The Jesus Seminar - Select Your Own Jesus  

"If we are to survive as scholars of the Humanities, a well as Theologians, we must quit the academic closet. And we must begin to sell a product that has some utilitarian value to someone ... or which at least appears to have utilitarian value to someone" (Professor Robert Funk in Forum 1/1/1985 p.10)

Let the Scholarly Experts Speak!

Some say we should leave everything to the experts. How would someone support (or refute) the following statements? Jesus was not really the Son of God, but instead: A misguided Jewish visionary (Albert Sweitzer) A simple Jewish teacher who would be horrified at the myths in the gospels. (A.N. Wilson, who produced a TV documentary on this.) A Jewish revolutionary (S.G.F. Brandon) A Marxist revolutionary (Liberation theology) A man who married again after divorcing Mary Magdalene, whom the Dead Sea Scrolls talk about frequently. (The Gospels are in a secret code) (Barbara Thiering) An end-time prophet, not a social one (E.P. Sanders) A child of rape, who married Mary Magdalene, and the male-dominated church invented stories to keep women down (John Spong) A practicing homosexual (Morton Smith) A polygamous "Mormon" who fathered children A magician who went to Egypt to study magic (Morton Smith J.U.F. p.121) Only a Hasidic Jew (Geza Vermes) A genuine exorcist (Graham H. Twelftree) An innocent victim whose death was unconnected with his ministry (Burton Mack) A peasant Greco-Roman cynic (Dominic Crossan) A pro-feminist A Jewish sage of the goddess Sophia (Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza) A non-miraculous healer of just the "social stigma" of leprosy (Dominic Crossan) (J.U.F. p.138) A spiritual mystic (Marcus Borg) The originator of a disguised fertility cult centered on hallucinogenic mushrooms. (former University of Manchester scholar John Marco Allegro J.U.F p.209) An alien (a college friend of mine) All of these statements (except the last one) were by academic scholars and authors who think it too unbelievable that the four gospels could be reliable writings. They generally believe the parts of the Bible that do not fit their theory were non-genuine later additions. How do they support their views? In this allegedly academic field, you do not have to support your theories with any falsifiable evidence. Such is the "landscape" of radical Christian liberalism today. At both state institutions and church colleges supported by offerings of devout church members, there are many thousands of academics who wish to cut and paste among different sources to create their own theory of another Jesus that is the most reasonable to them. The bottom line is: with their methodology, Jesus can be made in your image, and by careful selection of material, Jesus can be whatever you want him to be!

Have They Lost Their Marbles?

Then out of this background came the something rather ugly. Professors Robert Funk, Dominic Crossan, Burton Mack, Marcus Borg, and about 200 other self-appointed people formed the Jesus Seminar to authoritatively state their conclusions as the consensus of academic scholarship. As scholar Thomas C. Oden says, "The Jesus Seminar is the creation of a media-culture looking for a story." Twice a year they meet to pronounce the conclusions of academic scholarship on the authenticity of the writings about Jesus. They are famous for voting on the authenticity using colored marbles they drop in. A red marble means it is certainly authentic. A pink marble is for sounding close. A gray marble says it probably is not something their Jesus would say. A black marble means the saying was definitely not uttered by their Jesus. They evaluated 22 parables in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, 28 in the Gospel of Thomas, and 10 from other sources. Just over 2/3 of the parables in "Thomas" and the Bible scored over 50% of red plus pink votes. The bottom line is: By seeing how each saying fits with their opinion of Jesus, they think that they, and not the early Christians, are in a better position to authoritatively determine what Jesus really said. There are at least three problems with the Jesus Seminar: denial, gullibility, and irrelevance

