In response to my recent postings, to the effect that the papacy was built on forgeries and “pious fictions,” (here and here) one commenter said, “The same thing can be said (and *HAS* been said) about the NT, by those of a skeptical bent...”
Well, yes, many things are “said.” But it’s up to those who “say” things to prove them; it’s also for those who have things *said* about them to argue against them.
Carson and Moo, in their “Introduction to the New Testament” (2005), discuss issues of pseudonymity and pseudipigraphy (“the practice of ascribing written works to someone other than the author”), as these issues have been brought up in connection with the New Testament (pgs 337 ff.)
First, a couple of definitions:
Pseudonymity: Works that are falsely named.So, even though some New Testament writings are said to be pseudepigraphical (and that case is not proven, it is clear that many scholars consider all of the potentially pseudepigraphical works in the NT to be authentic, on a case-by-case basis, there is very good attestation for each of the individual books.
Pseudipigraphy: Works that are falsely attributed.
Literary Forgeries: Works written or modified with the intent to deceive.
Anonymity: No formal claim is made to authorship (e.g., Matthew, John, and Hebrews are all anonymous).
While some New Testament works are held to be pseudepigraphical, (including Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Peter), there are very strong arguments to the contrary. For example:
Schreiner goes further: “I am persuaded that evidence is lacking that any canonical document is actually pseudonymous" (“1, 2 Peter, Jude,” New American Commentary, pg 273). He cites R.L. Donelson, “Pseudepigraphy and Ethical Argument in the Pastoral Epistles,” saying “there is no evidence that pseudonymous documents were ever accepted as authoritative.”
The fate of early extrabiblical Christian examples
Some of what I’m about to cite from Carson and Moo has a direct relation to the process of canonization, that is, determining whether or not a writing was to be included in the Canon of the New Testament.
“About the middle of the second century AD, pseudonymous Christian works began to multiply, often associated with a great Christian leader. We are not here concerned with works that purport to tell us about esteemed Christian figures without making claims as to authorship, but only with those that are clearly pseudepigraphical. Some of these are apocalypses (e.g., the Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Paul); some are gospels (e.g., Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Thomas, which is really no gospel at all, but mostly a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus). Several are letters claiming to be written by Paul: 3 Corinthians, Epistle to the Alexandrians, Epistle to the Laodicians. The latter was almost certainly written to provide the document mentioned in Colossians 4:16. It is a brief and rough compilation of Pauline phrases and passages (primarily from Philippians). The largest collection of pseudonymous epistles from the early period of the church’s history is the set of fourteen letters fo correspondence between the apostle Paul and Seneca. They are referred to by both Jerome (De vir. ill. 12) and Augustine (Epist. 153). The Muratorian Canon (c. AD 170-200) refers to the Epistle to the Alexandrians and the Epistle to the Laodiceans as “both forged in Paul’s name (Mur. Can. 64-65) and thus will not allow them to be included (“Introduction to the New Testament,” 341).Regarding the process of determining the Canon, the case may be pressed further. According to Schreiner:
Paul specifically criticized false writings in his name in 2 Thess 2:2 and ensured the authenticity of the letter in 2 Thess 3:17. The author of Acts of Paul and Thecla was defrocked as bishop even though he wrote out of love for Paul (Tertullian, De Bapt. 17). In addition, Gospel of Peter was rejected in A.D. 180 in Antioch because the author claimed to be Peter and was not. Serapion the bishop said, “For our part, brethren, we both receive Peter and the other apostles as Christs, but the writings which falsely bear their names we reject, as men of experience, knowing that such were not handed down to us” (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 6.12.1-6). Evidence that early Christians accepted pseudepigraphic documents as authoritative Scripture is completely lacking. Some argue that Acts of Paul and Thecla and Gospel of Peter were only rejected for deviant teaching, not for pseudepigraphy. But both of the texts [cited] say otherwise, specifically indicting the writers for falsely ascribing the writings to another. (Schreiner, 270-271).Carson and Moo say, "all sides agree ... that pseudepigraphy was common in the ancient world." They also cite Donelson, saying "No one ever seems to have accepted a document as religiously and philosophically prescriptive which was known to be forged. I do not know a single example." This is virulently the case in early Christian circles" (342).
For any of you recent or would-be Tiber-jumpers who are impressed with such arguments as “we needed an infallible Church to give us an infallible canon" -- or the vagueness and generality that goes along with such a statement -- I hope that you will consider the specific ways that individuals in the early church worked to defend the integrity of the canonical Scriptures. In my next posts, Lord willing, I’ll go into some detail about the forged and pseudepigraphic documents that were pressed into service to support the papacy. (And following that, d.v., there’s a lot more to report on the spurious documents that went to support various Marian doctrines, too.)
Admittedly, the information that I’ve provided here is not a complete survey. But I wanted to give a start, some places to follow up with, and to provide examples of the integrity that went into the protection of the New Testament Scriptures. For any of you young and devout Reformed and Evangelical seminarians who are inclined, I think this information provides a starting point for an excellent thesis.