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7 - “Forgery” in the New Testament

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2009

Einar Thomassen
Professor of Religion University of Bergen
James R. Lewis
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Olav Hammer
University of Southern Denmark
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Of the twenty-seven writings that were added to the Jewish Scriptures by the Christians in antiquity as a “New Testament,” only seven are unanimously accepted by modern scholars as genuinely carrying the name of their original author. The seven are the following epistles of Paul: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. The authenticity of several texts is disputed (especially Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, and 1 Peter). The rest of the writings contained in the New Testament were in all probability not written by the persons whose alleged authorship of these documents originally justified their inclusion in the canon.

The inauthenticity of these writings is of three different kinds. Some are instances of pseudepigraphy, that is, they were deliberately written under somebody else's name. This is, in the opinion of most scholars, the situation with the “deutero-Pauline” epistles: Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians and the Pastoral Epistles. Also, 1 Peter is most likely pseudepigraphal, and 2 Peter certainly is. Other New Testament texts originally circulated anonymously and were only later ascribed to named authors. The four gospels and Acts belong to this category. The anonymous letter to the Hebrews was originally received as canonical on the assumption that it was written by Paul. A similar case is represented by the three letters ascribed to John. Finally, the Revelation of John and the letters of James and Jude may owe their canonical status rather to a mistake of identity: these documents may have been written by authors bearing the same names as the disciple and the two brothers of Jesus and later erroneously attributed to these apostolic figures.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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