The Apostle Paul is like the man who comes into a court of law today to sware that everything he swore to yesterday was a lie.
Identifying forgeries in the Bible is hard detective work. There is no "royal road." Every clue, every nuance no matter how subtle or insignificant it may seem, must be followed to its logical conclusion. Sometime the results are ambiguous and frustrating. They remain questionable, and I will point out a couple of examples. But perseverance often pays off, and the data confirm a suspected Bible forgery. So, although some of the suspected Bible forgeries may ultimately be proved authentic, others certainly will be substantiated. The so-called Pauline epistles are a good case in point.
Paul was a Jew born at Tarsus, a city in Cilicia. The year of his birth is not known exactly but scholars put it at about 5 CE. His Jewish name was Saul which he used within the Jewish community, Paul being the Greek version. He is believed to have died in Rome around 65 CE. Paul was a contemporary of Jesus. Outside the New Testament letters (epistles), there are no reliable sources for his life. In the New Testament the so-called Pauline epistles begin after the Book of Acts and include the next thirteen entries. They all begin with the words "The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the . . ." But did he really write them? According to Encyclopedia Britannica CD98, Romans, I and II Corinthians, and Galatians are genuine. Opinion is divided on the authenticity of Philippians, I Thessalonians, and Philemon. Ephesians, Colossians, II Thessalonians, I and II Timothy and Titus are held by most scholars to be forgeries written considerably later than the time of Paul. The story of Paul's conversion and missionary career, as given in Acts, was probably written many years after his death therefore its authenticity is also questionable.
This paper is compiled from the publications of several outstanding Bible scholars (see References). The purpose is to review the bases for evaluating the Pauline epistles as to their authenticity or lack thereof. The results are summarized in the Attachment. Before reviewing the epistles themselves, however, let us consider some general observations of scholars concerning the Pauline epistles and other early Christian documents.
Page 410: Paul is but the Moses of the New Testament, carrying on where Joseph or in this case, Jesus, left off. The cue to this parallel is given in Acts, chapter 7 which recounts the whole story of Moses so that we may see the connection.
Wells - (HEJ)
Page 20: - It often comes as a shock to many lay readers to learn that the (authentic) epistles of Paul predate the gospels. Although the gospels purport to deal with the life of Jesus (4BCE? - 30?), they were actually written between 70 and 110. The authentic Pauline epistles were written between 55 and 60. Therefore, it is these epistles, not the gospels, which provide the most plausible clues as to how the earliest Christians regarded Jesus.
Page 22: The Pauline epistles considered to be genuine are so completely silent concerning the events that were later recorded in the gospels as to suggest that these events were not known to Paul, who could not have been ignorant of them had they really happened.
These letters make not a single reference to the parents of Jesus nor to the virgin birth. They never refer to a place of birth (for example, by calling him "of Nazareth"). They give no indication of the time or place of his earthly existence. They do not refer to his trial before a Roman official, nor to Jerusalem as the place of execution. They mention neither John the Baptist, nor Judas Iscariot, Jesusí alleged betrayer. They do, of course, mention Peter, but do not imply that he, any more than Paul himself, had known Jesus personally and been associated with him while he was alive.
Paulís failure to mention Peterís denial of Christ (Mk.14:30, 66-72, and parallels) is highly significant. Paulís letter to the Galatians reveals that his position as leader of the Christian community at Antioch was threatened by Peter (a.k.a. Cephas), whom he calls a hypocrite (Gal. 2:11-13). The denial, coupled with Jesusí stern warning in Matthew 10:33 , would have been a powerful weapon he could have used against Peter. Why didnít he? Paulís silence is rightly interpreted as compelling evidence that the denial story is a forgery.
Paul claims to have won converts "by the power of signs and wonders" (Rom. 15:19). He seems to be completely unaware that Jesus said that there shall be no sign given to this generation (Mark 8:12). He also fails to mention the many wonders (miracles) which, according to the gospels, Jesus routinely performed. He obviously didnít know of them.
