Why Scholars Believe that Ephesians and Colossians are Forgeries (and therefore why Acts was not written by Luke the Physician)

Image result for image of epistle to colossians

NT scholar Bart Ehrman on his blog:

In point after point, when you look carefully at Ephesians, it stands at odds with Paul himself. This book was apparently written by a later Christian in one of Paul’s churches who wanted to deal with a big issue of his own day: the relation of Jews and Gentiles in the church. He did so by claiming to be Paul, knowing full well that he wasn’t Paul. He accomplished his goal, that is, by producing a forgery.

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Much the same can be said about the book of Colossians.  On the surface it looks like Paul, but not when you dig deeply into it.  Colossians has a lot of words and phrases that are found in Ephesians as well, so much so that a number of scholars think that whoever forged Ephesians used Colossians as one of his sources for how Paul wrote.   Unfortunately, he used a book that Paul almost certainly did not write…. [NB: I skip some material here]

The reasons for thinking the book was not actually written by Paul are much the same as for Ephesians.  Among other things, the writing style and the contents of the book differ significantly from the undisputed letters of Paul.   Far and away the most compelling study of the writing style of Colossians was done by a German scholar named Walter Bujard, nearly forty years ago now.  Bujard analyzed all sorts of stylistic features of the letter:  what kind of conjunctions it used, how often it used them, how often it used infinitives, and participles, and relative clauses, and strings of genitives, and on and scores of other things.   He was particularly interested in comparing Colossians to letters of Paul that were similar in length: Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians.  The differences between this letter and Paul’s writings are striking and compelling.  Just to give you a taste:

–How often does the letter use “adversative conjunctions” (i.e., words like “although”) Galatians 84 times, Philippians 52, 1 Thessalonians 29; but Colossians only 8.

–How often does it use causal conjunctions (conjunctions like “because): Galatians 45 times; Philippians 20; 1 Thessalonians 31; Colossians only 9.

–How often does it use a conjunction to introduce a statement (“that” or “as” etc.) Galatians 20 times; Philippians 19; 1 Thessalonians 11; but Colossians only 3.

The lists go on for many pages, looking at all sorts of information, with innumerable considerations all pointing in the same direction: this is someone with a different writing style from Paul’s. And here again, the content of what the author says stands at odds with Paul, but in line with Ephesians.  Here too, for example, the author indicates that Christians have already been “raised with Christ” when they were baptized, despite Paul’s insistence that the believer’s resurrection was future, not past (see Colossians 2:12-13).

What we have here, then, is another instance in which a later follower of Paul was concerned to address a situation in his own day, and did so by assuming the mantle and taking the name of Paul, forging a letter in his name.

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Obviously this preceding discussion is not designed to *prove* that Paul didn’t write Colossians; it is instead reporting on scholarship which has been convincing to critical scholars; the proof requires a much more hard-hitting approach (as in my other book). But here the point is simple: if Paul did not write Colossians, then he never mentions that his one-time companion Luke was a gentile or that he was a physician.   And so Colossians cannot be used to argue that it was probably a gentile-physician who wrote Acts.

But there are bigger problems, that I will point out in posts to come.

The evangelist Luke, writing - picture by Master with the Parrot (between 1520-1550).   1 Saint Luke, beloved physician, with honour now recall, who served his Master's mission, who ministered to Paul; whose skill to distant ages bequeathed a gift unpriced, a gospel in whose pages we see the face of Christ. 2 He tells for us the stories of Jesus here on earth, the unsung pains and glories that marked the church's birth; the Spirit's power in preaching, the contrite sinner freed, the grace and mercy reaching our deepest human need. 3 For all who work our healing we lift our hearts in prayer, the love of God revealing in science, skill and care: his gifts be still imparted to those who make us whole, like Luke the tender-hearted, physician of the soul.
Probably not.

 

 

 

End of post.

11 thoughts on “Why Scholars Believe that Ephesians and Colossians are Forgeries (and therefore why Acts was not written by Luke the Physician)

  1. What lunacy, (and recipe for destruction.)

    I suppose the letters from Paul just magically appeared one day out of the blue, and that no one could figure out if they were genuine or not. (Which, of course, is how stupid you and Ehrman think people are.)

    And what of this passage at the end of the letter?

    But that ye also may know my affairs, and how I do, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things: Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that ye might know our affairs, and that he might comfort your hearts. Ephesians 6:21-22 KJV

    Did the forger pay Tychicus to make this up as well? (Or do you believe the Ephesian church truly not know who these people were?) I’m sure you do.

    “To the impure, all things are impure.”

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    1. Before taking sides on an issue, I suggest you do one of two things:

      –If you are not an expert yourself, accept the position of the consensus of the experts, unless it can be clearly shown that the experts are biased.

      –Research both sides of the issue yourself. Have you done that, RC?

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    2. I suppose the letters from Paul just magically appeared one day out of the blue, and that no one could figure out if they were genuine or not.

      Surely you are aware that is was the release of Marcion’s gospel, which was the first canon to contain (10) ”Pauline” epistles that prompted the Church to eventually issue one of its own?

      Rather than list sources and be accused of bias, do your own research, it’s all out there.

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  2. Ehrman himself accepts there is no consensus from so-called critical scholars as to the authenticity of for example Colossians. Some believe it is Pauline, others not. One can then hardly use such a shaky foundation to claim that Luke didnt write Acts.

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  3. ‘–How often does the letter use “adversative conjunctions” (i.e., words like “although”) Galatians 84 times, Philippians 52, 1 Thessalonians 29; but Colossians only 8.

    –How often does it use causal conjunctions (conjunctions like “because): Galatians 45 times; Philippians 20; 1 Thessalonians 31; Colossians only 9.

    –How often does it use a conjunction to introduce a statement (“that” or “as” etc.) Galatians 20 times; Philippians 19; 1 Thessalonians 11; but Colossians only 3.’

    I find this a truly odd argument. It is so arbitrary. Why is Philippians not viewed as inauthentic given it has half or just over half as many of these word-types as Galatians, despite being of similar length? Or indeed 1 Thessalonians which has even fewer compared to Galatians or Philippians? It seems that Ehrman and some other scholars have arbitrarily decided that whichever letter has the least of a particular word-type must be a forgery. There really is no logic to this.

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      1. No, but it is not the writing analysis but rather the conclusion being drawn which I am querying. And you should be fully aware that scholarly opinion on the authenticity of Colossians is pretty much split.

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      2. This is the whole trouble, in a nutshell.

        We are not experts and the scholars have not reached a consensus. In that case, I’m more likely to go with the historic witness of the church until it’s truly proven and shown
        otherwise. 🙂

        Either way, the authorship of Colossians is not the foundation my faith stands or falls upon.

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