{Audio at Bottom} 2 Peter 1:1–2

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

Today we are starting our new series, "The Prophetic Word Made Sure" in which we explore questions related to the trustworthiness of the Bible. We will be asking a lot of hard questions, such as "Are there forgeries in the New Testament?", "Is what we have now what they write then?", and "How did the books of the Bible come to be included in the Bible?"

This will not be a regular sermon series - it will be more like a series of lectures. I will try my best to be fair to the questions and represent opposing views fairly, yet I will not hide my biases (I am, after all, a Christian and a pastor!) and will be providing a defense for the view that, yes, the Bible can be trusted.

What is my motivation for a series such as this? Well, for example, last week our denomination held a conference inspired by the "Hemorrhaging Faith" study recently done in Canada which researched why and when Canadian Young Adults were leaving the faith. In the study, they interviewed one young man whose reason for leaving the faith has to do with the exact same question we will be exploring this morning. See, this young man grew up in an evangelical church in which he was pointed again and again to the bible as an absolutely perfect book. But when he went to the university, he was confronted with views he has never heard of of considered before; namely, that the Bible was not written by those whose names were on the books. He said what really made him upset was not the direct challenge to his faith - he expected that at university. No, he that he felt like his church had covered these alternate views, which made him assume they were hiding something or did not have any response. 

The questions we will raise in this series are those being raised outside of the church. Books are published and Reddit discussion links are populated with these sorts of questions. I believe that we need to look at these questions head on. 

Who wrote the Bible? Today’s question is not so much the question of the mind behind the Bible - that God wrote the Bible - for we’ll be discussing that matter later in the series. But today we’re going to focus on the question of authorship from the human side of the issue. Are the books of the Bible actually written by the men whose names are attached to them? 2 Peter 1:1 begins “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,” yet many, many scholars, the majority of scholars even, believe that it is impossible that the book we call 2 Peter was actually written by the man we call Simon Peter of Galilee, the disciple and apostle of Jesus Christ. They would claim that this letter, as others in the New Testament, is what we would call today a forgery, that is, a piece of writing written by one person claiming to be someone else. 

Bart Ehrman has popularized this debate in the past few years in the book named Forged written in 2011 aimed at the regular reader. “The crucial question is this: Is it possible that any of the early Christian forgeries made it into the New Testament? That some of the books of the New Testament were not written by the apostles whose names are attached to them? That some of Paul’s letters were not actually written by Paul, but by someone claiming to be Paul? That Peter’s letters were not written by Peter? That James and Jude did not write the books that bear their names? Or…that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Scholars for over a hundred years have known that in fact this is the case.”  (Ehrman, 10)


Why is this so important?

  1. If there are forgeries in the New Testament, the idea of the cannon must be rethought.While were are going to get into the issue of canonicity (what books made it into the Bible) later in this series, the overriding principle guiding the inclusion of the New Testament letters into what we call the Bible is that the writings that ended up being included all maintained some connection to the apostles. If writings are in our Bible that in actuality have no connection to the apostles, we have to rethink our understanding of not only which books should be in the cannon, but also how did these books get here in the first place.
  2. If there are forgeries in the New Testament, the authority of Scripture is undermined. If we can’t trust that the letter we are reading is actually connected to an apostle or may be gotten into the scripture illicitly, than how can we trust what is written? And if we can’t trust scripture, than why would we live under its authority?
  3. If there are forgeries in the New Testament, the integrity of the church is questioned.Our scriptures are at the heart of who we are as the people of God and who we have always been. If the writings of the New Testament can be shown to be forged, then, bluntly, somebody lied to us. That makes us angry. It should make us angry.
  4. If there are forgeries in the New Testament, the faith of many would be shaken.Wouldn’t yours be?


Which books of the New Testament are said to be forgeries? Critical scholars like Erhman claim that up to 11 may be forged.

  1. 2 Thessalonians
  2. Ephesians, Colossians
  3. The Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus)
  4. The Gospels and Acts (The gospels at best misattributed, Luke and Acts forged)
  5. James and Jude (Not written by the brother of Jesus)
  6. 1 Peter and 2 Peter

In fact, 2 Peter the book we’ll be going through these next few months, has the special distinction of being the most disputed letter of the New Testament. In other words, most of the academic world believes that the verses we read above to be a complete and utter lie. 


Why do people believe certain books to be forgeries?

