Who are the Scholars on “The Jesus Seminar”?

Date: July 21, 2015

Bible Text: Galatians 1:6-7 | Speaker: Dr. Harold J. Sala | Series: Guidelines For Living |

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. Galatians 1:6-7

The modern quest for Jesus continues with the intensity that a thief looks for a policeman. But the strange thing is that millions of people didn’t know He was ever lost. They call on Him and He answers. He carries them through their dark hours. They sense His presence as they lie dying, and He walks with them through the valley of the shadow of death, leading them to an eternal home in the heavens which He pledged to build.

What is this talk about Jesus’ being lost and rediscovered? The more recent quest for Jesus began in 1985 when a group of about 70 scholars, most of whom are liberal professors, met together to determine what Jesus said and what He did not say. This group called themselves The Jesus Seminar, a title which they conferred upon themselves. Question: Did the 1970s or 1980s reveal some new research, some tremendous archaeological discoveries which brought into serious question the traditional accounts of the life and sayings of Jesus Christ? No. From a scientific viewpoint, there was absolutely nothing of substance demanding re-evaluation.

Actually, these men were not the first to call into question the texts of Scripture recording what Jesus both said and did. In the middle of the second century, a heretic by the name of Marcion decided there were passages in the New Testament which he didn’t like so he made his own list of documents which he considered to be authoritative. This troubled the leaders of the New Testament Church so much that they not only denounced him but took steps which led to the preservation of the books in your New Testament today.

Then in 1926 the German theologian Rudolf Bultmann said we must “demythologize” the New Testament, separating what he considered to be myth from reality. Bultmann worried a lot of people with his contention that there was little we could actually know about the historical Jesus, advocating that we concentrate on the Jesus of the faith.

Existential theologians, following Bultmann’s philosophy, have told us that it doesn’t matter whether or not Jesus really rose from the dead. They contend that Jesus reveals Himself in a sort of esoteric, mystical way to those who believe He is still alive. Those who believe that would deny that Jesus rose literally and physically from the dead before He ascended to heaven.

The scholars who became part of The Jesus Seminar hold to the mentality of Bultmann and the existentialists, examining New Testament statements, then voting on whether or not they are factual.

A book published by some of the men entitled The Five Gospels explained how they came to the conclusion that only 18% of the words attributed to Jesus were actually spoken by Him. Who they are and how they came to this conclusion will be the theme of commentaries which follow on Guidelines.

The group of men constituting this seminar are not representative of the entire Christian community around the world. Neither have they been appointed as representatives of established, historical churches or groups. They are self-appointed men who presume to follow scientific methods in forging a new Gospel (a very limited one at that) which is not a Gospel at all.

I, for one, would shake in my boots to stand against the bulwark of history, tradition, and the authority of Scripture itself to presume to say what Jesus did and did not say.

They remind me of the little boy who told his mother he was nine feet tall, the same as Goliath. “And who told you this?” “Nobody,” he said. “I just made me a ruler and measured myself.” Yes, indeed.

Resource reading: Galatians 1