Notes on Forgery and Pseudepigraphy

This post is about forgeries and pseudepigrapha in ancient times – whether merely alleged or actually proven, and whether alleged by ancient scholars or modern ones.


What the Ancients Thought About Forgeries

This is found in Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (2011) by Bart D. Ehrman.

Most church leaders did not appreciate fabricated documents.  But there were plenty to go around.  (p. 18)

In short, there were long, protracted, and often heated debates in the early church over forged documents. Early Christians realized that there were numerous forgeries in circulation, and they wanted to know which books were written by their alleged authors and which were not.  (p. 22)


Where Bart Ehrman and J. I. Packer Agree

Chapter 2 of Forged (titled “Alternatives to Lies and Deception”), Bart Ehrman writes (on p. 115):

Scripture says that it is inspired or breathed out by God. God does not and cannot lie. Therefore Scripture does not and cannot contain lies. Forgery, on the other hand, involves lying. For that reason there can be no forgeries in the Bible.  This conservative evangelical view is still very much held by some scholars today, at least by conservative evangelical scholars. But I should emphasize it is a view that is built on theological premises of what has to be true , not on the grounds of what actually is true.

Ehrman marks an endnote right after “true” which reads (on p. 280):

A partial exception may be the view of evangelical scholar Donald Guthrie, who tries to argue on historical, rather than dogmatic, grounds that there can be no forgeries in the New Testament; see his “The Development of the Idea of Canonical Pseudipigrapha in New Testament Criticism,” Vox Evangelica 1 (1962): 43– 59.

Guthrie’s article can be found online here.   In the article, Guthrie quotes J. I. Packer in this section:

Among those who during the period since the rise of criticism have maintained the rejection of canonical pseudepigrapha two different approaches may be discerned, the dogmatic and the historical. The former approach is well represented by a recent writer, J. I. Packer, who makes the following assertion, “We may lay down as a general principle that, when biblical books specify their own authorship, the affirmation of their canonicity involves a denial of their pseudonymity. Pseudonymity and canonicity are mutually exclusive.” [49] He goes on to assert that since the New Testament books were received into the canon, that must ipso facto rule out the possibility of pseudonymous authorship for any New Testament writing. “As we have seen, if a New Testament book is not authentically apostolic, and if it makes false assertions (as on this hypothesis these books do), then it has not the nature of Scripture, and has no place in the New Testament canon. But the fact is that these books established their place in the canon of the early Church, and have been studied and expounded in the Church for centuries without anything unworthy of their apparent authors, or inconsistent with the rest of Scripture, either in teaching or in tone, being found in them.” [50]

The footnotes are to Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God (1958), pages 184 and 185, respectively.  Guthrie goes on to say:

Packer argues strongly for the description of pseudonymous works as “forgeries”. He defines it as follows. “The dictionary definition of ‘forgery’ is fraudulent imitation, as such, irrespective of its aim, the point of the fraud being simply to get one’s own product accepted as somebody else’s”. [51] Moreover, in answer to those who postulate the highest motives, Packer maintains, “frauds are still fraudulent, even when perpetrated from noble motives”.[52] The difficulty which arises here is that different minds have different notions of what is meant by “forgery”.

The footnotes are, again, to Packer’s book, this time pages 183 and 184, respectively.

Parenthetically, regarding Packer’s view let me add what I myself found in his book because it defines his position in the most pithy way:

Pseudonymity and canonicity are mutually exclusive.  (p. 184)

…to deny authenticity is to deny canonicity also.  (p. 186)

 Having given Packer as his example of the “dogmatic” approach, Guthrie then goes on to give examples of the “historical” approach, which I’ll not reproduce here.  Suffice it to say that while Guthrie may respect Packer’s theological justification for rejecting pseudonymous works, he considers historical justification “more enlightened.”

