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):
We are about to embark on a momentous enterprise. We are going to inquire simply, rigorously after the voice of Jesus, after what he really said. In this process, we will be asking a question that borders the sacred, that even abuts blasphemy, for many in our society. As a consequence, the course we shall follow may prove hazardous. We may well provoke hostility. But we will set out, in spite of the dangers, because we are professionals and because the issue of Jesus is there to be faced, much as Mt. Everest confronts the team of climbers.
Since that first meeting in 1985, the Seminar has rejected the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the virgin birth, all of the miracles found in the Gospel accounts, and over 80% of the teachings normally attributed to Jesus. All of these Biblical records have been rejected because Seminar fellows have determined that they are merely legendary accretions with no historical foundation. For example, only two words of the Lord's Prayer survive as authentic: "Our Father."
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.