So How Do you Decide Legend from History?

New Testament Scholars talk about Criteria of Authenticity when they evaluate documents from antiquity. Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary identifies the following four criteria:

  • Multiple Attestation - information gleaned from more than one source is more highly plausible than information from just one unknown source. With the New Testament documents once can easily identify at least four sources - a source Mark used in writing his material referred to as Q, material unique to Luke's gospel (L), material unique to Matthew's gospel (M) and John.
  • Criterion of Cultural /Linguistic influences. If the New Testament for example gives us an account that reflects not only credible Greek language use, but the kind of style that would indicate the original sources being Semetic in origin. In other words the New Testament was originally written in Greek, but all of the oral tradition and eye-witness testimonies would have been from those speaking Hebrew and Aramaic. This would leave some linguistic fingerprints that could help confirm or deny authenticity.
  • Criterion of Dissimilarity or Criterion of Embarrassment. When something in an account is counter intuitive it tends to lend credibility to the text. Peter's blunders in denying Christ appearing in Mark's gospel account (based largely on Peter's eye-witness testimony) is a fine example. Why would anyone wishing to invent legend go out of their way to make up embarrassing material.
  • Criterion of Coherence. Are the details as they are given us consistent with the essential claims of the texts themselves. Do the details of how Jesus was arrested, tried and executed make sense given the identity claims Jesus was making?

Last week we scoured Luke's ending - chapters 22-24. Sometime give the whole section a read if you can.

Based on the details of the account in light of the above criteria of authenticity, here are 7 conclusions we arrived at during our study last week in Gathering:

1. The passion narrative of Jesus is more focused on his PURPOSE for dying than legendary aspects of creating a religious following.

2. The presence of divine power in the events that take place in no way serves the interests of human POLITICS and JUSTICE.

3. There are no human actors in the events of Luke 22-24 who fully understand the REASONS for the death of Jesus: –Pilate –Religious rulers / teachers of the law –Peter/disciples

4. Jesus’ post-resurrection concerns are not focused on RETRIBUTION for the injustices of his death.

5. Jesus uses the AUTHORITY of SCRIPTURE to speak to the confusion and fears of the disciples.

6. The MIRACULOUS POWER of the resurrection itself would be lost on the disciples if they couldn’t understand the reasons for Jesus’ death.

7. No GUARANTEES are obvious everywhere in the story:

–Predictions didn’t automatically lead to UNDERSTANDING AND ACCEPTANCE

–Eye witness didn’t automatically lead to BELIEF

–Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t the end of his TRAINING of the disciples (Acts 1:3).