The primary point for our purposes is that while Ehrman emphatically rejects Packer’s theological views, the two men are in full agreement about the definition of forgery and that any pseudonymous work deserves that label whether it is in the New Testament canon or not.  Thus Ehrman insists that the New Testament contains forgeries and Packer insists that it does not – both men fully agreeing on what constitutes a forgery.


Where Bruce Metzger Disagrees with Ehrman and Packer

Bruce Metzger wrote “Literary Forgeries and Canonical Pseudepigrapha” in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 91, No. 1 (Mar., 1972), pp. 3-24.

The idea of pseudepigrapha being in the New Testament does not bother Metzger as it bothers Packer.  Metzger begins his concluding paragraph with:

The recognized custom of antiquity allowed historians great freedom in representing the sentiments of those about whom they wrote by means of imaginary speeches, founded more or less on what was actually said. If, indeed, an entire book should appear to have been composed in order to present vividly the thoughts and feelings of an important person, there would not seem to be in this circumstance any reason to say that it could not be divinely inspired. Why, then, should inspiration be denied if, as in the case of 2 Peter (which most scholars believe was written about A.D. 125-140), the author appears to have drawn up the treatise in the name of Simon Peter (1:1) and with details lending a high degree of verisimilitude (e.g., the reference to having been present at the Transfiguration, 1:17-18) in order to recall second and third generation Christians back to the orthodox teaching and practice held to have been inculcated by Peter himself?

Metzger then concludes his essay with this sentence:

In short, since the use of the literary form of pseudepigraphy need not be regarded as necessarily involving fraudulent intent, it cannot be argued that the character of inspiration excludes the possibility of pseudepigraphy among the canonical writings.

While Packer would say that 2 Peter must have been written by Peter or else it wouldn’t be part of the New Testament canon, Metzger says it could still be canonical even if Peter didn’t write it, and Ehrman says that irrespective of its canonicity or lack thereof it was not written by Peter.  Thus modern scholars argue amonst themselves while ancient scholars settled the matter long ago – in favor of Peter’s authorship.


References to New Testament Persons Outside the Bible

(These could be called extra-biblical or extrabiblical sources.)

Wikipedia article:  List of biblical figures identified in extra-biblical sources

John the Baptist is mentioned by Josephus.



James the brother of Jesus is mentioned by Josephus.


Why the Ancient Christian Record About Jesus Is the Most Reliable | by J. Warner Wallace

In this substantive post, Wallace includes a three-column chart showing the major historical claims about the life of Jesus from the point of view of the biblical writers, hostile Jewish witnesses, and hostile Gentile witnesses.

(13-minute read; 3,103 words)

Source: Why the Ancient Christian Record About Jesus Is the Most Reliable | Cold Case Christianity

(HT: Greg West at The Poached Egg of Ratio Christi)

Alternative Gospels? (Craig A. Evans and Charles E. Hill)

Alternative Gospels? – YouTube.

Includes biblical scholars Craig A. Evans and Charles E. Hill

J. Warner Wallace – The Top Three Reasons the Bible Is Reliable – YouTube

J. Warner Wallace – The Top Three Reasons the Bible Is Reliable – YouTube.

Notes on Population in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity

Related posts:

The Population of Jerusalem in the 1st Century A.D.

Joachim Jeremias (1900-1979) said that he thought the population of 1st-century Jerusalem was “around 25,000 to 30,000 inhabitants; 20,000 within the walls, 5,000 to 10,000 living outside.”  (Source:  Stanley E. Porter in the first lecture of the 2014 H. Orton Wiley Lecture Series in Theology at Point Loma Nazarene University, at about 19:00)

Martin Hengel (1926-2009) traces the growth in Jerusalem’s population from 32,000 to around 80,000 (in the 1st Century) with probably around 70,000 being there around 30 A.D.  (Source:  Stanley E. Porter in the first lecture of the 2014 H. Orton Wiley Lecture Series in Theology at Point Loma Nazarene University, at about 19:00)

Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard in Killing Jesus (p. 11) describe Jerusalem around the time of Jesus’ birth as a “walled city of some eighty thousand residents packed into less than a single square mile.”  They also say (p. 19) that the Passover feast would bring with it “tens of thousands of Hebrew pilgrims.”  Later on in the book (p. 191), they say “hundreds of thousands,” but I don’t know how to account for this apparent discrepancy.

