a trained exegete and neither is he a doctrinal systematician who has been expertly trained to make the conclusions he has made. Considering the source of this article being Huffington Post, it is an opinion piece, not a factual piece, and therefore cannot be taken seriously. That is, unless you’re the type of person who accepts statements without any evidence and hearing the other side.
Because of Nero’s Christian persecution during Paul’s imprisonment, it is more likely Paul wrote several of his letters during this last imprisonment, which the early church father Clement affirms in his writings. When applying proper exegesis and systematic interpretation, we can see Paul was not being misogynistic in prohibiting women ordination but was actually distinguishing Christianity from the surrounding misogynistic religions and honouring the role of motherhood in connection to the woman’s faith in Christ in whom she is justified by faith. It is also seen through exegesis that Paul’s concern was public worship to inhibit false doctrine rather than oppressing the “inferior” woman. Therefore, Ehrman does not adequately interpret Paul’s prohibition of women ordination and respect for women as one of God’s creatures. Neither does he realise the high unlikelihood of his pseudepigraphic claims of Paul’s epistles. In these failures, he does not even answer the title’s initial question: who wrote the Bible? He does not discuss the Bible, but solely Paul and Peter, and it only matters to those who care about the oppression of women and in order to meet this agenda, he bears false witness to Paul’s teaching in First Timothy. However, after looking at the context of public worship and the threat of false doctrine, in attempting to expose a supposed Christian lie, his lie about this “Christian lie” exposes itself.
Ehrman, Bart. “Who Wrote the Bible and Why It Matters.” Huffington Post. March 25, 2011. Accessed November 7, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-ehrman/the-bible-telling-lies-to_b_840301.html
Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., Rev. Dr. Paul E. Deterding, Rev. Dr. Roland Cap Ehlke, Rev. Dr. Jerald C. Joersz, Rev. Mark W. Love, Rev. Dr. Steven P. Mueller, Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray, Rev. Dr. Daniel E. Paavola, Rev. Victor H. Prange, Rev. Dr. Robert A. Sorensen, and Rev. Michael P. Walther. The Lutheran Study Bible: English Standard Version. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016.
Lea, Thomas D. “The Early Christian View of Pseudepigraphic Writings.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, no 27 1 (March 1984): 65-75.
Lockwood, Gregory. “Men and Women in the Church.” in The Lutheran Study Bible. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016.
Mbamalu, Abiola. “‘The woman was deceived and became a sinner’ – a literary-theological investigation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15.” Hervormde Teologiese Studies, 70 no 3 (2014): 1-7.
Walker, Peter. “Revisiting the Pastoral Epistles – Part I.” European Journal of Theology, 21 no 1 (2012): 4-16.