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Friday, June 29, 2007
THE JESUS SEMINAR AND RADICAL HIGHER CRITICISM

THE JESUS SEMINAR AND RADICAL HIGHER CRITICISM[1]

Glenn Giles

Apologetics Seminar, June 22-24, 2007

 

I. Introduction:

            The Jesus Seminar was founded in 1985 by Robert W. Funk “under the auspices” and as one of the projects of Funk’s Westar Institute in Sonoma, California.[2] The agenda of the Seminar was “to discover and report a scholarly consensus on the historical authenticity of the sayings and events attributed to Jesus in the gospel”.[3]  The Seminar set itself up as a venue to educate the public (through the media) to help the “modern inquirer learn the difference between the imagined world and the ‘real world’ of human experience”.[4] The Seminar states:

To know the truth about Jesus, the real Jesus, one had to find the Jesus of history. The refuge offered by the cloistered precincts of faith gradually became a battered and beleaguered position. In the wake of the Enlightenment, biblical scholars rose to the challenge and launched a tumultuous search for the Jesus behind the Christian façade of the Christ.[5]

The Seminar’s findings on the authentic sayings and events of the real Jesus are found in two publications. The authentic sayings of Jesus are found in Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels:[6] The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus [7] and the authentic acts of the real Jesus are found in Robert W. Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus. [8] 

The scholars (called “fellows” by the Seminar) involved in the Seminar number about 200[9] (of these, those who actually wrote papers, met regularly, and voted on decisions numbered “closer to forty”).[10] They obtained their doctorates mostly from liberal graduate schools that practice “the sort of methodological and ideological stances reflected in the Jesus Seminar.”[11] As such the “fellows by no means represent the cream of New Testament scholarship in this country”[12] or in the world.[13] As such, it cannot be said that they represent the general stance of critical New Testament scholarship today.[14]

The Jesus Seminar reached the conclusion that “eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him”.[15]  Hence, only eighteen percent of the words attributed to Jesus in the New Testament are authentic.  How were these conclusions reached? How valid are they? To answer these questions, I will focus on and analyze the Seminar’s methodology, assumptions, and conclusions reached specifically with regard to the authentic words of Jesus. I will attempt to (1) establish the major assumptions and worldview of the Seminar, (2) show that the Seminar’s conclusions are based on questionable and dubious presuppositions (assumptions which predetermine its own conclusions),[16] (3) that Gospel of Thomas should not be used as an independent source in search for the historical Jesus, (4) that the Jesus Seminar as a child of the Enlightenment is wrapped in some postmodern garb (possibly for the purpose of its acceptance by the public) and, as such, the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar do not merit being embraced.

 

II. Jesus Seminar Procedure.

            After applying its methodology for studying the authentic words of Jesus (which will be discussed later in this paper) the participating Jesus Seminar Fellows voted on the authenticity of each word the NT Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas ascribe to Jesus. Each Fellow would vote on the word’s authenticity with a colored bead.[17] The four colors were red, pink, gray, and black. The representative colors were chosen from the following options:

           

Red: Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it.

Pink: Jesus probably said something like this.

Gray: Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own.

Black: Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or

different tradition.

                       

                                    Or

Red: I would include this item unequivocally in the database for determining who

Jesus was.

            Pink: I would include this item with reservations (or modifications) in the

database.

            Gray: I would not include this item in the database, but I might make use of

some of the content in determining who Jesus was.

            Black: I would not include this item in the primary database.

 

            Or unofficially the following

Red: That’s Jesus!

            Pink: Sure sounds like Jesus.

            Gray: Well, maybe.

            Black: There’s been some mistake.

                                                                                                            

The final ranking was determined by a “weighted average”. Red was given 3 points, pink 2 points, gray 1 point, and black 0 points. The points were added up from all the votes and then divided by the number votes and converted to a percentage vote based on a 1 point scale. The following scale resulted:

                      

             Red:   .7501 and up.

             Pink:  .5001-.7500.

             Gray:  .2501-.5000.

             Black: .0000-.2500.[18]

 

III. Jesus Seminar Historical and Worldview Roots.

            A. The Three Quests for the Historical Jesus and the Jesus Seminar

                        Historically, the Jesus Seminar is one of many quests[19] scholars and others

            have launched for the historical Jesus since the Enlightenment. The First Quest

            began with Hermann Samuel Reimarus’ (1694-1798) posthumously published[20]

            Fragments by an Anonymous Writer (1778) spurred on with D. F. Strauss’

            Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1835). Coming out of the Enlightenment period

            and its Deistic worldview these scholars created a dichotomy between the Christ

            of Faith (i.e., the supernatural Jesus) and the historical (non-supernatural) Jesus of

            Nazareth.[21] Albert Schweitzer’s Quest for the Historical Jesus[22] (1906) along

            with William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret in Mark (1901) mark the end point of

            the First Quest.[23]  Schweitzer saw a thoroughly eschatological Jesus in the gospels

            depicting a Jesus who proclaimed the kingdom of God but died disappointedly

            when that eschatological kingdom did not come. Hence Jesus was a Jewish

            apocalyptic prophet. Wrede, on the other hand, was a thorough-going skeptic

            claiming that we can know very little at all about the historical Jesus. To him

            Jesus was only a “Galilean teacher or prophet who did some striking things and

            was eventually executed”.[24]

            Between the First and Second Quest there was a period of “no quest”.[25] Scholars such as Bultmann and Barth during this period focused on the Christ of Faith and did little in the area of looking for an historical Jesus.[26]  They were content to allow this gulf created by Strauss and Reimarus to remain in place. Questing for the historical Jesus was unimportant and this Jesus was not necessary to faith.

            Not all scholars agreed with Bultmann and Barth and felt that finding the historical Jesus was important. As a result, the Second Quest began with Bultmann’s pupil Ernst Kasemann in 1953. He proposed a “new quest” for the historical Jesus. He felt that Bultmann had gone too far in claiming that history and the historical Jesus had nothing to do with faith. However, this quest added very little more to the historical Jesus as it continued in the tradition of the first quest and did not “escape from the constraining shackles of form- and tradition-criticism,” which was “mainly designed to discover the early church, not Jesus himself”.[27]

            The Third Quest, which began around 1980 and continues today,[28] “advanced plausible arguments for accepting the historical reliability of substantial portions of Matthew, Mark and Luke”.[29] Though the Third Quest attempts to “do history seriously”[30] by placing “Jesus squarely within the matrix of first-century Judaism and by a relatively positive approach to the historicity of the gospels”,[31] it still falls short of the historical reliability held by evangelicals and orthodox theologians[32] as it does not affirm Jesus as “wholly man and wholly God, at least not on the basis of historical research”.[33]

            It is in the post-Bultmannain tradition and the New Quest milieu (with some First Quest elements) that the Jesus’ Seminar finds its bearings as it continues the “generally negative historical judgments that typified both the first and second ‘quest’”.[34]  While some have classified the Jesus Seminar as a radical element of the “left-running tributary of historical Jesus research”[35] of the Third Quest, it seems, in my judgment, with Wright, to be more a “revived” New or Second Quest.[36]

            These three quests have created seemingly as many different Jesuses as there are Jesus scholars.[37] With respect to the New or Second Quest, there are three dominant views of Jesus.[38] These are “Jesus the Social Revolutionary,” “Jesus the Religious Genius,” and “Jesus the Sage.” This last view of Jesus as merely a religious sage is the view of the Jesus Seminar. He is one who merely told parables, offered memorable one-liner pithy statements, spoke wise countercultural sayings, and taught about God not about himself, his death or his resurrection.[39]

 

            B. The Jesus Seminar Worldview Roots.       

The Jesus Seminar traces its worldview roots back to that of the

            Enlightenment and the Age of Reason.  Funk, Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar

            state:

Historical knowledge became an indispensable part of the modern

                        world’s basic “reality toolkit.”  Apart from this instrument, the modern

                        inquirer could not learn the difference between an imagined world and

                        the real world of human experience.  To know the truth about Jesus, the

                        real Jesus, one had to find the Jesus of history. The refuge offered by the

                        cloistered precincts of faith gradually became a battered and beleaguered

                        position. In the wake of the Enlightenment, the dawn of the Age of

                        Reason, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, biblical scholars rose

                        to the challenge and launched a tumultuous search for the Jesus behind the

                        Christian façade of the Christ.[40]  (Emphases mine).

            Basically the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason espoused a Deistic

            worldview.[41]  This worldview posits a clockwork universe which God initially

            created as the First Cause and then left it to run on its own under natural law

            without ever any supernatural transcendent intervention on his part.  In essence

            the world is a closed system of uniformity of cause and effect.  Hence, no

            miracles or supernatural events or actions or predictive words are possible.[42]  The

            terms “real” and “history” (as emphasized above) take on a meaning which

excludes the supernatural.[43]  Out of these roots, the Jesus Seminar progresses and operates from a naturalistic worldview perspective toward its goal of freeing society and critical biblical scholarship from the “encrustations of Christian doctrine”,[44] domination by the church, and the “worldview reflected in the Bible”.[45]  Funk, Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar unequivocally state,

                        The Christ of creed and dogma, who had been firmly in place in the

                        Middle Ages, can no longer command the assent of those who have seen

                        the heavens through Galileo’s telescope.  The old deities and demons were

                        swept from the skies by that remarkable glass. Copernicus, Kepler, and

                        Galileo have dismantled the mythological abodes of the gods and Satan,

                        and bequeathed us secular heavens (emphasis mine).[46]

            As a result, the supernatural (i.e., the Biblical God, or any other god for that

            matter) is locked out of the picture by this a priori stance of the Seminar and all

            knowledge and truth is confined to “the test of close and repeated observation”.[47]

            Everything therefore that Jesus said and did must of necessity pass through this

            presuppositional scientific naturalistic sieve.  Events such as Jesus walking on the

            water,[48] his transfiguration,[49] the miraculous catches of fish in the Gospels,[50] his

            resurrection and resurrection appearances[51] are, and could only be, non-historical.

            They are all “fiction”[52] and “myths.”[53]  Jesus’ sayings are also scrutinized by this

            worldview. Funk and Hoover state, for example,

Whenever scholars detect detailed knowledge of postmortem events in sayings and parables attributed to Jesus, they are inclined to the view that the formulation of such sayings took place after the fact.[54]

            Hence, no supernatural event or predictive words can be historical or authentic in

            the embracing of this naturalistic worldview.

             

IV. Major Jesus’ Seminar Presuppositions and Methodology and My Critique.

            A. Naturalistic Worldview

                        As a result of the Seminar’s anti-supernatural worldview, (as noted above)

            many of its conclusions are predetermined from the start of the enterprise.  The

            terms “historical” and “real” in the Jesus Seminar’s quest for the historical Jesus

            have been loaded with philosophical presuppositions which exclude the

            supernatural as a viable part of “reality” and real “history”.[55]  Hence, if the real

            Jesus was supernatural and was incarnational, the Seminar would be unable to

            find Him, the one who would then be the actual “real” Jesus.  Since there are well

            documented contemporary works on the validity of having an openness to the

            supernatural,[56] this narrow Jesus’ Seminar worldview mindset and procedure and

            thus the validity of its conclusions must be seriously questioned.

