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Will the Real Jesus Please Stand up: A Look at the Criteria That Determines Authenticity of Gospel Texts, Part II

Updated on July 21, 2019
savvydating profile image

Yves has a great deal of interest in the New Testament, especially the canonical gospels. She values the serious study of historical texts.

Not All Logic is Created Equal

Frankly, questioning the Bible and everything we have believed about our religious or non-religious upbringing is a good and healthy thing to do. It is generally unwise to accept any narrative until one is satisfied with the veracity of the information. By committing time for proper research, we can be assured that we have done everything feasible to scrutinize any writings, modern or otherwise, which pertain to the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the history of 1st century Judea.

Any Bible historian worth his salt will encourage seekers to question their current knowledge about the Bible and to determine whether one's understanding includes basic standards for critical thinking along with the study needed to understand the importance of context and criteria for historical authenticity.

Unfortunately, and all too often, we blindly accept whatever may sound logical to our untrained minds and ears, or which supports our personal prejudices. Thus, we willingly accept false information, whether we were raised as Mormons, Muslims, Christians, Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, or any other religion or non-religion.

The Problem With Overly-Rigid Criteria

While some trusting individuals believe everything they read, others are overly rigid regarding their expectation of the canonical gospels. Any slight discrepancy within the text is proof in their eyes that the Bible can not be trusted. For example, if descriptions within the books of the Bible vary somewhat with one another, some scholars or seekers are all too ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Such individuals have no tolerance for any form of "contradiction" or variant, and therefore choose not to recognize any given Biblical narrative, even though the Synoptic gospels consistently recognize significant events that occurred in the life of Jesus and that the meaning behind those events remains intact despite minor variations.

For example, the New Testament states that Jesus was hung on the cross between two thieves. Mark 15:32 indicates that both thieves mocked Jesus:

"...and they that were crucified with him, reviled him."

However, Luke 23:39 makes mention of only one thief who mocked Jesus while the other thief defended Jesus....

"But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God seeing that thou are in the same condemnation...but this man has done nothing amiss." KJV Luke 40-41

Both gospels recognize the event of the crucifixion. However, we find a slight variation in the gospel of Mark, who made note of two thieves who mocked Jesus while Luke's gospel mentions only one thief who hung on the cross next to Jesus. The accounts of the thieves contain a contradiction, yet the event of the actual crucifixion is not contradicted. Must we then throw out the entire gospels of Mark and Luke because of the differing summaries about the thieves? If the doctrine of the crucifixion remains intact, then the answer has to be "no." We must be cautious of missing the forest for the trees.

Some Biblical scholars, like Professor Bart Ehrman, believe that any inconsistency is unacceptable and therefore proves the "unreliability" of the New Testament, whereas most scholars believe this inconsistency in no way diminishes the importance of the event. In actuality, the story of the crucifixion is not changed in any meaningful way because of the contextual variant.

The crucifixion
The crucifixion

Unyielding Attitudes

Reading the New Testament with the idea that the Bible must contain no contradictions whatsoever is not critical thinking at its best. Rather, it is an excuse to diffuse critical thinking by masking one's inflexibility under the guise of intellectualism. I do not believe Professor Ehrman's intent in writing his popular book, Misquoting Jesus, was to ignore standard criteria. Rather, his criteria may be overly rigid.

We have all been witness to those who are unyielding. Are such attitudes more in line with the tenets of rigid fundamentalism which take all gospel texts quite literally whether the text was meant in a literal way or not, and which may ignore historical context? Ironically, both Christians and hard-liner atheists are often inflexible and quite fundamentalist about their beliefs and arguments.

While Dr. Ehrman is currently agnostic, he had been raised in a fundamentalist church which espoused the belief that the Bible is inerrant, the presumption that the Bible contain no errors or inconsistencies. But, in fact, the Bible does contain minor inconsistencies, as previously cited regarding the story of the thieves on the cross. However, those variables, generally referred to as textual variants, have not been found to diminish the importance of the overall doctrine contained in the Bible.

Throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Throwing the baby out with the bath water.

What The Evidence Says

We have more historical information for Jesus than for any other figure of ancient times.
The New Testament has the best and most accurate history regarding Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus was not maimed by the crucifixion, he was killed by the crucifixion.
Jesus' claim as the "Son of Man" was his claim to divinity.
The evidence supports the vacant tomb of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead.
Unlike mystery and pagan religions, Christianity is grounded in historical events.
The most common variants are spelling discrepancies which do not change the meaning of the word or text.
Other common variants involve synonyms which do not change the meaning of the texts.
There are 89 variants in Mark in which Jesus was substituted for "he." The meaning of the person is not changed.
The Gospels are harmonious, meaning outstanding facts are reliable.
Women were the first to discover Jesus' empty tomb.
Our beliefs do not change reality. In the case of the Bible, much evidence is corroborated through archaeology.
The Case for the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel

Could Jesus Have Survived the Crucufixion?

