At this point, we’ve seen a mounting cumulative case for the reliability of the gospels. The copies we have today are identical to the ones originally written down with 99.99% accuracy, the gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John who were eyewitnesses and close associates of eyewitnesses, the gospels were written down very soon after the events they describe, and extra-biblical authors and archeological evidence confirms them at multiple points.
As impressive as the external evidence is, the internal evidence is even more so. In fact, there is so much internal evidence for the truthfulness of the gospels that I have decided to split this section up into two parts. Internal evidence for the gospels’ truthfulness consists of scrutinizing their testimony to find various indications of truth. It is not simply quoting Bible verses to prove The Bible is true, as one skeptic in the comment section on the Cerebral Faith Facebook page said. There are multiple categories of internal evidence. But in this article, I wish to make a cumulative case from the criteria of authenticity.
The Criteria Of Authenticity
Those who’ve read my work on The Minimal Facts argument will know what the criteria of authenticity are, but for those who don’t know, let me briefly explain. The criteria of authenticity are certain principles that many historians use when examining historical testimony. If an event meets one or more of these criteria, it can be said to really have occurred. Usually, these criteria are used with respect to the New Testament in a very skeptical way. Skeptics presuppose the gospels are guilty until proven innocent, that is to say, they presume the New Testament documents aren’t telling the truth until it can be proven that they are. At best, someone may approach the gospels or epistles with neutrality and say “Well, we don’t know if they’re telling the truth here or not.” The criteria have been shown to be very helpful in getting “Core Facts” upon which we can build a powerful case for Jesus’ resurrection even with the deck stacked against our crucial witnesses See my article series “The Evidence For Jesus’ Resurrection” –> https://cerebralfaith.net/category/evidence-for-jesus-resurrection-series/ for an in-depth look at the … Continue reading. However, in a maximalist case in which the reliability of the gospels is presupposed, the criteria can serve to build a cumulative case for their trustworthiness. For if the gospels can be shown to get things right over and over and over, then approaching events in the gospels via this “passage by passage” approach is no longer necessary. Eventually, you can get to a place where you can simply take the gospels’ testimony at face value to build your case for Christianity’s central truth claims because you’ve already shown the crucial witnesses to be trustworthy. I got the idea to use the criteria of authenticity to mount a cumulative case from Frank Turek as he uses one of the criteria in a rapid-fire way in chapter 9 of “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist”.
What are these criteria? They are
The Principle Of Embarrassment — If a document records an event that is embarrassing to the one writing it, embarrassing to someone the writer cares about, weakens an argument he’s trying to make, or hurts his cause in any way, it is more likely to be true than false. This principle is built on the common sense belief that if people are going to make up lies, those lies will make themselves look good, make their loved ones look good, strengthen their arguments, or helps their cause. No one makes up lies to make themselves or a loved one look bad, or to weaken an argument they’re trying to make.
Here’s a hypothetical example of this principle in play. Let’s say we had a letter written by George Washington, the first president of The United States, and in that letter, he records an incident where he was riding a horse along the countryside and he had a bad case of diarrhea, causing him to soil himself. Then he says that he went behind a tree, removed his undergarments, and went commando for the rest of the day. A historian examining that document would conclude that this story is more likely to be true than not because such a story is embarrassing to the one who wrote it (i.e. George Washington).
The Principle Of Multiple Attestation — The more independent sources an event is mentioned in, the more likely it is to be true. The more independent sources you have reporting an event, the smaller the odds it is that the event is made up, since it’s highly unlikely for multiple people to concoct the same fiction.
Let’s say that not only did Washington write about his embarrassing case, but three of his friends each wrote documents recounting the incident as well. If this were the case, the incident of Washington soiling himself would be even more likely to be true. Why? Because of the principle of multiple attestations. When you have two or more independent sources record an incident, it’s far more likely to be true than not, because the more and more independent sources an event is mentioned in, the less and less likely it is to be made up. If you had three or four different sources recording the same event, what are the odds that all four sources are making up the same thing? So on top of the principle of embarrassment, we would add multiple attestations to this incident.
The Principle Of Early Attestation — The earlier a document dates relative to the event the document purports to describe, the more reliable the account. The earlier a document is, the less time there was for legend and embellishment to creep in.
The hypothetical documents of Washington’s’ friends were written only 2 years after the event. This short timescale makes it less likely that they would embellish things and inaccurately recall the day.
