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HISTORICAL JESUS: Rules of Scholarship

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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.


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.

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