Do We Have the Exact Words of Jesus in the Gospels?

Norman L. Geisler


 The question is sometimes raised as to whether the Gospel have the words Jesus said. Liberal critics deny this, assigning large portions of Jesus words to the Gospel writers but denying Jesus actually said them.  So, the writers are not reporting but are creating the words of Jesus.  However, evangelical scholars reject this and affirm that the NT is accurately reporting, not distorting, Jesus’ teaching.  So, when the NT says Jesus said it, then Jesus actually said it.   

However, as we noted elsewhere, “Of course, this does not always mean we have the exact words Jesus spoke (ipsissima verba), but we do have an accurate reproduction of their meaning (ipsissima vox).  After all, Jesus probably spoke in Aramaic and the New Testament is written in Greek.  So, even in the original, the New Testament authors were translating what Jesus said.  Also, a comparison of parallel passages in the Gospels reveals that the words Jesus spoke on the same occasion are not always exactly the same.  Sometimes one Gospel gives only part of what he said, and other times the wording is different, thought the meaning is the same” (N. L. Geisler,  A Popular Survey of the New Testament , Baker, 2007, p. 345). 

Another question is the role of the Holy Spirit.  When Jesus promised he would bring to the minds of the apostles whatever he had taught them (Jn. 14:26:16:13), does this mean that it was a word-for-word dictation of what Jesus said?  Not necessarily, although the Holy Spirit is capable of doing this, but this is not at all necessary to the doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.  What was guaranteed by this Spirit-guided process was that they would remember all that Jesus taught them (Jn. 14:26) and that the Holy Spirit would “guide them into all truth” (Jn. 16:13).  That is, they would not forget any truth Jesus taught them, and they would not commit any error on the matter.  Giving the exact words is not necessary to accurately conveying what Jesus taught.  There are many ways to convey the same meaning without using the exact same words, and the Holy Spirit is capable of both.

Was Jesus a Failed Eschatological Prophet?

Hi Dr. Craig

I have been a Christian all my life, I love Jesus and I want to believe in Him now more than ever, since as a young man I am thinking of of marriage and raising a god-fearing family.

However my faith has come under tremendous attack due to my exposure to atheistic arguments that attack my faith. For the most part I have been able to resist many of the arguments atheists have presented to me with the help of great philosophers like yourself, who defend the faith with reason. However recently I have been exposed to the argument that Jesus was a failed prophet i.e. His Matthew 24:34 prophecy. C.S. Lewis said of this passage "It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible." after going over the typical Christian responses I have to agree with him.

I am trying really hard to hang on to my faith, but this passage has provided the strongest objection to my personal faith yet. I have not been able to convince myself that Jesus was referring to a future generation as some theologians have tried to explain, because the language and the context of the verse make it clear that He was talking about the contemporary generation. This was the interpretation I favored but it doesn't look like it is shared by the vast majority of scholars.

The other explanation is that Jesus gave two prophecies, one about the temple's destruction and about the end of the world. However this interpretation seems compounded and forced into the passages. I have always viewed Matthew 24:34 as an end-time prophecy but it doesn't seem to have a lot of scholarly support and the context doesn't seem to support this view.

C.S. Lewis thought that Jesus simply made a wrong prophecy in his human weakness, but I have a moral problem with this view, namely why would Jesus make a prophecy about the future of the world knowing that he didn't know the future of the world?

I am desperate to believe in Jesus but how can I continue to trust in and have faith in Him if he got a the future wrong.

Please help me Dr. Craig I am really struggling to deal with this objection to my faith. What do most scholars say on the subject, and did Jesus make a false prophecy?



Russian Federation

Click HERE to read Dr. Craig's answer

A Powerful Apologetic Method: ABDUCTIVE Reasoning!

"What in the world is 'Abductive Reasoing'?" Well, abductive reasoning is employed by crime scene detectives, car mechanics, and your medical doctor.  Abductive reasoning is when you look at all the known facts, and seek to form the best explanation to explain the data.  Abductive reasoning seeks to find the "inference to the best explanation" for the known facts.   

This is a vital way of thinking and investigating that all serious Christians should be engaged in....

 - Pastor J. 

"Did the Resurrection Really Happen?" - Dr. Gary Habermas

What is the Historical evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Do Atheist admit key historical facts that point towards the truth of the Resurrection?