Some extra canonical gospels have suggested that Jesus never died on the cross and that he somehow survived the cross. However, those texts do not meet the criteria for authenticity we discussed in Part I of this series.

In fact, Roman executioners would have faced death themselves if any of their victims had not died on the cross. Dr. Alexander Metherell, who also has a doctorate in engineering, has stated that no one can survive the "rigors of crucifixion" or the open wounds caused by the spears thrust into the body. He further stated that Jesus would already have been in "hypovolemic" shock due to the brutal flogging which caused him to lose a great deal of blood. In short, his heart would have been unable unable to pump enough blood to the body and many of his organs would already have stopped working. The evidence supports the claim that Jesus died on the cross. "Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice again and died." Matt 27:50 ISV

Had Jesus not died, he would not have risen from the dead. The doctrine of the Resurrection would have no basis in reality. Jesus' followers would not have had a message of Christianity to spread far and wide. His followers would have mourned his death, believing Jesus was not the Messiah after all. The disciples would not have gone on to willingly endure persecution and multiple imprisonments for their faith. The apostles were sane, reasonable men who witnessed miracles. Had the events contained within the New Testament not occurred, Christianity would never have survived.

Two Women at the Tomb of Jesus

Conclusion

Truth be told, whether one is a Christian, an agnostic or anything else, the author's goal is to help readers to refrain from accepting any nonsensical information one comes across regarding Jesus Christ, his actions, and his ministry. It is also the intent of this article to remind seekers to challenge themselves to be discerning when choosing which modern books and periodicals may best further one's knowledge about ancient times in the first century. Finally, we must always heed the importance of observing historical context in all situations so that we may better determine truths.

It is my hope that no matter what anyone chooses to believe, that we will also dignify the rights of others to observe their faith or lack thereof without suppressing the other in any way, and that we observe respectfulness for freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Truly....Yves

Comments

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  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR

    Yves 

    2 weeks ago

    Hello James.....My understanding is that Professor Ehrman went through a personal tragedy and somehow never came out the other side. But his writings are mind boggling and just wrong. How he manages to justify them is beyond me.

  • James A Watkins profile image

    James A Watkins 

    2 weeks ago from Chicago

    Thank you for this excellent and needful article. Professor Ehrman is an apostate who works for Lucifer.

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR

    Yves 

    2 weeks ago

    Haha! You have a point about the King James version, Nell. I heard a preacher address this stylistic speech issue/preference (depending upon how you look at it).

    He was asked why he began and concluded his services by praying in thees and thine? He replied, Because people like it. So there it is! Turns out, for those who raised with the King James version, Old English prayer just feels very natural. But it is funny when you stop to think about it.

    For the Jewish people, I believe the official term for their Bible is Tanakh which to my understanding is the same as the Old Testament (for Christians).

    I agree with you---the Bible is fascinating. Thanks for stopping by, Nell.

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 

    2 weeks ago from England

    Hi Yves, I love the history of the Bible. I agree when you say people believe in word for word accounts. I always say take the history first and the God thing second!

    One thing that drives me to distraction is the stupidity of the fact that people still read/hear the Bible spoken in 16th century language! Jesus did not say 'thee and diverse' etc. That is how the King James Bible was written at the time of Shakespeare! I wish they would translate it into modern speech. I think most people don't realise that. At least if you read the old testament in the Talmud, is it? the Jewish Bible, its written in the real words translated into modern English.

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR

    Yves 

    4 weeks ago

    Indeed.

  • abwilliams profile image

    A B Williams 

    4 weeks ago from Central Florida

    IF only.....

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR

    Yves 

    4 weeks ago

    Well stated, AB....and thank you for the Jefferson quote. It is much needed in times like these. Our founding fathers were so wise. But of course, they were highly educated and they had escaped the tyranny of King George III. If only more Americans realized the significance of the Constitution as it was originally created. But I digress....

    Jesus lived, died and rose again. Of that, there is no question if one is to follow the evidence of archaeology and the criteria of authenticity.

    Thank you for your input. It is much appreciated.

  • abwilliams profile image

    A B Williams 

    4 weeks ago from Central Florida

    "Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason rather than that of blindfolded fear."

    - Thomas Jefferson

    The varying accounts and recollections of Jesus' life, death, burial and resurrection, leave me questioning less, not more. My life experiences and faith carry me the rest of the way.

    Well done Yves.

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR

    Yves 

    4 weeks ago

    Hi Ms. Dora.....Thank you for mentioning your article. I was going to ask you about it, but you've answered my question in advance.

    I am looking forward to reading about St. Paul very soon.

    I am glad you found my article successful. It had actually been attached to Part I, but that hub was just too long, so I added some new information on both hubs and split them in two. HP seems to like it better. Ha! You never know with them. ;)

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 

    4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

    Yves, your article is successful in meeting its goals. Your argument is sound, well-laid out and balanced. Quality work here! Thanks for sharing your valuable insights.