Another striking feature of Paulís letters is that one could never gather from them that Jesus had been an ethical teacher. In fact, Paul presents a considerable amount of ethical teachings in his own name, with no suggestion that Jesus had taught anything of the kind, even though the gospels later put exactly the same doctrines into Jesusí mouth.
Page 126: First and Second Corinthians are authentic but are actually collections of portions of six different letters.
Page 137: Romans is authentic. It provides a comprehensive elaboration of Paulís gospel and is the earliest systematic treatise of a rationale for the Christian myth.
Page 41: Four Epistles, - Romans, 1st & 2nd Corinthians, and Galatians - are generally admitted to be the genuine writings of Paul. They are believed to have been written about a quarter of a century after the alleged death of Jesus. In fact, they are the only documents in the entire New Testament whose authenticity can be maintained and whose author is known.
Page 105: The Paul of Galatians and the Paul the Acts are two different men.
First Corinthians is for the most part authentic but appears to have been altered probably after Paulís death (10:1-22.)
Page 109: Second Corinthians affords conclusive evidence that the Jesus of Pauline Christianity was not the same as the Jesus portrayed in the gospels. The Pauline Christ is "the Spirit" (3:17-18) and "the image of God" (4:4) not a real person.
Page 144: Philippians is composed of three letter fragments crudely joined together.
The Pauline Epistles considered to be authentic include Romans, 1st & 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, 1st Thessalonians, Philippians, and Philemon. However, they do contain some late Christian interpolations. These include Phil 2:6-11; 1st Cor. 11:23-26; 12:31; 14:1a; 15:3-11. Observe that when the interpolations are removed, the texts immediately above and below the insertion fit together naturally.
Page 21: Romans, 1& 2 Corinthians and Galatians are universally accepted as authentic. The computer techniques tried on them by Morton and McLeman have confirmed that they have a common author. Internal evidence indicates that this author wrote before 70, for the references to his contacts with a Christian community at Jerusalem show that the catastrophic destruction of that city in the Judeo/Roman War (67 - 70) had not yet occurred. Indeed, Paul must have been a Christian before 40 for he tells how King Aretas of the Nabateans, who is known to have died in that year, had sought to have him arrested because of his Christian activities (2 Cor. 11:32). He probably wrote somewhere between 55 and 60 for he tells the Galatians that he had been a Christian for at least fourteen years at the time of writing.
Page 26: Although purported to have been written by Paul, the relatively complex church organization reflected by the Pastorals did not exist until many years after Paulís death.
Page 206: The Pastorals were undoubtedly written during the first half of the 2nd century. They were not included in Marcionís list of Paulís letters (ca.140). Quotations from them first appear in Irenaeusí Against Heresies (180) and their content fits nicely into the situation and thought of the church in the mid-second century. Their attribution to Paul is a forgery for their language and thought are clearly unPauline. Also, references to particular occasions in the lives of Titus, Timothy, and Paul do not fit with reconstructions of that history taken from the authentic letters.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible
Page 300 NT: The vocabulary and style of these letters differ widely from the acknowledged letters of Paul; some of his leading theological themes are entirely absent (the union of the believer with Christ, the power and witness of the Spirit, freedom from the law), and some of the expressions bear a different meaning from that in his customary usage ("the faith" as a synonym for the Christian religion rather than the believerís relationship to Christ).
Oxford Companion to the Bible
Page 574 (Paraphrase): Second Timothy, although attributed to Paul, is found by many scholars to be so unPauline in vocabulary, style, theological concepts, church order, emphasis on tradition and in contrast with the chronology of his career as given in Acts and Romans, that it is widely considered to be a forgery.
Page 41: That the Pastorals are forgeries is now conceded by all critics. According to German critics they belong to the second century. They were certainly composed after the death of Paul.
Page 129: As to the Pastorals, most scholars now agree that they are second-century forgeries. They deal with second-century situations. These documents were not written by Paul.