Philip W. Comfort in Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & New Testament (Kindle loc 1294) says, “Estimates of Jerusalem’s population at this time [i.e. mid-50’s] range from twenty-five thousand to eighty-five thousand.”

The Number of Priests at the End of the 1st Century A.D.

In The New Testament and the People of God (p. 209), its author N. T. Wright says, “Josephus, writing at the end of the first century AD, says that there were at least twenty thousand priests, far more than the figures given for the party of the Pharisees (6,000) or the sect of the Essenes (4,000).”  In a footnote, Wright says that the number from the priests comes from Against Apion 2:108 in which Josephus says “that there were four priestly clans, each with ‘more than five thousand’ members.”

The Number of Pharisees in the 1st Century A.D.

Josephus seems to indicate that the number of Pharisees in all of Palestine was probably only about 6,000 around 30 A.D. Not all would have been in Jerusalem.  (Source:  Stanley E. Porter in the first lecture of the 2014 H. Orton Wiley Lecture Series in Theology at Point Loma Nazarene University, at about 19:00)

In Killing Jesus (p. 143) Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard say “The Pharisees number some six thousand members throughout all of Judea.”

See note from N. T. Wright in the section on Jerusalem above.

Philip W. Comfort (Encountering the Manuscripts, see above for more) writes “Josephus recorded that there were a total of six thousand Pharisees in Palestine.”

The Number of Synagogues in the Time of Jesus

In Killing Jesus (p. 130), Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard say that there were more than four hundred synagogues in Jerusalem during the early first century A.D.

The Number of Christians in the Early Centuries

Philip W. Comfort (Encountering the Manuscripts, see above for more) estimates the number of Christians in Jerusalem during the middle of the first century to be about five thousand.

“According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (1982), it is estimated that by A.D. 100 there were 1 million Christians in the Roman Empire out of a population of 181 million. This means that by the end of the first century less than 1 percent of the population (0.6% to be exact) was Christian.”  Andrews University: Personal pages of Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.  (Source: Google Answers)

“Christianity began in Jerusalem when disciples of Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed that he was the expected Messiah. The movement spread slowly) while Jesus was alive, but after Jesus’ death it spread more rapidly. The diffusion was greatly assisted by Christian preachers and missionaries. It spread first to Samaria (in northern ancient Palestine), then to Phoenicia to the north-west, and south to Gaza and Egypt. Afterwards it was adopted in the Syrian cities of Antioch and Damascus, then subsequently in Cyprus, modern Turkey, modern Greece, Malta and Rome. It spread fast, and numbers quickly grew. Within the first century there were an estimated million Christians, comprising less than one per cent of the total world population.”  Lancaster University: Personal pages of Chris Park  (Source: Google Answers)

“Determination of the place, size, growth rate, commitment, and faction of early Christian communities remains problematic if not impossible… Such estimates involve a certain degree of speculation and lack of precision. Moreover, in an overall population sense the
term “Christians” refers to its membership in an all-inclusive way.  The deeply committed or observant probably would have been significantly less. Perhaps at most no more than 10% of the total were actually practicing Christians. At best, based upon today?s knowledge, developing reasonable projections of Christian population growth are not plausible beyond the dyad of Christians of Jewish stock and Christians of Gentile stock. Developing these projections, however, has some probative value in considering the matter of the Greco-Roman Gentile Church overtaking and eventually overwhelming
Judeo-Christianity.”  BibArch: Estimates for Late Roman Period  (Source: Google Answers)

