Recently, we discussed the fact that some New Testament books were not written by who they say they were. This is not news to believers; we have known for a long time that some letters attributed to Paul, for example, were not written by Paul even though they say they are. Scholar Bart Ehrman calls some of these books outright forgeries.
So the question arises as to what we do with New Testament books of uncertain authorship. Do they reflect legitimate voices of early believers? Do they have any value at all? Should we just ignore them and stick with New Testament books with greater certainty of authorship?
If so, that would mean losing some letters associated with Paul. For example, various scholars dispute Paul’s authorship for Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus. Some are more universally disputed than others.
One Reader’s Response
I really loved the response of one of the blog’s regular readers regarding the disputed books of Paul. I share Tony’s comment here with some editing. He says:
It’s funny, though. When I read the opening passage of Ephesians 1, I still feel the Spirit rising up within me and crying out ‘Yes! Yes!’ That passage is just so effervescent and full of joy that the words just fly off the page. Whoever it was written by, and no matter how deceitful the writer was, or intended to be, still the writing is inspiring.
Which makes me wonder: ‘All scripture is God-breathed…’ etc. could also be translated as ‘All God-inspired writings…’ (and yes I know Paul didn’t necessarily write that!). So, does that mean that all writings inspired by someone’s beliefs are somehow ‘useful’ to the believer? The writings of well-respected Christians such as Billy Graham would rarely be questioned by their readers. Does that mean that those books by Dr. Graham have been elevated to the level of Scripture? No! But I think it’s fair to say that many people read those books as if they are *almost* as ‘inspired’.
How much therefore is ‘Jesus Without Baggage’ inspired, given that all of your work, Tim, is inspired by your deep faith? How much of my blog is inspired? Now, neither of us would claim that our blogs are Scripture, but most of our work is indeed inspired writing *because* it is inspired by our faith.
Therefore, I believe that *any inspired writing through which the Spirit can speak* is ‘useful’ for equipping the person of faith. Sure, the Bible holds a special place for most Christians, but if truth be told, there’s a lot more that we are inspired by, in literary terms, than just the Bible.
I Agree with Tony
I think Tony raises a really good point, and I am glad he did because I feel the same way! Just because we understand that Ephesians was not written by Paul does not mean it is of no value. And when I read the book of 1 John, I think, ‘If John, the disciple, did not write this (and I don’t know one way or the other), who is the genius who did!’ I would love to know the answer, but the value is in the writing itself–not the author. It rings true!
So it does not bother me much that Ephesians claims to be written by Paul when it probably was not. I don’t know how that claim came about–it might not have been the writer’s intention. Perhaps someone else inserted Paul’s name in an early manuscript that was then picked up in later copies. Who knows? However, I do keep in mind that most likely Paul did not write it so that I am not influenced simply out of my admiration of Paul.
And this does not apply only to biblical books. I am frequently inspired by CS Lewis and other writers, but that does not make them inerrant in any way. In fact, I think Lewis is sometimes very mistaken.
Another Reader Responds to Ephesians
Anca, another regular reader, had a different response to Ephesians (edited):
Many Christians find Ephesians to be a blessing and jewel to them, they consider it inspiring. I, on the other hand, find it to be one of the most devastating to Christian marriages possible. I am connected to a network of Christians that help abused women, and Ephesians five is one of the biggest contributors to the abuse their husbands have enacted on them.
Till this day Pastors teach that a husband should control their wife and make all of the family decisions and wives must submit to everything the husband wants except for sin. It’s abuse to be ruled over and controlled and have no authority over your own life and in your family. It was really not wise for the Author to compare a husbands function within marriage to Christ who is divine and assign a subordinate role to the wife having to live a life of obedience like the Church supposedly does.
I don’t throw all of Ephesians out as some parts are useful and beautiful, but it does not have the same integrity and weight to me that the gospels or Paul writings do.
I Agree with Anca as Well
Just because a book has inspiring passages that give it value does not mean that everything in it should be accepted as inspired. In addition, all New Testament books give us insight on the thinking of various early believers. This is also of value.
On the other hand, I don’t feel quite the same way about the overall value of the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). I think this is where Ehrman is most convincing in his accusations of deceit. So I read the Pastorals extremely critically and find many problems in the content. We will talk about the Pastorals next time.
Articles in this series:
Bart Ehrman – Forged: A Book Review
How Should We Regard New Testament Books of Uncertain Authorship?
Blaming Paul for Things He Never Said
The Special Case of Women Keeping Silent in the Church in 1 Corinthians
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