Forgery or Misattribution?

“Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the Lord.” 1 Samuel 10:25a

In Lost Christianities page 9, Bart Ehrman begins by stating, “Almost all of the lost scriptures of the early Christians were forgeries.” He goes on to state, “Scholars have long recognized that even some of the books accepted into the canon are probably forgeries. Christian scholars, of course, have been loathe to call them that and so commonly referred to them as pseudonymous writings.”

This overlooks some possibilities worth considering, especially for the believer. The nonbelieving scholar is not permitted to take into account revelation or channeling as a source of extra sensory knowledge. To the scholar, a revelation may be recorded by an apostle, but it is considered strictly the composition of the person, not a communication from a spiritual source. Believers in revelation take a different view.

The desire to attribute everything is also a worldly need and not a faithful one, for in the true path, we should not receive texts on the reputation of the receiver, but on the personal witness of the Holy Spirit. This is very hard for those believers who fall prey to tradition and orthodoxy and lack the faith for true discernment. Such mild believers fall into the trap of wanting to attribute every anonymous work, or exchange the author of a favorite work by a little known apostle or prophet. Recall that in the early church, there were many apostles and prophets outside the twelve and seventy that received revelation for the church, and God is no respecter of persons.

For instance, the General Epistle to the Hebrews is unattributed within the text. Church authorities in the Middle Ages settled on labeling it a Pauline epistle, though this was heavily disputed early on and has always been contested. Modern analysis indicates to most scholars’ satisfaction that it was not written by Paul. So was it written anonymously, or was the name removed by someone else? It has been suggested to be the work of a female apostle, such as Priscilla, prompting someone else to remove the name to give the epistle authority in a time when female roles in churches had diminished. The question for the astute scholar is, should such deceit cast a shadow on the writing or its author? Certainly not. Writers are not in any way responsible for corruptions that their texts incur after they leave their hands.

This same principle should be applied to all the books within the canon and without, making Bart Ehrman’s assumption at the front of his book presumptuous and potentially inaccurate. Here we return to dividing between the three perspectives of study: the scholar who settles on comfortable certainties and likelihoods that do not account for the supernatural, the weak-in-the-faith believer who counts on church title authorizing one to discern for them, or the true believer who seeks personal revelation on every subject, and is seeking to know God’s will as revealed to all His disciples, whether known or unknown, and to his or herself directly.

I am prepared to accept the Epistle to the Hebrews on its own authority as its divinity is witnessed to me, though not at face value. I know that it was written by an apostle as given by the Holy Spirit, whether male or female, whether the apostle is popular or not. This fundamentally different approach to scripture is rarely accounted for among believers, and totally absent among scholars.

Bart Ehrman and other scholars point out the similar situation between documents within and without the canon. Nevertheless, both scholars and orthodox believers still use prejudice when viewing extra-canonical writings, favoring the canon despite its tenuous history. The true believers do not have a view on canons, because we identify that canons are selected by people with a bent for authority, and not based upon the discernment of the Holy Spirit. God wants the formation of faith to be a system that draws the disciple ever closer to Him. Each text therefore becomes a conversation between the disciple and his or her God, and a practice in receiving personal revelation. The consequent relationship is what has true saving power. The orthodox believer wants acceptance of canon and creed and the rejection of all else to be an exercise in obedience. Obedience is a useful resource for those intent on converting the power of spirituality into something they can control for personal reasons. This fundamentally changes all presumptions, and makes Unity something to be desired based on things such as love, spiritual closeness and commitment, rather than on the particulars of doctrine.

This fundamentally changes the way we view both canononical and noncanonical works, requiring us to approach each without prejudice and assumption and authenticate each work as inspired, not by who wrote it, or how many hold it to be truth, but on the witness of the Holy Spirit. It also means we cannot take everything literally and at face value, because we recognize that changes have been made to suit our less inspired predecessors, but we must engage the Spirit within us in a discussion and allow Him to “teach us the truth of all things” about both the text and what He would that we receive from it.

Some believers will reject an entire work because of one line that does not square with their current understanding. Often it is not a line, but an interpretation of a line. This faithless approach ignores the discussion with God. It is faithless because it does not expect God to speak and inspire with a proper understanding. It does not account for the possibility that the original author was inspired but also may make a mistake, or that a subsequent scribe made a change on purpose or by accident, or that our interpretation is wrong, or that our current understanding is evolving. Such approach rather blindly decides on facts using the carnal mind and then blocks out potential truth.

We must take into account scholarly bias. Scholars build careers on their reputations and their published opinions directly impact their social credit and income potential. These are worldly concerns. They cannot afford to be humiliated. This is why scientific progress has often been slow, and why true revolutionaries are the ones willing to step out and be laughed at and are often only vindicated when they are dead. As disciples of Christ, we are prepared to be mocked and ridiculed. He says the wisdom of the world is foolishness to Him, and His wisdom is foolishness to the world. We are after spiritual truth and an inner relationship with God, not human approval, and that challenge is central to our approach to sacred texts, or even inspired verbal communication. It is why most people do not share their own revelations and miraculous experiences. Spiritual truths often cannot be proven and will inevitably be mocked by those committed to disbelieving.

We cannot fall for orthodox approaches which lean on traditions and human beings, which may be moved by personal interests. We cannot fall prey to our own carnal minds, and lean upon our own understanding, which is our predisposition to doubt and be cynical and fearful of being misled. We must be led by Spirit and not human beings, whether ourselves or others.

We have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power and a sound mind, so fear is of the adversary. Truth fears no investigation. God has power, so He has confidence in His ability to lead us if we put ourselves in His hands. We then are encouraged to investigate, study everything out in our minds and in our hearts in an attitude of faith, asking God for wisdom and He will let us know if it is right. He says He will not rebuke, so even if this process is shaky at first, we will not ultimately be misled to our detriment if we continue to apply all his principles in our lives. We need not worry about being wrong, suffering humiliation, or incurring the wrath of God for seeking Him, because this is not His way. Consequently, we will find a never ending, and joyous path toward Him, learning as He said, line upon line, precept upon precept, receiving grace upon grace, until we come unto a perfect knowledge and perfect unity with Him.

From his upcoming book “The Companion to Scripture.”

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