The Jesus Seminar


I.         At the beginning of April, 1996, three major news magazines [Times, Newsweek, and US News and World Report] all carried the same lead story - “the search for the historical Jesus”

            A.        This wasn’t a coincidence. A group of self-proclaimed scholars, called “The Jesus Society”, were behind the stories.

            B.        Questions regarding who Jesus really is is not new - Matt. 16:13-16

            C.        As with the question of evolution, Christians need to be aware and concerned about this society. A lie repeated often enough is accepted as truth.

II.        What is the Jesus Seminar

            A.        A group of about 50 Bible scholars and seminary professors. Started in 1985 with the stated purpose of uncovering the “historical Jesus”

                        1.         As with most works, the scholars start out with a set of presuppositions.

                                    a.         For example, Robert Funk, the founder the Jesus Society, believes Jesus was a “Jewish Socrates” - not surprisingly, that is what he has found.

                                    b.         Marcus Borg, another member of the Jesus Society, studies mystical literature and the philosophy of Buddha and comes to the conclusion that Jesus was a Jewish mystic.

                        2.         Membership in this society is self-selected

                                    a.         Members are selected based on agreement with the Seminar’s overall goals and agenda, not on scholarship

                                    b.         So we have a group of far-out critics and leftist theologians assembled with no one to check their incredible ideas or question their outrageous conclusions.

                                    c.         Included in the members of this society is Paul Verhoeven, director of such vulgar films as Basic Instinct and Showgirls.

                        3.         Worse though are the goals of the society

                                    a.         Robert Funk: it is time to “reinvent Christianity” [”In Search of Jesus”, US News & World Report. April 8, 1996]

                                    b.         The society begins by stating the Gospel records are useless (too flawed) and so they would “search for the Jesus behind the Christian facade of the Christ.”

                        4.         The society decides what portion of the Gospels were really spoken by Jesus by voting with color beads

                                    a.         Red - Jesus actually said this; Pink - This resembles something Jesus said; Gray - The idea is close to Jesus, but did not originate with him; Black - Has nothing to do with Jesus.

                                    b.         Their result? They claim that 82% of the words attributed to Jesus were not spoken by Him!

                                    c.         In all of Mark, only Mark 12:17 was judged to be authentic! The Gospel of John was completely thrown out.

                                    d.         Of course these results were widely published. Dr. Luke Johnson, a scholar and critic of the Jesus Seminar: “It was fascinating to see how the Jesus seminar . . . Was savvy enough to realize that the American media covers only three things well: personalities, elections, and scandals, and crafted their yearly performances in the form of elections (the colored beads) concerning the personality (Jesus) promised to yield a scandal.

                        5.         They vote down any statement of Jesus that sounds Jewish or cites the Old Testament

                                    a.         The idea is that anything Jesus “truely said” must have been things that no one of his day would have thought of and so “put those words into his mouth.”

                                    b.         It assumes that Jesus cannot say anything rooted in the culture and times He lived in!

                                    c.         Jesus was a Jew, living in Jewish society, but he is not expected to sound like a Jew! Since Jewish boys are taught the Old Testament scriptures from youth, should we expect Jesus to quote them?

                                    d.         What would happen to speeches of our current leaders if we artifically excised them of every reference dealing with anything popular in our culture?

            B.        The quest for the historical Jesus is rooted in the late 18th century.

                        1.         Rationalists of that time concluded that there was much myth-making involved in the writing of the life of Jesus.

                                    a.         They could not conceive the supernatural acting in the lives of men, so they sought ways to explain these acts away.

                                    b.         There influence is felt even today. A Methodist preacher once explained the feeding of the 5000 as the other people being shamed by the sharing of the young boy with the five loaves and two fish so that they brought out their own food to share with others. It was the sharing, he said, that was the true miracle!

                                    c.         One Jesus Seminar member describes the healing of a leper, “I presume that Jesus, who did not and could not heal that disease or any other one, healed the man’s illness by refusing to accept the disease’s ritual uncleaness and social ostracization . . . By healing the illness without curing the disease, Jesus acted as an alternative boundary keeper in a way subversive to the established procedures of his society. Such a position may seem to destroy the miracle. But miracles are not changes in the physical world so much as changes in the social world.” [Cynic, Sage, or Son of God, Boyd, p. 85]

                                                (1)       Note: do you think that people of Jesus’ day would have been impressed with Jesus declaring an illness heal, while the disease remained evident to all?

