- 200 members; fewer than 40 published in the field; 74 contributed to The Five Gospels. No one is from a conservative school.
- Authenticity is determined on a sliding scale by means of color-coded voting beads. The Five Gospels is printed in colors to signify the results of the voting. Red type indicates passages “are considered by the Seminar to be close to what Jesus actually said.” Pink sayings “less certainly originated with Jesus.” Gray passages “are not his, though they contain ideas that are close to his own.” Black portions, which predominate throughout the gospels, “have been embellished or created by his followers, or borrowed from common lore.”
- The methodology for detecting an “authentic” Jesus saying:
A direct quote must be short and “punchy”
A thought must run against the social and religious grain of the day
An action must be in the style of contemporary “wise men” of the day
Parables must not have explicit applications
A word or passage must not contain Old Testament quotations
A passage must not contain contextual connections
Any prophecy is immediately deemed invalid
Any miracle is immediately deemed invalid
- They attribute fewer than 20% of the sayings as authentic to Jesus.
- Of the Lord’s Prayer, they attribute only “Our Father” as “close to what Jesus said.”
- After six years of meetings and papers, the cannot say with certainty that Jesus said anything recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, or the Gnostic pseudo-gospel, Thomas.
- Only 16 sayings attributed to Jesus in these gospels are affirmed as “close” to authentic by the Seminar.
- The Seminar was unable “to find a single saying they could trace back to the historical Jesus” in the Gospel of John.
- The Seminar denies that any of the following New Testament teachings are authentic to Jesus:
Jesus promised to return to earth
Jesus’ death was vicarious, atoning for sin
Jesus was the Messiah
Jesus was supposed to suffer
Jesus was virgin born
Jesus ever performed miracles
Jesus was the Son of God, God Himself
THAT’S A GOOD QUESTION (OR STATEMENT)!
1. Does it make sense that men and women would be willing to die because they dared to spread the message of a Jesus who never claimed to be the Messiah and who was never raised from the dead?
2. A sage is not a threat. A crucified, risen, returning Christ is.
3. A Jesus who spent his time spinning parables and Japanese koans. . . or a bland Jesus who simply told people to look at the lilies of the field . . . would threaten no one, just as the university professors who create him threaten no one.
4. The Jesus Seminar assumptions would require the assumption that someone, about a generation removed from the events in question, radically transformed the authentic information about Jesus that was circulating at that time, superimposed a body of material four times as large, fabricated almost entirely out of whole cloth, while the church suffered sufficient collective amnesia to accept the transformation as legitimate.
5. It is not good history to ignore the massive weight of manuscript evidence attesting to the validity of the Bible. It is ludicrous to raise the Gospel of Thomas, for which there is only one known manuscript, to the level of the other four gospels, which were copied and distributed throughout Africa, Asia and Europe and for which scholars have collected hundreds of ancient manuscripts.
6. The Jesus of the Jesus Seminar is a non-Jewish Jesus. To put it metaphorically, the Seminar has performed a forcible epispasm on the historical Jesus, a surgical procedure removing the marks of his circumcision. In robbing Jesus of his Jewishness, the Jesus Seminar has finally robbed him of his religion.
7. Scholars of religion have rightly come to be suspicious of theologically driven scholarship. We should be equally suspicious of a-theologically driven scholarship, or any ideologically driven scholarship, political or otherwise.
8. Who would want to crucify a laconic sage, even one whose discourse is “distinctive”? And why?
PITHY QUOTES FROM THE SEMINAR
“It is time for us [scholars] to quit the library and study and speak up . . . . The Jesus Seminar is a clarion call to enlightenment. It is for those who prefer facts to fancies, history to histrionics, science to superstition” (Robert Funk, founder).
[Jesus was] “a secular sage who satirized the pious and championed the poor. . . . Jesus was perhaps the first stand-up Jewish comic. Starting a new religion would have been the farthest thing from his mind” (Robert Funk, founder).
“The gospels are now assumed to be narratives in which the memory of Jesus is embellished by mythic elements that express the church’s faith in him, and by plausible fictions that enhance the telling of the gospel story for first-century listeners” (Robert Funk, founder).
“The historical Jesus was, then, a peasant Jewish Cynic” (John Dominic Crossan, fellow).
RECOMMENDED READING IN RESPONSE
TO THE JESUS SEMINAR AND OTHER
Geivett, R. Douglas and Gary R. Habermas, eds. In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997.
Habermas, Gary R. The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996.
Wilkins, Michael J. and J. P. Moreland. Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995).
Witherington, Ben. The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995.