Facts About the Jesus Seminar and Founder Robert W. Funk
- 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
- 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"?
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
"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
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.