                        2.         In 1838, C. H. Weisse argued that the gospels of Matthew and Luke, because of their similarities, were written by authors who copied from the same source. He then placed Mark’s gospel as the earliest of the four, thus providing Luke and Matthew’s writers with sufficent data to write their narratives. However, Mark doesn’t have as many sayings of Jesus, such as the sermon on the mount, as Matthew and Luke. Therefore, he surmised there must have been a collection of these sayings from which the authors of Matthew and Luke copied. In 1890, this “saying source” was given the name “Q”, from the German word “Quelle”, meaning “source”.

                        3.         Note that the Q document has never been proven to exist

            C.        In the 1980's, John S. Kloppenborg took the idea of Q even further. He broke the document (which doesn’t exist!) into three layers:

                        1.         Q1 contains only wisdom sayings

                        2.         Q2 contains some of the prophetic and apocalyptic words of Jesus

                        3.         Q3 adds some narrative and biographical information, such as the temptation).

            D.        This hypothetical, layered document is the core of the teachings of the Jesus Seminar. They reject anything that they don’t believe comes from Q1.

                        1.         Notice the circular reasoning.

                                    a.         What is found in the first layer, they say, is only teachings about social issues and political statements. This eliminates the use of any claim of Jesus to be divine, any recognition of His deity by others, or any of the miracles which proved His deity.

                                    b.         If Q1 can be constructed to say only what these “scholars” want it to say, then a historical Jesus can be “discovered” to fit the preconceived ideas of the scholars.

                        2.         Imagine a “scholar” presenting a radically new view of Julius Caesar, based on a hypothesis framed around a document which doesn’t exist! The scholar would be laughed out of every history department in the nation.

                        3.         But when the Jesus Seminar does the very same thing with Jesus, it is accepted, and lauded!

III.       What the Jesus Seminar practice is called “form criticism”

            A.        This is not to be confused with the legitimate science known as textual criticism, which is used to analyzed the thousands of manuscripts, scrapes, and translations that exists to determine how the original scriptures read.

            B.        Form criticism assumes that the stories and sayings of Jeus were in oral form long before they were written down. While they were strictly oral tales, the people telling the tales shaped and reshaped the stories to fit their situations. Therefore, what was finally written down is not what Jesus actually said, but what He was report, years later, to have said.

                        1.         Marcus Borg, member of the Jesus Society: “We can’t imagine the followers of Jesus remembering for decades a long, complicated sermon through oral memory.”

            C.        The flaws of form criticism

                        1.         It assumes that the stories of Jesus circulated for a long time in oral form before being commited to paper.

                                    a.         However, as little as 20 years passed between the events described and the written accounts.

                                    b.         If there were errors in the written accounts, the enemies of Christianity could have easily refuted and discredited any false claims of what Jesus said and did.

                                    c.         Even if you did not believe in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it is known that disciples of various rabbis of that time kept well written notes to remember their teacher’s words. It isn’t unthinkable to imagine Jesus’ disciples doing the same thing.

                                    d.         Several cultures are famous for meticulously keeping huge epics in incrediable detail -- all memorized and passed on orally. Why is it difficult to imagine Jesus’ followers doing something similar?

                        2.         It assumes the Gospels are false unless they can be proven otherwise.

                                    a.         Yet, there is a wealth of evidence that the Gospels are historically accurate.

                                    b.         Yet all of this is dismissed with the wave of a hand.

                                    c.         The burden of proof should be on the critic to prove the Bible is false.

                        3.         It absolutely rules out anything miraculous.

                                    a.         The resurrection, they claim, could not have happened.

                                    b.         They ignore the proofs and evidences for the resurrection and offer no supporting evidence for their belief.

            D.        Is it any wonder that form critics find a radically different Jesus than the one presented in the Scriptures?

            E.        If the Gospels are ledgendary accounts, then why do they contain so much material that is embarrassing to the apostles?

                        1.         Why would men tell of their ignorance, spiritual insensitivity, and their many failures?

                        2.         Why would Peter tell of his three denials of the Christ?

                        3.         Why would the apostles admit they slept when Jesus needed them for support in Gethsemane?

            F.        If the early church rewrote the account of Jesus to fit their doctrine, then why are so many concepts in the epistles not found in the Gospels.

