How “The Jesus Seminar” Operates

Date: July 23, 2015

Bible Text: Matthew 5:18 | Speaker: Dr. Harold J. Sala | Series: Guidelines For Living |

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Matthew 5:18

How do some 70 self-appointed men serving on a group known as The Jesus Seminar presume to speak for men and God in saying that Jesus said only 18% of what the New Testament attributed to Him?

Though individuals re-evaluating what they think Jesus said or did is not new, these men alleging to follow the scientific method have caused more than a few with little knowledge of how the New Testament was formed or preserved to say, “Maybe these intellectuals know something we don’t. Maybe those church people have kept us in ignorance so we’ll keep coming and put money in the collection plate!”

The majority of the positions which the group has taken are based upon one document which does not exist nor has a copy of the document ever appeared in the annals of history—an alleged document known as Quella. That’s a term which a German theologian attached to what he thought would be a source document which would explain how Matthew and Luke have common elements in them.

The second document is known as The Gospel of Thomas, sometimes referred to as a Fifth Gospel. This manuscript was found in Egypt in a pile of old Gnostic documents which had been written in the second to fourth centuries. Gnostics, a word which comes from the Greek word translated “knowledge,” were not Christians, but were a sect condemned by both Jews and Christians.

The so-called Gospel of Thomas contains elements which are contradictory to the first four books of the New Testament–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–sometimes referred to as the Four Gospels. Actually, there are not four Gospels; there is but one—The Gospel of Jesus Christ. Four men—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—are biographers, each reflecting his own background and culture in telling who Jesus Christ was and what He did.

On the basis of one document for which there is no concrete proof that it ever existed, and one rejected by both Jews and Christians as being unworthy of being considered Scripture or on the level of the 27 New Testament books, The Jesus Seminar has decided what Jesus said or didn’t say.

Question: How did the historical church decide what books were authentic and should be included in the New Testament? The late Clarence Thiessen contended that there were four principles which guided the Council of Nicea, who in 325 A.D. finally said (in principle): This is it—27, no more or less.

The principle of apostolicity. Was it written by an apostle? Or is there evidence of an apostle’s hand in the writing, considering Paul to be the apostle who replaced Judas?
What are the contents of the book? Are they consistent with each other and, certainly, with the Old Testament?
Universal acceptance. The question they asked was, “Is the book universally accepted by Christians in the East and the West?” which meant Rome and Constantinople, which were the two prominent seats of Christianity.
IsthereevidencethatthisbookwasinspiredbyGodandnotsimplytherecitationofsomeonewhowantedto promulgate his own views?

I suspect that long after the men in The Jesus Seminar are buried and forgotten, Christians will continue to be blessed by reading the words and sayings of Jesus Christ. At Easter they will continue a tradition going back to the early church as they greet each other with the words, “Christ the Lord is Risen!” And the response will echo back, “He is risen indeed!” Actually, what The Jesus Seminar is doing is but another chapter in the history of depreciating the New Testament. But like the anvil of the blacksmith which endures, the Word is still there when the hammer has worn out. So be it.

Resource reading: 1 Corinthians 15.