Denial of Evidence of Reliability

Despite the early persecutions, a number of very early New Testament manuscripts have survived. p52 John Rylands papyrus (parts of John 18:31-33) Another fragment, John 18:37-38, is generally thought to be from the same scroll and is also referred to as the John Rylands Papyrus. early/mid 2nd century p104 has Mt 21:34-37, 43, 45? c.125-170 A.D. p66 Bodmer II Papyrii has almost all of John. c.175 A.D. p90 Jn 18:36-19:7 mid/late 2nd century p77/p103 has 16 verses of Mt. 175-200 A.D. or early 3rd century p75 Bodmer 14/15 Papyrii (most of Luke and John) We have 102 of the original 144 leaves. c.200 A.D. p1 Mt 1:1-9,12,14-20; 2:14? 200 A.D. p45 Chester Beatty (all 4 gospels and Acts) We have 30 of the original 220 leaves. c.200 A.D. p4,p64,p67 (same manuscript) parts of Luke After this time, there are many more manuscripts. Christian writers, even prior to 200 A.D., quoted from or referred to verses in the Gospels and Acts. Clement of Rome 96/98 A.D. (no reference to John) Papias a disciple of John the Apostle Ignatius, a pupil of John the Apostle 110-117 A.D. Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians 110-135 A.D. The Didache 120-150 A.D. Letter of Mathetes to Diognetus 130 A.D. Justin Martyr wrote about 138-165 A.D. Muratorian Canon mentions 4 gospels/Acts c.170 A.D. Irenaeus 170-202 A.D. Theophilus of Antioch 180 A.D. Clement of Alexandria 193-217 A.D. Even Gnostic heretics Basilides and Valentinus.

Gullibly Accepting the Gospel of Thomas

If you wish to look at writings of heretics, you would do better to look at the Diatessaron. The Encratite Gnostic Tatian wrote this harmony of the gospels c.170 A.D.. He left out the parts that emphasized the humanity of Jesus, but he directly quoted 75-80% of the gospels. It is so close to the Byzantine and western texts that scholars say it is almost useless for looking for variant readings. Since the over 5,100 Greek manuscripts only have an uncertainty of less than 4% of the words, why would an allegedly objective scholar statistically focus on the "outliers" of a Gnostic Gospel and ignore nearly everything else?

The Jesus of this Seminar is Irrelevant

Since there are so many rival modern theories of the historical Jesus, at least most of them are wrong. What they have in common though, is that all of them jettison the Jesus of Christianity as a "conspiracy" of the early Christians (who were martyred for Him). Once they do that, they can know at most glimpses of a few teachings by Him. It is sad that perhaps that is all they want to know, and the concept of "Jesus as Lord" is comfortably irrelevant.


The Jesus Seminar "does not, therefore, represent anything like a consensus view of scholars working in the New Testament, but only the views of group that has been - for all its protestations of diversity - self-selected on the basis of a prior agreement concerning the appropriate goals and methods for studying the Gospels and the figure of Jesus. It is, from beginning to end, an entrepeneurial venture guided by Robert Funk." Luke Timothy Johnson in The Real Jesus : The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (Harper) p.2. Postscript: Apologies to my college friend, wherever he is, for putting his view next to the really silly ones.

Additional Recommended Reading

Blomberg, Craig. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Inter-Varsity Press. 1987.

Nash, Ronald H. The Gospel and the Greeks : Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought? Probe Ministries International. 1992.

Wilkins, Michael J. and J.P. Moreland (editors). Jesus Under Fire : Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus. Zondervan Publishing House, 1995.

Witherington III, Ben. The Jesus Quest : The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth. InterVarsity. 1995.

Wright, N.T. Who Was Jesus (1882), Jesus and the Victory of God (1996), What Saint Paul Really Said (1997), and The Challenge of Jesus : Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. (1999)


  • Over and over again, it is seen that liberal, radical, post-liberal, atheistic & existentialist scholars, in seeking the supposed real Jesus, inevitably start their quest with a very definite view in mind that validates whatever their own presuppositions are. Not surprisingly, these scholars invariably end up 'discovering' the exact kind of Jesus they were looking for, one that bears virtually no resemblance to the Jesus actually discussed in Scripture. Debate clips between Robert Funk of the "Jesus Seminar" & Dr James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries (website: are interspersed throughout this radio presentation. At the end of the debate Funk tells the radio host & guests to "go to hell."

