Why We Trust Our Bible - Lesson 4

HISTORICAL JESUS: Rules of Scholarship

How scholarship has created a series of rules they use to judge the authenticity of a gospel passage. Dr. Bock critiques those rules and shows how they still can argue for the authenticity of the core events of the gospel message.

Taught by a Team
Why We Trust Our Bible
Lesson 4
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HISTORICAL JESUS: Rules of Scholarship

I. Introduction

These are the rules scholars use to “prove” authenticity.

Clarification: if you can’t prove something to be authentic, it does not mean it isn’t authentic.

II. Multiple attestation

A. How many source streams testify to a certain teaching. The more widely attested a teaching is across the various tradition streams, the more likely that the theme is authentic.

1. Mark

2. Q

3. L(uke)

4. M(atthew)

5. John

B. Test case: “Son of Man”

1. Affirms an earthly ministry

2. Affirms Jesus would suffer

3. Includes the idea of apocalyptic glory

4. All three are multiply attested

III. Dissimilarity

A. If it is not similar to Judaism (the past) and not similar to the early church (the future), then the likelihood of the sayings authenticity increases

B. This is a very tight sieve (a high bar) and so not much passes this rule


C. Example: why did Jesus’ disciples not fast?

IV. Coherence

A. Anything similar to the first two categories

B. Problem: what seems similar to one person may not seem similar to the next.

V. Embarrassment

A. Sayings the early church would never have made up

B. Examples: Jesus’ selection of Judas; “Get behind me Satan”

VI. Cultural congruence

A. It has to make cultural sense

B. Example: Jesus saying he will come in the clouds and be seated at the right hand of God, and the Jews respond with the charge of blasphemy.

VII. Inherent ambiguity

A. Belief that something said indirectly is more likely to be authentic than something said directly

B. If the church were to make something up, they would be clear about it.

VIII. Three test cases

A. John the Baptist

1. Multiple attestation

2. Apocalyptic/Eschatological Jesus vs. Wisdom/Ethical Jesus

3. Jesus Seminar says only the latter is authentic, and the church made up the former.

4. However, John talked about judgment, and Jesus connected his ministry with John, hence endorsing John’s message of judgment

B. Caesarea Philippi

1. Peter confesses Jesus is that Messiah, which is an affirmation of uniqueness.

2. The following discussion is embarrassing since Peter is called “Satan.”

3. But you have to have the first part for the second part to make sense.

C. A-Triumphal Entry

1. “A-“ means it wasn’t “triumphal” but rather the entrance of a humble Messiah

2. If Jesus is showing himself to be the Messiah, he is claiming to be at the center of what God is doing. This is a claim to uniqueness and not simply being another prophet.

All Lessons
Class Resources
  • Dr. Craig Blomberg begins by introducing the issue of the historical reliability of the New Testament documents, focusing on Dan Brown and some of the other recent "discoveries." He will cover 12 truths agreed upon except by the most liberal theologians. In this lesson he talks about the authorship and dating of the gospels.

  • Would the gospel writers have wanted to preserve accurate history? Why are there four Gospels, with all the similarities and differences?

  • Gain an in-depth look at translations, interpretations, oral tradition, memorization, Gospel stories, and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with this seminary professor's class.
  • In his series of reasons, in this lesson Blomberg answers 7 – 9.

  • Blomberg addresses the issues of the non-Christian testimony to Jesus, archaeology, and the testimony of other early Christian Writers. He concludes with a powerful discussion of three ways to believe, and what the relationship is between faith and reason.

  • This class provides an overview of the core beliefs of Christianity and the sources that back them up.
  • Are books in the canon because they are authoritative, or they are authoritative because they are in the canon? The Davinci Code and the common assertions about Constantine are historical fabrications. “Canon” can mean three different things. Has God given us a structure to know which books should be in the canon? Can you prove, or is the point to have sound reasons for what you believe?

  • A canonical worldview is a set of beliefs as to what the canon is and how someone “knows” if a book is canonical or not.  There are three models. According to the community model, a book becomes canonical upon its reception by the community.

  • In the historical model of canonicity, a book becomes canonical when it is examined historically, looking at issues such as authorship and reception. This model suffers  by the absence of an absolute criteria by which you can make this decision.