The Principle Of Enemy Attestation — If Document X is saying something that benefits a person, message, or cause that X is hostile or opposed to, we have an indication of authenticity.
This principle’s logic runs mirror to The Principle of Embarrassment’s. The logic behind this principle is that people who hate you are not going to make up lies to make you look good. People who are opposed to your cause are not going to make up lies that help it.
The Principle Of Historical Fit — If details in an account conform to well-established historical facts of the period, this makes the event in said account more credible.
For example, if Washington’s letters and the writings of his 3 friends described the countryside accurately, described what kind of trees were in bloom in the area that they said they were horse riding in, described the kind of clothes the people back in town wore, etc. these things would heighten the credibility of the accounts.
The Principle Of Dissimilarity — As far as I know, this principle is solely used in examining The New Testament. This principle says that If an event or saying of Jesus cannot be derived from the Judaism that preceded him or the Christian church that came after him, then it’s highly unlikely that the saying of Jesus in question is made up. Some object to the use of this criterion on the basis that we would expect Jesus, as a Jewish Rabbi and the founder of the Christian church, to say things that reflect the Judaism that preceded Him and the Christianity that came after Him. This is a good point, but we should realize that criteria cannot be used negatively. This criterion simply states that if Jesus says something that sounds unJewish and unChristian, then Jesus most likely said it. This is because it would be implausible to say that the early church retroactively put these words in Jesus’ mouth or that it was a logical outworking of the Jewish theology of the day. This is probably the most skeptical of all the criteria, and it is used the least often.
The Principle Of Multiple Literary Forms — Greco-Roman Biographies, creeds, miracles, didactic (these would be sermon summaries), apocalyptic. These are the genres of writings in the first-century Roman-Palestinian world. If an event can be found in writings that fall into more than one literary genre, then it’s more likely to be true than not.
The Principle Of Eyewitness Testimony — If a writer claims to be a direct witness to the event he’s describing, this is generally taken to make the event more likely to have occurred.
I won’t be using all of these criteria in this article, as enemy attestation is primarily external confirmation by definition, and the gospels have already been shown to meet the criteria of early and eyewitness testimony in the previous articles in this series. The criteria on which I will mount a cumulative case are on the basis of three of the following; Embarrassment, Multiple Attestation, and Dissimilarity, in this order.
The reason I’m picking these three out of the eight surveyed above is on the basis of three reasons; (1) These criterion can be applied to the gospels the largest number of times, (2) That the 4 gospels meet criteria like early testimony and eyewitness testimony have already been established, (3) the others have a smaller number of applications to the gospels (that I know of anyway). It should be remembered that I’m not mounting a minimal facts argument for the historicity of the core historical truth claims of Christianity. Rather, in this specific instance, I’m building a cumulative case for the trustworthiness of the gospels which will then justify an inference to such truth claims via a different epistemic route. So, if I am aware of only one or two examples where specific criteria can be applied, that won’t be nearly as useful to my cumulative case for gospel trustworthiness as criteria that can be applied to a plethora of events.
Embarrassing Testimony – About The Disciples
Let’s begin by looking at examples from the criterion of embarrassment.
Let me phrase it like this; If you and a bunch of your companions are conjuring up a narrative you wanted people to believe was true, would you, in the narrative, paint yourselves as slow-to-understand, uncaring, rebuked, doubting cowards? The men who put pen to the papyrus certainly did! Not just once or twice, but numerous times!
*The Disciples Are slow to understand — On multiple occasions, they fail to grasp some of Jesus’ teachings. (Mark 9:32; Luke 18:34; John 12:16).
*The Disciples are depicted as uncaring— Not just once, but twice, they doze off and catch some Zs when Jesus asks them to stay awake and pray (Mark 14:32-41). The gospels believe Jesus is God enfleshed (Mark 14:61-65, John 8:58, John 10:30) and yet they tell us that they failed to be his prayer warriors during his most dire hour! Not only that but there is ZERO effort on their part to give a proper burial to their rabbi. Instead, they wrote down that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea. Who was Joseph of Arimathea you ask? Oh, just a member of the Sanhedrin a.k.a the very court that took Jesus to Pilate to have Him killed.