“While this excerpt from a letter of Pliny the Younger does not provide actual figures, it does indicate that, only eighty years after the crucifixion of Christ, Christianity had spread to the point that it was causing a notable stir in the Roman Empire:

Pliny the Younger, governor of the Roman province of Bithynia (on the north coast of modern Turkey), wrote to emperor Trajan (r. 98–117) about a.d. 110, a mere eighty years or so after the crucifixion of Jesus, describing the official trials he was conducting to find and execute Christians:

The matter seems to me worthy of your consultation, especially on account of the numbers of defendants. For many of every age, of every social class, even of both sexes, are being called to trial and will be called. Nor cities alone, but villages and even rural areas have been invaded by the infection of this superstition.  (Epistulae 10.96, gjr)

Pliny was in a rather distant and out-of-the-way province, and he shows us that just a few generations after its beginning, Christianity had ‘invaded’ every level of society. Another ninety years later, around a.d. 200, Tertullian, a Roman lawyer turned Christian, in his
defiant open letter to the Roman magistrates defending Christianity against persecution, could boast proudly that ‘nearly all the citizens of all the cities are Christians’ (Apologeticus 37.8, gjr).

This last statement, we suspect, is something of an exaggeration made for rhetorical effect, but both authors agree on at least two matters: the number of Christians was considerable, even alarming.” One Jesus, Many Christs (excerpt)

By the middle of the 1st Century A.D. (i.e. the time of Paul writing his letters and traveling the Mediterranean) the estimates are two to three thousand Christians in the known world.  By the end of the first century there are about 50,000 Christians, most comprised of slaves and women.  The Christian population explodes in the Constantinian era (i.e. the fourth century): something like 30 million Christians in the world.  (All this per Matt Hauge, PhD, of Azusa Pacific University, in “The Beginning of the Production of Christian Bibles,” episode of Bible Study and the Christian Life podcast, beginning about 14:30Editorial note as of June 29, 2016, it appears that the page to which this links is no longer being hosted so I have had to disable the link.  Sorry.)

“If we accept 60 million as the total population [of the Roman Empire at that time]…the actual number of Christians in the year 300 lay within the range of 5-7.5 million…”  (Source: Stark, The Rise of Christianity, p. 6)

Bart Ehrman says, “There were probably about 60 million inhabitants in the Roman Empire, give or take, throughout the first four centuries CE…”  He accepts 3 million as an appropriate count of Roman Empire Christians in 312 (the time of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity), and 30 million (half the Roman Empire’s total population) by the end of the fourth century.  He also cites as sources Ramsey MacMullen and, less enthusiastically, Rodney Stark.   Source:  “Notes on Growth Rate of Early Christianity” (Ehrman’s blog)

Justin Taylor quotes Robert Louis Wilken as pegging the number of Christians by 100 AD at 10,000; by 200 AD at 200,000; by 250 AD at 1 million; and by 300 AD at 6 million with a steep rise after that (following the conversion of Constantine).  Source:  “Early Church Growth” – Justin Taylor (this blog); “Early Church Growth” (Taylor’s blog)

Larry Hurtado says, “To take a set of estimates now often cited by scholars, there may have been about one thousand Christians in 40 AD, about seven to ten thousand by 100 AD, about two hundred thousand or a bit more by 200 AD, and by 300 AD perhaps five to six million.”  In his footnote, Hurtado gives as examples of such scholars Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity, which is cited above, and Keith Hopkins in “Christian Number and Its Implications (Journal of Early Christian Studies, 1998).  He also says “In the early third century, the Christian writer Tertullian claimed that Christians were numerous, ‘all but he majority in every city’ (Tertullian, To Scapula 2).  He may well have been exaggerating, but behind the rhetoric there seems to have been sustance: Christianity had grown remarkably and continued to grow in that period.”  (Source: Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World by Larry W. Hurtado, Baylor University Press, 2016, pages 3-4.)

The Number of Jews in the Roman Empire in the 1st Century A. D.