  • The self-authenticating model of the canon claims that the Bible is itself its own ultimate authority. All beliefs of ultimate authority are circular, otherwise the criteria for deciding would be greater than the ultimate authority itself. The real question is whether or not God has provided a means by which Christians can know what books are truly canonical. The self-authenticating model encompasses the other two, incorporating the best of each model.

  • A “defeater” is an idea that undermines your confidence in knowing something. Are there defeaters for our understanding of the canon? The New Testament books have unity with prior revelation and with each other, and in fact the New Testament completes the Old Testament in surprising ways.

  • Kruger shows that Covenants in the Old Testament needed written documents, and a new covenant required new documents. Writing was not an afterthought. The apostles saw themselves as agents of the New Covenant and saw their writings as having authority. They would have been surprised to be told that it wasn't until Irenaeus that people throught their writing was authoritative. They had to write to accomplish their apostolic ministry within their lifetime.

  • Even if a few of the books took a while to be accepted, there was a core canon of 22 books very quickly. Even the Muratorian Fragment, while including two non-canonical books, recognizes that they are different and may be listing them as such. Just because the early church read non-canonical books does not mean there was not a canon.

  • The early church was a culture of textuality; they liked and publicly read books. The frequency of ancient manuscripts shows us which books were the most popular and were therefore understood to be canonical. The church preferred the new codex format because they could group books together, especially the gospels. We can also tell that the manuscripts were written in order to be publicly read, which means the church knew which books were authoritative.

  • Eusebius described four types of books: accepted, disputed, rejected, and heretical. The early church was careful in what they accepted as authoritative, and there really was not that much of a question.

  • Answers to common questions about the canon, now that these question are targeted to the lay level. 

  • In Part 1, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses the challenges to the believability of the Bible brought by the issues related to the Greek manuscripts, and especially the influence of Dan Brown and Bart Ehrman.

  • In Part 2, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses discussion of the historical process that led to manuscripts and variants, with some examples of variants.

  • In Part 3, Dr. Daniel Wallace responds to three basic challenges by Bart Ehrman: the "black hole"; the quality of the copies; the effect of Constantine on the manuscripts.​

  • In Part 4, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses how now that we understand why there are variants in the manuscripts, how does the art and science of textual criticism help us determine which variants are most likely to be original?

  • In Part 5, Dr. Daniel Wallace addresses a brief overview of why the King James Bible is different from all modern translations, and issues of the Greek texts behind it.

  • In Part 6, Dr. Daniel Wallace focuses in on variants, how many there are, how many significant variants are there, and how good of a job has textual criticism done.

  • You will gain knowledge about translation philosophy, including different methods, how to evaluate a translation, and a comparison of the NIV and ESV translation philosophies, with examples of their differences. Understanding translation philosophy is important when interpreting the Bible.
  • You will learn about the first principle of interpretation which involves determining the meaning of words by looking at the word's immediate context, broader context, and historical and cultural context. By accurately interpreting the meaning of a word, it can be applied to the passage as a whole.
  • In this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible by exploring topics such as the development of the canon, textual criticism, historical accuracy, and theological coherence.
  • You will gain an understanding of the principles behind why we trust the Bible, including the bibliographical, historical, and internal tests.
  • You will gain knowledge and insight into the process of canonicity, which is the recognition of which books belong in the Bible based on criteria such as apostolicity, orthodoxy, catholicity, and traditional use. Understanding canonicity is essential for recognizing the authority of the Bible and its significance in the Christian faith.

The uniqueness and authority of the Bible are always under attack. Professors and writers are claiming that Jesus never existed, Jesus never claimed to be God, the early church changed the basic preaching of Jesus, books were left out of the Bible, the copies of the Bible that have come down through the centuries are hopelessly corrupt

Dr. Blomberg discusses the reliability of the Bible. Dr. Kruger discusses the process of formation of the New Testament Canon. Dr. Wallace discusses issues relating to manuscripts and textual criticism. Dr. Mounce discusses the philosophies and process of translation. 

Course: Why We Trust Our Bible

Lecture: Rules of Scholarship


I. Introduction

Here, we will look at the rules that critical scholarship uses to decide whether a verse belongs in the Bible or not. He takes those rules and flips them around and in even using those rules; you can still prove that a lot of what is in the Bible is true. Understand that just because you can’t prove something, it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Even if you can’t prove to a liberal critical scholar whether a verse belongs in the Bible or not, it doesn’t mean it is just made up.

