The Criteria of Authenticity

B. N. Fisk

1. Criterion of Dissimilarity

McKnight (60; citing Perrin): "The earliest form of a saying we can reach may be regarded as authentic if it can be shown to be dissimilar to characteristic emphases both of ancient Judaism and of the early Church, and this will particularly be the case where Christian tradition oriented towards Judaism can be shown to have modified the saying away from its original emphasis."

Sanders (316; under `Uniqueness'): "material can be safely attributed to Jesus if it agrees neither with the early church nor with the Judaism contemporary with Jesus."Cf. Stein, 240.
Example: Matt 8:21-22: "Let the dead bury the dead."

Problems: This criterion identifes what is unique about Jesus, but not what is characteristic about Jesus. It also assumes we know enough about 1st c. Jewish and early Christian world to make informed decisions.

2. Criterion of Multiple Attestation

Sanders, 323: "A passage is more likely to go back to Jesus if it has been preserved in two or more sources which are independent of each other." This criterion may confirm authenticity of motifs (not just sayings).
Example: Jesus' forgiveness of sinners: Mark 2:15-17; Q = Mt 11:18-19; L = Lk 15:1-2; M = Mt 21:28-32

Problem: who decides what constitutes independent sources?

3. Criterion of Semitisms

Evidence of Aramaic/Semitic background points to historical authenticity.
Example: Mark 15:34

4. Criterion of Divergent Traditions

Sanders (304): "strongly against the grain; too much with the grain"
Stein (247): "Criterion of Divergent Patterns from the Redaction"

Traditions that do not serve the purpose of the author are more likely to be authentic.
Likewise, with traditions within one Gospel that appear to stand in tension with each other.
Example: Matt 10:5-6; 28:19-20


5. Criterion of Primitive Eschatology

Traditions that imply an imminent eschatology are likely authentic.
Example: Mark 9:1; 13:30.

6. Criterion of Palestinian Environmental Phenomena (Stein, 236)

The tradition originated in Palestine if it includes Palestinian social, agricultural, domestic or religious customs.
Example: Mark 4:3-8

7. Criterion of Coherence

Traditions that cohere with, or are substantially compatible with, material authenticated by other criteria may be authentic.