    Larry Wessels, director of Christian Answers of Austin, Texas/ Christian Debater (YouTube channel CANSWERSTV; see our 19 playlists on numerous topics posted on our channel page; websites:, & presents another broadcast of his radio program "Christian Answers Live!" hosted by Lee Meckley. The special guest for this broadcast is Robert B. Strimple, President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California. Dr. Strimple has authored such books as "The Modern Search for the Real Jesus."

    The "Jesus Seminar" is a group of around 150 people, including a few "scholars," who meet to discuss the historical Jesus. It was founded in 1985 by the late Robert Funk and John Dominic Crossan. They meet and vote with colored beads to decide which sayings of Jesus are authentic and which are not. This group is very liberal (meaning "unbelieving" of the Gospel records) and that denies Jesus' deity and substitutionary atonement. They also deny the sufficiency of the Bible and consider extra-biblical resources as equally or more valid than New Testament documents.

    Only 14 members of the Seminar qualify as being "scholars." One quarter of the group, though, are complete unknowns (one is a movie producer), and half of them come from a cluster of three ultra-liberal schools: Harvard, Claremont, and Vanderbilt.

    Clearly, the Jesus Seminar cannot be viewed as a relevant cross-section of academic opinion. It means theirs is only one voice of many, viewed even by liberal scholars as suspect and on the extreme fringe.

    The Jesus Seminar meets twice a year to dissect biblical passages. Their goal: separate historical fact from mythology. So far, they have rejected as myth the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the virgin birth, all Gospel miracles, and a full 82% of the teachings normally attributed to Jesus--all dismissed as legendary accretions with no historical foundation. For example, only two words of the Lord's Prayer survive as authentic: "Our Father."

    Robert Funk calls Jesus a "secular sage who satirized the pious and championed the poor." He then adds, "Jesus was perhaps the first stand-up Jewish comic. Starting a new religion would have been the farthest thing from his mind."

    Isn't that an odd thing to say about Jesus? Jesus didn't rise from the dead. He didn't work miracles. He didn't give us the greatest teaching in the world. Instead, He was a stand-up comic, according to the founder of the Jesus Seminar.

    The most important question one can ask of any point of view (a question almost never asked by the press) is this: Why do they believe it? This allows us to determine whether the reasons lead properly to the conclusions.

    Everyone has a starting point. The place the Seminar begins is carefully concealed from the public at large, but it's the most critical issue. Why do they claim there is no evidence for the resurrection? That is the key question.

    Their reasoning goes something like this: It's impossible for the Gospels to be historically accurate, because they record things that simply can't happen, like dead people coming alive again and food multiplying--miracles, in other words. We live in a closed universe of natural order, with God (if there is a God) locked out of the system. If miracles can't happen, then the reports in the New Testament must be fabrications. Therefore, the Gospels are not historical.

    Further, if miracles can't happen, then prophecy (a kind of miraculous knowledge) can't happen. The Gospels report that Jesus prophesied the fall of Jerusalem. Therefore, they could not have been written early, but after the invasion of Titus of Rome in 70 A.D. In addition, they could not have been written by eye-witnesses, as the early church Fathers claimed.

    Notice that the Jesus Seminar doesn't start with historical evidence; it starts with presuppositions, assumptions it makes no attempt to prove. This is not history; it's philosophy, specifically, the philosophy of naturalism. Dealing with "God Hating" Atheists, Agnostics, Know-It-Alls" is at





    by CAnswersTV 1,076 views

    Atheists, Muslims, & other rejecters of the Bible pull every argument they can muster to say the Bible is full of "contradictions & errors." As usual, these attacks are based on presuppositions & emotionalism based on ignorance of Biblical hermeneutics, textual criticism, cultural normatives & manuscript history.