*The disciples are rebuked—Peter is called “Satan” by Jesus (see Mark 8:33). As Frank Turek once put it in a talk he gave at Saddleback Church, imagine Mark is writing his gospel. Peter is giving him information about all that Jesus said and did, and then Mark holds up his hand and says “Wait a minute, Peter! I have a great idea to spice up the story. I think I’ll have Jesus predict His death and then you try to stop him. In response, The Lord rebukes you and calls you Satan”. What do you think Peter would have said if this is how it went down? “Have him call YOU Satan! What’s he calling me Satan for!? I’m the leader here!” Frank Turek, “Why We Know The New Testament Writers Told The Truth: Frank Turek at Saddleback Church”, DVD from CrossExamined.org. This does not appear to be made up.
*The disciples are cowards—Ten out of the twelve go into hiding when Jesus gets crucified. The disciple’s bravado turned cowardice reminds me of that Lord Of The Rings meme where Gandalf says “No matter what comes through that gate, you will stand your ground.” then cue some picture of something to be feared, and then a blurry image of Gandalf shouting “Run!” Peter even denies him three times after explicitly promising, “I will never disown you” (Matthew 26:33-35). Meanwhile, as the men are hiding for fear of the Jews, the brave women stand by Jesus and are the first to discover the empty tomb.
*They are doubters—in spite of Jesus telling them multiple times that He would rise from the dead (John 2:18-22; 3:14-18; Matthew 12:39-41; 17:9, 22-23), the disciples are doubtful when they hear of his resurrection. Some are even doubtful after they see him risen (Matthew 28:17)!
Let me ask you this; if the gospel writers were just fictitiously crafting accounts in order to found a new religion and get people to believe in Jesus, if they were really free to play loose with the facts (or even just make most things up), why do we have so many unflattering depictions of the disciples across all four gospels? If the gospels aren’t trying to tell us the truth about what happened during the three years Jesus walked this Earth, they could have easily painted themselves in a better light. For example, in Mark 8:31-33 when Jesus predicts his death, rather than say “May this never happen to you, Lord” and get rebuked by Jesus, Mark could have had Peter be overcome by the Holy Spirit and then start prophesying. “Amen, Lord, for as it is written in the law and the prophets, the Son Of Man must suffer and then rise again.” And then afterward, Jesus congratulates Peter on his great faith. You certainly don’t have one of Jesus’ inner three, the later one of the “pillars” of Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9), be called Satan by Jesus.
And rather than report that they fell asleep on Jesus twice in his hour of distress, they could have written that they stayed awake and prayed earnestly. And rather than rebuke them upon finding them asleep, Jesus would come and say “Despite your fatigue, you have stayed awake with me during this crucial hour. I thank you, my friends.”
Rather than run into hiding when Jesus goes to the cross and leave it up to a Sanhedrin member, the gospel authors surely would have written the story so that they themselves gave Jesus a proper burial.
Yet what we find in the gospels are repeated instances that don’t paint the disciples in a good light. Again, does this look like they were just making things up? Or does it look like they were telling the truth? People don’t make up things about themselves to make themselves look bad. If they’re going to lie or fabricate details, it will be to make themselves look good. On the basis of the criterion of embarrassment, we have good grounds for concluding that the above-reported incidents really occurred. Moreover, the criterion of embarrassment can be applied over and over like this to confirm multiple gospel episodes that lead to a cumulative case that the authors were committed to telling the truth, warts and all.