           

B. The Fracture of the Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History.      

                        In the milieu of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, Reimarus and

            Strauss initiated and secured the separation of the Christ of Faith from the Jesus

            of history in the modern liberal biblical mindset. The Historical non-supernatural

            Jesus of the first century is said to have been clothed with supernatural character

            by the early church. Hence, the Seminar can say that “the authors of traditional

            Christian faith are Peter and Paul”.[57] Basically the disciples and the early church

            wanted to see Jesus as supernatural and so created him as such.  Funk and Hoover

            state,

                        The church appears to smother the historical Jesus by superimposing this

                        heavenly figure on him in the creed: Jesus is displaced by the Christ, as

                        the so-called Apostle’s Creed makes evident.[58]

            Sayings attributed to Jesus by gospel writers are questioned as well as

            supernatural events in the life of Jesus. With respect to this, for instance, the Jesus

            Seminar scholars voted to color Jesus’ words in Mark 13:9-20 black because they

            felt these words concerning the destruction of Jerusalem were “inspired by the

            Roman event” and that Jesus’ sayings in verses 9-13

                        . . . all reflect detailed knowledge of events that took place—or ideas that

                        were current—after Jesus’ death; trials and persecutions of Jesus’

            followers, the call to preach the gospel to all nations, advice to offer

            spontaneous testimony, and the prediction that families would turn against

            one another are features of later Christian existence, not of events in

            Galilee or Jerusalem during Jesus’ lifetime . . . Fellows were almost

            unanimous in their judgment that none of these sayings was based on

            anything Jesus himself said.[59]

            Hence, to create a supernatural Jesus, words of prophecy were assumed to have

            been placed on his lips after they occurred in history.

                        This presupposition is propelled by the naturalistic worldview of the

            Seminar which of necessity demands a non-supernatural explanation of the

            supernatural events recorded in the gospels. The record of the supernatural Christ

            came from somewhere and for the Jesus Seminar this Christ of faith came from

            early Christians.  Funk and Hoover state, 

                        . . .  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 the first-century listeners who knew about divine men and miracle

                        workers firsthand[60] (emphasis mine).

                       

                        This assumption of the church creating the Christ of Faith permeates the

            work of the Jesus Seminar and is one of their main pillars of scholarly wisdom[61]

guiding its results. Without it, many of the Jesus Seminar rules for determining the authentic sayings of Jesus fall by the wayside. These could include the following:

                                               

1.      Evangelists frequently group sayings and parables in clusters and

            complexes that did not originate with Jesus.

                        2. The evangelists frequently relocate sayings and parables or invent new

                                    narrative contexts for them.

                        3. The evangelists frequently expand sayings or parables, or provide them

                                    with an interpretive overlay or comment.

                        4. The evangelists often revise or edit sayings to make them conform to

                                    their own individual language, style, or viewpoint.

                        5. The evangelists frequently attribute their own statements to Jesus

                        6. Hard sayings are frequently softened in the process of transmission to

                                    adapt them to the conditions of daily living.

                        7. Variations in difficult sayings often betray the struggle of the early

                                    Christian community to interpret or adapt sayings to its own

                                    situation.

                        8. Words borrowed from the fund of common lore or Greek scriptures are

                                    often put on the lips of Jesus.

                        9. Sayings and parables expressed in “Christian” language are the creation

                                    of the evangelists or their Christian predecessors.

                        10. Sayings or parables that contrast with the language or viewpoint of the

                                    gospel in which they are embedded reflect older tradition (but not

                                    necessarily tradition that originated with Jesus).

                        11. The Christian community develops apologetic statements to defend its

                                    claims and sometimes attributes such statements to Jesus.

                        12. Sayings and narratives that reflect knowledge of events that took place

                                    after Jesus’ death are the creation of the evangelists or the oral

                                    tradition before them.[62]

                                   

                        As one might imagine, the application of these rules based on the

            assumption that the early church created the Christ of faith of the gospels, would

            indeed negate an enormous amount of the words attributed to him in the gospels.

            This is exactly what happens in the process of the Jesus Seminar analysis of

            Jesus’ authentic words.

                        This creation of the Christ of faith by the church is only an assumption by

            modern scholars. It has no historically documentable basis. It is a construct they

            have developed about the gospels and the gospels’ presentation of Jesus.

                        The gospels themselves, however, to the contrary, do document Jesus’

            miracles including his resurrection.  The miracles and especially the resurrection

            of Jesus, when seen as an historical event, become the necessary and sufficient

            cause for the birth and expansion of the church.  A powerful experience and

            conviction of Jesus’ resurrection by individuals, for example, would satisfy the

            condition for the birth of Christianity.  A real physical resurrection of Jesus would

            be the necessary and sufficient cause.  Luke Timothy Johnson makes a good

            argument that a real physical resurrection of Jesus would provide

                        . . .  some sort of powerful, transformative experience  . . . to generate

                        the sort of movement earliest Christianity was, and to necessitate the sort

                        of literature the New Testament is.[63]

                       

                        On the other hand, the creation of a resurrected, glorified, and deified

            Christ of faith by the early church seems implausible not only because it would

            not afford that power or cause for the event of the birth and expansion of the

            church, but also for other significant reasons. These other reasons include the

            following:[64]

                        1. The early oral tradition testimony of Paul concerning the physical

                            appearances of Jesus after his death in I Cor. 15:3-5.

2. There was not enough time for embellishment of a Christ of faith in   

     the early church through oral tradition which is supposed to have

     occurred in the gospels. The synoptic gospels were written within 25 

     to 30 years of Jesus. As such,

                                                . . .  the temporal and geographical distance between the

                                                events and the accounts is insufficient to allow for such

                                                extensive development . . . even two generations are

                                                too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail

                                                over the hard historic core of oral tradition.[65]

                        3. Living eye-witnesses would have functioned as a strong control against

                                    the development of a Christ of Faith in contrast to a mere human

                                    Jesus of Nazareth.

                        4. Belief of the Jews concerning resurrection was (1) always a resurrection

                                    at the end of the world “not a resurrection in the middle of history”

                                    and (2) Jewish resurrection belief was always about a “general”

                                    resurrection of people, “not the resurrection of an isolated

                                    individual.”[66] As such, a proclamation to Jewish people about

                                    Jesus’ resurrection would have fallen on deaf ears and would not

                                    have been plausible itself without some incredibly necessary and

                                    sufficient cause. Only an actual resurrection of Jesus would seem

                                    to be a plausible force to overcome this.

5.      There is no evidence that I am aware of that the Apostles or any of the

           other followers of Jesus had tendencies toward believing in, let

            alone creating, Jesus’ resurrection or his divinity. Rather, the

                                    gospels depict their amazement at what he did during his lifetime

                                    and dumbfoundedness at his post-resurrection appearances[67].

6.      There is no evidence that I am aware of in apostolic church fathers’

      writings that give us reason to believe that the early church created

      a Christ of Faith.[68]

 

            Hence, it would seem more believable (if one allowed for the existence of

the supernatural) that a divine Jesus and His supernatural resurrection created the

church than that the church created a divine Jesus and his resurrection. The Jesus

Seminar, shackling itself in its anti-supernatural garb, would then seem to have created a situation which is the reverse of what happened, a situation which would make their assumption and its resultant conclusions extremely implausible and unbelievable. The tables would then be turned in that it would be the Jesus Seminar who is guilty of creating its own Jesus while the church and the New

            Testament testifies to the real historical Jesus. Ironically, then the Jesus Seminar

            does what it cautions against when it says, “Beware of finding a Jesus entirely

            congenial to you” and to “create Jesus in our own image”.[69]

 

C. Jesus as a Laconic Sage

            Once the above two assumptions have been used as a grid in the search for the authentic words (as well as authentic actions) of Jesus and he has been stripped of the supernatural elements that the gospels give him, the question remains, “Who is the real Jesus’ and what are his real words?”  In the wake of these presuppositions, many different Jesuses have been put forth.[70]  The view that the Jesus Seminar has chosen is that Jesus is a laconic sage. This perspective of Jesus is used to form rules around which the Jesus’ Seminar determines his authentic words. Funk, Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar state that scholars “no longer labored under the tyranny of either neo-orthodoxy or an eschatological Jesus” and that there now has been a “liberation of the non-eschatological Jesus of the aphorisms and parables from Schweitzer’s eschatological Jesus”.[71]  They say that

                        The Jesus of the gospels is an imaginative theological construct, into

                        which has been woven traces of that enigmatic sage from Nazareth

                        traces that cry out for recognition and liberation from the firm grip of

                        those whose faith overpowered their memories. The search for the

                        authentic words of Jesus is a search for the forgotten Jesus.[72]

           

                        Hence, the search for the authentic words of Jesus is a search for the

            elements of Jesus the sage, which is presupposed to be the real Jesus.  This sage is

            modeled off of the “sage of the ancient Near East,” a sage that is “slow to speech,

            a person of few words” one who “does not provoke encounters,” a miracle worker

            who “does not hang out a shingle and advertise services”. “As a rule, the sage is

            self-effacing, modest, unostentatious”.[73]  In addition, the only words of this sage

            that would have survived the process of oral tradition would have been those

            which were short, pithy and memorable.[74]  From these presuppositions the Jesus

            Seminar set up rules to determine the true words of Jesus.[75]  The rules established

            were as follows:

                                   

                        1. Jesus does not as a rule initiate dialogue or debate, nor does he offer to

                                    cure people.

                        2. Jesus rarely makes pronouncements or speaks about himself in the first

                                    person.

                        3. Jesus makes no claim to be the Anointed Messiah.[76]

                       

                        Basically, then, all the words attributed to Jesus by the gospels which

            violate these rules are considered non-authentic. For example, all the “I am”

            statements in John[77] and the words of Mark 12:35-36 where Jesus initiates a

            dialogue[78] are not authentic. However, if one does not presuppose that Jesus was

merely a laconic sage, then these rules do not hold and these limitations would not be sustained.

                        Many scholars would dispute this assumption that Jesus was merely a

            laconic sage.[79]  The most damaging argument against Jesus as a mere laconic sage

            is Scot McKnight’s statement,

                        . . .  such a Jesus would never have been crucified, would never have

                        drawn the fire that he did, would never have commanded the following

                        that he did, and would never have created a movement that still shakes the

                        world.[80]

            A Jesus who was just a sage would not have been threatening to the Jewish, or for

            that matter, the Roman authorities. There would seem to be no reason for him to

            have been flogged and crucified (two events that the Seminar Fellows do believe

            to be historical).[81]

                       

            D. Oral Transmission of Jesus’ Words

                        Rules of oral tradition and transmission of Jesus’ words, as the Jesus

            Seminar understands it, also feed into the criteria for Jesus’ (as laconic sage)

            authentic words. The Jesus Seminar sets up the following rules of oral evidence:

                        1. The oral memory best retains sayings and anecdotes that

are short, provocative, memorable—and oft-repeated.

