The Expository Files.

The Jesus Seminar: Things You Need To Know


In 1985 Robert Funk organized a group of scholars now called The Jesus Seminar. With a high public profile, these academic associates meet on a semi-annual basis to discuss and debate "the Historical Jesus." Under the sponsorship of the Westar Institute (Sonoma, California), these men apply their scholarly methods of analysis to the New Testament record of Jesus. Out of this research they offer to the public their consensus about who Jesus really was and what He actually said. In 1994 they released a book entitled "The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say?" In this work the Jesus Seminar scholars argue ...

That Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah and did not predict the end of the world.

Jesus probably did share a symbolic last meal with his disciples just before his death. But they think that the words attributed to Jesus in the Bible, comparing himself to the bread and fruit of the vine, were probably fabricated by followers after his death.

The "Lord's Prayer," which the Bible says Jesus taught to his followers, was also probably composed by Christians after his time on Earth had ended.

More recently, the Jesus Seminar has conducted meetings with great public fanfare in several cities. Each Christmas and Easter season the media need a religious feature story, so there have been reports about the Jesus Seminar and their conclusions by all the major magazines and newspapers. Likewise, there have been at least two major publications answering the Jesus Seminar methods and arguments. "Jesus Under Fire" by Moreland and Wilkins (Zondervan), and "The Real Jesus" by Luke Timothy Johnson (HarperCollins). Also, for online computer users, there are WEB PAGES with Jesus Seminar information


For those who have been exposed to this, or want to be prepared to deal with it, consider ...

Do not be intimidated by the quantity or quality of "scholars" who are part of this. The Jesus Seminar - now a little over ten years old - is made up about 50-75 scholars. When you consider the total number of New Testament scholars in America and around the country, this is not a good representation. The Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) for example has 6,900 members! "The Five Gospels" mentioned above lists seventy-four "fellows" of the Seminar. Further, these men cannot be considered the "top" scholars in this field of study. Johnson observes: "While the Seminar can count among its members some scholars of notable reputation ... and while the Seminar's work increased the visibility of some others ... the roster of fellows by no means represents the cream of New Testament scholarship in this country," (Johnson, 3). He goes on to state that "Most of the participants are in relatively undistinguished academic positions," (Johnson, 3).

Do not visualize their work in terms of the objective and unbiased application of strict, scientific methods of literary analysis and historical investigation! These are men who - long before their quest - had decided that the Gospels are not accurate histories. I have a copy of the "Jesus Seminar Premises and Rules of Evidence." This is a list of 64 premises plus various rules of evidence and research. Premise number one is: "The historical Jesus is to be distinguished from the gospel portraits of him." Premises 26-29 reflect doubt on the book of John. Number twenty-nine says: "John is a less reliable source than the other gospels for the sayings of Jesus." John Dominic Crossan (professor at DePaul and co-chair of the Seminar) has said concerning the resurrection of Christ: "Whether he rose physically from the grave is not central," (Wade, 1). The Jesus Seminar "scholars" begin with premises and assumptions of unbelief in the reliability of the New Testament. Out of those
premises, they have developed methods that result in a figure they call "the real Jesus." So you know - before they begin their research - their conclusions will match their pre-suppositions.

These men are motivated by a fear that they are a dying breed. The typical evangelical knows little of their work, and the devoted New Testament Christian is not influenced by their modernism or their arrogance. They feel it necessary to do something to reach the "common man" and demonstrate their importance. Funk has said this. "If we are to survive as scholars of the Humanities, as well as Theologians, we must quit the academic closet. And we must begin to sell a product that has
some utilitarian value to someone ... or which at least appears to have utilitarian value to someone," (Forum 1/1. 1985, p.10, quoted by Johnson, 8).

Do not overlook the reality that these men have a social/moral agenda! They cannot stomach the miraculous (like the resurrection of Christ), but they are deeply zealous in their devotion to liberation theology, freedom from dogma/legalism and a host of politically correct values. They are eager to reform "Christianity" on the basis of their reconstructed, socially active Jesus. I predict it will not be long until this "reconstructed, historically correct Jesus" will be pressed into the service of the social gospel, gay liberation and other causes these academics have long been sympathetic with. So, when confronted with the scholarly excesses of the Jesus Seminar, weigh in on the questions without fear. Know where they are "coming from," and know what you believe.

Frederick Kenyon, a renowned paleographer and textual critic, affirmed: "The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation through the centuries," (Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, 55).

"And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." (Jno. 20:30,31, NKJV).

{Documentation: THE REAL JESUS, by Luke Timothy Johnson, HarperCollins. THE MYSTERY OF A RESURRECTED RABBI, by David A. Wade,
Sojourners, Jan.-Feb., 1996, Vol. 25, No. 1.}

 By Warren E. Berkley
The Front Page
 From Expository Files 3.9; September 1996