A standard evangelical approach to dealing with the stylistic differences of, say, Ephesians, Colossians, and the Pastorals from the rest of Paul’s letters, is to argue that the penman or secretary of these letters may have had a larger role than merely copying down via dictation what Paul said. Ehrman, however, argues (135):
Did the secretaries contribute to the contents of [Paul’s] letters? … Despite what scholars often claim, all of the evidence we have suggests that the answer is no. The same evidence applies to the authors of 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and in fact to all the other early Christian writers.
Ehrman interacts in this section with but one author who makes the claim of heavy secretarial involvement, E. Randolph Richards, whose doctoral dissertation was published in 1991 as The Secretary in the Letters of Paul (Tübingen: Mohr). In spite of denying that Richards has produced any evidence along these lines, his discussion of secretary as editor, coauthor, and even composer is collectively replete with primary documentation (43–56). Richards’ evidence for the secretary as coauthor is the weakest. Yet in his section on the secretary as composer—a role which is significantly greater than coauthor—Richards offers irrefutable evidence. He notes that, when Cicero was imprisoned, he asked his friend Atticus to compose letters on his behalf (noted on p. 50 in Richards’ monograph):
I should like you to write in my name to Basilius and to anyone else you like, even to Servilius, and say whatever you think fit. (Cicero, Atticus 11.5)
If they look for [my missing] signature or handwriting, say that I have avoided them because of the guards. (Cicero, Atticus, 11.2.4)
Now if Cicero could authorize a trusted secretary to compose letters in his own name—letters that he himself never even saw—then surely the lesser deed of editing or coauthoring must also have occurred. Ehrman camps on the latter without acknowledging the former.
And it is significant that in 2 Thessalonians 3.17 Paul says, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, which is how I write in every letter.” We can infer such a note by Paul in Romans (see 16.22), Galatians (6.11), and elsewhere. In other words, Paul apparently never authorized a secretary to compose a letter in his name that he did not see, but he did employ secretaries as editors and virtual coauthors. That he would write something at the end of all his letters would be proof that the letter was genuine, and it would indicate that Paul had authorized its contents. It should also not go unnoticed (though Ehrman never mentions this) that the only letters disputed on linguistic bases in the Pauline corpus are those that were written toward the end of his life (Ephesians, Colossians, and the Pastorals; 2 Thessalonians is disputed on other grounds)—after Paul had spent years with some companions who could be trusted to flesh out his thoughts on paper.
Ehrman offers many other arguments that cannot be addressed in a short review. I must conclude with a final observation. The fact that Bart Ehrman has put forth a trade-book rather than a scholarly monograph on ancient pseudepigrapha allows him the luxury of not having to deal with counter-evidence or peer review. Nowhere does he cite E. Earle Ellis, D. A. Carson, Leon Morris, Douglas Moo, Donald Guthrie (except for one note on an article, ignoring his massive work on NT introduction), Andreas Köstenberger, L. S. Kellum, Charles Quarles, Richard Longenecker, Anthony Kenny, Martin Hengel, Alan Millard, K. J. Neumann, David Dungan, T. L. Wilder, Harold W. Hoehner, or countless other scholars whose research disputes his conclusions. To the unsuspecting layperson, Forged looks like a death knell to the NT canon. To those who labor in the discipline of NT studies, it looks like yet another sensationalist book from Ehrman that is heavy on rhetoric and light on facts.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]