                        2. The most frequently recorded words of Jesus in the surviving gospels

                                    take the form of aphorisms and parables.

                        3. The earliest layer of the gospel tradition is made up of single aphorisms

                                    and parables that circulated by word of mouth prior to written

                                    gospels (i.e. the short sayings were circulated without a context).[82]

                                               

            If the words attributed to Jesus by the gospels do not fit into these categories they

            were considered inauthentic. For example, the Jesus Seminar concluded that the

            words attributed to Jesus in Mark 14:48-49 are not authentic.  Those words are:

                       

                        Have you come out to take me with swords and clubs as though you were

                        apprehending a rebel? I was with you in the temple area day after day

                        teaching and you didn’t lift a hand against me. But the scriptures must

                        come true![83]

                                   

            The reasons the Seminar stated that they rejected these words as authentic included the following:

                        . . .  there is nothing aphoristic, or memorable, about the words attributed

                        to Jesus, Rather, while the words are realistic, and may accurately report

                        that Jesus taught openly and regularly in Jerusalem, there is no reason the

                        disciples would have remembered precisely these words.[84]

 

                        Concerning oral transmission, it must be stated that what we have in the

            gospels would probably not be the “precise” words of Jesus in any case since they

            are probably a translation of what he spoke in Aramaic.  This does not mean

            however that the sayings of Jesus in the gospels are inaccurate or untrue or were

            fluid and transmitted with a “story teller’s license” as asserted by The Five

            Gospels. Note the Seminar’s statement:

                        We know that the evangelists not infrequently ascribed Christian words to

                        Jesus—they made him talk like a Christian, when, in fact he was only the

                        precursor of the movement that was to take him as its cultic hero . . . Story

                        tellers in every age freely invent words for characters in their stories. This

                        is the storyteller’s license . . . The evangelists functioned no differently

                        than other storytellers . . .[85]

                                               

                        To the contrary!  There is good evidence to believe that the Jewish culture

            did function differently from other cultures and fostered a desire and techniques

            to pass on oral teachings in a controlled and accurate manner.  They were not

            inclined in that culture to “create” sayings as asserted by the Seminar.  Carson and

            Moo state,

                        . . . the importance of memorization in first-century Jewish society is

                        undeniable, and we are justified in thinking that this provides a sufficient

                        basis for the careful and accurate oral transmission of gospel material.[86]

                       

                        Jewish institutions of the home, synagogue and elementary schools and

the command of scriptures such as Deut. 6:4-9 helped insure accurate remembrance of words that were considered important.[87]  Indeed, as Bock and

            Reisner argue, the Jewish culture seems to be very much a “culture of memory”.[88]

            In addition, the abundance of living eyewitnesses of the time as well as Jesus’

            appointing the Twelve Apostles who would have formed an authoritative circle

            would have functioned as a control preserving the accuracy of Jesus’ words.[89]

            This, and the very short time element available for changes in that tradition before

            the gospels were written down, would seem to forbid the evolution and creativity

            assumed by the Jesus Seminar.[90]

 

                        As a result of their positions thus far examined, Funk, Hoover, and the

Jesus Seminar, engaging the “Jesus the sage” presupposition, the oral evidence and transmission presuppositions, and the presupposition of the church creating

            the Christ of Faith, can put forth statements such as the following in connection

            with discounting the non-sage words of Jesus:

The Christian inclination to put its own affirmations on the lips of Jesus

 . . . overrides the distant memory that Jesus did not make such claims on his own behalf . . .

. . . the early Christian community allowed its own triumphant faith to explode in confessions that were retrospectively attributed to Jesus, its authority figure. The climax of that trajectory came with the Gospel of John.  In John, Jesus does little other than make claims for himself. 

For that reason alone, scholars regard the Fourth Gospel as alien to the real

Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth.[91]

                                   

                        Hardly any words in John’s gospel can then be from the lips of

            Jesus [92] since it presents Jesus as one who speaks about himself and attributes to

            him several self-affirming “I am” statements. The synoptic Gospels also do not

            escape the “sage knife,” the “oral transmission knife,” or the “Christ of Faith

            church creation knife” of the Jesus Seminar either.  For instance, consider the

            words of Jesus in Mark 12: 35-37:

                        While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, "How is it that

                        the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David?  David

                        himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:  "`The Lord said to my

                        Lord:  "Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet."  

                        “David himself calls him `Lord.' How then can he be his son?"[93]

           

            Here the words of Jesus are colored black by the Seminar specifically because

            Jesus is doing something a sage would not, the words do not all fit the

            predetermined oral transmission rules, and the assumed Christ of faith church

            creation activity is operative.  The Seminar states:

                        When Jesus initiates a dialogue or debate, we have a good indication that

                        we are dealing with a secondary composition.  The reason for this is

                        twofold: (1) In the healing stories, he does not offer to heal people; he

                        waits until they approach him.  His approach to argument and debate were

                        comparable: he probably did not seek to engage his opponents, but waited

                        until they questioned or criticized him[94] . . . This mode of behavior is

                        consonant with the view that Jesus made no claims for himself, not as a

                        messiah, not as a healer . . . (2) The incipient church would have been

                        inclined, subsequently, to represent Jesus as making pronouncements on a

                        variety of topics.  The direct way to this end would have been to have

                        Jesus raise the issue himself . . . The words of Jesus in Mark 12:35-37 and

                        parallels are integral to the story and, because they are not short, pithy, and

                        memorable, they would not have circulated at one time by word of mouth  

                        . . . The scripture text cited in his pericope is Ps. 110:1, a favorite in early

                        Christian christological speculation . . . Further it is difficult to think of a

                        plausible context for this piece of sophistry—a clever manipulation of the

                        data and logic for the sake of the point—during Jesus’ life.[95]

                                   

                        Hence, here, Jesus words are deemed non-authentic because they

            do not reflect the character of a presumed sage, they are not all short, pithy

            and memorable as required by imposed oral transmission rules, and because the

            Christ of faith creative church, it is assumed, probably put these words (including

            the Greek Old Testament quotation) into Jesus’ mouth stemming from its desire to

            give authority to its emerging Christology that it was beginning to place upon

            Jesus the sage.  If these three assumptions are not held however, there is very little

            that reason to refuse to accept the words here written in Mark as authentic words

of Jesus. Here again, the Jesus Seminar is found to be shackled by its own presuppositions and their dissecting knife cuts out the majority of Jesus words attributed to him in the gospels.

 

            E. Criteria of Dissimilarity.

                        Although not expressly stated as such, the Jesus Seminar uses the criteria

            of dissimilarity to further help determine his authentic words. They state that in

            order to pick out Jesus’ “distinctive voice in Galilean crowd” and “to isolate the

            words of Jesus from the other voices in the gospels” the following assumptions

            and rules (which might be termed “criteria of dissimilarity”) were formulated:

                                               

1.      Jesus’ characteristic talk was distinctive—it can usually be

            distinguished from common lore. Otherwise it is futile to search  

             for the authentic words of Jesus.

                        2. Jesus’ sayings and parables cut against the social and religious grain.

                        3. Jesus’ sayings and parables surprise and shock: they characteristically

                                    call for a reversal of roles or frustrate ordinary, everyday

                                    expectations.

                        4. Jesus’ sayings and parables are often characterized by

                                    exaggeration, humor, and paradox.

                        5. Jesus’ images are concrete and vivid, his sayings and

                                    parables customarily metaphorical and without explicit

                                    application.[96]

 

                        Once again, as with the rules previously enumerated, those gospel sayings

            that do not exhibit these characteristics become suspect with regards to their

            authenticity. The problem with these criteria is that, when joined with the

            church’s Christ of Faith exclusionary criteria noted above which basically says

            Jesus is dissimilar from the early church, Jesus becomes

                        a decidedly odd figure, totally detached from his cultural heritage and

                        ideologically estranged from the movement he is responsible for founding

                        . . . He becomes an eccentric if only that which makes him different is

                        regarded as authentic. The criterion may help us understand where Jesus’

                        teaching is exceptional, but it can never give us the essential Jesus.[97]

 

            F. The Burden of Proof Reversal for Historical Authenticity.

                        The Seminar has embraced a reversal of the normal historical approach

            to the concept of the burden of proof. Instead of accepting the canonical gospels’

            words of Jesus as true unless they can be shown to be inauthentic, the Seminar

            assumes they are inauthentic up front. I.e., Jesus’ words are not true unless they

            can be proven to be so through the Seminar’s own criteria. Of their procedure

            being the reversal of the normal approach to history, the Seminar states:

            The current assumption is more nearly the opposite and indicates how far

            scholarship has come since Strauss: 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 who knew about divine men and miracles first hand. Supposedly historical elements in these narratives therefore must be demonstrated to be so. The Jesus Seminar has accordingly assumed the burden of proof: the Seminar is investigating in minute detail the data preserved by the gospels and is also identifying those that have some claim to historical veracity.[98]

           

            The problem with this reversal is well stated by Bock, “If we were to apply such standards to other documents, whole shelves of ancient history would

have to be excluded.”[99] The Seminar has implemented an assumed “guilty before innocent” stance, a procedure that is “against the grain” of contemporary historical and Biblical scholarship.[100]  This is all based on the Seminar’s questionable assumption that the early church created the Christ of Faith. Again dubious assumptions, approaches, and methodologies are built on dubious assumptions. 

                       

            In applying all of these rules, assumptions, and criteria one can understand why Craig Evans writes an entire chapter in his book Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels entitled “Cramped Starting Points and Overly Strict Critical Methods” critiquing contemporary skeptical scholars’ study of Jesus.[101] Starting with these (most of them highly debatable) assumptions the vision of Jesus supposedly sought by the Seminar was already predetermined.[102] What other type of Jesus could one find but what they found?  Hence the Seminar found the Jesus they wanted to find and violated their own final general rule: “Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you”.[103] As such the Seminar’s conclusions do not merit endorsement as they are skewed from the beginning.

 

            G. The Legitimacy of the Gospel of Thomas as a Sayings Source for the

                        Historical Jesus.