  1. Techniques Forgers Use Ehrman provides some common techniques of forgeries in his book. As I read over them, I had to laugh. See if you can see why?
    1. Name given as means of claiming authority for writing. Obviously, this is what the whole point of forgery, to deceive the reader into thinking that the work comes from someone they trust. So one of the marks of a forgery is that the person would claim authority by use of a trusted name, and insist that he is the actual author of the letter.
    2. Imitate a writers style or vocabulary: A forger would often imitate an author’s style and vocabulary, but at times sound too much like the author they were trying to imitate.
    3. Personal details included: The forger would add personal details or “real” things - like Paul in 2 Timothy asking that someone bring him his cloak or that Timothy should drink wine for his stomach problems. Forgers would include stuff like this to throw the readers of the trail.
    4. Warning against forgeries: A great way that a forger could make his writing sound more authentic is to warn his readers against forgeries!

Now, what wrong with all of these “marks” of forgeries? They all could very easily be present in authentic works! These are not marks at all. But again and again Ehman slams 2 Thessalonians for example for warning against forgery - therefore 2 Thessalonians must be a forgery! I hope you can see that there must be other things that call a writing into question. 

  1. Theology: One of the telltale signs of a forged writing, so it is said, is that there is significant theological or practical emphasis. For example, 2 Thessalonians is disputed because the writer lists several things that must be observed before the return of the Lord. However, in 1 Thessalonians the day of the Lord is said to come “like a thief in the night” - as in without observable signs. Which is it? The same author simply could not have written both, it is claimed, so one of the two must be a forgery. Yet upon closer inspection, the contradiction dissolves. In 1 Thessalonians 5:2, Paul actually wrote, “For you yourselves know that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night . . . but you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you as a thief.” This is exactly how Jesus speaks of his return in the gospels, to those who do not understand what to look for, the day will come surprisingly, yet he then gives us things to look for so that we will not be surprised. Another common example of evidence of forgery is how writings attributed to the apostle Paul change in subject matter and theology so much that no one would think that the author of such diverse books such as 1 Corinthians, Ephesians and 2 Timothy could have been written by the same author, for they are very, very different writings. Personally, I have never understood this argument, for it assumes that one’s interests or subject matter that one would write about remains consistent during one’s lifetime of writing. I don’t always write about the same things that I was writing about 10 years ago, do you? On the contrary there are good reasons to think that Paul’s theological writings did develop of the decades of his writing. Paul’s writings can be classified into three distinct categories, the early letters of Paul, the middle letters (or prison epistles) and the later letters (or the pastorals). If you read Ehrman’s list, nearly all the early letters are considered to be genuinely Paul.  However, fewer of the middle letters are, for their subject matter is so different - well of course they are! They were written on average about 8 years later! Also they were written to two different situations. All the early letters were written to young churches filled with new Christians who needed to understand the gospel and its immediate implication. The middle letters are written to mature, established churches, and yes, they are all filled with things that would be helpful for more established Christians to understand. Ehrman writes of the pastorals because Paul writes to churches only, not to the pastors of those churches, ok, but now another 3-4 years or so have gone by and the churches are even more fully established. doesn’t it make sense that as his coworkers are older and Paul is less able to travel that he would be corresponding to his men on the field as they now continues his work? that is exactly what we have. 
  2. Assumption of primitive church Speaking of the pastorals brings us to the next reason people mark certain books as forgeries - they assume that the New Testament church was primitive, meaning “unorganized” so that because the pastoral letters of Timothy and Titus talk about elders and overseers and bishops and church policy, they must be forgeries from another age, for in the age of the apostles there would have been no such thing as those church offices.  They say there is no evidence for church organization of the time in the era of Paul.  However, again there are two major issues in that thinking. The first is that the letters themselves claim to be evidence from that era! We have three witnesses that claim to be from Paul’s era describing established churches. But second, look at Philippians 1:1 (Philippians is actually a letter that even Ehrman believes is authentic). What does it say, “with the overseers and the deacons” - the same offices that are described in the pastorals!
  3. Assumption of illiteracy Another assumption that is often made is that Peter, John, and Jude would have been illiterate and therefore unable to write the books in the Bible attributed to them. They make a big deal out of Acts 4:13 “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished.” See, they say, the Bible itself claims them to be unschooled! How then could they write such letters in such perfect literary Greek? Impossible! Yet notice that even the verse they quote demonstrates that the apostles were learned beyond their learning - that’s the point of the verse. Yet there is another explanation, that the apostles wrote their letters through trained scribes or secretaries called, amanuenses. Here’s what we know - these secretaries were used in the early church. Who wrote Romans, Romans 1:1 says that the letter is from Paul. But look in 16:22 - “I, Tertius, who wrote this letter greet you in the Lord.” In 1 Corinthians, an undisputed letter, there is more evidence that Paul used a scribe, for suddenly, at the end he writes greeting in his own hand - basically he signed his letter. (Galatians and Colossians do the exact same thing, but suddenly Erhman suggests these are forgeries). So if Paul, who was literate, employed scribes and secretaries to compose his letters, why couldn’t Peter or Jude or John have used a similar arrangement? Ehrman says, “no, it would have cost too much.” You’re talking about people who went to their death for the glory of God in the gospel - you think money would have stopped them? 
  4. Stylistic differences: One of the most telltale signs that something is going on is that the writing style or vocabulary of a writing differs greatly from another piece of writing supposedly by the same author. However, again, if a scribe or secretary helped the author shape the language and style of the writing, even this objection, falls by the wayside. Ehrman himself recognizes this: “Virtually all of the problems with what I’ve been calling forgeries can be solved if secretaries were heavily involved in the composition of early Christian writings.” (134) 

