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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Which Written Records about Jesus Are Trustworthy?

Don Stewart :: What about the Claims That Jesus Never Said Most of the Things Attributed to Him in the New Testament?

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What about the Claims That Jesus Never Said Most of the Things Attributed to Him in the New Testament? (The Jesus Seminar)

Which Written Records about Jesus Are Trustworthy? – Question 9

It has been argued that Jesus did not actually do the things the New Testament says which He did neither did He say the things the New Testament attributes to Him. Therefore, it is not a trustworthy account of the words and deeds of Jesus.

In recent years, this has become a popular notion due to the influence of an organization known as the “Jesus Seminar.” Because this group has gathered an enormous amount of publicity from the secular word, and since the issues they bring up have been a traditional source of attack on the reliability of the gospels, we will answer their particular claims. In doing so, we will be laying down principles which will be helpful in answering other objections to the trustworthiness of the gospels.

What Is the Jesus Seminar?

The Jesus Seminar consists of a relatively small group of very liberal New Testament scholars which have been meeting from time to time since 1985. The initial idea was to determine which sayings of Jesus, as recorded in the four gospels, were actually made by Him and which sayings were added later by His disciples or members of the early church. To make this determination, each saying was voted on by these liberal scholars.

At the outset it must be noted that very few participants in the Jesus Seminar are well-known New Testament scholars. Most of the people who have participated are relatively unknown or totally unknown in the world of New Testament scholarship. In addition, the entire group consists of mainly American scholars. There has been no real representation from scholarship outside of the United States.

Furthermore, all of them approach this issue with a bias against the supernatural; they reject all forms of the miraculous.

Voting with Beads

To discover what these individuals thought Jesus did say or did not say, each individual saying of Jesus was evaluated and voted upon by casting a bead. When a member voted red, it meant that Jesus must have said this or at least something close to it. A pink vote meant Jesus probably or may have said something like this. However, a gray vote meant that Jesus did not Himself make the statement but the ideas would have been similar to what He would have held. Finally a black bead meant Jesus never said the statement attributed to Him; rather it represents a later tradition in the church. Not surprisingly, the Jesus Seminar sees very few of the words attributed to Jesus as actually His. Indeed, it is less than 20%.

This Is Not Unique: The Jeffersonian Bible

The idea of determining what Jesus did say, or did not say, or whether He could have performed miracles is not something new. Little known to most people, former United States President Thomas Jefferson did something similar! Rejecting anything supernatural in the gospels, Jefferson took his scissors and cut out about 90% of the contents of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John! Like those in the Jesus Seminar, Jefferson rejected anything having to do with the supernatural.

Therefore, the Jesus Seminar is really not doing anything new. Questions about which words of Jesus are authentic and which may have been added by His disciples have been going on in academic circles since the eighteenth century. What is unique about this group is the publicity they have received. Instead of these discussions being confined to the classroom, these individuals have made public what certain liberal scholars have been debating for some time. For this reason, some comments need to be made.

Assumptions of the Jesus Seminar

Before anything about Jesus is evaluated, either the statements attributed to Him or deeds which He supposedly performed, there are a number of points which are assumed to be true or pre-supposed by the Jesus Seminar.

We can briefly summarize five of the main assumptions of the Jesus Seminar which lead them to their findings.

1. The Supernatural Does Not Exist

To begin with, the members of the Jesus Seminar assume the supernatural does not exist. Therefore, any statements which have to do with the supernatural are rejected out of hand. Their perspective is completely naturalistic. This is primary to their thinking.

2. Jesus Could Not Have Worked Miracles

The gospels record some thirty-five separate miracles which Jesus performed. Add to this, countless others which were not recorded. The Jesus Seminar rejects all of these accounts. Why? Because miracles are not possible because the supernatural does not exist! Therefore, every recorded instance of a miracle must have been a later addition by Jesus’ admiring followers or they can be explained away by natural means.

3. Jesus Could Not Have Predicted the Future

In the four gospels we find the Lord Jesus making a number of predictions about the future. For example, He predicted the He would be betrayed by one of His own disciples. Jesus also said that He would be handed over for crucifixion, and that He would die on a cross in Jerusalem. Yet, according to the New Testament, Jesus Christ also predicted He would come back from the dead three days after His death.

In addition, Jesus predicted the destruction of the city of Jerusalem as well as the destruction of the temple within one generation. The New Testament records all of these predictions which Jesus made.

According to the New Testament, the predictions about His betrayal death and resurrection were literally fulfilled. Indeed, the fulfillments are recorded in the pages of the four gospels. History tells us that the city of Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed within forty years of Jesus’ predictions. This illustrates that Jesus was indeed a prophet.

Yet the Jesus Seminar rejects all these predictions as coming from Jesus. They assume that these words were placed in His mouth by His later followers. How do they know this? Again, the answer is simple: No one can predict the future because no human being knows what is going to happen! Therefore, the predictions attributed to Jesus did not come from Him.