            Another assumption of the Jesus Seminar is that there should be no canonical boundaries on the search for the authentic words of Jesus but that all surviving gospels should be included as sources to be considered with a cut off date of 325AD when the “orthodox party solidified its hold on the Christian tradition and other wings of the Christian movement were choked off”.[104]  The Seminar states, “Canonical boundaries are irrelevant in critical assessments of the various sources of information about Jesus.”[105] The Seminar however only considers for evaluation the words of Jesus in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas[106] in addition to the four traditional gospels (hence the title The Five Gospels).  It does mention the Egerton Gospel, the hypothetical Q source, the hypothetical Gospel of Signs, and the Secret Gospel of Mark but does not seem pay attention to the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary, or any of the several other documents that are classified as gospels.[107]  Why does the Seminar focus on just one of these, i.e., the Gospel of Thomas?  The Seminar (at least in The Five Gospels) does not tell us except to say that “Present knowledge of what Jesus said rests mostly on the evidence provided by the  . . . five independent sources” (meaning hypothetical Q, hypothetical L, hypothetical M, Mark and the Thomas).[108] Funk, Hoover, and the Seminar attempt to date a “first Thomas Edition” in the first century thus making it on a par with hypothetical Q which is also largely a “sayings” Gospel void of the passion narrative.[109]  Dating Thomas early (50-60 AD)[110] would give a second witness (with Q) to the early sayings of Jesus.  There are numerous problems, however, with dating Thomas this early, something that the vast majority of scholars refuse to do.[111] Evans outlines four of those problems arguing that these show that the Gospel of Thomas “really should not be considered an ancient source for the historical Jesus:”[112]

            1. “Thomas knows many New Testament Writings”. He quotes or alludes

                        to more than half the writings of the New Testament including

            Mark, Luke, Matthew, John, Paul and John’s other writings

            including Revelation and should be dated well into the second

            century. Thomas seems to be dependant on the New Testament and

            thus not to predate it.

2. “Thomas contains late Gospel material”. That is, Thomas seems to

            contain material distinctive to Matthew and Luke and John and

            thus parallel what some scholars consider “later traditions” not

            earlier ones as would be suspected if Thomas were as early as Q.

            This would mean that Thomas would seem to have been

            “influenced by the New Testament Gospels, not early Jesus

            tradition.” Hence Thomas would thus be composed later than the

            New Testament Gospels.

3. “Thomas reflects later editing in the Gospels.  Editorial features in

            Matthew and Luke are found in the Gospel of Thomas.  Hence this

            would suggest that Thomas drew upon these two gospels and is

            later, not earlier, than them.

4. “Thomas shows familiarity with late traditions distinctive to Eastern,

            Syrian Christianity.”  These characteristics come from the late

            second century Syrian tradition not the first century.[113]

 

            In addition, what seems to be telling concerning this early date is the fact that even the Seminar’s own evaluation of the Gospel of Thomas only colored three sections “red” (Thomas 54; 20:2-4; 100:2).[114]  While there were 36 (out of 114) sections colored pink (at least in part), this is a far cry from what might have expected of an early sayings gospel dated to within 20 years of Jesus life!  In all probability, contrary to the Jesus Seminar, the Gospel of Thomas should not be used as an independent source in search for the historical Jesus.[115]

 

 

V. The Jesus Seminar and Postmodernism.

                        The Jesus Seminar seems to be a curious combination of modernism and

            postmodernism. Modernism is seen in its use of Enlightenment, Age of Reason,

            and non-supernatural presuppositions. While being a child of the Enlightenment

            it also wraps itself in some of the garb of postmodernism.

           

            A. Postmodernism’s Major Characteristics and Themes

                        According to Daniel J. Adams post-modernism from a theological

            perspective has four major characteristics and four major themes.[116]  Its four

            major characteristics are:

                        1. Western values, culture, and assumptions of superiority are no longer to

                                    be considered certain or desirable. Its way of understanding history

                                    is now to be questioned, challenged, and rewritten.[117]

                        2. Authoritative metanarratives (e.g., the Bible) of the past are now called

                                    into question and a “legitimization crisis” has ensued. Good and

                                    evil, right and wrong values of the past are now to be dethroned

                                    and a plurality of values installed. No one particular value system

                                    is to be allowed to be or can be “universally legitimized and

                                    accepted.” Fragmentation of society “into special interest groups”

                                    results.[118] Any one attempting to impose or suggest universal truth,

                                    such as conservative Christianity, is not to be tolerated as it is bias

                                    and bigoted.

                        3. Cultural and religious knowledge and values are no longer to be

                                    controlled by the “intellectual and political elite”. This basically

                                    means that (especially with the explosion of information

                                    technologies) those who “underwent years of specialized

                                    education and training and had to pass an examination of their

                                    peers before they were allowed to become practitioners of their

                                    particular specialty” no longer have control or censorship with

respect to knowledge and practice in their particular field. Hence there is created an “intellectual—and spiritual—market place”.[119]  Knowledge, authority, and values are so to speak “up for grabs”.  Parents, teachers, religious leaders, and other traditional “authorities” are to be placed on the same authority level as everyone else.

                        4. Intentional deconstruction of traditional standards and thus traditional

                                    understandings of authority is the call of intervention of

                                    postmodernism. Standard texts (e.g., the Bible) are to be taken

                                    apart and individual bits of information “extracted and separated

                                    from each other”.  Every text “at any given period of time is

                                    conditioned by a network or web of relations that in turn affects the

                                    meaning of that text.” Hence, as Ze’ev Levy states,

                                    “deconstruction categorically asserts the absolute impossibility of

                                    attributing to any text one single ultimate meaning”. Thus, the

                                    Bible has no single ultimate meaning or authority. Rather the

                                    “network or web of relations outside the text  . . . determine the

                                    meaning of the text and the nature of its authority”.[120] The Bible

                                    now can be made to mean anything one’s sociocultural situation

                                    determines it to be.

 

            These four characteristics result in a legitimization of unlimited pluralism of

            cultures, traditions, ideas, and authority. There can be no ultimate authority, only

            gods among gods.

                        Postmodernism’s four major themes are:

                        1. Classical metaphysical thought is rejected.  This means that “the nature

                                    of reality is not found in objective truth but in the

                                    phenomenological linguistic event”. That is, “metaphysical

                                    objectivity is replaced by sociological subjectivity.”[121]  Reality is

                                    in the mind of the beholder which is conditioned by his own

                                    environment.

                        2. The second major theme is “the rejection of human autonomy”. Each

                                    person is considered part of a larger “sociological matrix” that

                                    includes “history, culture, economics, religion, politics, and

            philosophical worldview”.  With respect to theology, it does not

            come from any god in heaven but is “constructed” by the “complex

            socio-cultural matrix” of each person’s life situation.[122]  Each

            person along with and within its own society creates truth.

 

The result of these first two themes is that theology is disassociated from its traditionally objective foundation of “Scripture, creeds and confessions, and ecclesiastical tradition.”  Theology now is to come from the needs of the community in its “ever changing contexts of culture and history”.  Hence theology comes from perceived needs and desires instead of determining what those needs and desires should be.[123]

 

3. The third theme is “praxis”.  Postmodern advocates are “harsh critics”

            standing up for those who feel they have been exploited and

            oppressed.  Basically no one should be “marginalized”.

4. The fourth major theme is “a strong anti-Enlightenment stance”.  Some

            postmodernists reject what they call the West’s “universal

            intellectual terrorism”.[124]

 

            B. The Postmodern Garb of the Jesus’ Seminar.

                        While the Jesus Seminar makes no claim to being influenced or to

            wrapping itself in postmodern garb, and while not following postmodernism in all

            its themes,[125] it does seem to partake of that philosophy at several points. Note

            the following:

                        1. The Jesus’ Seminar, as shown above, comes to the gospels with a

                                    predetermined concept of who the Jesus of history must have been. 

                                    This comes out of its own radical wing of liberal theological

                                    presuppositions formed by its own socioculturally determined

                                    theological milieu.  Nearly all the Seminar Fellows come from this

                        radical wing of scholarship. As a result their own Sitz Im Leben

                        determines their presuppositions with respect to searching

                        for the historical Jesus.  This seems to be consistent with theme 2

                        above in which one’s environment creates truth.

            2. The Jesus’ Seminar seems to feel justified in their own minds for using

                        the “grid” or set of presuppositions discussed above to find what

                        they call the authentic words of Jesus. This grid may stem from a

                        “need” of theirs to justify their own belief system[126] and sell

                        it to the public. Statements such as the Fellow’s having “decided to

                        update and then make the legacy of two hundred years of research

                        and debate a matter of public record,”[127]  their intolerance of

                        “fundamentalists,”[128] as well as their appeal to Galileo,

                        Copernicus, Kepler, Thomas Jefferson, Reimarus, and D. F. Struss

                        for their position, seems to make The Five Gospels an apologetic

                        treatise and a crying out for acceptance of their position. They have

                        been suppressed and marginalized too long! Truth is no longer to

                        be controlled by the fundamentalists or the orthodox church which

                        smothered the historical Jesus by “superimposing” on him the

                        heavenly figure of Christ.[129] It is time for them to be given their

                        freedom! This is consistent with the postmodern themes 1, 2,

                        and 3, and characteristics 1, 2, and 3 above.

                        3. The Jesus Seminar sees the Christ of the Gospels as an “imaginative

                                    theological construct”[130] of the early church.  The Seminar believes

                                    that creation of the Christ of Faith by the early church stems from

                                    the first century church’s desire (need) to justify Jesus’ divinity

                                    and deal with his death. The early church therefore rewrote history

                                    according to their own “theological construct”.  Here we see the

                                    imposition by the Jesus Seminar upon the early church of the

                                    postmodern concepts of the rewriting history, the creation of

mental “constructs,” and theology being created out of the needs of the community.  Though the Seminar is critical of the church for creating this theological construct, they somehow are blind to the fact that they have partaken of the same postmodern principles they accuse the church of using by creating their own “theological construct” of Jesus as being a mere laconic sage.  This follows themes 1 and 2 above.

                        4. Deconstruction of the text.  The Seminar’s presuppositions and

                                    procedures deconstruct the Gospel texts which allows the Seminar

                                    to create the Jesus they desire to find. It also undermines the

                                    authority of the canonical gospels as the Jesus presented by those

                                    gospels is not the real Jesus. A non-supernatural Jesus ensues, one

                                    which would not engender a person’s submission to his lordship.

                                    Although this deconstruction of the text and its subsequent

                                    dethroning of Jesus as Lord, is the result of the seminar’s work

                                    (characteristic 4 above), it must be stated that they do not

                                    expressly admit that they embrace postmodern linguistic theory.

                                    However, they do here support de facto, many of its principles.

            5. The Seminar calls into question the metanarrative of the Bible

                        by questioning the historical restrictiveness of the biblical canon

                        by inclusion of extrabiblical texts, such as the Gospel of Thomas as

                        authoritative sources for the authentic words of Jesus. This follows

                        characteristic 2 above.