Ehrman says that he knows of no analogy to explain how secretaries or scribes could be used to help in the composition of a letter. Because we are a multilingual church, we understand how this can be. Imagine if Pastor David wanted to write a letter to our English congregation. There are a couple of different ways he could do it. First, he could write the letter in English, and then someone could rewrite it, correcting the grammar and spelling mistakes. Or David might sit down with me and tell me what he wanted to write to our congregation. I would write the letter using language and concepts familiar to our English-speaking congregation. After I wrote it I would share it with David and he’d say, “Perfect, that’s what I wanted to say.” The styles of these two letters would likely be worlds apart, but I don’t believe it is a stretch or that I would be deceiving you to say that they are both from David.  

Specifically, the case of 2 Peter is very interesting. Some people say that 2 Peter couldn’t have been written by Peter because the style and topics are so different from 1 Peter. In fact, the book of the Bible that 2 Peter is most like is not Peter, but Jude! About 150 years ago a man by the name of J.A.T. Robinson proposed a brilliant solution to this problem. [Robinson was a liberal Bishop of the Church of England who, as a joke, wanted to see how far he could get with the “ridiculous” (in his circles) thesis that all of the New Testament books were written before the destruction of the temple in 70AD by the people who the writings claimed to have been written by. Robinson’s “joke” become the book “Redating the New Testament” - in which Robertson shares that it was through this exercise of looking at the data with an open mind that brought him to the conclusion that his “ridiculous” thesis was correct after all.] Robertson noted that there was a tradition in the early church the Jude and Peter were actually coworkers together. Perhaps, Robertson suggested, Peter and Jude were studying together about the things every believer share in common regarding their salvation in Christ, and Peter thought that these things were so important to the church, so Peter asked Jude to write a letter to their churches for him that contained the things that they had studied about the salvation they all shared: how does 2 Peter begin again?  “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours” Then Jude, after hearing about some other difficulties in some other church, wrote another letter in response to those issues in his own name. Yet when he went back to write Peter’s letter, some of these same themes crept in. So Peter’s letter is Peter’s and Jude’s letter is Jude’s but there is a lot of overlap because Jude had a part in both. That’s interesting but is there any evidence? Well, look at Jude 3: “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Perhaps even more interesting, did you notice that in the ESV Peter’s name is Simeon? SimEon? That’s weird - i though his name was Simon Peter. He is called Simon Peter. In Matthew he is called Simon, in Mark Simon, In Luke Simon, in John Simon, in Acts Simon. Why here is he called Simeon. #1 - this is great evidence that the book is not a forgery, for you are forging a book, you probably want to get the name right. There is one other instance in the New Testament, however, that Peter is called Simeon. And who is the person who calls Peter Simeon? James Jesus’ brother. And who is James other brother? Jude. As Robertson says, “it runs in the family”.


So Dan, you may say, ok the case you’ve made so far shows that the New Testament letters might not be forgeries, but do you have any evidence that proves the letters are authentic? 


Here’s my best shot, and admittedly, a skeptic may not be convinced. But I think it is important to recognize that ultimately, the ancient church accepted these writings into the Bible primarily because they had received them as from the apostles. The early church was not stupid in recognizing forgery. The church fathers time and time again called out other writings as being forged for they were not among the books received from the apostles. Even when the church fathers admitted that some of the New Testament books were disputed by some, the books ultimately accepted into the Bible were routinely quoted as scripture and received by the majority of the church. While some people might say that using the canon as evidence that the apostles wrote the books is a circular argument, I would ask, who was in a better position to judge? The early church who testified that the writings they received bore the marks of the apostles’ hands? Or Bart Erhman writing 2000 years later? Add to that nearly 2000 years of church history which has found each book of the New Testament useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness, just as all true scripture is. Was the process of writing scripture more complex than perhaps you first thought? Yes. Does that diminish the authority of Scripture? I don’t believe it does at all.

Let me close this introduction to this letter and this series with the words of Simon Peter

a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, [writing] to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

Listen Now!