Rediscovering the Historical Jesus

Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: Presuppositions and Pretensions of the Jesus Seminar

Dr. William Lane Craig

In this first part of a two-part article, the presuppositions and pretentions of the Jesus Seminar are exposited and assessed. It is found that the principal presuppositions of (i) scientific naturalism, (ii) the primacy of the apocryphal gospels, and (iii) the necessity of a politically correct Jesus are unjustified and issue in a distorted portrait of the historical Jesus. Although the Jesus Seminar makes a pretention of speaking for scholarship on the quest of the historical Jesus, it is shown that in fact it is a small body of critics in pursuit of a cultural agenda.

“Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: The Presuppositions and Pressumptions of the Jesus Seminar.” Faith and Mission 15 (1998): 3-15.

In 1985 a prominent New Testament scholar named Robert Funk founded a think tank in Southern California which he called the Jesus Seminar. The ostensible purpose of the Seminar was to uncover the historical person Jesus of Nazareth using the best methods of scientific, biblical criticism. In Funk’s view the historical Jesus has been overlaid by Christian legend, myth, and metaphysics and thus scarcely resembled the Christ figure presented in the gospels and worshipped by the Church today. The goal of the Seminar is to strip away these layers and to recover the authentic Jesus who really lived and taught.

In so doing, Funk hopes to ignite a revolution which will bring to an end what he regards as an age of ignorance. He blasts the religious establishment for “not allowing the intelligence of high scholarship to pass through pastors and priests to a hungry laity.”{1} He sees the Jesus Seminar as a means of disabusing laymen of the mythological figure they have been taught to worship and bringing them face to face with the real Jesus of history.

The degree to which the gospels have allegedly distorted the historical Jesus is evident in the edition of the gospels published by the Jesus Seminar. Called The Five Gospels because it includes the so–called Gospel of Thomas along with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, their version prints in red only those words of Jesus which the fellows of the Seminar determine to be authentic, actually spoken by Jesus. As it turns out, less than 20% of the sayings attributed to Jesus are printed in red.

The real, historical Jesus turns out to have been a sort of itinerant, social critic, the Jewish equivalent of a Greek cynic philosopher. He never claimed to be the Son of God or to forgive sins or to inaugurate a new covenant between God and man. His crucifixion was an accident of history; his corpse was probably thrown into a shallow dirt grave where it rotted away or was eaten by wild dogs.

Now if these conclusions are correct, we who are Christians today are the victims of a massive delusion. To continue to worship Jesus today in light of these conclusions would be either idolatry or mythology––idolatry if you worship the merely human figure who actually lived, mythology if you worship the figment of the Church’s imagination. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be either an idolater or a mythologizer. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to assess whether the claims of the Jesus Seminar are true.

Today, therefore, I want to talk about the presuppositions and pretensions of the Jesus Seminar.

To read more go to the original blog here;


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