They are who we thought they were? Reflections on Bart

The other day “Black Bart” Ehrman penned (I think that word seems a bit outdated in a digital media) an article for the Huffington Post entitled “Who wrote the bible and why it matters.”
Michael Patton at Parchment and Pen blog formulated a thoughtful response here.

Black Bart is a smart guy with an agenda to do all he can to get folks to discredit the scriptures based upon their supposed fallacies. According to Bart:

“Many of the books of the New Testament were written by people who lied about their identity, claiming to be a famous apostle — Peter, Paul or James — knowing full well they were someone else. In modern parlance, that is a lie, and a book written by someone who lies about his identity is a forgery.”

And Ehrman reasons that because books like 2 Peter, Ephesians, and other Pauline epistles were not written by authors who claimed to write them, we should disregard the bible as lies concocted by liars. As I earlier alluded to, Patton does a fantastic job responding to Ehrman’s writing.  

Even if one were to grant that 2 Peter were a pseudepigraph (and while I disagree, I admit it is the best candidate), what does this do? According to Ehrman, it means that the Bible contains lies. But this is not true. It would simply prove that 2 Peter was a lie. It is not scholarly in the least, in this type of argument, to treat the entire canon of Scripture (or just the New Testament) as one book written by one author (as the title of Ehrman’s article, “Who Wrote the Bible and Why It Matters,” does). Ironically, in such cases, skeptics like to attribute a unity to the Bible which they would never grant in any other situation! The truth is that even if 2 Peter and certain Pauline epistles were written by someone else, they alone would be deceptive. The rest of the books would be untouched.

So in other words, if you threw those books out, and regarded them as lies, you still have Christianity. And Bart would certainly agree that Paul wrote Philippians, Corinthians, and Galatians.

The only argument I would add to Patton’s case is that viewing scripture in a “modern parlance” (which I’m not totally sure what that means) is a bad idea. We can’t simply read it like it was written yesterday. Now this is to say nothing of scripture’s accuracy. In fact I sat through Religion classes at Furman which examined the very wording of Pauline letters and themes, and argued that they couldn’t be written by the same person. I wasn’t convinced then nor am I now. I’m sure you could probably do the same kind of analysis with my blog posts and come to the conclusion that some posts were authentic and some were not. Yet you’d be quite wrong. I write everything. 

The gospel writers felt free to not have to record everything in sequential order, but at times, structured their narratives more thematically. In the beginning of Mark, he combined two Old Testament quotes and attribute them to one prophet. Was he a liar? Is this a mistake and false allusion? No absolutely not; at the time they were okay with that. Today we would probably call that a mistake and that he didn’t have his facts straight. He must have been in error….We wouldn’t be okay with that today, but the scriptures weren’t written today. And I’m glad. They are applicable today just as the day they were written, but we can’t read them with our rules for what is apropos to write. If so we end up calling mistakes what were in fact both intentional and accepted at the time. Even if the authors of 2 Peter, 2 Thessalonians weren’t who they said they were, to me that doesn’t change anything. Again this is simply for the sake of argument. 

If authors of the scriptures penned letters in order to deceive and manipulate people, and lead them away from the gospel, that is one thing. But if authors writing in the names/theology/approval of their mentors, being led by the Holy Spirit, wrote letters inspired by the Spirit, would such letters really be concocted by liars?  Was it all lies? Maybe we would say so if they were turning a profit and getting royalties, but what if this was a common practice? What if the recipients knew it was a Pauline disciple?

Again, just for the sake of argument, to prove these letters pseudipigraphyl does not make me throw out Christianity nor should it even make us throw out II Peter, Colossians, and the other “disputed letters.”

Former Arizona Cardinal coach Denny Green once said, “The Bears are who we thought they were, and we let them off the hook.” Even if a few writers aren’t who we thought they were-again solely for the sake of argument-I don’t think that it changes anything for me as a Christian, or as a pastor preaching through those books. In other words, I would do as that Cardinals team did, and “let them off the hook.”

Just my take. 

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