Listen to a concise but insightful and informative response from the world's expert on the Historical evidence for the man Jesus of Nazareth, and His Resurrection from the dead - Dr. Gary Habermas.

In 3 minutes, he shares his powerful, revolutionary approach to demonstrating the reality and veracity of the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, almost 2,000 years ago.

Have a blessed "Resurrection Sunday" today - Jesus is Risen!

- Pastor J. 

Medical Examination of Jesus' Crucifixtion

What does the human body go through during Crucifixtion?

On "GOOD FRIDAY", what did Jesus of Nazareth experience physically on the Cross?

The Crucifixtion and death of Jesus of Nazareth, is one of the firmest established facts of historical research.  At least 17 Non-Christian historical sources testify to Jesus life, ministry, death, and disciples belief that He literally rose and appeared to them, just days later.  Many of these Non-Christian sources focus on the documented event of the gruesome capital punishment He received at the hands of the Roman soldiers. (We posted extensively on our site regarding this evidence under "Ancient Non-Christian Sources for Jesus of Nazareth".  You can also download a paper on the historical quotes


from Dr. Gary Habermas)

Question is:

What exactly could one expect to feel, physically, as one was to be crucified?  What exactly did crucifixtion and the associated tortures do the body of Jesus of Nazareth?

As millions celebrate "Good Friday" today, for all followers of Christ, and even for those who only know Him as an extremely important historical figure, this question deserves investigation.

- Pastor J.

Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: The Evidence for Jesus

William Lane Craig
Five reasons are presented for thinking that critics who accept the historical credibility of the gospel accounts of Jesus do not bear a special burden of proof relative to more skeptical critics. Then the historicity of a few specific aspects of Jesus' life are addressed, including his radical self-concept as the divine Son of God, his role as a miracle-worker, his trial and crucifixion, and his resurrection from the dead.
"Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: The Evidence for Jesus." Faith and Mission 15 (1998): 16-26.
Last time we saw that the New Testament documents are the most important historical sources for Jesus of Nazareth. The so-called apocryphal gospels are forgeries which came much later and are for the most part elaborations of the four New Testament gospels.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t sources outside the Bible which refer to Jesus. There are. He’s referred to in pagan, Jewish, and Christian writings outside the New Testament. The Jewish historian Josephus is especially interesting. In the pages of his works you can read about New Testament people like the high priests Annas and Caiaphas, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, King Herod, John the Baptist, even Jesus himself and his brother James. There have also been interesting archaeological discoveries as well bearing on the gospels. For example, in 1961 the first archaeological evidence concerning Pilate was unearthed in the town of Caesarea; it was an inscription of a dedication bearing Pilate’s name and title. Even more recently, in 1990 the actual tomb of Caiaphas, the high priest who presided over Jesus’s trial, was discovered south of Jerusalem. Indeed, the tomb beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is in all probability the tomb in which Jesus himself was laid by Joseph of Arimathea following the crucifixion. According to Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar at Emory University,
Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus worked as a teacher and wonder-worker in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, was executed by crucifixion under the prefect Pontius Pilate and continued to have followers after his death.1
Still, if we want any details about Jesus’s life and teachings, we must turn to the New Testament. Extra-biblical sources confirm what we read in the gospels, but they don’t really tell us anything new. The question then must be: how historically reliable are the New Testament documents?
Burden of Proof

Who Is The Real Jesus: The Jesus Of The Bible Or The Jesus Of The Qur’An?

