Jesus Seminar: Some Background
The Jesus Seminar was originally formed in 1985 under the sponsorship of the Westar Institute to “renew the quest of the historical Jesus.” Thirty scholars participated in the first meeting and approximately 200 people now call themselves “fellows.” The Seminar meets twice a year to debate technical papers that have been prepared and circulated in advance. Each paper typically focuses on the dissection of Biblical passages. At the close of each debate on each paper, the Seminar fellows use colored beads to vote on the “authenticity of Jesus’ words or deeds” covered by the dissected scripture.
Jesus Seminar: The Real Goal
The goal of the Jesus Seminar is supposedly to “separate historical fact from mythology.” This goal was originally stated in founder Robert Funk’s opening address to the first meeting of 30 “scholars” in Berkeley, California (March 1985):
Jesus Seminar: Findings are Based on Presuppositions, Not Historical Evidence
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. Therefore, it seems no papers ever follow the stated goal of “separating historical fact from mythology.” Rather, they avoid the historical evidence, and focus instead on the presupposed problems with anything falling outside a naturalistic or materialistic explanation. To illustrate, let’s review the basis for the Seminar’s rejection of the Gospel miracles and resurrection of Jesus. In a nutshell, they hold that it's impossible for the Gospels to be historically accurate, because they record things that simply can't happen, like people walking on water, food multiplying, and people being raised from the dead. Since we live in a closed system of natural order, and God (if there is a God) does not participate in that system, then miracles simply can't happen, and thus, the New Testament accounts must be fabrications. Therefore, the general statement and presupposition of the Jesus Seminar is that the New Testament accounts of Jesus (especially the Gospels) are not historical, and thus, not a credible source of information for the true historical Jesus. Of course, this is not scholarly evaluation of the historical evidence – this is strict adherence to the philosophy of naturalism.
Jesus Seminar: The Misguided Conclusion
The Jesus Seminar is viewed by the publishing media and general public as a group of refreshing scholars that base their “new findings” of Jesus on scientific and historical analysis. Therefore, the public has been made to feel comfortable with the following 21st Century “facts”: the resurrection of Jesus didn't really happen; the miracles of Jesus are myths; there is no authentic messianic prophecy in the Bible; many accounts of Jesus are merely legends written long after He walked the earth; the accounts of Jesus were not written by eyewitnesses to the events; and the foundation of the Christian faith cannot be trusted. Please, be very careful, and check out the evidence for yourself! The Jesus Seminar is very misguided and very misleading. They have not concluded that the New Testament accounts of Jesus are inaccurate or historically unfounded – rather, this was their presupposed conclusion from the very start.