However, we’re not done yet. For the gospel authors include many embarrassing and awkward things about Jesus himself! Let’s look at some examples;
Embarrassing Testimony – About Jesus
*Jesus Virgin Birth – The gospels of Matthew and Luke tells us that Jesus was not conceived like an ordinary man (see Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2). Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. I do affirm the virgin birth, Nick Peters, even if only in a footnote.. Lydia McGrew has written on this topic, while not really explicitly using the term “criterion of embarrassment” to my memory, it is definitely an argument from the embarrassing nature of the Virgin Birth narrative. In episode 2 of her podcast, she says “These accounts don’t really work to appeal to a Jewish or Gentile audience. They’re not what you can imagine someone making up as an appeal to those audiences. Let’s, first of all, think about a Jewish audience. Now, as I’m going to say in a moment here, the accounts of the virgin birth don’t really resemble pagan myths. But let’s put our minds into those of a first-century Palestinian Jewish audience. They tended to be pretty sensitive about any resemblance, however faint, to paganism. This is a point that N.T Wright makes. … He points this out that this could be what we could call ‘triggering’ to first-century Jewish sensibilities to imagine Yahweh causing a woman to be pregnant without the agency of any human man. Even though they’re not sexual in any way, there could be this feeling that ‘You know, that’s getting too close to paganism.’ ‘That’s not something we want to think about Yahweh doing’ and that could trigger Jewish sensibilities. That’s not how you have miraculous births in the Old Testament – those are more similar to the birth of John The Baptist as Luke recounts it in Luke 1.” Lydia McGrew, The Lydia McGrew Podcast, “Virgin Birth 2: Signs Of Truth In The Birth Stories” – … Continue reading
Dr. McGrew goes on to say “It’s not going to be very appealing to a Pagan audience either. In Pagan mythology, when a god impregnates a woman, it’s very lush, very sensual, and very sexual. Often it occurs by sexual intercourse between the god and the woman. Sometimes the god comes in the form of some animal. … there’s nothing like that here. It’s very sober. It bears no resemblance to that mythology. It just says that the power of the Highest will overshadow her.” Lydia McGrew, The Lydia McGrew Podcast, “Virgin Birth 2: Signs Of Truth In The Birth Stories” – … Continue reading)
Dr. McGrew then says that it wouldn’t be appealing to later Christian audiences either as a sort of apologetic. Why? Because the accounts seem to reflect the early Jewish expectations of a conquering warrior who would establish a perfect kingdom right away (as opposed to a suffering servant who died for the sins of the world and will do all of that in his second coming).
Let’s listen to what the angel says to the virgin Mary at the Annunciation:
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:31-33)
Put yourself in the mindset of a first-century Jew. You hate the Romans for what they’ve done to your people. They are ruthless and they over tax you. You would probably read this interpreting the words to refer to an Earthly kingdom. In fact, in all probability, this may have been what Mary thought when Gabriel said these things to her. At least initially. And yet, by the time Christianity is founded, it’s clear that Jesus did not found an earthly kingdom.
Even though the proclamation of the early church is that Christ arose, Jesus isn’t around physically. Acts 1 says He ascended into Heaven after His resurrection. Jesus is not visible reigning on David’s throne in a visibly and physically tangible sense. Why would you write Gabriel’s prophesy in that way if you were making up the story? If Gabriel’s words are invented, if Gabriel himself is invented, then you could just have him say something different entirely. For example, Gabriel could have said;
“He will reign over a kingdom, but it will be the kingdom of heaven. It will not be a kingdom of this earth.”
You could put that in there instead. Why not, if you’re making it up? ibid. There are other facets of the narrative that wouldn’t have served as useful apologetics to the early Christians, but I want to move on to another topic. I recommend listening to episode 2 of The Lydia McGrew Podcast for a full treatment of this subject.
So yeah, it doesn’t look like it would have been invented. It would have been embarrassing to a Jewish audience (scandalous even) because of how close it resembles the origin of pagan gods (even though there are, as McGrew said, many many differences), it wouldn’t have been appealing to a pagan audience because of how dissimilar it was to the origin of pagan gods (ironically), and it wouldn’t have served Christians as a useful apologetic. So, who would be best served from this being made up?
In addition to these things, Jesus is…
*considered “out of his mind” his own family, who at one point come to grab him and haul him off back home (Mark 3:21, 31)
*John 7:5 tells us that Jesus’ own brothers didn’t believe in him. In first century Israel, it was embarrassing for a Rabbi’s family not to accept him or his teachings. See J.P Moreland’s Interview with Lee Strobel in “The Case For Christ”, Zondervan, page 248
*In John 7:12, we read “And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people.” (KJV)
*John 6:66 says “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” (KJV). This came on the heels of Jesus saying that to have eternal life, his followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:47-58). The people to whom Jesus was speaking interpreted Jesus’ teachings cannibalistically, and John the writer doesn’t take the time to explain what communion is, assuming that that’s what Jesus was referring to. Both the desertion of Jesus’ followers and the prima facie appearance of cannibalism are certainly awkward features of the text, and ergo, don’t appear to be made up.
*In John 8:30-31, we read of how Jesus turns off “Jews who had believed in him”. So much so, that in verse 59, we read that they attempted to have him killed by stoning.
* John 7:5 tells us that Jesus’ own brothers didn’t believe in him. In first century Israel, it was embarrassing for a Rabbi’s family not to accept him or his teachings. See J.P Moreland’s Interview with Lee Strobel in “The Case For Christ”, Zondervan, page 248
*In Matthew 11:19, Jesus is called a “drunkard”.