The conclusion that the Pastorals were not written by Paul is based on various things: the style and vocabulary of the epistles, the church organization that they depict, references to heresies that didn't develop until the second century, late inclusion of these books into the collection of Pauline epistles, lack of references to them in the writings of the early church fathers, etc. Eerdman's Bible Dictionary gives a fairly good discussion of these matters under "The Pastoral Epistles," but The Interpreter's Bible would be a better source.
Page 90: Analyses show all the Pastorals were from the same hand but not from Paul's hand. For example, Paulís theology is very imperfectly represented in them. Also, the controversy over keeping the Jewish law was a hot topic in the authentic Paulines. Whereas in the Pastorals it is no longer an issue. So, they must be of a later date.
Page 94: The church hierarchy described in the Pastorals is much too advanced to represent that of the early church of Paulís day. In 1 Tim. 3:6 it says "the bishop must not be a recent convert," a statement which shows that at the time of writing the church had been in existence for quite some time.
Page 184: Second Thessalonians was forged in Paulís name shortly
after his death or during the late stages of his imprisonment in Rome. Scholars believe it was written to offset the disappointment and unrest then rising in the Christian community resulting from the unfulfilled promise of an imminent second coming (2 Thes. 2:1-8).
Page 112: Second Thessalonians was not written by Paul. It lacks the personal warmth, reminiscences, and references characteristic of the authentic letters. Almost one-third of it is verbatim copy from 1st Thessalonians. The eschatology reflects a development of Christian apocalyptic thinking of the kind that took place only after the Judeo/Roman war. Second Thessalonians adds nothing to our knowledge of Paulís gospel. Its only importance is in documenting the fact that some "Pauline epistles" were forged.
Page 41-42: Second Thessalonians, a self evident forgery, declares 1st Thessalonians to be a forgery (3:17).
Page 108: Second Thessalonians is a forgery. Its vocabulary is peculiar; it deals with a theme (the persecution of the righteous which is to precede the second coming) mentioned nowhere else in the authentic Pauline epistles; and it seems to be written expressly to discredit the statement in 1st Thessalonians that "the day of the Lord" will come "as a thief in the night" (5:2,) i.e., any day now and without warning.
Pages 17-18: Second Thessalonians is considered to be a forgery. It presents an ecclesiastical organization of a more advanced kind than existed in Paulís day.
That letters were written in Paulís name (forged) is clear from exhortations not to be misled "by some letters purporting to be from us" (2 Thess. 2:2,) and from the fact that the author of this epistle finds it necessary (3:17) to authenticate himself with his signature.
Page 49-50: Most investigators regard Second Thessalonians (half the length of the first) as having been derived from the first letter. If Paul had written Second Thessalonians, it seems unlikely that he would have used so many of the same phrases. Also, The second letter is in an entirely different style than the first.
Second Thessalonians contradicts First Thessalonians regarding the second coming. In the first letter Jesus is expected to return soon and will come unheralded "like a thief in the night," at a time of apparent peace and security (5:1-3). In Second Thessalonians the second coming is not to be expected soon. According to chapter 2 it will be preceded by a series of upheavals. So the contradiction is sharp. If the end will be preceded by catastrophes, then it will not come when all is peace and security.
It is difficult to assign a precise date to Second Thessalonians. However, most scholars suggest the mid-80s.
EPHESIANS and COLOSSIANS
Page 183: The letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, thought to have been written between 80 and 90, were not written by Paul. There is no suggestion of the personal Paul in either of them. The style, the vocabulary, and the rhetoric are different from the authentic Paulines. They were written in Paulís name after his death probably by scribes loyal to the school that survived him. They are included among the Pauline letters because by the time the church started drawing up lists of literature acceptable for public reading in the third and fourth centuries, Ephesians and Colossians were already a part of the "letters of Paul."
Page 184: In Ephesians Paulís teachings are diluted. No mention is made of his heated arguments for freedom from the Jewish law, the justification of sinners, faith in Christ, scriptural precedence, epic revisions or apocalyptic scenarios and threats. These are the topics that dominate the authentic letters.
