User:Ari89/Criticism of the Jesus Seminar

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Criticism of the Jesus Seminar[edit]

The Jesus Seminar has come under criticism regarding its method, assumptions and conclusions from a wide array of scholars and laymen.[1][2] Scholars who have expressed concerns with the work of the Jesus Seminar include Richard Hays,[3] Birger A. Pearson,[4] Ben Witherington,[5] Gregory A. Boyd,[6] N.T. Wright,[7] William Lane Craig,[8] Craig A. Evans,[9] Craig Blomberg,[1] Darrell Bock,[1] and Edwin Yamauchi.[1] The specific criticisms leveled against the Jesus Seminar include charges that:

Garry Wills, a vocal proponent of liberal Catholicism, nonetheless strongly critiques the Seminar:

This is the new fundamentalism. It believes in the literal sense of the Bible—it just reduces to what it can take as literal quotation from Jesus. Though some have called the Jesus Seminarists radical, they are actually very conservative. They tame the real radical, Jesus, cutting him down to their own size...the sayings that meet with the Seminar's approval were preserved by the Christian communities whose contribution is discounted. Jesus as a person does not exist outside of the gospels, and the only reason he exists there is because of their authors' faith in the Resurrection. Trying to find a construct, "the historical Jesus," is not like finding diamonds in a dunghill, but like finding New York City at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.[10]

Divorcing Jesus from his cultural context and followers[edit]

The Seminar places much value on the criterion of dissimilarity. For the Seminar, a saying will only be held as authentic if it does not match the beliefs of Judaism or those held by the early Christians.[11] Critics such as Gregory Boyd have noted that the effect of this is that the Jesus of the Seminar shows no continuity with his Jewish context nor his disciples.[12] J. Ed Komoszewski and co-authors state that the Jesus Seminar's "Criteria for In/Authenticity" create "an eccentric Jesus who learned nothing from his own culture and made no impact on his followers".[13] Others ask rhetorically, "why would such a Jesus be crucified?"[14] The same criticism has been made by Craig Evans.[9]

Use of a flawed voting system[edit]

The voting system has been criticized by, among others, NT Wright, who says '... I cannot understand how, if a majority ... thought a saying authentic or probably authentic, the "weighted average" turned out to be "probably inauthentic". A voting system that produces a result like this ought to be scrapped.'[15]

Ignoring evidence for eschatological teachings of Jesus[edit]

Dale Allison of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, in his 1999 book Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet, cited what he felt were problems with the work of (particularly) John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, arguing that their conclusions were at least in part predetermined by their theological positions. He also pointed out the limitations of their presumptions and methodology. Allison argued that despite the conclusions of the seminar, Jesus was a prophetic figure focused to a large extent on apocalyptic thinking.[2] Some scholars have reasserted Albert Schweitzer's eschatological view of Jesus.[16]

Creating a Jesus based on the presuppositions of the members[edit]

Luke Timothy Johnson[17] of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, in his 1996 book The Real Jesus, voiced concerns with the seminar's work. He criticized the techniques of the Seminar, believing them to be far more limited for historical reconstruction than seminar members believe. Their conclusions were "already determined ahead of time," Johnson says, which "is not responsible, or even critical scholarship. It is a self-indulgent charade."

Bias against canonical sources and for non-canonical sources[edit]

Daniel L. Akin, writing in the Journal of the Southern Baptist Convention, called the work of the Jesus Seminar "destructive criticism".[18] Craig Blomberg notes that if the Jesus Seminar’s findings are to be believed then “it requires the assumption that someone, about a generation removed from the events in question, radically transformed the authentic information about Jesus that was circulating at that time, superimposed a body of material four times as large, fabricated almost entirely out of whole cloth, while the church suffered sufficient collective amnesia to accept the transformation as legitimate.” Craig Evans argues that the Jesus Seminar applies a form of hypercriticism to the canonical gospels that unreasonably assumes that "Jesus' contemporaries (that is, the first generation of his movement) were either incapable of remembering or uninterested in recalling accurately what Jesus said and did, and in passing it on" while, in contrast, privileging extra-canonical texts with an uncritical acceptance that sometimes rises to the level of special pleading.[9]

Composition of the Seminar and qualifications of the members[edit]

Luke Timothy Johnson[17] of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, in his 1996 book The Real Jesus, also argued that while many members of the seminar are reputable scholars (Borg, Crossan, Funk, others), others are relatively unknown or undistinguished in the field of biblical studies. One member, Paul Verhoeven, holds no Ph.D. but a M.Sc. in mathematics and physics,[19] not biblical studies, and is best known as a film director. Johnson also critiqued the seminar for its attempts to gain the attention of the media for the 2000 ABC News program "The Search for Jesus" hosted by news anchor Peter Jennings.

Seminar critic William Lane Craig has argued that the self-selected members of the group do not represent the consensus of New Testament scholars. He writes:

Of the 74 [scholars] listed in their publication The Five Gospels, only 14 would be leading figures in the field of New Testament studies. More than half are basically unknowns, who have published only two or three articles. Eighteen of the fellows have published nothing at all in New Testament studies. Most have relatively undistinguished academic positions, for example, teaching at a community college.[20]

Others have made the same point and have further indicated that thirty-six of those scholars, almost half, have a degree from or currently teach at one of three schools, Harvard, Claremont, or Vanderbilt: all considered to favor "liberal" interpretations of the New Testament. [21]


  1. ^ a b c d Michael J. Wilkins & J.P. Moreland, General Editors, "Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus," Zondervan Publishing House, 1995, ISBN 0-310-21139-5
  2. ^ a b Dale C. Allison, "Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet," Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1998, ISBN 0-8006-3144-7
  3. ^ "The Corrected Jesus" in First Things 43, May 1994
  4. ^ Birger A. Pearson, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara critique of the Jesus Seminar
  5. ^ The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth
  6. ^ Cynic Sage or Son of God?
  7. ^ Jesus and the Victory of God
  8. ^ Paul Copan, Editor, "Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A Debate Between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan," Baker Books, 1998, ISBN 0-8010-2175-8
  9. ^ a b c Craig A. Evans, "Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels," InterVarsity Press, 2006 ISBN 0-8308-3318-8
  10. ^ Garry Wills, What Jesus Meant (2006), Viking Press, ISBN 0-670-03496-7, p. xxv-xxvi
  11. ^ Darrell Bock, (2005) Evaluating the Jesus Seminar
  12. ^ Gregory A. Boyd, The Jesus Seminar and the Reliability of the Gospels
  13. ^ Komoszewski, J. Ed; et al. (2006). Reinventing Jesus. Kregel Publication. p. 49. 
  14. ^ Pearson, BA, The Gospel According To The Jesus Seminar, 1996
  15. ^ Wright, NT, Five Gospels but no Gospel, 1999, p.7
  16. ^ Schweitzer wrote that Jesus and his followers expected the imminent end of the world. Review of "The Mystery of the Kingdom of God"
  17. ^ a b Luke Timothy Johnson
  18. ^ Daniel L. Akin, "Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility," SBC Life, April 2006
  19. ^ Paul Verhoeven's Ph.D. claims refuted in Dutch national newspaper Trouw
  20. ^ Rediscovering the Historical Jesus by William Lane Craig
  21. ^ Craig A. Blomberg, "Where Do We Start Studying Jesus?" in "Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus," Zondervan Publishing House, 1995, page 20, ISBN 0-310-21139-5