    On another matter, HP finally published my article with a note that they removed all the flags. There are now 15 instead of 30 quotes.

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR

    Yves 

    4 weeks ago

    Nice to meet you, Sean. I do hope my article reaches a few individuals who may be in doubt but who need some clarification in their minds about Biblical matters. The good news is that the Creator knows our hearts and he has compassion for us all.

    I so appreciate your encouraging comment. Thank you for stopping by to visit!

  • Sean Dragon profile image

    Ioannis Arvanitis 

    4 weeks ago from Greece, Almyros

    My dear Yves, you have done excellent work here! I think your article could help a lot of people to find peace with their doubts! We live in a relativistic world which has wisely been created full of diversities in order to give us alternative paths to the same Peak! The Gospels couldn't be out of it!

    Thank you for your work!

    Gratitude and respect!

    Sean

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR

    Yves 

    4 weeks ago

    Hi Flourish....Yes, that's an interesting question about crucifixion. Indeed, in antiquity, the crucified person was bound by their wrists and nailed through the wrist (not the middle of the hand). Furthermore, a ledge was placed under their feet so that the person on the cross would naturally try to lift their limbs in order to catch a breath. Their bodies were held up by the ledge. Consequently the crucified person died, of asphyxiation, the state or process of being deprived of oxygen, which can result in unconsciousness or death.

    In other words, the person on the cross was constantly dragged down by their wrists, and quite weakened due to excessive blood loss from the brutal flogging, yet they would try to lift themselves up by their feet in order to catch a breath, which is the natural response of a body in crisis, but which generally caused their death in the end. (That is how asphyxiation occurs). The death was often prolonged and quite horrible as you can now imagine.

    I assure you, Roman soldiers were expert in the field of torture. There is no question about that. Their lives depended upon it.

    https://www.britannica.com/topic/crucifixion-cahtt...

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR

    Yves 

    4 weeks ago

    Hello Chris....What a fine response! As I stated in my article, the Bible has many variants. For my part, I do not concern myself with the standard of fundamentalists. If they are too rigid, that is their concern and not mine. As I stated to Pamela, in so many words, variants are not threatening when the message and doctrine remain unchanged. The Bible can and does withstand them. Craig A. Evans, perhaps the finest New Testament scholar of our time, has said as much in his book, Fabricating Jesus, and in his many lectures. Frankly, I believe him.

    As an aside, I was raised in a fundamentalist religion. The "criteria of authenticity" which I wrote about in Part I of this series gives me full confidence in my beliefs.

    Thank you for your comments. I loved them.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 

    4 weeks ago from USA

    I find it surprising that anyone doubts that death would result from being crucified but people have a wide variety of belief systems. It’s a gruesome thing to contemplate and discuss, but I really don’t know how dying bodies were held up there without being ripped down by their own weight. How terrible and very sacrificial. The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime for those thrives either. This is an article that made me think.

  • cam8510 profile image

    Chris Mills 

    4 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

    This is a well written and thought out article, Yves. I do not agree with everything you have stated, but I admire you for allowing for some discrepancies in the biblical text. You noted that Dr. Ehrman grew up in fundamentalist circles during the decades of the inerrancy debate. That was also how I grew up. Those of us who have stepped away from the Evangelical/Fundamentalist crowd hold our former brethren to the standard they themselves set. Please understand my last statement. We are not holding them to some unreasonable standard which we set up. It is their own doctrine of inerrancy that defeats them. Yes, I demand that those who hold to such a standard be judged accordingly. Here is a general example of how a common doctrinal statement regarding inerrancy by any Evangelical/Fundamentalist church or organization would read:

    "We believe that every word of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments was inspired by God in the original autographs (manuscripts) and that God also protected the transmission of those documents down through the ages so that we today have a reliable representation of the original.

    That is the standard they set for themselves and it is the standard to which they should be held.

    I am very happy to see you can work your way through the obvious discrepancies and still find the gems that keep your faith fresh.

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR

    Yves 

    4 weeks ago

    Hello Dear Pamela,

    The good news is that the "variants" which some modern scholars make a big deal about are mostly "much ado about nothing." The criteria we have in place has resolved that issue.

    And yes, miracles still happen today. Faith is a wonderful thing. My favorite verse is quite simple. It is: "Have faith in God." Mark 11:22

    Better words were never spoken. Sometimes it is difficult to believe when times get especially hard, but if we say a simple prayer of faith, God listens and acts. This has been my experience.

    Thank you for your lovely commentary, Pamela. I believe some will find renewed hope in knowing about your faith.

  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 

    4 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

    I think think this is an excellent well-written article that makes you think about your beliefs, not to question what others think. I believe the Bible is as accurate about the life of Jesus. It has been carefully translated and sometimes words or ideas may be lost in the translations, which is a consideration.

    I choose to question, but overall believe what is written as I research the gospel. I have seen healings and miracle over many years. Not all of our hopes come true, but it seems things have a way of working out when we trust God for all things. I particularly like your comparisons.

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