    Larry Wessels, director of Christian Answers of Austin, Texas/ Christian Debater (YouTube channel CANSWERSTV; see our 19 playlists on numerous topics posted on our channel page; websites:, & presents another broadcast of his radio program "Christian Answers Live!" hosted by Lee Meckley. The special guest for this presentation is Dr. Gleason Archer, author of the book, "Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties." Dr Archer graduated in 1938 with a B.A. from Harvard University (summa cum laude in Classics) and received an LL.B. from Suffolk Law School in 1939, the same year he was admitted to the Massachusetts bar. In 1940 he received a masters degree and in 1944 he was awarded a Ph.D. at Harvard University in Classics. Finally he received his Bachelor of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1945. He was Professor of Biblical Languages at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California from 1948 to 1965. From 1965 to 1986 he served as a Professor of Old Testament and Semitics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois. Archer served as one of the 50 original translators of the NASB published in 1971. He also worked on the team which translated the NIV Bible published in 1978. His defense of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy by proposing harmonizations and exegesis regarding inconsistencies in the Bible have made Archer a well known Biblical inerrantist. He has stated: "One cannot allow for error in history-science without also ending up with error in doctrine." He is also critical of the documentary hypothesis which denies the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Dr Archer has an encyclopedic knowledge of Biblical languages and culture, and his book is most informative about a wide range of topics. Archer is also a trained lawyer, so can cut through the illogicality and special pleading of the arguments for "contradictions". By comparison, among those who argue for contradictions are such blatantly unqualified misotheists such as Barker, Ingersoll, McKinsey and Paine who haven't a clue about the original languages or culture, and are blatantly chronologically chauvinistic.

    The original manuscripts are not extant, but we do have faithful copies of the original, as has been proven by textual criticism. Concerning the New Testament, the differences in the 5000+ Greek manuscripts that we have from about 125CE to 1500CE (not even counting the other early language versions) are so minor, that it's absurd to postulate there were major changes made from about 50CE to 125CE without a scrap of evidence.

    While the Bible is the Word of God &, as such, cannot have any errors, nonetheless, this does not mean there are no difficulties in it. However, as Saint Augustine wisely noted, "If we are perplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, the author of this book is mistaken; but either the manuscript is faulty or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood." The mistakes are not in the revelation of God, but are in the misinterpretations of man.

    Unbelievers who claim the Bible is full of contradictions & errors make the following mistakes to come to their false conclusions:
    1. Assuming that the unexplained is not explainable.
    2. Presuming the Bible is guilty unto proven innocent.
    3. Confusing our fallible interpretations with God's infallible revelation.
    4. Failing to understand the context of the passage.
    5. Neglecting to interpret difficult passages in the light of clear ones.
    6. Basing a teaching on an obscure passage.
    7. Forgetting that the Bible is a human book with human characteristics.
    8. Assuming that a partial report is a false report.
    9. Demanding that New Testament citations of the Old Testament always be exact quotations.
    10. Assuming that divergent accounts are false ones.
    11. Assuming that the Bible approves of all that it records.
    12. Forgetting that the Bible uses non-technical, everyday language.
    13. Assuming that round numbers are false.
    14. Neglecting to note that the Bible uses different literary devices.
    15. Forgetting that only the original text, not every copy of Scripture, is without error.
    16. Confusing general statements with universal ones.
    17. Forgetting that later revelation supersedes previous revelation.

    Critics say the Bible is full of errors & say God is a liar but in the end it is they that are the liars (Romans 3:4,Hebrews 6:18, Titus 1:2).""Dealing with "God Hating" Atheists, Agnostics, Know-It-Alls" is at…

    For more info please contact Christian Debater™ P.O. Box 144441 Austin, TX 78714

    by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.