                        6. The fairness or non-marginalizing principle (note theme 3 above).  The

                        Seminar chose a voting and scoring system in which each Fellow’s

                        vote would “count”.  Note their statement:

                                    This system seemed superior to a system that relied on

                                    majorities or pluralities of one type or another. In a system

that made the dividing line between pink and gray a simple majority, nearly half of the Fellows would lose their vote. There would only be winners and losers. Under weighted averages, all votes would count in the averages.  Black votes in particular could readily pull an average down . . . Yet this shortcoming seemed consonant with the methodological skepticism that was a working principle of the Seminar: when in sufficient doubt, leave it out[131].

           

                                    Here we see that Fellow’s votes being left out was more important

                                    than majority opinion and that the principle of “fairness” is used to

                                    determine truth. This is a prevalent postmodern principle of praxis

                                    (theme 3 above). Interestingly, this procedure worked in reverse in

                                    some instances to invalidate the opinions of the majority of the

                                    Fellows.  For instance in Matt. 6:6a 58% of the Fellows voted that

                                    the words “When you pray, go into a room by your self and shut

                                    the door behind you”[132] should be attributed to Jesus, i.e., they

                                    voted either red or pink, but 27% did not think these words were

                                    attributed to Jesus at all, i.e. they voted black. The result was that it

                                    was determined that Jesus did not say this, i.e. it was determined to

                                    be gray. Hence, even though the majority felt these words were of

                                    Jesus, the words were not attributed to him.[133] Truth is at the mercy

                                    of the rule to make each Fellow’s votes count and the created

                                    system of “graded averages!”

 

                        Luke Johnson quotes John Dominic Crossan (co-chair of the Jesus

            Seminar) showing the Seminar’s postmodern garb and its “precise agenda.”

            Crossan states,

                        It is not (in a postmodern world) that we find once and for all who the

                        historical Jesus was way back then.  It is that each generation and century

must redo that historical work and establish its best reconstruction, a reconstruction that will be and must be in some creative tension with its own particular needs, visions, and programs . . . it is that Jesus reconstructed in the dialogues, debates, controversies, and conclusions of contemporary scholarship that challenges faith to see and say how that is for now the Christ, the Lord, the Son of God.[134]

                       

                        According to this philosophy, each generation’s Jesus (including the one

            of the Jesus Seminar) is and should be created in its own image according to its

            “own particular needs, visions and programs.” Indeed it would seem that while

            the Seminar embraces Enlightenment principles at its foundation, it dresses and

            modifies it in postmodern garb seemingly in the hope of the public acceptance of

            its view of the historical Jesus.   Hence, the Seminar’s agenda seems not to

            be the search for the historical Jesus (it has already a priori concluded that

            through its assumptions and methodology!) as much as the search for the public’s

            acceptance of the Jesus that the Seminar has already created.[135]

                       

 

VI. Summary.

            The Jesus Seminar’s conclusions concerning the authentic words of Jesus are preconditioned by their own, in most cases, dubious presuppositional posture.  I have shown the questionable nature of the Seminar’s naturalistic worldview, the dubious assumption that the early church created the Christ of faith in its short oral tradition period, the insufficiency of a laconic sage Jesus spawning the incredible and powerful Christian movement, the problems with the criteria of dissimilarity, the problem with the presumed  untrustworthiness of the documents in the Seminar’s reversal of the burden of proof, the illegitimacy of the Gospel of Thomas as a sayings source for the historical Jesus, and the Seminar’s donning of postmodern garb in what seems to be its search for acceptance of its stance on the historical Jesus.  All these presuppositions ensure the discovery of an historical Jesus created in the predetermined image of the Jesus Seminar.

For these reasons I do not believe the Seminar’s conclusions merit being embraced.

 

VI. Epilogue and Advance: Eristics and the Restoration of Biblical Christianity:

            Finding and Experiencing the Real Jesus

                                   

            Up to this point I have been engaging in apologetics, a defense of the faith. Apologetics basically defends orthodox faith against challenges by showing the weaknesses of those other challenging beliefs and philosophies. I do believe however that the Bible calls us to go beyond a defense and take the offense. The Greek word that seems to embrace this is eristics. This is an advancement of the faith not just a defense.

            We have in this paper identified that Jesus is most probably not the Jesus of the Jesus Seminar as the Seminar has failed to establish its laconic sage Jesus as the real Jesus of history mainly because of its own limiting a priori presuppositions.  How then do we find the real Jesus? Eristically, I would advance the following:.

            A. To find the real Jesus we must reunite the Christ of Faith with the Jesus of

                        History. The following are good reasons for doing this:

                        1. Eyewitness testimony and investigation of the Gospels speak to the

                                    Jesus of history being the Christ of faith. The author of

                                    Luke, who supports the Christ of faith being the historical Jesus

                                    reports his method and contact with eyewitnesses. He states

                                    (Lk. 1:1-4, NIV):

                                               

                                                Many have undertaken to draw up an account of

                                                the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they

                                                were handed down to us by those who from the first were

                                                eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  Therefore, since

                                                I myself have carefully investigated everything from the

                                                beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly

                                                account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that 

you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

                                   

                                    Luke says he checked out the things “handed down” from

                                    eyewitnesses. In addition, he “carefully investigated everything

                                    from the beginning.” Hence, using this as an example, we can say

                                    that early Christians were interested in “preserving reliable

                                    history.”[136] Not only were Christians interested in preserving this

                                    reliable history, they also had the means to do so through oral

                                    transmission techniques (see my discussion above on oral

                                    tradition, pages 14-19). Luke in his gospel based on eyewitness

                                    accounts gives us good reason to accept the testimony that the

                                    Jesus of history is the Christ of Faith.[137]

                                               

2.      The eyewitness testimony and the historical corroboration of the oral

            tradition found in the New Testament letters also unite the Christ   

of Faith with the Jesus of history. This is especially true of Paul’s writings where he quotes Jesus’ words and deeds and bears witness to the trustworthiness of the oral tradition.[138] Paul states concerning the historicity of the physical resurrection of Jesus (I Cor. 15:3-8):

                                               

                                                For what I received I passed on to you as of first

                                                importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the

                                                Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the

                                                third day according to the Scriptures, and that he

                                                appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he

                                                appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the

                                                same time, most of whom are still living, though some have

                                                fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the

                                                apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one

                                                abnormally born.

 

                                    John also makes an appeal for eyewitness testimony to be accepted

                                    in I John 1:1-5 where he states:

                                                That which was from the beginning, which we have

                                                heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have

                                                looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim

                                                concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have

                                                seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the

                                                eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to

                                                us.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard,

                                                so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our

                                                fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 

                                                We write this to make our joy complete. This is the

                                                message we have heard from him and declare to you

                                                (emphases mine).

3.      The testimony of Acts as it records eyewitness testimony establishes

the Christ of faith as the same as the Jesus of history. For instance note Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:22-24, 36:

                                               

                                                "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man

                                                accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs,

                                                which God did among you through him, as you 

                                                yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you 

                                                by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with

                                                the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to

                                                the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing

                                                him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for

                                                death to keep its hold on him . . .

                                                "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has

                                                made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and

                                                Christ" (emphases, mine).

                                   

                                    Here it is seen that even on the day of Pentecost, a mere 50 days

                                    after Jesus’ crucifixion, there is testimony for the Jesus of History

                                    being the Christ of faith.

                       

                        4. The testimony of the Apostolic Fathers in their use of the terms “Jesus

                                    Christ”.  For them, he is one in the same.  Jesus is the Christ. Jesus

                                    is Lord. Christ is Jesus. Christ is Lord.  Note, for instance,

                                    Clement’s statement (around 96AD) about the physical man Jesus

                                    being the Christ (I Clement 21), “Let us reverence the Lord Jesus

                                    Christ, whose blood was given for us.”[139]

                       

                        The testimony of the historical Jesus being the Christ of faith is abundant

            in the first two centuries.[140]  Contrary to the assumption of the Jesus Seminar, I

            have found no compelling historical evidence to reject that testimony.[141]

                                                           

            B. Finding Jesus the Christ.

                                    Jesus is found not through a postmodern or Enlightenment

                        deconstruction of the texts of the Bible or personal constructs made by the

                        early church or by us today but through personal experience and

                        relationship with him as a living being, as Jesus the Christ (i.e., the Jesus

                        of history as the now living Christ). When one includes in his worldview a

                        supernatural view of history, Jesus’ history is allowed to continue and his

                        death does not lock him out of continuing history.  His history did not end

                        with his death. It continues.[142] The testimony of the New Testament is that

                        he is alive. Heb. 7:24 states, “because Jesus lives forever, he has a

                        permanent priesthood”. The whole point of the gospels is that Jesus is no

                        longer dead, that he arose!  The witness as to how to come to him and

                        experience him is that one “must believe that he exists and that he rewards

                        those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6). 

                        This “finding” of Jesus must begin with the acceptance of the

            supernatural which includes Jesus’ resurrection.[143] If one does not accept

            this, he will never come to know Jesus Christ as a living being. Even

            intellectually accepting and experiencing Jesus and some of his blessings

            here on earth does not indicate that one has come to know him in the

            Biblical sense. The Bible teaches that there are two sides to this

            relationship. One cannot just know God without God reciprocally knowing

            that person. Knowing God intellectually or even physically experiencing

            his blessings is not enough. God must experience that person also for that

            relationship to be complete.

                        These two sides of the relationship are established by Gal 4:9

            where Paul states, “But now that you know God--or rather are known by

            God . . .” as well as Jesus’ statement in Matt. 7:23 to the people who

            called him “Lord, Lord,” and did many miracles in his name that he never

knew them.  This knowledge of God is thus two sided. We must come to know or experience God but He must also know and experience[144] our heart for him to know us (Deut. 8:2). The substance of this experiential knowledge of us by God is indicated in I Cor. 8:1b-3 which states,

                        We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but

                        love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does

                        not yet know as he ought to know.  But the man who loves God

                        is known by God (emphasis mine).

            God knows us by us loving him.  I John 5:3 expands on this love for God

            by stating, “This is love for God: to obey his commands.”

                        A relationship with God, with the Jesus Christ of history,

            necessitates the joining of the two sides of this experiential relationship.

            We need to experience God and he us. We need to experience his love for

            us and he needs to experience our love for him. Without both there is no

            reciprocal relationship and Jesus may well say “I never knew you.” 

