How do you know that the “red-letter” words in the New Testament that are attributed to Jesus, were actually spoken by Jesus?
You don’t know.
The probability that the New Testament contains the exact same words actually spoken by Jesus is zero.
Gospel of Mark Provides First Words
The first written words attributed to Jesus were written in Greek by an anonymous writer ** at least forty years after the death of Jesus! Whoever wrote “The Gospel According to Mark” never heard Jesus speak. While the real “Mark” was supposed to be a friend of Peter, if you followed the double asterisks(**) , you know that the writer(s) of the Gospel of Mark was/were not Mark, the friend of Peter.
Everything the writer called Mark wrote was told to him by someone else who heard it from someone else, etc. The term for this process is “hearsay”. Christians like to misname the process with a loftier sounding term “oral tradition”. Oral tradition is a conceit that claims truth can be maintained even though it is verbally transmitted through multiple tellings. It is still is “hearsay” and it is not admissible in court.
This chain of telling and retelling went on for forty years before someone began to record the stories. It is not possible for the exact, precise words of Jesus to have been passed from person to person to person to person to person to person by mouth (most could not read or write) and still be the exact words spoken by Jesus at least forty years earlier.. After 40 years of multiple tellings, by people with different agendas, the words in the Bible that are attributed to Jesus cannot possibly be the actual words of Jesus.
Others Quoted Verbatim
In addition to the exact words of Jesus, the New Testament contains the word-for-word quotes from those with whom Jesus came in contact. Now, MAYBE one could argue that the words of Jesus could be remembered (they couldn’t), but there is no reason to remember, word for word, the uttering from every leper or penniless or dying or provocative or friend or ad-infinitum person that Jesus crossed paths with. Yet these phrases are necessary in order to give context to the words allegedly spoken by Jesus. And they too are written in the bible with the same alleged authenticity as the words of Jesus. No Way!
In addition, there are multiple stories contained in the New Testament. The storyline for these stories would also have to be remembered in minute detail in order for the phrases of Jesus and Tom, Dick and Harry to have context. There is no possible way that all of this could have been retained for 35 or more years and then written down, word for word, some 35 to 65 years later.
People who put on any kind of verbal presentation or performance rehearse for hours… and then still flub their lines. What are the chances that anyone can remember something word for word, that they overheard at least 40 years ago? The chances are zero. Just as lines are rehearsed, so are the storylines. Who can remember the exact plot of some random scene from a TV show or movie you saw at least 40 years ago. I though so.
What about the Holy Spirit?
Christians insist that the original authors, the mouth-to-mouthers, the copiests, the pseudonymous writers, the translators, etc. were all guided by the editor-in-chief, the Holy Spirit, so that whatever version of the Bible you happen to be reading was made correct because the Holy Spirit was guiding the process.
If the Holy Spirit/Ghost was really guiding the process, then why are there errors in the Bible? Every page in this website reveals yet another error of fact, history, science, and/or logic found in the Bible. The opening line is “The Bible is So Wrong About So Much, Why Do You Believe Any Of It? The New Testament is so full of proven historical error, contradictions and false promises that to claim the bible is without error because of the watchful eye of the “Holy Spirit” is to totally discredit your case.
A Few Errors (among 1000s) Missed by the Holy Spirit
- Matthew and Luke have widely varying genealogies in their attempt to show that Jesus was descended from David, as prophecy demanded of the Messiah. That simple fact alone totally discredits the Holy Spirit nonsense; for now and evermore.
- We have the totally discrepant birth stories as told by Matthew and Luke. There was never a Roman requirement that all people return to the birthplace of their ancestors in order to be taxed.
- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John present four different versions of the crucifixion/ resurrection story.
- Jesus made many unfulfilled promises.
- Jesus says he will return within the lifetime of his audiences
- Jesus says you can lay hand on the sick and they will recover.
- Matthew has Jesus say that in the lifetime of his followers, the stars will fall from heaven, the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and the Son of Man will come.
None of it is true is it.
The Other Gospels Fare No Better
All the other gospels were written after Mark. They suffer from the same problem as Mark only worse.
The story is the same for Matthew. Written anonymously at least 45 years after the death of Jesus, Matthew copies, verbatim, 76% of Mark’s Jesus quotes. And why wouldn’t he? He thinks they are authentic. Again, remember The Book of Matthew was not written by the disciple Matthew.
Question: Had the Matthew, allegedly tagging along with Jesus, copy verbatim Jesus quotes from Mark? This is strong evidence that Matthew was written by someone other than Matthew, the disciple of Jesus. If he were Matthew, the disciple of Jesus, he wouldn’t have to copy most of his “Jesus said” text from Mark.
The story is the same for Luke. Written anonymously at least 50 years after the death of Jesus, Luke copied , verbatim, 55% of Mark’s Jesus quotes.
Luke presents an interesting conundrum. In the ninth chapter of Luke, Jesus, along with Peter and John and James goes up on a mountain to pray where they encounter Moses and Elias.
And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.
If they told no man, how is it that LUKE is telling us about it? They must have told Luke but they say they told no man in those days.
