Jesus Christ and the Criteria of Authenticity

Bishop's Encyclopedia of Religion, Society and Philosophy

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When the historian wishes to learn about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ he or she evaluates the primary sources (the gospels, Pauline epistles, and the rest of the New Testament) using what is known as the Criterion of Authenticity.

Through this the historian may come to some conclusion regarding the historical probability and (un)reliablity of the purported deeds and/or sayings of Christ. The more the criteria can be shown to apply to a saying or deed of Christ’s then the greater the confidence the historian can have regarding them. There are several of these criteria including the likes of early and independent attestation, dissimilarity to Christian teaching, linguistic semitisms, traces of Palestinian milieu, retention of  embarrassing material, coherence with other authentic material, and more.

This method is aimed at affirming sufficient, not necessary, conditions of historicity. In other words, it is not necessary for a saying of Christ’s to…

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