*In Mark 3:22, John 7:20, and John 8:48, Jesus is called “demon-possessed”.
*In John 10:20, Jesus is called a “madman”.
*Luke 7:36-39 reports that Jesus’ feet were washed with the tears and hair of a prostitute. And as Frank Turek points out in “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist”, this had the potential to be perceived as a sexual advance. Frank Turek, Norman Geisler, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist”, Crossway, page 278
*Finally, Jesus is crucified despite the fact that “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21:23; cf. Gal. 3:13).
This is not a list of events that would be chosen by the gospel writers if they were doing everything they could to hype Jesus up as the perfect, sinless, God-Incarnate. Additionally, like the accounts of the virgin birth surveyed above, these features of the gospel narratives do not comport with the Jewish expectation that the Messiah would be a political liberator. Indeed, the Old Testament even says that anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse. I can think of no better explanation for all of these features of the narrative than that they actually occurred in real space and time. The criterion of embarrassment authenticates each one individually, but collectively, they form a cumulative case that the gospel authors were dedicated to telling us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
This criterion’s use sometimes makes use of internal evidence only, and sometimes employs external evidence. After all, we saw in the previous installment to this series that many of the events reported in the gospels are attested by secular authors, so an argument from multiple attestation can sometimes make use of those outside sources. So, you can say things like “Jesus did blank. This is reported in the gospel of Mark, the gospel of John, Paul, and also Josephus.” However, sometimes sources are only corroborated by two gospel authors who don’t appear to be drawing on the same tradition.
Jesus’ brothers are skeptical of him. This is reported in both Mark and John (Mark 3 and John 7 respectively). The account in Mark where the unbelief of Jesus’ family is mentioned is a totally different context than that of John 7, and ergo, John cannot be said to be copying from Mark here.
Jesus is reported to be a miracle worker in all four gospels. We know this because many miracles are reported in one gospel, but not others. For example, only the gospel of John has the miracle of turning water into wine during the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), and only John contains Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Only Luke contains the story of Jesus raising the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-17). So, they’re not all copying from Mark here. Moreover, let us not forget that Josephus and the Talmud attest to Jesus’ miracles, albeit in a neutral and negative way respectively.
James M. Rochford provides these examples in an article on EvidenceUnseen.com.
“Jesus taught that he was inaugurating the kingdom of God. This appears in independent material in four Gospels (Mt. 5:17; 9:37-38; 13:16-17; Mk. 2:18-20; 4:26-29; Lk. 11:14-22; Jn. 4:35).
Jesus taught on divorce. This appears in three independent sources: (1) Mark 10:2-12 = Matthew 19:3-12; (2) the so-called “Q” source that Matthew 5:32 and Luke 16:18 share in common; (3) 1 Corinthians 7.10-11.
Jesus befriended notoriously sinful people. We find in this in material that is unique to Mark (Mk. 2:15-17), Matthew (Mt. 21:28-32), Luke (Lk. 15:1-2), and Q (Mt 11:18-19).” James M. Rochford, “The Criteria Of Authenticity”, — https://www.evidenceunseen.com/theology/scripture/historicity-of-the-nt/the-criteria-of-authenticity/.
Rochford also writes “Jesus died for claiming to be the King of the Jews. This is multiply attested. Above Jesus on the Cross, the inscription said, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews‘. (Mt. 27:37; Mk. 15:26; Lk. 23:38; Jn. 19:19). This appears in all four Gospels—though it appears in different forms—and it was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek (e.g. rex, melek, basileus) for all to read.” See ibid.