Many people have different kinds of questions about trusting the Bible; things like, is it real? Is it authentic? Did the Biblical writers get the story correct? Did the church alter it through the centuries? A lot of these questions as a pastor forced me to deal with a lot of these issues. As a translator, one is also making decisions on whether this is the correct English word to use or not? Will it give someone the wrong idea or make someone believe or not believe the Bible. These are real issues that translators struggle with. How do you prove that the historical Jesus is the Christ of faith or isn’t? So, what level of proof do we need or how high do we set that level of proof in order to say that you believe that the Scriptures are true and accurately reflect the historical Jesus. Just because you can’t prove something, doesn’t mean it is wrong. I’ll state this in another way; just because you can’t prove something doesn’t mean it is not authentic. So, as we go through this discussion of memory and how reliable it is, the idea of being able to prove something or not doesn’t make it so.

Paul tells the Thessalonians in 2nd Thessalonians 2:2 that they may have received a false letter that seemed to be from Paul saying that the Day of the Lord had come. So, someone wrote a false letter to the church saying that Christ’s return had already happened. Later on in Galatians in 6:11 Paul says, ‘see what large letters I’m writing, that is how I sign all of my books.’ Apparently, it was his signature of authenticity; the assumption was that people were forging letters supposedly from Paul.

II. Multiple Attestations

Some of the things we look for in order to determine whether the writing is historically accurate or note include what we call multiple attestations. This is where everyone is saying the same thing. When you hear the same story being told by different people, it increases the likelihood that what they are saying is true. The same thing happens with the Gospels, if you have different streams of traditions, the more you have, the more you can argue within the context of critical scholarship that it actually happened. For the Gospels, we have about five different streams, multiple attestations, of tradition. The first is the Gospel of Mark because it was the first Gospel that was written. We read in Mark and learn what Jesus did and said. There is another document known as ‘Q’ from a German word as a as a meaningful source. It seemed to have been a collection of teachings of Jesus. That source is no longer available as it is only a hypothetical theory in the first place. You can go to Matthew and Luke and read the same story that is not in Mark and they are often word for word. So it really looks like that Matthew and Luke were citing another source. So that source was called Q. Almost all of Mark is in both Matthew and Luke with this Q document that occurred in both Matthew and Luke. There was no reason to keep it since it was in Matthew and Luke. But there are also other traditions that we call ‘M’. This was information about Jesus that is only found in Matthew and then we have a fourth stream of tradition cleverly called ‘L’ and this is material that is only in Luke. So Mark sits down and writes his Gospel which is the first one. Matthew sits down and has Mark and Q and his own material and writes the Book of Matthew. Luke comes along and he has Mark, Q and his own material which we call L and he writes the Gospel of Luke. So these represent four streams of tradition; four multiple attestations or four different sources of information about Jesus and of course, we have the Gospel of John who writes out of his own personal experiences. This gives us five different streams, providing us with similar events and teachings.

For example in considering the phrase, the Son of Man where some of these emphasize Jesus’ humanity. Some emphasize his coming persecution and suffering. But there are other Son of Man sayings that talk about him coming as an apocalyptic divine figure and judge of the whole world. Interestingly, all three of these are attested to these various streams of tradition and yet critical scholarship will accept the first two but not the last one, Jesus being the coming judge of the living and the dead; that he is going to judge the world. The argument is that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t accept some of these sayings and not some of the others when they are all tied together. This is a very powerful argument within the scope of scholarship. So when it comes to asking whether the writers are historically accurate, when we see the same event being taught multiple times from different people, then you can argue that it is a greater chance of being accurate.

So, if you don’t see that Jesus saw himself as the coming apocalyptic judge from the prophet Daniel as when Jesus stood before Pilate telling Pilate that someday he would be the judge. Assumptions play a role in thinking what is authentic and what isn’t. It is not just pure science. Another point which should be encouraging is the role of the Holy Spirit. Remember in John 14:26 in the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit who the Father will send in my name will instruct you (the eleven disciples) regarding all things and cause you to remember everything that I have told you. Now, that verse isn’t going to convince a skeptic that there should be more ‘red’ in the Bible and less ‘black’ as to the way the Jesus Seminar decided on things. This should be an encouragement to all of us thinking back to this period of oral tradition and the accuracy of their memories, it was one of the functions of the Holy Spirit was to keep the memories of the disciples accurate. So do I have any trouble believing that someone in a rabbinic oral culture under the power of the Holy Spirit remembered the stories about whether the stories of Jesus were accurate or not? I don’t have any trouble at all. My memory isn’t like those who lived in an oral culture.