William Lane Craig
A comparison of how Jesus is described in the New Testament and in the Qur’an in order to determine which is more reliable.
Jesus of Nazareth is the most influential person who ever lived. Twenty centuries after his death, he continues to exert his power of fascination over the minds of thinking men and women. Peter Jennings’ television special “In Search of Jesus” attracted some 16 million viewers across the country. Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” grossed 370 million dollars. Dan Brown’s book The DaVinci Code has been a runaway best seller, exceeding the 100 million mark in some 40 languages. People obviously continue to be fascinated by Jesus.
But who is Jesus really? Is he, as the Bible says, the divine Son of God? Or was he merely a human prophet, as Muslims have been taught to believe? Who is the real Jesus?
I propose to answer that question as a historian. I shall look at the New Testament and the Qur’an as the historian looks at any other sources for ancient history. I shall not treat them as inspired or holy books. Accordingly, I shall not require them to be inerrant or infallible in order to be valuable historical sources. By taking this historical approach, we prevent the discussion from degenerating into arguments over Bible difficulties or Qur’anic inconsistencies. The question is not whether the sources are inerrant but whether they allow us to discover who the historical Jesus really was.
Now in order to determine who the historical Jesus really was, we need to have some objective criteria for assessing our sources. Prof. John Meier, an eminent New Testament historian, lists the following four criteria: 1
1. Multiple, independent sources. Events which are reported by independent, and especially early, sources are likely to be historical.
2. Dissimilarity. If a saying or event is different from prior Judaism and also from later Christianity, then it probably doesn’t derive from either one and so belongs to the historical Jesus.
3. Embarrassment. Sayings or events that would have been embarrassing or difficult for the Christian church are unlikely to have been invented and so are likely historical.
4. Rejection and execution. Jesus’ crucifixion is so indisputably established as an anchor point in history that words and deeds of Jesus must be assessed in terms of their likelihood of leading to his execution as “King of the Jews.” A bland Jesus who just preached monotheism would never have provoked such opposition.
When we apply such criteria to the New Testament, we’re able to establish a good deal about the historical Jesus. Let me discuss just three of the facts that emerge about this remarkable man.
1. Jesus’s Radical Self-Concept. The Qur’an says that Jesus thought of himself as no more than a human prophet who told people to worship the one, true God. However, on the basis of the criteria, it can be shown that among the historically authentic words of Jesus are claims which reveal his divine self-understanding.
Take, for example, Jesus’ claim to be the Son of Man. The criteria of multiple sources and dissimilarity show it belongs to the historical Jesus. Now most laymen probably think that this title refers to Jesus’ humanity, just as the title “Son of God” refers to his deity. But that’s a mistake. It fails to take into account the Jewish background of the expression. In the Old Testament book of Daniel, chapter 7, Daniel sees a vision of a divine-human figure coming on the clouds of heaven to whom God will give everlasting authority, glory, and dominion. No mere human being could be accorded such status, for this would be to commit the sin which Muslims call shirk, giving something which properly belongs to God alone to someone else. Yet this is the status which Jesus claimed for himself. Probably the most famous “Son of Man” saying by Jesus comes at his trial before the Jewish high priest. I quote:
Then the high priest stood up . . . and asked Jesus, . . . ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’
‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’
The high priest tore his clothes. . . . ‘You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ They all condemned him as worthy of death. (Mark 14:60-64 NIV)
Every Muslim would have to agree with the high priest and the Council that Jesus is a blasphemer who is worthy of death because he had made himself equal to God.

Pt.3 - "Who is Jesus, Really?" - Pastor J.

Can you answer this question during the Christmas season?

(pt.3 of 4)  This is perhaps the most important question, apologetically and evidentially, regarding Jesus Christ in all of the Scriptures.  If the Bible is true, then how a person answers this simple question will determine where an individual will spend their eternal destiny.  Especially at this crucial time of celebrating the Christmas season, are you personally able to answer the skeptic's or seeker's question of "Who is Jesus Christ, really"?

If not, my aim in this 15 min. video is to begin to teach you the 4 central truths concerning the identity of Jesus Christ, as taught in the New Testament.  If you take the time and learn these 4 central truths concerning Christ, it will enable you to not only stay free from error and false teaching about Jesus, but it will also allow you to be much more effective in explaining Christ and His Person to those who will ask you for help and answers this Christmas season.

Here is how to T.H.IN.K. rightly concerning Christ:
  1. T rinity - Jesus is the second Divine Person of the Triune GOD.  He is eternally, God the Son.
  2. H ypostatic Union - Jesus took upon himself a second nature, a human nature, when conceived.
  3. IN carnation - Jesus, the eternal Son, took upon Himself a fully human body and existence.
  4. K enosis - Jesus willingly chose to limit his use of, or access to, His divine attributes while on the earth, though He never lost them or ceased to be God the Son. 

Join me for these 4 short video teachings from a sermon I recently taught.  I hope it will be a blessing to you, and help equip you to be a more effective ambassador for Christ, during this Christmas season!

Be blessed, be bold,  and have an Intelligent Faith this Christmas season!

- Pastor J.