“Authentic” Or “Authoritative”? What Is The Difference? -- By: Robert H. Stein

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 24:2 (Jun 1981)
Article: “Authentic” Or “Authoritative”? What Is The Difference?
Author: Robert H. Stein


“Authentic” Or “Authoritative”? What Is The Difference?

Robert H. Stein*

In gospel studies one frequently comes across such terms as “authentic,” “nonauthentic,” “authoritative,” and even “nonauthoritative.” There is, however, considerable confusion as to exactly what these terms mean. For instance, are “authentic” and “authoritative” synonyms? Are “nonauthentic” and “non-authoritative” also synonyms? And are “authentic” and “nonauthoritative” likewise antonyms?

The occasion for such terminology is the well-known fact that sayings of Jesus found in parallel accounts of the synoptic gospels frequently differ in wording. An example of this is the words of Jesus to the paralytic he healed in Capernaum. We find the following:

Matt 8:2—”Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

Mark 2:5—”My son, your sins are forgiven.”

Luke 5:20—”Man, your sons are forgiven you.”

Although there is no essential difference between the three accounts, it is evident that they are all slightly different from one another. Since it is evident that Jesus at the same time and place did not say all three versions of this saying to the same man, 1 it is quite natural to seek if possible to ascertain the ipsissima verba of Jesus—that is, the actual words that the historical Jesus said on this occasion. The question of exactly what Jesus said involves the question of authenticity. The attempt to discern what is authentic is therefore the attempt to arrive at the exact words that Jesus of Nazareth actually said before his resurrection on this particular occasion.2 Fortunately, historical research has provided various tools

*Robert Stein is professor of New Testament at Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

to aid in such an investigation.3

An example of this type of investigation by the present author appeared in JETS in 1979.4 In my article Jesus’ sayings on divorce were investigated, and it was determined that the sayings of Jesus found in Mark 10:11, Luke 16:18 and 1 Cor 7:10–11, which contain no “exception clause,” were more ...

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