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The Jesus Seminar: Bad Philosophy Makes Bad Christianity
First, the Jesus Seminar in their own words:
The Jesus Seminar Forum: A
Gateway to the Research of the Jesus Seminar
The Jesus Seminar Forum is an introduction to the research of the Jesus Seminar
of the Westar Institute & a bridge to Jesus scholarship on line.
Now, for the criticism:
The Evangelical Responses
to the Jesus Seminar by Robert L. Thomas, Professor of New
"Evangelicals have reacted strongly against the
conclusions of the Jesus Seminar. Yet their methodologies in studying the
gospels fit the pattern of methods employed by that Seminar, particularly
the assumption that the composition of the gospels involved some form of
The Jesus Seminar: Misguided
"The Jesus Seminar begins all of its debates with a shared, yet
concealed, presupposition – that anything outside the realm of natural
explanation can never be backed by historical evidence."
Seminar by Jimy Williams.
"The Jesus Seminar portrayal of Jesus simply cannot explain the
explosion of Christianity in the first and second centuries. With their view
of Christ, they cannot create a cause monumental enough to explain the
documented, historical effects that even they must accept."
Seminar Should Go Back to School by James Akin.
"But the most basic part of the Seminar's motivation is a desire
to produce a Jesus who is less threatening, one who does not claim to be
King of King and Lord of Lords, who will not make claims on their personal
lives or (worse yet) return one day in fiery judgment."
The Jesus Seminar Under Fire by Greg Koukl.
"The conclusions of the Jesus Seminar don't represent facts.
Rather, their point of view and research methods are deeply flawed because
of their prior commitment to a philosophic position that is already hostile
to the events described in the text of the Gospels."
Who does the
Jesus Seminar really speak for?
"We have noted above numerous ways in which the JS reflects the
'radical fringe' of critical scholarship and generally does not include the
most established scholars of a more moderate perspective."
Liberal New Testament Scholarship by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd
"[The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar] seek to find a merely human
Jesus behind the New Testament records, and then try to explain how this
ordinary human got "supernaturalized" in the mind of his followers. But the
all important question of whether or not the Gospel story is mythological in
the first place is rarely seriously discussed. That matter was settled
before the research ever got off the ground, and before their conclusions
ever reached the newspaper."
“Scholars”: Who Does the Jesus Seminar Really Speak For? by Craig
"[The Jesus of the Jesus Seminar] is more Gnostic — concerned
primarily to impart true knowledge — than anything orthodox Christianity has
ever accepted. Today we might call it 'New Age.' But given the JS’s stated
goal of discrediting orthodox Christianity and going beyond mainstream
scholarship (despite their repeated claims that they represent a consensus),
this conclusion should not be surprising."
The Corrected Jesus by Richard Hays
"The fabrication of a non-Jewish Jesus is one particularly
pernicious side effect of the Jesus Seminar's methodology. One would have
thought that the tragic events of our century might have warned us to be
wary of biblical scholars who deny the Jewishness of Jesus."
Scripture: Scholarship Takes a Beading by John MacArthur
"What tools did the Jesus Seminar scholars employ? Ultimately
only one—the test of "political correctness." Taking a cue from secular
academia, the fellows of the Jesus seminar simply dismissed every statement
containing a hint of some truth or point of view that is rejected by the
political liberals in our culture."
The Jesus Seminar Agenda
"Christians need to be aware that there is a definite ideological
agenda that lies behind the new evangelistic zeal of certain liberal
scholars to bolster the 'religious literacy' of Americans."
Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: Presuppositions and Pretensions of the Jesus
Seminar by William Lane Craig
"The desire to have a politically correct religion and in
particular a politically correct Jesus skews the historical judgement of the
Jesus Seminar. They dismiss as unhistorical any aspect of Jesus which they
find to be politically incorrect. Historical judgments are thus being made,
not on the basis of the evidence, but on the basis of political
Can the New Jesus Save Us?
by C. Stephen Evans
"Scholars who are less committed to orthodoxy or positively
opposed to historic Christian faith, such as Mack and Crossan, often produce
portraits of Jesus that are quite remote from church teachings. The latter
type of scholar often speaks disparagingly of the former, implying that the
more traditional scholar is less than fully committed to 'calling them as
they see them' and 'letting the chips falls where they may.' From my
layperson’s perspective, it seems evident that the prior commitments of the
people like Mack may be pervasive in shaping the way they interpret the
The Jesus Seminar and the Public: Another Take by Darrell L. Bock,
Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary
"The Seminar has a rather minimal Jesus that many critics do not
see as a genuine reflection of the historical Jesus. This is why the Seminar
did not catch on with many scholars in historical Jesus studies."
Supernaturalism and Historical Study: An Account of the Resurrection of Jesus
Christ from the Dead by Franz S. Klein
"I think that one of the reasons it was so useless an enterprise
for Bultmann was the fact that he recognized the true fact that man’s
fulfillment is not of the natural order. Because he felt that the natural
order was closed, it became fatuous to look back at a man who lived
two-thousand years ago. Our ultimate fulfillment was to be found within, in
that timeless statement of Jesus Christ, not in a man who lived two thousand
years ago. I also think that once the supernatural is accepted into the
natural order, only then does the God-man who lived two thousand years ago
become important. I think that the New Quest only has its value in
overcoming Bultmann, recognizing elements of the supernatural into history,
and from thence deriving value in the historical Jesus."