Jesus’ death by crucifixion is multiply attested, being mentioned by Matthew, Mark, John, Paul in his epistles, and the secular authors Josephus, Tacitus, Mara Bar-Sarapion, and Lucian of Samosata, not to mention the Jewish Talmud. See my articles “The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 1” –> https://cerebralfaith.net/the-minimal-facts-case-for-jesus/ and “The Evidence For … Continue reading
There are a few other examples that I know of, but not very many. Given Matthew and Luke’s frequent dependence on Mark or Mark and Matthew’s dependence on Luke if Matthean priority is true, we often find that multiple accounts in the gospels aren’t really incidents of multiple attestation. It’s important to keep in mind that the multiple attestation isn’t just multiple authors recounting the same thing, but multiple authors who are telling the story apart from each other. If a Fox News news article got their information from CNN who got their information from NBC, this would not be 3 independent sources, but just one source with two additional sources repeating what the original source said. But although Matthew and Luke frequently quote Mark ver batim or almost verbatim in many of their reports, they’re not totally dependent in every single incident either. The Empty Tomb narratives are a good example. In my blog post “The Evidence For Jesus’ Resurrection – Part 4: Fact (2): The Empty Tomb”, I wrote the following;
“The empty tomb is mentioned in multiple, independent sources. It’s mentioned in (1) The synoptic gospels, (2) the gospel of John, and (3) the early creed cited in 1 Corinthians 15.
Given the fact that the tomb is attested in 3 independent sources, it is very probable that Jesus’ tomb was in fact, empty. Remember what Paul Maier said in the previous chapter? This former professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University said that if an event is mentioned in two or three sources, it’s impregnable. That is to say; it almost certainly occurred. Well, that’s what we have with the empty tomb. Three independent sources. On the basis of the principle of multiple attestation, we have good reason to believe Jesus’ tomb was empty.”
In my book My Redeemer Lives: Evidence For The Resurrection Of Jesus, which is an expansion of the aforementioned blog series, I explain more clearly how the tomb is independently attested. I wrote “Matthew is clearly working with an independent source, for he includes the story of the guard at the tomb, which is unique to his gospel. Neither Mark nor Luke mentions a guard at the tomb, so one would be hard-pressed to make a case that Luke and Matthew are copying off of Mark here. Luke also has an independent source, because he tells the story of two disciples visiting the tomb to check out Mary Magdalene’s report. This is not found in Mark or Matthew. And again, like I said before, everyone agrees that the gospel of John is independent from all of the synoptics given how different John is from the other 3. So, in this case, the empty tomb is reported in 4 independent sources. Remember from the last chapter that I quoted Paul Maier as saying that most historical incidents are confirmed on the basis of only one source, and if you can find two independent sources, that makes an event impregnable. Regarding the discovery of the empty tomb, we have, not just two independent sources, but four!” Evan Minton, “My Redeemer Lives: Evidence For The Resurrection Of Jesus”, Kindle Direct Publishing, page 68.
Nevertheless, the gospels reporting the same event, but including different details to a degree that we can be certain they’re drawing from different sources, is sadly the exception to the rule. In this section, I’ve almost exhausted my knowledge of where we can be confident that this criterion truly applies. Still, the fact that there are (by my count) about a dozen different instances of gospel events being multiply attested either by other gospels, other New Testament documents, extra-biblical evidence, or as in the case for Jesus’ crucifixion – all of the above, does make for a good cumulative case for reliability. In my estimate, the criterion of embarrassment can be applied far more often. And in my opinion, both embarrassment and multiple attestations are among the strongest of the criteria.
This criterion can be applied maybe the fewest number of times out of all of the criteria of authenticity. Therefore, this will be a really short section.
- Jesus’ favorite self-designation “The Son Of Man” Jesus used it 74 in self-referential dialogue out of its 84 occurrences in the New Testament. However, although Jesus in the gospels most often uses this term to refer to Himself, the New Testament epistles rarely call him that, and you can’t find the early church fathers calling him this except on extremely rare occasions. You’ll find the NT Epistles and early church fathers referring to Jesus as “Jesus”, “Christ”, “Jesus Christ”, “Son Of God”, and “God”, but not “Son Of Man”. If the title “Son Of Man” were invented by the early church and retroactively inserted into the mouth of Jesus, we would expect later Christian writers to use this term a lot more than they actually do. Its conspicuous near absence in later Christian writings suggests that this wasn’t a made-up title of Jesus. Rather, the self-designation goes back to the lips of the Historical Jesus Himself.
- The sign nailed above Jesus’ head read “This is Jesus; The King Of Jews” (Mt. 27:37; Mk. 15:26; Lk. 23:38; Jn. 19:19). This meets the criteria of dissimilarity because, again, King Of The Jews wasn’t a title the later church used of Jesus. Yes, what they did call him implied that (I mean, if Jesus is God and the King of the whole cosmos, it logically entails He’s the king of the Jewish people), but the specific words “King Of The Jews” was not applied to Jesus. Any later invention on the part of the gospel writers would probably have had a more grandiose title. “This is Jesus; the son of God” or “This is Jesus; Messiah and Lord.” or something like that. Since the sign matches the criterion of dissimilarity, the crucifixion is confirmed as well, for the sign nailed above Jesus cannot be divorced from the narrative context in which we find it.