                        Those of the Jesus seminar persuasion who have found only Jesus

            the sage who died and then was re-created as the Christ of Faith by the

            early church have not found (known) the true Jesus nor has he known

            them as he is not experiencing their love for him. Rather they through their

            seminar and its work destroy him by deconstructing him. Let us pray for

them and eristically urge them to experience (know) the unified person of Jesus Christ and allow that same historical Jesus Christ to experience (know) them. Then, and only then, will Jesus truly be their Lord and they his people. Let us proclaim the Jesus Christ found in the eyewitness testimony of the Apostle John who said,

                        Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the

                        flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus

                        is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist which you have

                        heard is coming and even now is already in the world. . .  This is

                        the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ . . . He who

                        has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does

                        not have life (I Jn. 4:2b-3; 5:6a, 12, emphasis mine).[145]

 



[1]I use the term “radical” higher criticism because many who engage in “higher criticism” would not see themselves (and rightly so) in the same category as Jesus Seminar scholars. The Jesus Seminar is one representative of what might be called radical liberal biblical scholarship. Biblical Criticism as a science is generally divided into Lower and Higher Criticism. Lower Criticism consists basically of Textual Criticism, i.e., the science of studying Bible documents with a view of establishing the purest or original form of the text. Higher Criticism (a term first used in 1787 by J. G. Eichhorn) deals with the literary analysis of the text focusing on the sources of the documents, the authorship, date, and composition of the text. Types of Higher Criticism include Form Criticism, Narrative Criticism, Linguistic Criticism, Redaction Criticism, Literary Criticism, Rhetorical Criticism, Socio-historical Criticism, and Source Criticism. The Jesus Seminar does not represent main-line higher critical scholarship but can be classified as a radical left fringe of Higher Criticism as practiced today.

[2] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (San Francisco: Harper, 1997), 1. The Seminar was co-chaired by Funk and John Dominic Crossan.  Funk (a Guggenheim Fellow and Senior Fulbright Scholar and former professor of Religious Studies at the University of Montana) passed away in 2005 but the Westar Institute continues on with various other seminars including the Paul Seminar, the Acts Seminar, and the Canon Seminar. In their own words they state:

The first and best-known project of Westar Institute is the Jesus Seminar. Launched in 1985, the Seminar was organized to discover and report a scholarly consensus on the historical authenticity of the sayings and events attributed to Jesus in the gospels. Recently, the Fellows of the Seminar have begun to develop and analyze the various profiles of the historical Jesus that emerge from current research.
                Other Westar Seminars are also at work. The Paul Seminar is considering the authenticity and integrity of the Pauline letters. The Canon Seminar is debating which early Christian works, canonical or non-canonical, should be included in a new New Testament. An Acts Seminar, which began deliberations in 1999, will evaluate and report on the historical authenticity of the Acts of the Apostles, in much the same way as the Jesus Seminar reviewed the sayings and events in the gospels.  (From the Westar website at:
http://www.westarinstitute.org/Westar/westar.html).

[3] See quote in note 2 above.

[4] Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (New York: Macmillan, 1993), 2.

[5] Ibid.

[6] The Seminar uses the term “Five Gospels” as it includes the Gospel of Thomas as a valid source for the authentic words of Jesus along with the four canonical gospels in the NT.

[7] New York: Macmillan, 1993.

[8] San Francisco: Harper, 1998.

[9] This is a very small number when compared to the total number of NT Scholars in the United States.  See Johnson, 2.

[10] Johnson, 2.

[11] Johnson, 3. These schools include Claremont, Vanderbilt, Harvard, Chicago, and Union Theological Seminary. Even scholars who have graduated from these more liberal schools are critical of the methodology and findings of the Jesus Seminar, see for example Craig A. Evans a graduate of Claremont, in his Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels (Downers Grove, IVP, 2006), 34, where he states that the Jesus Seminar reached its conclusions “through cramped starting points and overly strict critical methods”.  Other scholars from schools not affiliated with those listed above also are very critical of the methodology and results of the Jesus Seminar. These include but are not limited to N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 29-35, my former professors    D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament,2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 120-121, and Craig L. Blomberg and my former professor Scot McKnight in Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland, eds, Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 17-72.  Blomberg states (19) that “the Jesus Seminar does not reflect either responsible scholarship or critical consensus, and it is a pity that many in the media have allowed themselves to be deceived by its claims to the contrary”.

[12] Johnson, 3. Cf. the list of “Fellows” and the schools they attended in Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels, 533-37, and Robert W. Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus, 537-42.

[13] There are no scholars represented from the United Kingdom or continental Europe.

[14] Johnson, 2, states, “The Jesus Seminar is not affiliated either with the Society of Biblical Literature or the

other international association for New Testament scholars, the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas” and

“does not, therefore, represent anything like a consensus view of scholars working in the New Testament, but only the views of a group that has been—for all its protestations of diversity—self-selected on the basis of prior agreement concerning the appropriate goals and methods for studying the Gospels and the figure of Jesus. It is from beginning to end, an entrepreneurial venture guided by Robert Funk.”

[15] The Five Gospels, 5.

[16] The methodology, basic presuppositions, and procedures used to discover the authentic deeds of Jesus are basically the same as those used to discover the authentic words of Jesus. Cf., The Acts of Jesus, xv-40. 

[17] Johnson, 4.

[18] The Five Gospels, 36-37.

[19] On these quests, see Albert Schweitzer The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its progress from Reimarus to Wrede, translated by W. Montgomery from Von Reimarus zu Wrede, 1906 (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1910, reprint ed., 1950); N. T. Wright, The Contemporary Quest for Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002); N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996); Stephen Neill, The Interpretation of the New Testament 1861-1961 (London: Oxford, 1964), 12ff; Ben F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus (London: SCM Press, 1979), 25-59; and Carson and Moo, Introduction, 118-122;

[20] Published by G. E. Lessing.

[21] N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (15-17) pushes the split between faith and history in nugget form even farther back to Philip Melanchthon in 1521.

[22] See note 19 above. Schweitzer, in his study, saw that each person’s quest ended up creating a Jesus that reflected that writer’s own background.

[23]Carson and Moo, Introduction, 119-120. They also cite Martin Kahler’s The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic, Biblical Christ (German original edition, 1896, English ed. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964) as helping end the first quest.

[24] Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 20.

[25] This term is used by Scot McKnight in Jesus Under Fire, 54.

[26] There were of course some who still were questing for the historical Jesus.

[27] Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 24.

[28] Blomberg in Jesus Under Fire, 26.

[29] Ibid., 27.

[30] Wright, Jesus the Victory of God, 84. Wright states (p. 86) “the pursuit of truth—historical truth—is what the Third Quest is all about”. Through the Third Quest,

serious historical method, as opposed to the pseudo-historical use of home-made ‘criteria’, is making a come back . . . The much-vaunted ‘normal critical tools’, particularly form-criticism, are being tacitly . . . bypassed in the search for Jesus; enquiry is proceeding by means of a proper and often clearly articulated, method of hypothesis and verification  (p. 87). 

Wright continues,

                Within the Third Quest . . . the task before the serious historian of Jesus is not in the first instance

conceived as the reconstruction of traditions about Jesus, according to their place within the history of the church, but the advancement of serious historical hypotheses—that is, the telling of large-scale narratives—about Jesus himself, and the examination of the prima facie relevant data to see how they fit (p. 88).

[31] Carson and Moo, Introduction, 121.

[32] Blomberg in Jesus Under Fire, 27-28.

[33] Ibid. See Johnson’s helpful discussion of the issue of history in the interpretation of the Gospels and the quest for the historical Jesus in his book, The Real Jesus, especially pages 81-166. For a list of the contemporary Third Quest scholars, see Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 84.

[34] Carson and Moo, Introduction, 120. N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 29, places the Jesus Seminar in the “post-Bultmannian” category but acknowledges that it might be called the “radical wing of the ‘Third Quest’”, 34-35, but later classifies it as a “revived” New Quest, 83.   

[35]As per Robert Kurka, in an unpublished paper entitled “A Jesus We Have Never Known: An Evaluation of the Antecedents, Assumptions and Conclusions of the Jesus Seminar”, n.d., 4. The Jesus Seminar in the same paper (page 5) is also classified as “’pseudo-Third Quest’ scholarship”. See also note 34 above.

[36] See note 34 above

[37] McKnight in Jesus Under Fire, 54.

[38] This is noted by McKnight in Jesus Under Fire, 55.

[39] Ibid, 56-57. See here also for the description of the other two types of Jesuses held today by critical scholars of the New Quest type.

[40] The Five Gospels, 2. Cf. also pages 6-7, Johnson, 7-8, and Kurka, 1-2, on the influence of the Enlightenment on the Seminar’s perspective.

[41]Carson and Moo, Introduction, 118.

[42] See James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic world View Catalog, 3rd ed. (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1997), 40-51.

[43]What has been included in the idea of “history” has changed down through time.  For example, R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (Oxford: Clarendon, 1951), 46, states that with the advent of Christian thought, “Christianity jettisoned two of the leading ideas in Greco-Roman historiography, namely (1) the optimistic idea of human nature and (2) the substantialistic idea of eternal entities underlying the process of historical change.”  Collingwood goes on to say that Christianity brought four elements to the concept of “history” from which it was viewed and written: (1) history became universal or world history going back to the origin of man, (2) history ascribed events to the working of God providentially “preordaining their course” instead of events being credited to the wisdom of “human agents”, (3) Christ becomes the center of history (everything revolves around his life), (4) history is divided into epochs or periods, “each with peculiar characteristics of its own, and each marked off from the one before it by an event which in the technical language of this kind of historiography is called epoch-making.” (49-50). The Jesus seminar, along with Enlightenment principles, wants to change what is included in the idea of history by excluding the supernatural both of God as involved Creator and Christ the center of history.  Hence, the very concept of the term “historical” in “historical Jesus” is redefined using an Enlightenment and Age of Reason mindset that excludes the supernatural. Redefining “history” is what is involved in the Jesus Seminar’s presuppostional stance as it embraces the worldview of the Enlightenment.  From that position most of what follows in their work is determined.  Basically this worldview deconstructs the Jesus of Christian history and replaces him with a Jesus that fits into the worldview of the Enlightenment, i.e., a Jesus of natural history, a non-supernatural Jesus.

[44] The Five Gospels, 3. This separation of the real Jesus from the “corruptions of Christianity” in the age of the Enlightenment can also be seen in Thomas Jefferson’s The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, in  which Jefferson took scissors and cut out the supernatural elements from the gospels, Ibid., and see Johnson, 37,.

[45] Ibid 2.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] The Acts of Jesus, 93.

[49] Ibid., 105-106. Jesus’ transfiguration is claimed to be an “invention of Mark” for the purpose of providing the “reader with a preview of Jesus’ supernatural glory” which is non-historical.

[50] Ibid,. 277-280. With respect to this and its narration in Luke 5:1-11, the authors state, “the story as it stands in Luke is fiction, not history” emerging originally from “a post-crucifixion epiphany.” Only John’s version of this miracle (John. 21:1-14) is retained in the correct setting.  Luke took the original version of story and placed it back into “Jesus’ public life.”

[51] The appearances of post-resurrection Jesus are stated to be “visionary” experiences (Ibid, 458) but not actual historical fact which could be documented scientifically. This is the case even if Paul, for instance, really believed in and recorded bodily resurrection appearances (such as in I Cor. 15:3-8).  As such the body of Jesus “decayed as do other corpses” and “the resurrection was not an event that happened on the first Easter Sunday; it was not an event that could have been recorded by a video camera” (Ibid., 461-62).