Page 188: Paul used the term "congregation" to refer to a local group whereas the author of Ephesians used the term in the singular to refer to the church universal.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible
Page 272 NT: There are important contrasts between Ephesians and the letters that we can confidently ascribe to Paul. Many of the words in Ephesians do not appear elsewhere in the apostleís correspondence, and some important terms have a different meaning here from their meaning in letters that are surely Paulís. The style, with its loose collection of phrases and clauses and long sentences, is not characteristic of Paulís writing. Ephesians is, therefore, judged to be a forgery.
Page 21: Colossians is judged to have been written not by Paul but by one of his pupils. Paulís ideas as expressed in Romans (6:3-5) have been greatly modified.
Page 53: Ephesians was written about 90, some 25 years after Paulís death. During Paulís lifetime the terms for admitting gentiles into the church was at the core of a protracted controversy. Ephesians addresses the gentiles (2:11) in a situation where such problems have been solved. Therefore, it has to be of a much later date.
Pages 17-18: Colossians and Ephesians are considered forgeries. They present an ecclesiastical organization of a more advanced kind than existed in Paulís day. For example, according to Ephesians 2:20-21 the faithful are said to be dependent not directly on Jesus but on officers of the Church. This is a clear contradiction of 1 Cor. 3:11.
The Epistle to the Hebrews, although not designated a Pauline epistle, is included here out of interest.
Page 410: "The Epistle to the Hebrews was written by Barnabas, not by Paul" said Tertullian (160?-230?)
Page 410: "Who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews God only knows," Origen (185?-254?)
Page 189: The author of Hebrews is unknown. However, it was not Paul. Its concept of Christianity is different from any of the early Christian writers.
Page 42: Hebrews does not purport to be a Pauline document. Martin Luther says in the Standing Preface to his N. T., "The Epistle to the Hebrews is not by Paul, nor, indeed, by any apostle." In fact, the spurious origin of Hebrews is recognized right away because it never claims authorship by Paul.
Page 55: Many Bibles ascribe Hebrews to Paul although it does not purport to come from him and is not written in his style. A major concern of the author of Hebrews is to argue that God had set aside as outmoded the sacrificial system of the old covenant. But the writer who intended to discredit Jewish sacrificial ritual might reasonably be expected to point to the destruction of the temple in 70, had he been writing after this date. If he had written after 70 he could hardly have been unaware of this catastrophic event. For this reason it is reasonable to assume that Hebrews was written sometime between 60 and 70.
The failure of the author to refer to gospel material germane to his argument is important. He was obviously unaware of the gospels and the Jesus they portray. Also, the author takes the view (unknown to Paul) that there can be no second repentance (6:4-6). Apostesy (the denial of scripture) is the unforgivable sin. Therefore, he could not have been aware of the story of Peterís denial.
Of the thirteen epistles ascribed to Paul in the Bible, only five can be identified as authentic with any degree of certainty. Yet, all thirteen are headed with the bold inscription, THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO . . . Such blatant subterfuge in the face of undeniable evidence amounts to a most scandalous and irresponsible deception. I know of no minister of the gospel who has ever had the intestinal fortitude go before his congregation and make this revelation. They, instead, proudly promote themselves as paragons of virtue and honesty; purveyors of truth - the only truth. Intellectual dishonesty is their stock in trade.
Eddy, Patricia G., Who Tampered With the Bible?, 1993.
Graham, Lloyd M., Deceptions and Myths of the Bible, 1979.
Mack, Burton L., Who Wrote the New Testament?, 1995.
Martin, Michael, The Case Against God, 1991.
Remsberg, John E., The Christ, 1909.
Robertson, Archibald, The Origins of Christianity, 1954.
Teeple, Howard M., Personal communication
Till, Farrell, E-mail message of 4/1/96.
Wells, G. A., Did Jesus Exist?, 1986.
Wells, G. A., The Historical Evidence for Jesus, 1988.
Table summarizing the evaluation of the Pauline epistles as rendered by seven recognized Bible scholars (see References).
A = authentic, F = forgery, Q = questionable, ? = not given.