With an incredible amount of media fanfare, the Jesus Seminar has radically challenged the Gospel accounts of Jesus at their very foundation. This group of 74 scholars from various seminaries and universities met over a period of six years in order to produce a translation (called the Scholar’s Version or SV) of the four canonical Gospels plus the Gospel of Thomas. After discussing more than 1500 purported sayings of Jesus, they cast their votes on each, judging the likelihood that the comment originated with Jesus. The degree of assurance was represented by coding the sayings texts in these five books with one of four colors. In the second phase of their work they are investigating the actions of Jesus, attempting to determine what Jesus actually did.^1
It is clear that the overall conclusions of the Jesus Seminar are rather radical, even among contemporary critical scholars. Neither are they shy about announcing their theological disposition. One indication of this is their reaction to the supernatural in general and the orthodox view of Jesus, in particular: The Christ of creed and dogma . . . can no longer command the assent of those who have seen the heavens through Galileo’s telescope. The old deities and demons were swept from the skies by that remarkable glass. Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo have dismantled the mythological abodes of the gods and Satan, and bequeathed us secular heavens.^2
It is an understatement to say that the Jesus Seminar downplays the supernatural, especially in the life of Jesus. This chapter is an attempt to investigate and critique what these and related scholars assert concerning select aspects of the life of the historical Jesus, concentrating on their response to his death, burial, and resurrection, in particular.
Jesus’ Miracles and Seminar Presuppositions^3
The Jesus Seminar describes itself as taking a centrist position in the recent discussions on the historical Jesus. They stand between both the skeptics who deny the presence of historical reports in the Gospels and the fundamentalists who accept the total contents of these books.^4 Yet, it becomes obvious that this group is more closely aligned on the side of the skeptics when we review their composite work. One initial indication is the above quotation that severely restricts the supernatural,
1 Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus(New York: Macmillan Publishing Company and the Polebridge Press, 1993), Preface, pp. ix-x, xiii.
2 Ibid., p. 2.
3 For an extended discussion of the material in this section (often in edited form) see Gary R.Habermas, “Did Jesus Perform Miracles?” in Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, ed. by Michael Wilkins and J.P. Moreland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), pp. 125–129.
4 Funk, Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, Five Gospels, pp. 2–5.
From Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus – Ancient Evidence For The Life Of Christ (in print at Amazon)
if not rejecting it outright, in favor of a modern scientific outlook. As another example, the Seminar reports that “Eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels were not actually spoken by him . . . .”^5