In 2 Thessalonians (2:2) the author (supposedly the Apostle Paul) warns his readers against a fake letter written in his name and forged to deceive and mislead recipients.
Wait a moment! What? Isn’t that a definition of a fraud? How could it be mentioned just that matter-of-factly? Such a blatant fraud must had been a reason for alarm! Unmasking and stopping the fraudster should have been the first item on the agenda. It should have been the primary focus of this letter. Subtle matters of theology could have waited.
Well, there was a reason why it was not the primary focus. The situation was even more serious because this casual warning against a fraud letter was itself not written by Paul, it was written by a fraudster himself!
From the end of the 18th century there were serious doubts about Paul’s authorship of the Second Thessalonians. And throughout the 19th century academic theologians reached the consensus; the Second Thessalonains was not written by an apostle. There are multiple reasons for it starting with vocabulary, grammar, style, theology and its tone. But beyond all this forensic linguistics, this letter also contains several recognized forgery techniques and among them is this casual warning against the fraud. It is a known fraudulent maneuver.
Here you have a Biblical fraudster crying “Beware of fraud!” And that is something you might not know about the Bible.
Now, why do I bring this up?
Firstly, because the truth and honesty is of the utmost value.
Secondly, I bring it up to defend apostle Paul. He has been accused of many faults - misogyny, militarism, support of slavery, stiff conservative values... Much of it is in those fake letters, in those, which he did not write.
Thirdly, the church, theologians but also regular ministers and church members need to face the fact that more than half of the New Testament letters are fake. And they are not innocently fake, they are like our example of premeditated deceitful forgeries.
Here I would like to share an archeology parable:
Middens - ancient rubbish-piles - are an invaluable source of information for modern archeology.
Archeologists can learn from the ancient garbage more than from any ancient monuments or artistic masterpieces.
Biblical fake letters are like those middens - garbage piles. They were created by throwing things out and piling them up. And like those piles they offer us unfiltered insight into the second century church and its struggles, the nice the neutral and the ugly. We can observe how they lived, what they valued, what they struggled about and perhaps we can learn what to do and what not to do.
Approaching these letters as middens is a revealing, enlightening and liberating experience.