III. Dissimilarity

If it is not similar to Judaism which is the past and not similar to the early church which represents the future, then the likelihood of the sayings authenticity increases. And not much passes this rule.

IV. Coherence

A third rule is often used in relationship to the first two, is that anything that is like or coheres with what gets through the first two categories, also is authentic. The trouble with this rule, in all honesty, is that coherence is in the eye of the beholder sometimes. But you do sometimes see an appeal to the argument of coherence. Interestingly, what seems similar to one person may not seem similar to the next person. .


V. Embarrassment

Other reasons for historical accuracy include embarrassing sayings. The argument is, if the church was willing to make up sayings, would they have made up these particular sayings. There are things in the Gospels that are indeed embarrassing to the original audience, to the characters involved in the story. If the church was just willing to make up stories, would it have made up these sayings? For example, Jesus goes out and picks twelve people to be with him for three and a half years. One of them tried to kill him, Judas. That is embarrassing. The Gospel writers are saying that Jesus was the Son of God, he was here on a divine mission and yet he chose Judas, someone who betrayed him. Why? Or perhaps at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus and Peter had a little altercation where Peter rebukes Jesus for saying that he is going to suffer and then Jesus calls Peter Satan. If you were making up the Gospel story, would you take the head of the church and would you have Jesus rebuke him calling him Satan? This is embarrassing that Peter was so totally misunderstood in rebuking Jesus for saying that he was going to suffer and he got rebuked in return. You wouldn’t make up something like this. There are quite a few of these embarrassing situations within the Gospel. So the point here is: if the Gospel writers are trying to be historically accurate, then this is part of the story that they are going to record it, because it is historically accurate as it happened. But if you were just making up stories, you wouldn’t make up these kinds of stories.

VI. Cultural congruence

The argument is that it must make cultural sense to have a chance of being authentic. When he was before the Sanhedrin and they were judging him and in Matthew 26:64 Jesus quotes the Daniel passage about the Son of Man coming with clouds to judge them. Through this, he is saying, I am the Daniel Son of Man and I am the celestial judge before whom all of you will someday stand. He collected twelve disciples to create the true Israel. Who would do this? Then you have those wonderful I AM sayings in John where Jesus says before Abraham was, I AM quoting God’s most holy name that we get from the burning bush. The Jews understood that he was claiming to be the I AM, the Yahweh, the Jehovah and God of the burning bush and they tried to kill him which is what one is supposed to do when someone commits blaspheme in Jewish law.

VII. Inherent ambiguity

Something that is said indirectly versus directly is more likely to be authentic. If the early church goes to the trouble to make it up and make a point about Jesus, they will do it in such a way that they will be clear about it. So, if it’s inherently ambiguous, that’s more likely to go to Jesus and not be a creation of the early church than something that’s clear. For each of these rules, there is an element of skepticism associated with their construction. They are not made up by the church. They are made to be tests that this material can get past. It’s a rule of corroboration. Not everything gets over the bar. But if it can get over the bar, that’s significant.

VIII. Three Test Cases

The best example of this in the Gospels would be the birth narratives. Let’s look and compare Matthew and Luke. Matthew starts with a genealogy where Luke starts with the visit of the angels along with John the Baptist. Then they come together and agree that Jesus was born and shepherds came to visit them and then other things and they both agree that Jesus ends up in Nazareth years later. So you have a different beginning, then you have a similarity of the birth, the shepherds and Nazareth but then you have totally different things happening between these points. In Matthew you have the wise men coming and you have Herod killing all the babies two years old and younger. You have the flight to Egypt and Herod dying and then with Joseph returning to Nazareth. But in Luke, after the shepherds is the circumcision in the temple, the naming and the offering in the temple and Jesus ends up in Nazareth. So how could you trust two different stories that are so different? So let’s look at harmonization. When it comes to the magi, there are two points: where was Jesus when the magi came? Chapter 2:11. He is in a house. And we know that Herod was crazy and evil and if Jesus had just been born, why would he kill babies that were two years old and younger? One of the clues includes the time the baby was circumcised which is usually eight days after birth. So we know that the circumcision happened immediately, but the magi weren’t so sure. Then you have the naming and offering in the temple and again we know that this happened relatively quickly. But you also have the story of Simeon who has been told that he will not die until he sees the Messiah. He sees Jesus and then breaks forth into this beautiful hymn about Jesus being a light to the gentiles. One of Luke’s themes is that the Gospel is not just for the Jews but also for the gentiles. This story sets the stage for Jesus and his ministry for gentiles also. This is why the travel narrative of Jesus is longer than in other Gospels. This involved a ministry to the gentiles which is very important to Luke; so from the first day, Jesus was destined to be a light to the gentiles.