Books on the Jesus Seminar:
The Historical Reliability of the Gospels
by Craig L. Blomberg
Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the
Historical Jesus by Craig L. Blomberg, J.P. Moreland and Michael J.
THE GOSPEL OF THOMAS
What do we know about the Gospel of Thomas? Well, I would defer
to J.P. Holding, for example, who examines the Gospel of Thomas in
depth in his article
Thomas Gospel Tizzy: An Examination of Arguments Favoring the Gospel
of Thomas. After his usual thorough examination
of the evidence, Holding's article concludes:
How appropriate, then, are the words of Grant and Freedman
here, applied to the original author of GThom, but hauntingly
fitting to the modern work of Koester, Patterson and Cameron, to
Davies, and to the Jesus Seminar. GThom, Grant and Freedman
write, is "probably our earliest significant witness to the
early perversion of Christianity by those who wanted to create
Jesus in their own image." And: "Ultimately (GThom) testifies
not to what Jesus said but to what men wished he had said." How
different, then, are the tactics and purposes of the Jesus
Seminar and the GThom proponents? What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new
under the sun." (Eccl. 1:9)
Holding's analysis isn't good enough? Well, perhaps we might consider the
opinion of Glenn Miller who creates one of the finest, most intelligent webpages
on the Internet:
A Christian Thinktank. Like Holding, Miller is very thorough in his
evaluation of the Gospel of Thomas from the standpoint of what it can tell us
about the Historical Jesus. Here are his conclusions from his on-line piece
What About the Gospel of Thomas?:
Perhaps most condmening is historian Philip Jenkins. According to an article
Historical Hogwash: Two books—one new, one newly reissued—debunk false claims
about the "real" Jesus by Elesha Coffman in
- The GTh is late (150-200ad), not early (50-75ad). It dates
from AFTER the completion and collation of the FourFold gospel.
- The GTh may contain an authentic extra-biblical tradition or two . . . but
by and large is dependent on ALL the canonical gospels in their finished form.
- Since it appears in history 100-150 years later than the alleged Sayings
Document called "Q", its value to demonstrate the existence of such a genre as
"Sayings Document" is negligible. As a late document, is looks more like popular
theme books of today--"The Parables of Jesus" or "The Gaililean
Miracles"--subsets of the Gospel data for specific purposes, as opposed to a
comprehensive statement of the "gospel". * * *
- The fact that this single document can witness to the general availability
of the Fourfold gospel in the mid-late 2nd century has implications for
canonical studies. It demonstrates that the Fourfold gospel was accepted as the
ONLY authoritative source for teaching--by the very fact that its citations were
predominantly from those gospels! And the fact that the four gospels were
available to a single redactor at that time confirms the rather rapid and
frequent distribution and exchange of Christian literature in the period (cf.
- To the Christian, this bare-bones gnostic "How to work your way to heaven"
document should remind us vividly of the completeness of God's provision for our
salvation in Christ. He broke into history, joined our "matter" in solidarity,
and MADE a way--not just SHOWED a way! He "shrank not back from death" and did
MORE than just reveal truth; He also unleashed grace (John 1!).
Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way (Oxford),
Jenkins, distinguished professor of history and religious studies at Penn
State, exposes Jesus Seminar types as—to put it bluntly—agenda-driven
ninnies. Such scholars, fascinated by texts like the Gospel of Thomas, the
Gospel of Mary, and others unearthed at Nag Hammadi in 1945, dig for what
they want to find (evidence of alternate and legitimate "Christianities")
and then spare no extravagance in touting its importance. With such titles
as The Secret Teachings of Jesus: Four Gnostic Gospels and The
Complete Jesus, their books promise to erode orthodox Christianity,
conveniently replacing it with a kinder, gentler, and much more politically
Jenkins's problem with this body of work isn't primarily that it contradicts
traditional faith, but that it rests on bad scholarship. Revisionist claims
about hidden gospels require that such texts be both older and more reliable
than the non-hidden sort, but Jenkins argues persuasively that they are not.
Nor can the sects (notably gnostics) that produced the hidden gospels be put
on equal footing with the nascent Christian church. "Just as the canonical
gospels were in existence before their heterodox counterparts," Jenkins
writes, "so the orthodox church did precede the heretics, and by a
comfortable margin." Of course, nobody would read The Hidden Texts of
Comparatively Late Fringe Groups.
The scholars running willy-nilly after wishful theories might be excused if
they were merely jumping to conclusions in the wake of shocking new
discoveries, but this ground has been broken before. Today's revisionists
would know that if they bothered to read anyone else's work. Jenkins points
out that nearly all of the "revolutionary" claims made in the past 30 or so
years—Jesus didn't think he was God! Matthew, Mark, and Luke shared
notes!—are at least 100 years old. The period between 1880 and 1920 was
particularly fertile for radical theories, a fact many contemporary scholars
stubbornly or stupidly ignore, and most of the theories weren't even new
then. Jenkins goes so far as to assert that "the search for alternative
Christianities has been a perennial phenomenon within Western culture since
THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS: Are They Authentic? (Part Two in a Two-Part
Series on Ancient and Modern Gnosticism) by Douglas Groothuis;
Is the Gospel of Thomas Reliable? by Michael J. Bumbulis; and
The Jesus Seminar - Select Your Own Jesus.
Now, I am not saying these guys are always right, but they usually are very
scrupulous in their analysis. If anyone thinks that the Gospel of Thomas has
worth, they need to first respond to the arguments raised by these esteemed
gentlemen which, in effect, call the Gospel of Thomas worthless.
By William Kesatie