[52] Ibid. 531.

[53] Ibid. 534.

[54] The Five Gospels, 25. Jesus, in their worldview, could not have told the future.

[55] The allowance for the possibility of the supernatural is one of the major differences that the Third Quest for the Historical Jesus generally has with the Jesus Seminar, Kurka, 3.

[56] For example, see William L. Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton: Crossway, 1994), Normal L. Geisler, Miracles and the Modern Mind (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), Stanley L. Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1978), and Rich Knopp’s article, “On the Value of the Philosophy of Science for Christian Faith and Ministry,” in Taking Every Thought Captive, R. A. Knopp and J. D. Castelein, eds. (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997), 237-70,  (I am grateful to Robert Kurka, 16, for the above references).  On this, see also, John Oakes, Is There a God? Questions About Science and the Bible (Long Beach, CA: GCI Books, 1999) and his website at www.evidenceforchristianity.org.  In addition, see Michael Wilkins and J. P. Moreland, in Jesus Under Fire, 8-10, for a good brief critique of modern scientism and naturalism and Gary R. Habermas’ article in Jesus Under Fire, 126, where he states that there is a “large and growing number of critical scholars who think that, far from ruling out the supernatural, scientists are more open to it than they have been in the past”.  See also my own paper entitled, Foundations in a Foundationless World: How Christian Theism Grounds Moral Theory, 2006 (www.denverchurchofchrist.org under DCC School of the Bible) where I argue five ways Christian Theism provides a more sufficient foundation than Naturalism for moral theory.

[57] The Acts of Jesus, 534.

[58] The Five Gospels, 7.

[59] The Five Gospels, 110.

[60] Ibid., 5.

[61] The Seminar boasts of seven pillars of scholarly wisdom, Ibid., 2-5. See Kurka’s brief critique of these seven pillars, 8-11.

[62] These rules are from The Five Gospels, 19-25.

[63] 136.

[64] The first three following points are summaries of William Lane Craig’s statements in “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” in Jesus Under Fire, 153-155.

[65] Ibid, 154. This is based on a study in classical historiography on the writings of Herodotus by A. N. Sherwin-White which tested the “tempo of myth-making”. This is even more damaging to the Seminar’s assumption if one dates all the gospels including John pre-70 AD as liberal scholar John A. T. Robinson does in Redating the New Testament (London: SCM, 1976).

[66] Craig, Jesus Under Fire, 160-61.

[67] Note Peter’s denial of Christ in the passion narratives (e.g., Mk. 14:66-72), the amazement of the people when he taught (Mt. 7:28-29), his disciples’ amazement as his calming of the storm (Lk. 8:22-25), the disciples’ amazement and fear and lack of understanding at the experience of his resurrection (Mt. 28:1-19; Mk 16:1-8; Lk. 24:1-53). See also note 68 below.

[68] Richard Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), 293) argues that the “Jesus tradition was controlled by memorization and perhaps also by writing through eyewitnesses and clearly identified teachers”.  He stresses the fact that the New Testament and Apostolic Fathers depended on eyewitness testimony as the source of their teaching not the anonymous Christian community that form critics (and the Jesus Seminar) assume. Bauckham states (297),

                Nowhere in early Christian literature do we find traditions attributed to the community as their

source or transmitter, only as recipient. Against the form-critical image of the early Christian movement as an anonymous collectivity, we must stress that the New Testament writings are full of prominent named individuals . . . Compared with the prominence of  named individuals in the New Testament itself, form criticism represented a rather strange depersonalization of early Christianity that still exercises an unconscious influence on New Testament Scholars.

Bauckham (295) also states, “Papias’s notion of tradition transmitted from named eyewitnesses through other individual teachers is common to patristic writers thereafter.” Hence, the oral transmission of the gospel was not fluid or uncontrolled nor was it done by an anonymous community void of historical interest as the Jesus Seminar (and form critics) would have us believe. Rather it was controlled by clearly identifiable teachers and eyewitnesses.

[69] The Five Gospels, 5.

[70] See pp. 5-6 above.

[71] The Five Gospels, 4.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid, 33.

[74] The Five Gospels, 105.

[75] That this is a presuppostional stance and not something that was a resultant fruit of their study comes out my study of The Five Gospels where reasons given for not accepting Jesus’ words as authentic are based upon this presupposition.

[76] These three rules are from The Five Gospels, 32.

[77] Even the “I am” statement by Jesus in Mark 14:62 is stated as not in “the spirit of Jesus” who would have been more elusive in his responses (as the Jesus Seminar interprets the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke) and these words (even the ones in the parallel passages) are “undoubtedly the work of the evangelists, since none of Jesus’ disciples was present to hear and report his responses” (The Five Gospels, 123. This latter statement is also an assumption of the Jesus Seminar. How do they know his disciples were not present?).  The Seminar Fellows were “virtually unanimous in their judgment that the account of the Judean trial was mostly a fabrication of the Christian imagination . . . Even if Jesus was tried by Judean authorities, his followers were certainly not present. Statements made in the absence of those providing testimony are not historically verifiable” (The Five Gospels, 121-22).  This, again, is an unwarranted assumption of the Seminar that begs the question.

[78] In Mark 12: 35 Jesus asked, “How can the scholars claim that the Anointed is the Son of David?” Scholar’s Version, The Five Gospels, 105. Note: The Jesus Seminar has its own translation of the gospels called The Scholars Version which uses contemporary wording sometimes bordering “on the edge of vulgarity . . . and ‘slangish banality” (Kurka, 7, see also Johnson, The Real Jesus, 21 where he calls the translation “iconoclastic” and reflects “the deliberate insouciance and irreverence of the Seminar’s press conferences” resulting in less accuracy and at times “obliterates the specific symbolic background” of gospel expressions).  One example is Mt. 23:13-36 where the Jesus Seminar “shunned pious terms and selected English equivalents for rough language” (The Five Gospels, xiii) and translated the word   “woe” with “damn” in this passage. For instance Mt. 23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27, and 29 as “You scholars and Pharisees, you imposters! Damn you!. “  

[79] Note for instance Scot McKnight in Jesus Under Fire, 56-68. Even members of the Jesus Seminar disagree as to who Jesus was.  For example, John Dominic Crossan does not see Jesus as a mere laconic sage but as a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant Cynic (see his book The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (San Francisco: Harper, 1991)).  For an excellent critique of this view of Jesus, see N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 44-74, Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospel (Downers Grove: IVP, 100-122), Johnson, The Real Jesus, 44-50, and especially Dale C. Allison’s total excoriation of Crossan’s methodology in coming to his conclusions in Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), 10-33.

[80] Jesus Under Fire, 61.

[81] The Acts of Jesus, 532.

[82] These rules are from The Five Gospels, 28, with my additions in parentheses.

[83] Scholars Version, The Five Gospels, 121.

[84] The Five Gospels, 121.

[85] The Five Gospels, 29-30. The Seminar sees oral transmission of Jesus’ words as most form critics do, i.e., as informal, uncontrolled, anonymous, non-individual but community derived, and transmitted without historical accuracy concern on the part of the transmitting community.

[86] 85. This is based in part on Birger Gerhardsson’s work Memory and Manuscript: Oral Tradition and Written Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity, trans. Eric J. Sharpe Uppsalla Universitet Nytestamentlige Seminar, no. 22 (Lund: CWK Gleerup, 1961), reprinted in 1964.  On this, see also Harald Riesenfeld, The Gospel Tradition (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970), C. K. Barrett, Jesus and the Gospel Tradition (Philadephia: Fortress, 1968, Darrell L. Bock in Jesus Under Fire, 79-81, and N. T. Wright, 133-37.

[87] This according to Bock, 80.

[88] Bock, 80. These words are those of Rainer Reisner, (whom he cites from Reisner’s “Judische Elementarbildug und Evangelienuberlieferung,”, in Gospel Perspectives: Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels, vol. 1, ed., R. T. France and David Wenham (Sheffield: JSOT, 1980, 209-23).

[89]Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, (Downers Grove: IVP, 1987), 24-28; Bock, 80. Note, also, how Luke in Luke 1:1-4 emphasizes the living eyewitnesses from which he gleaned information to write his gospel and Paul’s use of the technical terms “received” and “passed on” for “hearing and passing on tradition” in I Cor. 11:23 (Bock, 80). Bock also argues that even the Greco-Roman tradition of Thucydides (in History of the Peloponnesian War) shows that in that world there was an honest attempt to keep “as close as possible to the total opinion expressed by the actual words” (Thucydides, quoted by Bock, 79).  Interestingly, The Five Gospels (27 ) quotes this same source  to support their position of a more fluid and imprecise, free license oral transmission and assert that “passing on oral lore is much like telling and retelling a joke” (27).  The Five Gospels conclusion seems, however, to be out of character with the very passage they quote.  They quote Thucydides as stating in his history that, “the various speakers were made to say what was appropriate, . . . although I attempted to stick as close as possible in every case to the general scope of the speech”.  The passage seems to me to emphasize Thucydides’ commitment to accuracy not license. On this, see Craig Blomberg’s summary (in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1987), 27-28) of six good reasons which Riesner gives (in his Jesus als Lehrer (Tubingen: Mohr, 1981)) as to why Jesus’ followers would have carefully preserved accurate information about him without memorizing it word for word.  These six reasons are

(1) Jesus followed the practice of Old Testament prophets by proclaiming the Word of the Lord

with the kind of authority that would have commanded respect and concern to safeguard that which was perceived as revelation from God. . . .

(2) The fact that Jesus presented himself as Messiah, even if in a sometimes veiled way, would reinforce his followers’ concern to preserve his words . . .

(3) The gospels depict Jesus as just such a teacher of wisdom and phrase over 90% of his sayings in forms which would have been easy to remember, using figures and styles of speech much like those often in Hebrew poetry . . .

(4) There is widespread evidence in the gospels of Jesus commanding the twelve to ‘learn’ specific lessons and to transmit what they learn to others, even before the end of his earthly ministry . . .

(5) Elementary education for boys until at least the age of twelve was widely practiced in Israel in Jesus’ day, so texts like Acts 4:13 cannot mean that the disciples had no competence in reading, writing, and memorization.

(6) Almost all teachers in the Jewish and Greco-Roman world gathered disciples around them in order to perpetuate their teachings and lifestyle, so, however different Jesus was from the rabbis in other ways, he probably resembled them in this respect.

[90] On this time element, see note 65 and page 11 above.

