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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 November 18, 2020
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

Questioning 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 we have "learned" until one is satisfied with the veracity of the information we have received. There is a method for proper research which we can utilize to scrutinize any writings, modern or otherwise, which pertain to the life of Jesus of Nazareth who lived in 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 appreciate the importance of context and criteria for historical authenticity.

Unfortunately, and all too often, we blindly accept any information "out there" that may seem 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 to pump enough blood to the body, and many of his organs would already have already 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 and 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; they would have believed Jesus was not the Messiah after all. The disciples would not have gone on to willingly endure constant 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


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.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Yves


Submit a Comment
  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR


    16 months ago

    Indeed, Dear Demas. Thank you so much for saying so.

  • Perspycacious profile image

    Demas W Jasper 

    16 months ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

    Your dating articles can focus on a search for love. Your religious articles can focus on a search for God's love and a greater love of God. That's a worthy set of goals, isn't it!

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR


    17 months ago

    Wonderful to have you drop by, Readmikenow. Yes, my understanding is that the Hebrew language is very rich in meaning and nuance; very expressive and emotional.

    Thus, when we read the English words today, we may not comprehend their full meaning unless we are "learned" in the original language or if the Holy Spirit gives us a flash of insight.

    Fantastic contribution, Mike. Appreciate that.

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR


    17 months ago

    Thanks wba108. On occasion, I am confronted by believers who are offended by intellectual arguments because they believe that faith alone is sufficient. My take is that evidence is important. What if they had been born into an entirely different religion? Would blind faith be acceptable in that circumstance as well?

  • Readmikenow profile image


    17 months ago

    Well done article. i enjoyed reading it. I think when people read the Bible they must accept that it has been translated from the original scripture. The original language of the New Testament was Koine Greek. This was translated into Latin and then into English. When scholars go back to the original texts you find there are some words and concepts that are difficult to put into English. So, I say this as a real understanding of the Bible requires accepting its translations and that the original scripture (in my opinion) was much more intense that what we read.

  • profile image 

    17 months ago from upstate, NY

    Yves - No absolutely, it's a good thing to be able to defend your beliefs from an intellectual standpoint. Of course, there will always be a measure of faith involved by God's design but not blind faith, the evidence is there for those who would seek it out.

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR


    17 months ago

    Hello wba108..... I couldn't agree with you more.

    The "same event from different angles" is a great way to put it. My hope was to assuage the concerns of some who worry about these minor "inconsistencies" in the Gospels. The truth is that the meaning is the same and such small details are not important in the grand scheme of things.

    And of course, I want people who may be curious about the New Testament and/or require more hard data about the life of Jesus, to understand there is actual criteria which proves the authenticity of the Gospels and that we can trust that Jesus lived, died on the cross, and rose again!

    Furthermore, it is fun and enlightening to read the gospels from a scholars point of reference. (I am not referring to myself)

    So lovely to have you drop by, my friend. I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

    So many have no idea about that as they come into question so often.


  • profile image 

    17 months ago from upstate, NY

    Those that don't want to believe will always find a reason not to. I always saw the four gospels as different witnesses to the same event, they merely saw the same event from different angles. Different witnesses to a traumatic effect will not be identical, humans tend to block out certain details at times.

    All scriptures is God-breathed but recorded by fallible humans under the inspiration of God. Hey it's more important to know the God of the word than the word of God (as understood through man's limited understanding), isn't it?

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR


    19 months ago

    Thank you, Luis. You are very kind. The end times will be a season of hardship and persecution. We must pray for courage. ...So appreciate your stopping by to comment.

  • Luis G Asuncion profile image

    Luis G Asuncion 

    19 months ago from City of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, Philippines

    I love to read your article specifically about Jesus. Most Christians believe including myself that Jesus will come back in this century, we do not know the exact date, however this century. We have to prepare for that. Thanks for sharing this article.

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR


    19 months ago

    Nell Rose, my dear hubber friend.... The priest could have decided to jump out of the window for any number of reasons, many of which were known or unknown to his closest associates, and which may have been brewing in his mind for some time.... and which, furthermore, may have had nothing to do with Mary of Magdalene. We really do not know all the facts and I personally do not envision a priest killing himself over that.

    However, I respect your decision to draw a different conclusion.

    The thing about Dan Brown is that he is in no way a scholar or even close. In fact, he has been debunked by all serious scholars. Even most, if not all liberal scholars would never cite his work as factual. However, Brown is a talented writer. I read his first book and found it highly interesting. I almost believed it myself.

    Again, I respect your speaking up for your beliefs in a respectful manner. That is why you remain a beloved writer on HP.

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 

    19 months ago from England

    I have always had an open mind about the whole thing. I remember when Dan Brown wrote about Jesus having a wife. One of the vatican city priest commited suicide by jumping out of a window! If that's not proof of a marriage nothing is! In fact if it was a lie, no priest would have done it.

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR


    20 months ago

    In one of my hubs, regarding SDA's, I write about how I grew up Protestant and Catholic. My mother later explored New Age. I have an aunt who was a "holy roller." I somehow managed to take it all in and ultimately draw my own conclusions.

    That being said, I can comprehend why some family dynamics may be more confusing for young minds than mine were. I may have been luckier than some.

  • GetitScene profile image

    Dale Anderson 

    20 months ago from The High Seas

    I've got somewhat of a mixed attitude towards religion in general. I grew up in a very religious family but they seemed to change the family religion on a fairly regular basis. It makes you a little desensitized to it after a few years of that.

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR


    20 months ago

    I agree that seeking understanding from a historical perspective is wise, which is why I felt it important to stress the importance of understanding criteria.

    Gospels written outside of the first century do not have the benefit of first hand eyewitness account pertaining to Jesus of Nazareth; however, the gospel of Mary may have useful information regarding the role of women with regard to church policy and the issue of legalism. It would have been written in the setting of mid-2nd century.

    Thanks for your input, lovely Nell.

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 

    21 months ago from England

    I always check and double check the old testament and new. I tend to do it from an historical level. I do know that there were loads of gospels and they only added 4. I have read the gospel of Mary Magdalene, and have my own opinions on her. The best book to read for the old testament is the Jewish Torah, its the same since time started back then. Interesting stuff Yves, thanks

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR


    21 months ago

    Thank you, Devika. I hope the title makes sense. Lol.

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 

    21 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    I like this and you have surprised me on this title. You write with great interest and forever will remain in a unique piece from your writing.

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR


    22 months 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 

    22 months ago from Chicago

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

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR


    22 months 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 

    22 months 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


    23 months ago


  • abwilliams profile image

    A B Williams 

    23 months ago from Central Florida

    IF only.....

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR


    23 months 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 

    23 months 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


    23 months 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 

    23 months 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


    23 months 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 

    23 months 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!


  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR


    23 months 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.

  • savvydating profile imageAUTHOR


    23 months 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


    23 months 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 

    23 months ago from Traverse City, MI

    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


    23 months 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 

    23 months 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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