So how are we going to put all these things together? Can you think of some kind of situation that could give rise for both of these accounts? Yeah, it is actually very simple! So Jesus was born, the shepherds came that night and eight days later, he was taken to be circumcised and after that named and offered in the temple. And then, very easily they could have returned to Bethlehem as Joseph was from Bethlehem, being his ancestral home. So he could have stayed there for a while, a year or year and a half; the magi come and Herod finds out from the magi. Jesus could have been alive for least a year; Herod goes to kill all the babies that are two years old and younger. So Mary and Joseph head for Egypt and after Herod’s death, they return home to Nazareth. So this is a possible way to handle the birth of Jesus and makes perfectly good sense. There was a selection of material and there are purposes governing that selection. In the Matthew passage, there are prophecies such as ‘out of Egypt, I have called my Son.’ It was important for Jesus to be seen as the fulfillment of Prophecy and this prophecy was from Hosea. When the babies were killed, this is a fulfillment of prophecy, something that was important to the Jews, but not so important for the gentiles. Luke doesn’t have any real reason to include this, but yet, this is what harmonization is. When it comes to apparent contradictions in the synoptic Gospels, harmonization solves just about any perceived problem.

Note that at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus and Peter had a little altercation where Peter rebukes Jesus for saying that he is going to suffer and then Jesus calls Peter Satan. If you were making up the Gospel story, would you take the head of the church and would you have Jesus rebuke him calling him Satan?
This is embarrassing that Peter was so totally misunderstood in rebuking Jesus for saying that he was going to suffer and he got rebuked in return. You wouldn’t make up something like this. There are quite a few of these embarrassing situations within the Gospel. So the point here is: if the Gospel writers are trying to be historically accurate, then this is part of the story that they are going to record it, because it is historically accurate as it happened. But if you were just making up stories, you wouldn’t make up these kinds of stories.

Usually when a dignitary comes to a city, officials go out from the city and greet the dignitary. So Jesus enters Jerusalem as a king but what do the leaders do? They complain, tell your disciples to stop. What does Jesus say? If they do not cry out, the stones will cry out. Note that whenever creation is said to talk
or have the possibility of talking, that’s important. The creation of God which is animated in this passage, seen as living and breathing, accepts the witness of what is represented here and if the disciples had not done it, the creation would have responded. So when creation speaks, people are supposed to listen. The background to this is from Zachariah 9:9 ‘Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! Look! Your king is coming to you: he is legitimate and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey – on a young donkey, the foal of a female donkey. Also there is a passage in 1st Kings where Solomon comes into the city. There’s praise for God’s great work, there is praise for Davidic hope. He enters as the promised King, offering himself to the city. The disciples are praising him as doing the works of God and the other people are those who are pouring into the city during these pilgrim feasts. The leader’s reaction which is only in Luke is to stop. There are other passages from Genesis 4 and Habakkuk 2 that are also examples of creation talk. The blood of Able cries out in one of those passages. And then Jesus weeps and predicts the judgment for covenant unfaithfulness. ‘So Jesus wept over it, saying, if you had only known on this day, even you, the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Jesus continues, for the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and surround you and close in on you from every side. They will demolish you – you and your children within your walls – and they will not leave within you one stone on top of another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’ And so the exile judgment declared in Luke 13 is confirmed here by this remark in a prediction that comes in the destruction of Jerusalem. Note now that the judgment that followed in AD 70 was part of the eschatological calendar. It represents a confirmation that the nation has been judged and the nation in effect