4. Jesus Never Made the Fantastic Claims Attributed to Him

In the New Testament we find that Jesus Christ made a number of incredible claims about Himself. For example, this carpenter from Nazareth claimed to be God Himself, the Savior of the human race. He was the promised Christ or Messiah who would deliver Israel from their enemies. Furthermore, Jesus claimed that He was One who would judge of all humanity on Judgment Day. Forgiveness of sin was His alone to grant. In addition, Jesus Christ claimed to be the one way, the only way, by which a person could know the one God. The New Testament says that Jesus made these claims about Himself as well as many others.

However, according to the Jesus Seminar, Jesus made none of these claims. Supposedly, they were attributed to Him by His later followers. He could not have made these claims because Jesus never saw Himself as the Messiah, the Son of God, God Himself, or the Savior of humanity.

5. The Gospels Were Written Long after A.D. 70

As far as the composition of the four gospels is concerned, those of the Jesus Seminar assume that each of them had to have been written after the year A.D. 70. Why? It is because three out of the four gospels predict the destruction of Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in A.D. 70 these gospels must have been written some time after their destruction.

With these assumptions in mind, the members of the Jesus Seminar then go about objectively determining the statements Jesus could have made and those which He could not have made!Evaluation of the Conclusions of the Jesus Seminar

There are so many problems with the assumptions and conclusions of the Jesus Seminar one hardly knows where to start. Like Thomas Jefferson a few centuries earlier, the Jesus Seminar commits the same sin of rejecting the possibility of the supernatural. Instead, of looking at the evidence, most of the sayings and deeds of Jesus are ruled out before they are even examined!

Of course most of the events and sayings of the gospels are going to be rejected by this group because they are done in the context of the supernatural. However, this was the whole point of Jesus coming to earth! Indeed, the New Testament stresses that the coming of Christ was for the purpose of revealing God to humanity. John wrote,

No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known. (John 1:18 NET)

Therefore, the Jesus Seminar is guilty of committing the logical fallacy of “begging the question.” They are assuming what they should be proving. Why, it may be asked, should we assume that the supernatural does not exist or that Jesus could not have worked miracles? None of us are in a position to deny the possibility of the miraculous or the supernatural.

Once the possibility of the supernatural has been granted, then one must go about looking at all the evidence. When this occurs, we find that there is sufficient evidence to believe the claims of Jesus. He is indeed the true God who became a human being.

The Gospels Were Written at an Early Date

In addition, as we have repeatedly stated, there is good evidence for dating three of the four gospels, possibly all four of them, before the year A.D. 70 when Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed. In fact, there is no compelling reason whatsoever to date them later unless one wishes to rule out the possibility of predictive prophecy.

Conclusion: They Give Us a Lesson in What Not to Do

Thus, the Jesus Seminar provides us with a lesson of what not to do when examining historical claims. All claims should be settled by the weight of the evidence. They should not be determined by what any of us think could or could not have happened.

Summary – Question 9
What about the Claims That Jesus Never Said Most of the Things Attributed to Him in the New Testament? (The Jesus Seminar)

The Jesus Seminar consists of a small group of very liberal New Testament scholars who have made a name for themselves by telling the world what they think Jesus Christ actually did say as well as what He did not say. They believe that they can give us the final word on the mater. In the end, they reject most of the sayings of Jesus as authentic.

Of course, they are not unique in doing this. The former president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, cut all of the miracles out of his Bible when he produced the “Jeffersonian Bible.” Yet the Jesus Seminar proudly states that their work is a result of “objective Bible scholarship” and as such they give us the real truth about Jesus. Unhappily many people have believed their claims.

Their conclusions are not surprising when we understand their assumptions. Indeed, before they objectively attempt to determine what Jesus said or did not say they rule out anything supernatural. Thus, the Jesus Seminar rejects out of hand the idea of miracles, predictive prophecy, or that Jesus could have claimed to have been God Himself!

For example, since three out of the four gospels predict the coming destruction of the city of Jerusalem as well as its holy temple, the Jesus Seminar dates their composition to a time after Jerusalem was destroyed. Indeed, in view of the fact that they assume that Jesus could not have predicted the future the Jesus Seminar assumes these documents must have been written sometime after these things took place.

Needless to say this is certainly not the way to approach historical questions. Each claim has to be evaluated on its merit. To reject Jesus Christ and the Christian faith out of hand without giving it a fair hearing is an unscholarly thing to do.

Moreover, as we have indicated elsewhere, there are excellent reasons for assuming the four gospels were composed at a very early date. It can be argued that all of them, including the Gospel of John, were written before the year A.D. 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed. This of course would demonstrate that Jesus had the ability to predict the future.

There is something else which must be considered. It is problematic to reject the supernatural out of hand because of what is at stake. According to Jesus Christ, the eternal destiny of each individual, including those of the Jesus Seminar, is determined by how they view Him and His claims. While the members of the Jesus Seminar may now deny that Jesus said these things there will come a day when these people, like all of the rest of us, will have to personally answer to Him. When that day comes there will be no denying any of the claims about Him which the New Testament records.

Could the Church Have Conspired to Hide the Real Message of Jesus? ← Prior Section
What about All the Contradictions in the Gospel Accounts? Next Section →
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