“If at best the Christian movement contained only 1,000 members of Jewish origin at any point in time, then this represented a mere 0.0166 per cent of the total Jewish population in antiquity, working on the accepted figure of six million Jews (or 10 per cent of the ancient world) in the first century (McKnight 1993:11).”  (Source:  “How many Jews became Christians in the first century?  The failure of the Christian mission to the Jews,” a paper by David C. Sim)

The Number of Jews in Rome in the 1st Century A.D.

“We…know…that there was a large Jewish community in Rome in the first century (estimated at between 40.000 and 50,000)…Furthermore, we have the interesting information that many Jews were expelled from Rome in (probably) 49 because of disturbances “instigated by Chrestus” (Suetonius Claudius 25.4), where “Chrestus” is almost universally taken as a reference to Christ.”  (Source:  J.D.G. Dunn in his article “Letter to the Romans” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (1993, The IVP Bible Dictionary Series) (p. 838). Intervarsity Press – A. Kindle Edition.)

The Population of Antioch

…in the 2nd Century A. D.

“When we think of the great cities of antiquity, perhaps names such as Rome, Athens, or Alexandria come to mind more quickly than Antioch. But Antioch surely deserves to be named among the foremost cities of the ancient world . The Jewish historian Josephus claimed that after Rome and Alexandria, ‘without dispute [Antioch] deserves the place of the third city in the habitable earth that was under the Roman Empire, both in magnitude and other marks of prosperity.’ [Josephus, The Wars of the Jews 3.2.4]  Antioch was founded as a Greek city in 300 BC in the wake of Alexander the Great’s conquests. In Ignatius’s era, four hundred years later, it was the capital of the Roman province of Syria, with about half a million residents.”  (Litfin 2007, Getting to Know the Church Fathers, Kindle location 454 of 4981)

…in the 4th Century A.D.

“According to Chrysostom, the Christian population of Antioch in his day (380) was about 100,000, or one-half of the whole.”  (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Kindle location 12431 of 90898)

Life Expectancy

In Killing Jesus (p. 3) Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard state that “Life expectancy was less than forty years” in the Roman Empire during the time of Jesus.

Related post:  Early Church Growth – Justin Taylor


Litfin, Bryan M.  Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction.  Brazos Press (Baker), 2007, Kindle edition.

Schaff, Philip.  History of the Christian Church.  1858, Kindle edition.

Stark, Rodney, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, HarperSanFrancisco, 1997.

__________.  The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion.  HarperOne, 2011, Kindle edition.

See also Annotated Bibliography on New Testament Text and Canon

Conclusions About Historical Accuracy of the Bible by Glenn Smith

This post is mainly about the historical reliability of Luke-Acts.


– The best evidence shows that Luke and Acts were composed by 60 A.D.

– Luke and Acts are so well attested historically and archaeologically that they have more support than any other book in ancient history.

– There is no reasonable way that Luke/Acts could have been written by anyone other than someone living in the region in the first century.

(4 min read; 1,021 words)

Conclusions About Historical Accuracy of the Bible | Thomistic Bent
HT: Greg West at The Poached Egg from Ratio Christi)

Why the Ancient Christian Record About Jesus Is the Most Reliable | J. Warner Wallace

Jim Wallace compares the biblical witnesses with hostile Jewish and Gentile witnesses.

(13 min read; 3,110 words)

Why the Ancient Christian Record About Jesus Is the Most Reliable | Cold Case Christianity.

A Deeper Look at the Reliability of the Bible by Craig Keener

In this post, Craig Keener looks at three different historical periods covered by the Bible – the times of Abraham, Israel’s Kings, and Jesus – and explains how our historical knowledge of each period differs.  In providing this nuance, Keener helps us to see how unwarranted skepticism about the historical reliability of the Bible really is.

(16 min read; 3,897 words)

A Deeper Look at If the Bible Is Reliable.

(HT:  The Poached Egg from Ratio Christi)