Everything previously presented for Mark, goes double for John. First of all, The Gospel According to John , the one Jesus loved”, was not written by John, the disciple of Jesus. Modern Biblical scholars attribute the book of John to multiple authors who wrote some 70 years after the death of Jesus, none of whom were there to hear the actual words of Jesus. Further, anyone who was a contemporary of Jesus would have been in his 90’s by the time “John” was written. This is twice the life expectancy of those living in the first century. Most likely they would have been senile.
Who Then, Wrote the Words of Jesus?
The authors of the Gospels made up the words of Jesus. Certainly there was no one around to refute what they wrote. Whoever wrote Mark, Matthew, Luke and John did not ever think that their writings would be viewed as eternal truths for a worldwide audience 2000 years later. These authors were writing to a defined audience that they wanted to persuade to their particular point of view. Putting words down as spoken by Jesus was a good way to lend credibility to their writings.
They didn’t know their words would be fact checked and subjected to critical analysis by computers.
Sources For Gospel Authors
Nothing they had Jesus say was original. From the Sermon on the Mount to love thy neighbor/enemies as thyself, the concepts had already been espoused by others and were well known at that time. Read for example, the teachings of Confucius (551BC). Confucius beat Jesus to the Golden Rule by 500 years. For other examples of moral codes that predate Jesus see:
- Multiple codes of ethical behavior
· Code of Hammurabi
. Babylonian law
· Code of the Assura
· Code of Ur
· Cuneiform Law
· Hippocratic Oath
- The Multiple Mythical Religions of the Times
- Rise and return to life is significant for the following near east deities: Ugaritic Baal, Melqart, Adonis, Eshmun, Osiris and Dumuzi
- 7th century Hindu saint Sambandar prays to Shiva and resurrects Poompavai from an urn of bones and ashes in old Kapaleeshwarar Temple at the location of the current San Thome Basilica.
Jesus’ Words Than Could Not Have Been Heard
And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying,
Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. Luke 22:41-42
A stones throw is pretty far. Why go a “stone’s cast away? To get privacy! Jesus advocated private and quiet prayer.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. Matthew 6:6.
Mark 14:35-37 has a similar tale but reinforces the fact that NO ONE could have heard Jesus’ prayer:
And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.
And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour?
ANY POSSIBLE WITNESSES WERE SLEEPING!
Therefore, how does anyone know what Jesus sai
if he was a stone’s cast withdrawn from them
and he was praying as though he were in a closet
and any possible witnesses were sleeping?
Here in Mark 14:35-37 and Luke 22:41-42 we have words attributed to Jesus that no one could possibly have heard or known. How is it that those words-not-heard are in the bible?
Fellow Criminal’s Last Words
Luke 23:39-43 is a transcript of a conversation between fellow seditionists (Jesus was crucified for sedition as were all those who were crucified by the Romans) and Jesus:
But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, to day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
Think about it. First of all, the Romans did not let anyone get near those being crucified. The three are high on the cross, the multitudes are crying out for Jesus’ blood (why? just a chapter ago, they were crying out with the Hosannas), Jesus and the other criminal are chatting it up while in agony. How could it possibly have been heard above the noise of the multitudes? Who possibly could have heard this conversation? Who so precisely recorded the conversation? The disciples had fled (Mark 14:50)!
This tall tale was finally recorded some 50 years after it allegedly happened. If you want to claim that the Holy Spirit was in charge of getting this accurately recorded, then you have to explain why Matthew and Mark have different stories. Each story, by the way, suffering from the same problem as this one. Who heard what was said?
Having clearly shown there are multiple cases where we know Jesus did not speak the words attributed to him, we are justified in believing that none of the words attributed to him were spoken by him.
True Bible Research
Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) in his The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906) demonstrated that 19th century “lives of Jesus” were reflections of the authors’ own historical and social contexts. He developed the “Criteria of Authenticity“, a technique that true biblical scholars (not Christian, not apologists) used to attempt to determine if the sayings of Jesus are authentic. There are eight criteria that are applied to Jesus’ words:
- Criterion of Dissimilarity
- Criterion of Embarrassment
- Criterion of Multiple Attestation
- Criterion of Coherence
- Criterion of Historical Plausibility
- Criterion of Palestinian Environmental Phenomena
- Stylistic Criterion
- Plausible Tradition History
Problems, problems, problems
With all that seemingly scholarly attention to proof, the Criteria of Authenticity is increasingly losing favor. They do not always pull in the same direction, and much depends on which criterion is privileged. Sayings that are highly distinctive (e.g., Q 9:60) are often not multiply attested. Some multiply attested sayings are not especially dissimilar. Dissimilarity produces a highly distinctive, ‘unique’ Jesus; but there is relatively little material that qualifies. To use multiple attestation begins with the most commonly attested early material; but one might reply that this use of multiple attestation merely uses sayings that were popular in early Christian circles.
In Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity, one of the authors ends the work like this…
Keith then wraps it up in a hopeful tone, suggesting that “the Quest is not bankrupt – we can still do real history – yet the game has certainly changed. The rules by which we used to work are no longer tenable and a new path must be charted. A path that admittedly has yet to be identified, however, work is being done and social memory may provide the missing key.“
After hundreds of years of trying to authenticate the words of Jesus, hundreds of serious, conscientious, unbiased scholars are unable to do so and all they are left with is “a new approach that, admittedly, has yet to be identified”
I am not alone in my knowledge that the words allegedly spoken by Jesus, were not spoken by Jesus.