                        1.         Ideas like “the body of Christ” or “righteousness by faith” are not attributed to Jesus.

                        2.         Paul goes out of his way to distinguish his teachings from the Lord’s - I Cor. 7:10,12,25

            G.        Why would early Christians fabricate a universal Messiah who commands the apostles to preach to every creature (Matt. 28:18-19).

                        1.         Many Jewish Christians hated Gentiles. Peter had to be nearly dragged to preach to a Gentile. (Acts 10) He then was rebuked by other Christians for what he had done (Acts 11)

                        2.         Enmity between Jewish and Gentile Christians boiled during the early church (Acts 15; Galations)

                        3.         Which is easier to believe?

                                    a.         The Jews completely contrived Jsus as the world’s Messiah because they loved the Gentiles so much

                                    b.         They were compelled by the clear teaching of Jesus to follow the Great Commission

                        4.         If Jesus were a made up Messiah by the early Jewish Christians, he would have been a Jews-only Messiah who spoke heated of Rome’s destruction (not Jerusalem) and promise that God’s wrath would soon crush the idolatrous nations surrounding Judah.

IV.      Sitations from books, not found in our Bibles

            A.        The Jesus Seminar favor sources not found in the Bible.

            B.        Some are found in the Apocrypha, but the most favored sources are from the Nag Nammadi Library.

                        1.         This is a set of Gnostic literature found in 1940 in Egypt.

                        2.         Many of the members of the Seminar date these books before the gospels of the New Testament. However, their dating methods are highly questionable and subjective.

            C.        Among the favored books are “The Gospel of Thomas”, “The Gospel of Peter”, and “The Cross Gospel”.

                        1.         The Gospel of Thomas is a particular favorite because each of the 135 verses starts with “And Jesus said ...”

                                    a.         This makes is a “Saying source”

                                    b.         Providing proof that their beloved Q document could possibly exist.

                                    c.         Note they do not accept the Gospel of Thomas as the Q document

                        2.         Problems

                                    a.         They date the Gospel of Thomas between 50-70 A.D., but there is no independent attestation to its existant until the early third century, which suggests it was written in the second century.

                                    b.         The Gnostic nature of the writing suggests a second century date.

                                    c.         Every Biblical scholar who pioneered the study of this document date it around 140 A.D.

            D.        Boyd, from Cynic, Sage, or Son of God: “There are for Crossan, a total of thirteen sources that qualify for his earliest strata. Of these, five are hypothetical reconstructions: an ‘early’ layer of GosThom, a triple-layered Q, a Miracles Collection, and Apocalyptic Scenario, and the ‘Cross Gospel.’ Three are obsurce fragments of papyrus text . . . And one is known only from several patristic citations: the Gospel of the Hebrews. Only the remaining four are fully extant documents -- and these all happen to be canonical: I Thessalonians, Galations, I Corinthians, and Romans.

“This already may seem like a meager data pool from which to reconstruct a historical Jesus, but in practice the situation is worse. For the papyri fragments are of such little value, and the secondary references to the Gospel of Hebrews so few, that little use is made of either by Crossan. Moreover, and most significantly, because of Crossan’s understanding of Paul, virtually no use is made of his epistles [the only extant documents he has!] Hence, functionally speaking, Crossan’s historical Jesus is completely reconstructed from a data pool that has been largely reduced to a hypothetical ‘early’ layer of GosThom, a hypothetical ‘Cross Gospel’, and a hypothetical triple-layered ‘Q Gospel.’”

            E.        There is no reason to accept such fradulant “scholarship” over the Bible.

                        1.         Note: a set of papyrus fragments containing parts of Matthew have been recently dated to 70 A.D. If this proves true, the book of Matthew must have existed far earlier than the Jesus Seminar would admit.

V.        Much of the ideas for this lesson came from the research of two brethren in Westlake, Texas: Mark Roberts and Rusty Miller. I did not want you to be ignorant of their findings, for they answer many of the nagging doubts that arise when one reads what the “scholars” have to say about our Lord and Savior.

            A.        Read “Who Do You Say That I Am?” by Mark Roberts