Evangelical Responses to the Jesus Seminar -- By: Robert L. Thomas

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 07:1 (Spring 1996)
Article: Evangelical Responses to the Jesus Seminar
Author: Robert L. Thomas

Evangelical Responses to the Jesus Seminar1

Robert L. Thomas

Professor of New Testament

Evangelicals have reacted strongly against the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar. Yet their methodologies in studying the gospels fit the pattern of methods employed by that Seminar, particularly the assumption that the composition of the gospels involved some form of literary dependence. Ten Scriptures illustrate how this assumption leads inevitably to assigning historical inaccuracies to various portions of the Synoptic Gospels. Only one alternative avoids a dehistoricizing of the gospels, that of concluding that the synoptic problem does not exist—and is therefore unsolved—because the writers did not depend on one anothers works. They wrote independently of each other but in dependence on the Holy Spirit who inspired them to compose books that were historically accurate in every detail.

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The Jesus Seminar, composed of liberal scholars under the leadership of Robert Funk, began its twice-a-year meetings in 1985. Its highly publicized findings have denied the authenticity of eighty-two percent what the four gospels indicate that Jesus said. Their conclusions

about Jesus’ sayings appeared in The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus in 1993.2 The Seminar continues its meetings currently to vote on the deeds of Jesus in anticipation of publishing a similar work treating that subject. The already published work prints Jesus’ sayings in four colors—red, pink, gray, and black—to match the colors of the symbolic beads members used to cast votes in their meetings—red, Jesus definitely said it; pink, Jesus probably said it; gray, Jesus probably did not say it; black, Jesus definitely did not say it. Only one red statement appears in the Gospel of Mark and none in the Gospel of John. In comparison, the appearance in red of three sayings in the Gospel of Thomas illustrates the skepticism of this group toward the canonical gospels.

The evangelical3 community has reacted strongly against the pronouncements of the Jesus Seminar because of that group’s rejection of many historical aspects of the gospels.4 The number of specific evangelical responses to this Seminar is growing.5 Yet most of these responses come from those who utilize the same methodology in gospel study as do the Jesus Seminar personnel. Further, a closer look at studies done by some of these evan...

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