- Jesus as a miracle worker. – The specific manner in which Jesus brought healing to those with whom he came into contact is unique to him. New Testament scholar Craig Keener writes, “Pagan magicians typically sought to coerce deities or spirits by incantations; Jesus simply commanded as God’s authoritative agent… Whereas the Gospel tradition provides many miracles stories, none involve incantations.” Craig Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Vol. 2, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2011), p.70., Moreover, the Gospels tell us that Jesus performed a whole bunch of them. Miracles of Jesus are on practically every page of every gospel! By contrast, virtually all other so-called miracle workers would do one or two miracles at best.
Several things in the gospels are confirmed by the criteria of authenticity, and I haven’t even included all that I know on this topic. The gospels, two of which are written by disciples of Jesus as we’ve seen, depict the disciples in unflattering ways repeatedly. They are depicted multiple times as dim-witted, uncaring, cowardly, and doubting. Who would make this up? The criterion of embarrassment verifies the gospel authors at many points, for it is just too unlikely that these unflattering depictions would be made up. Additionally, many events in the gospels are attested in more than one independent source, sometimes by other gospels or other NT documents, sometimes by secular authors, and sometimes all of the above.
The criteria of authenticity are usually used to establish things about the historical Jesus in historical methods that presuppose that the gospels cannot be trusted. However, the criteria aren’t just useful in Minimal Facts type arguments, but they can be used by the so-called Maximalists as well. When you pile up enough historical kernels, eventually you find yourself in a corn field of reliability! If the gospels are verified by the criteria time after time after time, it is a valid inductive inference to their whole reliability. If they would be so truthful in all of these areas such that they report the truth even when it makes it look bad, and other authors corroborate them, then maybe they’re telling the truth even in accounts where none of the criteria are applicable. It’s a normal thing in human affairs to take someone’s word at face value if they’ve had a track record of being proven true time after time. If someone’s testimony is verified at multiple, multiple points, only hyper skepticism would prompt someone to continue to suspect them of lying.
In the case of the gospels, they have been verified at multiple points by extra-biblical authors, and the criteria of authenticity applied to their testimony internally supports them at various points. Why should we not take the gospels as reliable historical documents at this point? I honestly don’t see any reason not to. However, if, for whatever reason, you are still not convinced, stick around for the next blog post in this series. In the next blog post, I will examine internal evidence for the gospels’ reliability that’s so old, it’s become new.
|See my article series “The Evidence For Jesus’ Resurrection” –> https://cerebralfaith.net/category/evidence-for-jesus-resurrection-series/ for an in-depth look at the evidence. CF. “The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 1” and “The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 2”
|Frank Turek, “Why We Know The New Testament Writers Told The Truth: Frank Turek at Saddleback Church”, DVD from CrossExamined.org
|I do affirm the virgin birth, Nick Peters, even if only in a footnote.
|Lydia McGrew, The Lydia McGrew Podcast, “Virgin Birth 2: Signs Of Truth In The Birth Stories” – https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/virgin-birth-2-signs-of-truth-in-the-birth-stories/id1629221976?i=1000566424712
|See J.P Moreland’s Interview with Lee Strobel in “The Case For Christ”, Zondervan, page 248
|Frank Turek, Norman Geisler, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist”, Crossway, page 278
|James M. Rochford, “The Criteria Of Authenticity”, — https://www.evidenceunseen.com/theology/scripture/historicity-of-the-nt/the-criteria-of-authenticity/
|See my articles “The Minimal Facts Case For Jesus’ Resurrection PART 1” –> https://cerebralfaith.net/the-minimal-facts-case-for-jesus/ and “The Evidence For Jesus’ Resurrection – Part 3: Fact (1) Jesus Died By Crucifixion” –> https://cerebralfaith.net/the-evidence-for-jesus-resurrection_26/
|or Mark and Matthew’s dependence on Luke if Matthean priority is true
|Evan Minton, “My Redeemer Lives: Evidence For The Resurrection Of Jesus”, Kindle Direct Publishing, page 68
|Craig Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Vol. 2, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2011), p.70.