The Jesus Seminar was organized by Dr. Robert Funk through the Westar Institute in 1985. Its goal was to determine the truth about the historical Jesus. Starting with about 30, and sometimes having as many as 150 people involved, the Seminar covered three different areas of Jesus' recorded history: His sayings, His deeds, and "profiles" of Jesus. The Jesus Seminar not only scrutinized the four canonical Gospels, but also included the Gnostic Gospels. This group of meetings used a weighted voting system to determine which of Jesus' purported sayings and actions were actually historically real, using a system of colored beads to indicate levels of authenticity ranging from red (authentic) and pink (likely authentic) to gray (not likely authentic) and black (not authentic).
The Seminar's conclusions regarding Jesus' sayings approved as likely authentic or authentic only 18% of the over 1,500 versions of 500 sayings from the Bible, Gnostic Gospels, and other sources. Of His deeds, the approved number was 29 of 176, only 16%.
By "profiles," they meant scrutinizing scholarly papers from 20 Fellows of the Seminar, which contained suggested character and life sketches of Jesus. They published nine of these profiles, plus three which had been presented and published elsewhere. The published profiles agreed on certain central points, such as that Jesus neither was, nor claimed to be, divine; that His teachings were pictures of what life would be like if we all followed God's goodness as a model; and that rather than being apocalyptic when discussing the future kingdom of God, Jesus was presenting how life could be made to be on earth without God's intervention.
How should we respond to these men and women who have come to conclusions that are so far from what we believe about Jesus, our savior? Or, is it possible that they are right?
Many scholars, both Christian and not, have questioned both the methods and conclusions of the Jesus Seminar. While there are many technical and complex reasons which, while valuable, are beyond our scope here, a few basic examples include the Seminar's choice of texts, their "weighting" of the voting system, which is suspect, and, most importantly, their process of essentially beginning with the conclusions they desired and working to "prove" texts based on those desires. There have been a number of books written about the Jesus Seminar. J.P. Moreland and Mike Wilkins have co-authored such a response to the Jesus Seminar titled Jesus Under Fire, which explains further the issues with the Seminar's methods.
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