[91]The Five Gospels, 33.  It should come to no surprise then that for the Jesus Seminar,

 . . . there is virtually nothing of the synoptic sage in the Fourth Gospel. That sage has been displaced by Jesus the revealer who has been sent from God to reveal who the Father is . . . The Fellows of the Seminar were unable to find a single saying they could with certainty trace back to the historical Jesus. They did identify one saying that might have originated with Jesus, but this saying (John 4:44) has synoptic parallels. .  .  The words attributed to Jesus in the Fourth Gospel are the creation of the evangelist for the most part, and reflected the developed language of John’s Christian community (Page 10).

[92] Not surprisingly this also reflects the results of the Jesus Seminar color coded voting. There are no red coded words of Jesus in John and only one pink one (Jn. 4:44, “A prophet gets no respect on his own turf,” Jesus Seminar Scholars Version, The Five Gospels, 412).

[93] Scholars Version, The Five Gospels, 105.

[94] The fact that Jesus did not always approach people (which of course could be shown false if  John 5:6 were allowed to be a viable witness, which it is not as it is already locked out of the discussion) does not mean that he did not do it at times. Assuming his fame for healing had gone far and wide, it would only make sense that people would approach him.  Matthew 23 does show Jesus engaging his adversaries and  opponents but the Jesus Seminar has relegated most of these sayings against the Pharisees “to a later historical context, not the public life of Jesus”  because of the “detailed knowledge of Pharisaic argument and the level of invective” here. It is explained that because Jesus was in northern Palestine, it is not certain how much Jesus even knew about the Pharisees during is life time while the early “emerging church” later on had reason to create such a discourse as Matt. 23 because “it wanted to distinguish itself from incipient rabbinic Judaism . . . and wanted to retain its access to synagogues and to the legal status of Judaism under Roman law” and as a result there was “intense rivalry and conflict” which this passage reflects (The Five Gospels, 242). All this is based on the assumptions that Jesus did not know much about the Pharisees and that the early church indeed did want to stay in the synagogues as well as distinguish itself from rabbinic Judaism, and that there was a desire of the early church and the author of Matthew to put words in Jesus’ mouth to support his “own purposes” (The Five Gospels, p. 238).  As should be obvious here, the conclusion of the Jesus Seminar is based on one questionable assumption after another.

[95] The Five Gospels, 105.

[96] These five are from The Five Gospels, 30-32.

[97] Bock, 91.

[98] The Five Gospels, 4-5.. This is the seventh pillar of scholarly wisdom.

[99] Jesus Under Fire, 90.

[100] Kurka, 10.

[101] 34-51. Evans addresses additional assumptions that are made by radical skeptical scholars such as those of the Jesus’ Seminar.  They include (1) questioning as to the literacy of Jesus (cf. The Acts of Jesus, 274), (2) Jesus’ lack of interest in Scripture (for the Seminar, only the early church had that interest and he did not quote it), (3) Jesus’ disinterest in eschatology (cf.,  the Seminar’s fifth pillar of contemporary scholarship which states that scholarship has liberated the non-eschatological Jesus from Schweitzer’s eschatological Jesus, The Five Gospels), (4) Jesus’ lack of any messianic self-understanding, (5) multiple attestation (applied inconsistently by the Jesus Seminar, cf., Bock, 92-93),and  (6) embarrassment (cf. The Acts of Jesus, 54, where of Mark 1:9 concerning Jesus’ baptism by John, the Fellows color this action red and thus authentic because “The early Christian movement and the evangelists would have lacked motivation for making up such a story: it makes Jesus subservient to John”).

[102] Johnson, 25. There Johnson states, “It should be obvious that these are not ‘criteria’ at all, but assumptions that are attached to a predetermined vision of the Jesus who is supposedly sought”.

[103] The Five Gospels, 5.

[104] The Five Gospesl, 35. Here is another assumption of the Seminar: Christianity was made up of the orthodox and non-orthodox branches and that it was the orthodox wing which just happened to be the one that won out historically, a view put forth by Walter Bauer (and embraced by many liberal theologians) in his book Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971).

[105] The Five Gospels, 16.

[106] The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of 114 purported sayings of Jesus with out narrative contexts, no record of Jesus’ trial, death or resurrection, no record of his birth or childhood, nor is there any record of his public ministry in Judea or Galilee.  It has 47 parallels to Mark, 40 to hypothetical Q, 17 to Matthew, 4 to Luke, and 5 to John (The Five Gospels, 15).

[107] Evans, 62, states there are around 30 of these type of documents.

[108] The Five Gospels, 16.

[109] Q is a hypothetical written document consisting of the common elements of Luke and Matthew which are not found in Mark. Q, if it existed, in contrast to Thomas does have some narrative elements in connection with John the Baptist and the Beelzebul incident (see Athanasius Polag, Fragmenta Q: Textheft zur Logienquelle (Germany: Neukirchener Verlag, 1979), 23-25.

[110] The Five Gospels, 128.

[111] Evans, Fabricating Jesus, 67, states, “ . . . almost all scholars concede that Thomas could have been composed as early as the middle of the second century, the evidence strongly suggests that Thomas was not composed before A.D. 175 or 180.

[112] Fabricating Jesus, 68.

[113] Fabricating Jesus, 67-77.  Fpr example, Thomas seems to share “affinities with” Tatian’s second century harmony of the NT Gospels called the Diatessaron. Also it should be noted that the name “Judas Thomas” found in the introductory words of the Gospel of Thomas is “found in other works of Syrian origin and circulation, such as the Book of Thomas the Contender,” and “continues in later Syrian Christian traditions” (Evans, 71).

[114] Even with what the Seminar calls Q there were only ten sayings that were red!  These (Q and Thomas) supposedly being the oldest with very little time to have changed through oral tradition seems to beg the question on whether the Seminar’s criteria are valid.

[115] With this Craig Blomberg, in Jesus Under Fire, 23-25, also concurs.

[116] See his article entitled “Toward a Theological Understanding of Postmodernism” at www.crosscurrents.org/adams.htm.

[117] Ibid., 3.

[118] Ibid., 3.

[119] Ibid., 3-4.

[120] Ibid., 4-5.

[121] Ibid., 5.

[122] Ibid., 6. Adams notes that these two themes in contemporary theology came to be known as “nonfoundtionalism.”

[123] Ibid.

[124] Ibid.

[125] E.g., it does not embrace a strong anti-Enlightenment stance.

[126] This, for some of the radical critics of today, seems to come from their “flight from fundamentalism” (see Craig, Fabricating Jesus, 1-33, where he evaluates Robert Funk in this regard).

[127] The Five Gospels, 1.

[128] The Five Gospels, 1-2, 5, 6-8.

[129] The Five Gospels, 7.

[130] The Five Gospels, 4.

[131]The Five Gospels, 37.

[132] The Five Gospels, 148, Scholars Version.

[133] In other places votes were also seen to be split all the way from red to black. Note for instance Matt. 6:22-23 where many Fellows voted red and pink but those “votes were not enough to offset a gray designation” (The Five Gospels, 151), and Matthew 11:16-19 where these words of Jesus “drew the highest number of red and pink votes of any saying in this cluster” yet it was in the end colored gray because of dissenting black votes (The Five Gospels, 180).

[134] Johnson, The Real Jesus, 49, quoted from Crossan’s book Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper, 1995, 217).

[135] The cry for public acceptance of the Seminar’s theological stance and position concerning Jesus can be experienced by the reader in the initial pages of The Five Gospels (especially pages 1-18). The Seminar pleads with the public for the acceptance of its position on Jesus by outlining that position’s struggle over the last two centuries.

[136] Blomberg in Jesus Under Fire, 30. See his development of this theme there.

[137] The other gospels likewise record the Jesus of history as the Christ of Faith. There is no separation. They too are based in historical record on eyewitness accounts as Matthew is based on the eyewitness account of the apostle Matthew, Mark is based on the eyewitness account of Peter, Luke is based on what is stated in the text above as well as being a companion of Paul, and John, a disciple of the Lord, “who leaned upon his breast,” also published his Gospel of John (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book III, 1:1, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), 414.

[138] On this see especially Blomberg in Jesus Under Fire, 41-42.

[139]The Apostolic Fathers, 11. The references to this terminology usage (Lord Jesus Christ) could be multiplied over and over in the Apostolic writings.

[140]See the writings of the Apostolic Fathers.  At the same time, it must be stated there are indications toward the end of the first century of the existence of those who did want to separate the Christ from the man Jesus as is indicated for instance in I John 5:6-9.  This concept is also found in early church father’s writings, one instance of which is recorded by Irenaeus in his discussion of the Gnostic belief of a man named Cerinthus. Cerinthus believed that the Christ descended on Jesus at his baptism and left him before his death.  However even with this view, Jesus and Christ were united between Jesus’ baptism and his death and Jesus during that time “proclaimed the unknown Father, and performed miracles” (The Apostolic Fathers, 351-52).  Even for Cerinthus, Jesus was not totally separate from the Christ during his life on earth.  It remains that the earliest written testimonies we have (i.e., those from the gospels, Acts, the writings of Paul, and the other New Testament books, as well as the early apostolic father works) hold up Jesus as the Christ, not a separate Jesus and Christ. As such, it would seem that a later bifurcation of Jesus Christ took place instead of an earlier amalgamation of the historical Jesus the sage with the Christ of faith

[141] See my arguments supporting this also above, pages 8-12 above.

[142]Luke Johnson, The Real Jesus, 142, states, “ . . . the real Jesus for Christian faith is not simply a figure of the past but very much and above all a figure of the present, a figure, indeed, who defines believers’ present by his presence” . . . Christians have always taken the resurrection to be the defining event concerning Jesus and the fundamental perspective from which to perceive “the real Jesus.”  He continues (142-43), 

Christians direct their faith not to the historical figure of Jesus but to the living Lord Jesus. Yes,

they assert continuity between that Jesus and this. But their faith is confirmed, not by the

establishment of facts about the past, but by the reality of Christ’s power in the present. Christian

faith is not directed to a human construction about the past; that would be a form of idolatry.

Authentic Christian faith is a response to the living God, whom Christians declare is powerfully at

work among them through the resurrected Jesus.

I might add that this resurrected Jesus is the Jesus of history not a construct of the early church.  His presence today is the continuance of his historical presence as Jesus Christ of the Gospels and the New Testament. Indeed the words of Hebrews 13:8 are applicable here, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

[143] See William Lane Craig’s argument for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection in Jesus Under Fire, 141-76.

[144] The Hebrew term yada’ in the OT (and transferred into the NT through its Septuigintal translation by ginosko) has the connotation of “experiential knowledge”. On this see my paper, “Most frequently Used Hebrew Words for Teaching and Learning and their Contribution to the Biblical Theology of Christian Education “ (2004, 31-39) under “Hebrew Words” and my article “One of the Unique Elements of True Christianity” (2004) both at http://www.denverchurchofchrist.org/?page_id=13

[145] Quotations from the Bible in this paper where the translation is not noted are from the NIV version.



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